Commission ‘deplores weak impact’ of EU long-term residence directive

Written by Thomas Huddleston, MIPEX Research Coordinator, Co-author and Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Group

Five years after most Member States had to transpose Directive 2003/109/EC, an insignificant number of third-country nationals have become EU long-term residents. Policies restricting access to long-term residence are part of the problem, according to both the European Commission’s Application Report and the MIPEX. Who should be eligible to settle permanently in Europe? What language and integration conditions go against EU law? And what other factors are behind the Directive’s weak impact?

European Commission Reports on Transposition

The Directive 2003/109/EC on EU long-term residence aims to secure a common EU residence status for long-term residents, including uniform rights which are as close as possible to those enjoyed by EU citizens and, under certain conditions, the right to reside in other Member States. The share of immigrants who acquired permanent or long-term residence was recently agreed by EU Member States as a Core Indicator of Integration Outcomes, since active citizenship supports their integration, participation in the democratic process, and sense of belonging. In terms of its impact on integration, long-term residence enables third-country nationals to participate more in many areas of life on an equal legal footing with nationals and EU citizens.

On 28 September 2011, the European Commission published its application report on the Directive, drawing on the transposition monitoring of the Odysseus Network. Five years have passed since the deadline for transposition and the creation of this specific status in all Member States (except Denmark, Ireland, and UK).

In its own words, the Commission deplores the weak impact of the EU LTR Directive in most EU Member States.

The numbers

By 2009, only approximately half-a-million third country nationals benefited from this status, according to Eurostat. But four fifths of these live in just 4 Member States: Estonia (187 400), Austria (166,600), Czech Republic  (49,200), and Italy (45,200). In comparison, France and Germany only had around 2,000. The share of LTRs is insignificant in Europe’s many major countries of immigration, including Belgium, Finland, France, Greece, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden:

Long-term residents: defined in Art. 2(b), Directive 2003/109/EC

(as % of total legally-resident third-country national population)

  1. Estonia                      187,411      (88.4%)
  2. Austria                      166,607     (36.1%)
  3. Czech Republic      49,207        (15.7%)
  4. Italy                            45,247       (0.3%)
  5. Slovenia                     25,860       (24%)
  6. Spain                           19,986       (0.3%)
  7. Lithuania                  19,648       (62.5%)
  8. Netherlands             19,351       (3.2%)
  9. Romania                    9,679         (14.6%)
  10. Poland                        4,524         (4%)
  11. Hungary                     3,537        (3.3%)
  12. Slovakia                     2,946         (5.3%)
  13. Portugal                     2,331         (0.4%)
  14. Germany                   2,103         (0.0%)
  15. France                        1,905        (0.0%)
  16. Belgium                      1,774       (0.2%)
  17. Sweden                       381            (0.1%)
  18. Latvia                         207            (0.0%)
  19. Malta                           165            (2.2%)
  20. Greece                        134            (0.0%)
  21. Bulgaria                     124             (1.6%)
  22. Cyprus                       100                —
  23. Finland                       16               (0.0%)

Sources: Eurostat 31 December 2009, No data available for Luxembourg. Also see Eurostat, Indicators of immigrant integration: pilot study (2011).

Very few EU LTRs have used their EU mobility rights ( <50 per Member State).

What Explains These Poor Outcomes?…Deficient Policies & Transposition

Policies restricting access to LTR are part of the problem, according to both MIPEX and the EC Application Report.

MIPEX III finds that  in most countries immigrants who successfully acquire LTR enjoy near-equal legal rights with EU citizens and at least some residence security, partly due to EU law. That’s why MIPEX identifies LTR as a relative strength for integration policies in most EU Member States.

The major weakness within LTR policies lies with the many different eligibility requirements and conditions for acquisition. These measures have emerged across the EU 27, especially in Europe’s established immigration countries (here labelled as EU-15):

MIPEX warns that these measures may exclude, discourage, or delay many well-settled immigrants from applying. The Commission’s Application Report reveals that many of these measures are deficiencies in national transposition of the Directive. These deficiencies range from high fees (Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Netherlands) to a restrictive interpretation of its scope and disproportionately high conditions for acquisition.

Who should be eligible to settle permanently in Europe?

MIPEX concluded that the overall eligibility restrictions were most unfavourable in Austria, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, and Luxembourg. Several other countries exclude many ‘temporary’ permit-holders, even if they already legally lived in the country for the required five years:

Of these countries, the Commission states that Austria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and Poland apply too broad a reading of the exception of certain temporary categories, since many of these permits can be renewed indefinitely. The Commission is awaiting the outcome of a preliminary referral on this issue from the European Court of Justice (C-502/10 M. Singh). The Commission also finds it problematic to restrict the 5-years’-residence to time on certain residence permits, as occurs in France, Italy, Luxembourg, Sweden, and Slovakia.


What language and integration conditions go against EU law?

MIPEX documents how the demanding conditions once reserved for naturalisation are increasingly applied to LTR across Europe, especially within the EU-15. Since 2007, most LTR changes focused on these new conditions. For example, Germany was the only EU Member State in 1999 to impose a language requirement for LTR. Now, that trend extends from established countries of immigration like Austria, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the UK to new countries of labour migration in the south and east like Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, and Portugal.

