So UK Immigration Minister Mark Harper has said that a mandatory ID card scheme is under consideration in the UK for “Romanians, Bulgarians and other Europeans” according to The Guardian. This immediately set alarm bells ringing in my mind, as EU citizens should be treated the same way as ‘locals’. This is of course the latest in a series of comments by UK ministers upping the fears of migration to the UK from Romania and Bulgaria when transition controls are lifted at the end of this year.
So what can be made of this latest idea?
First of all, there is no way such an ID system can be made compulsory for Romanians and Bulgarians, and not for other EU nationals. Article 46 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (full text PDF here) commits Member States to abolishing any administrative procedures restricting the freedom of movement of workers, so if Romanians and Bulgarians faced more onerous procedures than others, that would be unlawful. So it’s IDs for ALL EU citizens, or for none.
But what about the distinction between British citizens and other EU citizens? According to Directive 2004/38/EC (PDF here) Member States may issue registration certificates to EU citizens resident for more than 3 months – as stipulated in Article 8 of the Directive. Importantly this certificate can require financial means to be demonstrated, but “this amount shall not be higher than the threshold below which nationals of the host Member State become eligible for social assistance” (i.e. the minimum wage). So the UK could – legally – oblige all EU citizens to obtain such a document.
But the question then arises: what good is such a document actually going to do anyway? Because more or less everything in the UK functions for British citizens without ID. Is a NHS A&E going to turn away a Frenchman without such a certificate with them, while they will not turn away a Brit who does not have a certificate in the first place and cannot even prove they are British (as only a passport can prove a Brit is British)? The Guardian piece cites a Spanish example, where EU citizens are obliged to register, but fails to note that Spain has a compulsory ID card system – for Spanish too.
The real problem here is not with the EU, but with the UK, as people resident in the UK have no simple way of proving their identity, whether they are UK citizens or not. In Denmark, my entitlement to healthcare – as a Brit resident here – is the same as a Dane’s, because we all have a CPR Number that gives us entitlement, and allows the health system to check our records. The only way for the UK to adequately check entitlement of a Romanian or a Bulgarian, would be to institute a system to be able to check French and Spanish and Brits too. And that is not going to happen.