Why the EU is more than bananas, borders, and Brexit

Brexit has kept Europe and the EU in the headlines, but how many out there really understand the whole story? The Local learns how a unique programme at Malmö University helps make the continent less confusing.

Why the EU is more than bananas, borders, and Brexit

It feels like every media outlet is talking about Europe. And you can pretty much guarantee that the text will include one particular era-defining word: Brexit.

Both demonised and glorified in equal measure, Brexit has come to mean so much to so many, but few are really be able to define it.

“There has never been a time, certainly in the last 30 years, where Europe has been so central to the news on a daily basis and Brexit is often in the limelight,” explains Derek Hutcheson, Malmö University associate professor and coordinator of the school’s European Studies programme.

People forget that the EU is not just about “bureaucracy and bananas”, he adds. Moreover,  the triggering of Brexit means there has never been a more relevant time to study Europe.

“Brexit indicates – if not an existential crisis to the EU – then a change in the direction for it,” he says.

Among other things, the referendum and ensuing debate showed how little most people knew about how the EU works and what it does.

“There were discussions in the UK media about immigration, about economic costs, but very little understanding of what the implications were of either staying or leaving,” says Hutcheson, who believes that fully understanding Europe and the EU requires more than one national or scientific perspective.

“Discussion about the EU gets distilled down to some of the more obvious but technically less important things, such as regulating what size and shape bananas should be,” he says.  

“This misses the important role that the EU has in regulating competition and trade. Trade is made easier when standards are similar and where there is recognition of each other’s quality controls.”

Hutcheson adds he’s surprised by how little debate there has been around the fact that Britain wants to leave the EU single market, something he calls a “huge step”.

“It will have massive implications,” he says.

And it’s precisely these sort of thorny issues that are addressed in Malmö University’s European Studies programme, the only English-language programme in Sweden devoted to studying Europe.

Questions like Brexit and trade can really only be understood in the bigger context: how the EU and its various institutions work. Thus the programme sets out to give a grounded understanding of Europe using political, historical, geographical, legal, cultural studies perspectives.

“The programme is not about the EU as such – though obviously, discussions about it play a central role in the programme,” says Hutcheson.

“But it is mainly about understanding Europe and where today’s Europe comes from. A large focus is on European history and how the EU of today emerged. For that, we go back 1,000 years to get an understanding of different cultures within Europe.”

Find out more about European Studies at Malmö University

Hutcheson believes that Brexit poses a potential challenge to the EU but it poses a bigger challenge to Britain.

“The EU has always been about ever closer union, it has been about moving forward and bringing in new members, deepening cooperation – now Brexit changes that,” he explains.

“I’m not pessimistic about the future of the EU as such, but I think that it needs to be better at communicating a vision of where it goes from here.”

Current discussion now revolves around whether the EU should stop moving forward and integrating and rather consolidate what it does; whether “it should do less, but do it more intensively”.

But, Hutcheson warns that developments “could result in chaos” if every country tries to get what it can from the EU without understanding why it is part of it.

“Part of the challenge for the EU is getting people to understand what it is, what it is there for, and what it seeks to achieve,” he adds.

Linnéa Maria Göransson, who lived previously in Prague and London and has long been interested in Europe, is studying on the first year of the programme and just completed an essay on Brexit.

“It’s a global society we live in, but not everyone wants to live globally!” she proclaims.

“That has manifested itself through the Brexit vote. It seems like the UK never really felt part of the EU so they rejected it.”

Find out more about studying in Malmö

Göransson believes “overreach” is one of the main problems with the EU.

“It wants to deal with too many things and that has led to problems. We are joking about the time we will graduate – will the EU still even exist then?”

One of the best aspects of Malmö University’s European Studies programme, according to Göransson, is how international it is.

“We have students from Germany, Serbia, Bulgaria, Finland, the Balkans, China, and Bangladesh,” she says.

“When you have people from different parts of Europe and the world, they have a different way of viewing things and that brings different perspectives to the discussion.

“It is a great environment to learn about Europe.”

Read more Malmö University stories on The Local

This article was sponsored by Malmö University.

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How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired if the person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years, has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period, and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance. Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge. 

The EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

READ ALSO: Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

Around 3.1 million third-country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.