The European Commission states that language and integration conditions for LTR may go against EU law if they are proven not to be proportionate and effective.

To perform such an assessment, the Commission lists the following as valuable indicators:
  • Nature and level of the knowledge expected from applicant
  • Cost of exam
  • Accessibility of integration training and tests
  • Comparison between requirements for LTR and access to nationality
These indicators are similar to the MIPEX Policy Indicators on integration conditions for LTR and access to nationality (See Qs 79a-h, 99a-f, & 100a-f). Based on these indicators, the MIPEX III concluded that the conditions were slightly unfavourable for integration and language-learning in Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Netherlands, Romania, and Slovakia. The conditions were slightly favourable in Latvia, Norway, Portugal, and the UK–but only fully favourable in Czech Republic and France:

These conditions are just or nearly as demanding for LTR as for naturalisation in at least 12 EU Member States:

Beyond EU LTR: Additional Factors

One possible reason for the low number of EU LTRs is simply that third-country nationals do not want to apply. Some indeed may prefer to remain temporary residents, naturalise as full citizens, or return to their country, for whatever reason. The factors that help explain the low acquisition rates are many and perhaps more important than immigrants’ interest in EU LTR.
A full evaluation of the Directive’s impact must weigh all these factors. Depending on how present these factors are in the various countries, immigrants will be more (or less) able to acquire LTR and national policies will be more (or less) effective at meeting the Directive’s integration goals:
  1. More types of LTR, fewer EU LTRs: The more national LTR permits that are put in between potential applicants and EU LTR, the fewer third-country nationals will benefit from this EU law. By my account, Cyprus is the one EU Member State that offers only EULTR. A handful allow applicants to acquire both the EU LTR and a national LTR. Another handful require they first acquire the national LTR as a condition for EU LTR. 14 Member States force them to choose either the EU or the national LTR. The Commission thinks that this choice creates competition between the two and contravenes the Directive’s Articles 4(1) and 7(3). By 2011, when Member States start reporting to Eurostat not just about EC LTRs but also national LTRs, researchers will have a better handle on the dynamics between the two statuses.
  2. Easier to naturalise, fewer LTRs:  Countries may end up with more LTRs if LTR is much easier to acquire than citizenship. MIPEX III locates this policy gap in Austria, Malta, Spain, and all the Baltic and Central European countries. There, comparatively more third-country nationals may become and remain LTRs, while fewer may naturalise as full citizens.
  3. LTR as a choice: LTR may be less common where immigrants can choose between LTR and naturalisation. According to, LTR is not required in 13 of the 24 Member States where the EU LTR Directive applies. Countries including Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain could expect comparatively lower LTR acquisition rates and higher naturalisation rates, depending on the required number of years of residence.
  4. LTR as a requirement: LTR may be more common where it is required for naturalisation. LTR is required in 11 (and indirectly in The Netherlands). Now Finland should be added to the list, while Belgium may soon follow. The only Member State to specifically require EU LTR is Greece (in 2012). These requirements make the naturalisation process longer, harder, and more bureaucratic, since the conditions to acquire LTR become de facto conditions to acquire nationality. Linking the two is a recent European trend, partially endorsed by the European Commission when promoting EU LTR and its idea of civic citizenship.
  5. Conditions harder for some groups, fewer LTRs: Research on family reunion and naturalisation observe that fees, income, language, and integration requirements disproportionately affect the less educated, economically disadvantaged, very young or very old, newcomers, refugees, other vulnerable groups, and women. The more present these groups are in a country’s third-country national population, the fewer third-country nationals may be able to become LTRs.
  6. Mostly newcomers, fewer LTRs: Since LTR is not available in most cases and countries until after 5 years’ legal residence, countries with disproportionately more newcomers will have fewer LTRs. If the statistics could be disaggregated by years of residence, then a relevant outcome indicator would be the share of third-country nationals residing there 6 or 7 years who have now become LTRs. There may also be fewer EU LTRs in the few countries with disproportionately high numbers of the types of temporary workers excluded from its scope. For example, Eurostat reports the number of arriving seasonal workers in 2010 at around 1,000 in a few Member States and up to 73,156 in Poland and 22,345 in Italy).
  7. Few know EU LTR, so few apply: The Commission concludes that third-country nationals generally lack information about the EU LTR status and the many rights attached to it. Some authorities, including at local and regional level, also may not know. They then may not inform people to apply or fully implement its provisions in practice, as the Commission suggests based on the number of complaints it receives from concerned immigrants.

So What Happens Next?

The Commission ends its Application Report with the promise to make full use of its powers under the Treaty and launch infringement proceedings when necessary. The issue of high fees in the Netherlands is already the subject of an infringement procedure before the European Court of Justice.

Alongside these proceedings, the Member States’ LTR Contact Committee will discuss and clarify integration measures and conditions, among other issues.

The Commission will try and inform immigrants about their rights under the Directive through guides for applicants and existing websites. Member States are also encouraged to launch awareness-raising campaigns, for instance via the European Integration Fund.

The Commission will also consider amendments to the Directive such as taking better account of temporary stays within the 5-year period and encouraging circular migration through more flexible periods of absence from the EU, facilitating access to the labour market in other Member States, and simplifying the acquisition of LTR status there.