|First public meeting of EuroCitizens: Madrid 29/11/16 Photo: EuroCitizens|
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To start off, members of EuroCitizens explained how the group had formed and its key objectives: maintaining existing rights for UK nationals in Spain and Spanish citizens in Britain. So far a core group of around forty has been formed, with people from different backgrounds such as business, education and translation. EuroCitizens is working to establish contact with other expat groups, British businesses and educational institutions in Spain, UK-based and pan-European groups working to defend EU citizenship rights. Before Article 50 is triggered in March, EuroCitizens intends to organise a high-profile event in Madrid.
The first guest speaker, Sarah-Jane Morris, described her work on the coast with British expats, many of whom are in danger of losing reciprocal health and pension benefits available through the EU. According to the the consul, there are 250,000 registered UK nationals but many more resident unofficially and thousands who spend part of the year in Spain. She explained that most Britons in the Madrid area would be in a better position, as most have paid into the Spanish system for years, although of course they would lose other rights on becoming non-EU citizens. She added that the British consulate was collecting data about the concerns of expats and feeding them back into the ‘sausage machine’ at the department for exiting Europe in London.
The journalist and researcher William Chislett explained a petition set up to request dual nationality for Britons from the Spanish government, which already has nearly 20,000 signatures. He pointed out the unfairness of Spaniards in the UK being able to obtain dual nationality after five years, whereas Britons need ten years’ residence in Spain to apply for nationality, facing the hypothetical danger of having to give up their British passports.
There were questions from the floor about: work permits for the self-employed after the UK has left the EU, the risk of losing your British passport on gaining Spanish nationality, the Erasmus programme and the future status of young people wishing to study in Spain, an issue of police harrassment due to racial profiling, the situation of Britons who have spent only a few years in the country, the future access of Britons living in Spain to UK education.
Sarah-Jane Morris said she could not answer many of these questions until the political situation had been clarified. However, she did stress that British nationality cannot be removed unless one specifically applies for this to happen. She said that British parents in Spain might have to pay full university fees in the UK, in line with current residents in non-EU countries. It was also pointed out that, on the UK leaving the Erasmus exchange scheme, universities would have to establish bilateral agreements with each other.
There were also queries and suggestions about the future strategy of EuroCitizens, in particular the need to lobby the UK government.
The meeting ended on an optimistic note. Despite all the uncertainty for UK nationals in Spain after Brexit, it is hoped that EuroCitizens and other expat associations can give a voice to British citizens living in EU countries. Along with EU citizens in the UK and 16/17-year-olds, 90% of these Britons were not allowed to vote in the referendum although their lives have been profoundly affected by it.
For more photos, see: https://www.facebook.com/EuroCitizens-1119482284794200/