European ID ‘must be accepted in Sweden’

People from European Union countries must be allowed to identify themselves in Sweden using ID documents from their home countries, the European Commission has said.

ID cards were previously issued to foreign citizens by state-owned Svensk Kassaservice and by banks. In January, however, Svensk Kassaservice stopped issuing ID cards to people who are not Swedish citizens or who are not closely related to a Swedish citizen. Some banks have taken the same line. At the same time, many foreigners legally resident in Sweden, including EU citizens, say they have had their passports refused as ID when using credit cards, picking up parcels and trying to prove their age.

The Local raised the issue earlier this year, after which the government launched an inquiry. The inquiry, chaired by senior judge Per Virdesten, is due to report by the end of the year.

The Commission says it has received a number of reports from EU citizens resident in Sweden who have trouble identifying themselves using ID from their home countries and who have been denied Swedish ID cards.

Simon Barrington, a British citizen, reported Sweden to the European Commission after he had difficulty obtaining a Swedish ID card. The Commission replied to him this week stating that it is looking at whether the Swedish rules are a breach of EU law guaranteeing free movement of people within the Union.

But Commission official Michal Meduna, who looked into the issue following Barrington’s complaint, said that people from EU countries are entitled to identify themselves using an ID card or passport from their home country. EU ID and passports should be accepted by “everybody, including public and private entities,” Meduna told The Local.

“If you make your public accustomed to the fact that everyone has a Swedish ID card, and now there is a group of people who have a perfect right to reside in Sweden but who cannot identify themselves, then you have a problem,” Meduna said.

Being able to use foreign EU ID in Sweden would benefit some of those denied Swedish ID cards.

“It would make life a lot easier for me if my UK passport was accepted as ID when I want to use my card, for instance. Any passport should be accepted,” said Simon Barrington.

The government has seen the solution as allowing everyone who has the right to live and work in Sweden to be issued an ID card. The Virdesten inquiry is intended to come up with a system for allowing this.

But the European Commission could put a spanner in the works, making it harder still for citizens of EU states wanting to get identification cards in Sweden. Meduna told The Local that Sweden could be breaking European Law if it issues ID cards to citizens of other member states. He says that EU treaties state that ID cards can only be issued by the state in which the person is a citizen.

“This is a point that we are currently addressing with our legal department,” he told The Local. If the EU were to insist on this point, non-EU citizens in Sweden would be allowed a Swedish ID card, while EU citizens from countries in which ID cards are not issued would be forced to carry their passports together with a Swedish certificate of registration.

But Meduna stressed that the Commission would be reluctant to take action that would make life more difficult for EU citizens, and said that it is likely that it would turn a blind eye to an ID card scheme that was voluntary in practice for EU citizens.

Meanwhile, people who have their EU ID refused are being encouraged to stand their ground:

“We advise people in situations such as these to defend their rights personally,” said Meduna.

Swedish post office Posten told The Local on Thursday that its policy is to accept EU passports and ID cards. A spokesman also said that non-EU passports would be accepted for collecting packages, although people with registered letters to collect would have to be accompanied by somebody with a Swedish ID card.

The Local tried to contact Per Virdesten for a comment, but he was unavailable.