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'Sweden in breach of EU law for refusal to issue a personnummer to EU citizens'

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'Sweden in breach of EU law for refusal to issue a personnummer to EU citizens'
The EU Rights Clinic has submitted a complaint to the European Commission. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
12:54 CET+01:00
OPINION: Sweden's unduly strict personal number rules are in breach of EU's free movement of persons and workers, writes Anthony Valcke of the EU Rights Clinic, which is petitioning the European Parliament to resolve the issue.

For EU citizens and their families who are living in Sweden, being refused a 'personnummer' – the personal identification number issued by the Swedish tax authority – can mean being unable to engage in everyday life in Sweden.

A personnummer is essential for accessing almost any kind of private or public service – banking services, renting a home, phone and internet services, medical treatment, getting a job. Without a personnummer, it is practically impossible to access many of these services or it becomes much more expensive to do so, as a number of readers have pointed out to The Local.

READ ALSO: The Local investigates the Swedish personal number

This is the reason why the EU Rights Clinic – the first university law clinic to advise on EU free movement rights – has decided to take the issue directly to the European Union by submitting a complaint to the European Commission over the refusal of the Swedish tax authorities to issue a 'personnummer' to EU citizens and their family members living in Sweden. In conjunction with the complaint, the EU Rights Clinic is also submitting a petition to the European Parliament.

Ten-year problem

This problem, which has been going on for over ten years, was first investigated by the Commission in 2007, after which the Swedish authorities promised to resolve the problem. Their assurances, however, have not been followed through. The European Parliament has also received a number of petitions and has recommended the use of the so-called "coordination number". But this is not a feasible solution because a coordination number does not provide access to the full range of public and private services for which a personnummer is required.

The legal case being made by the EU Rights Clinic is that the refusal to issue a 'personnummer' to EU citizens – despite them having a right of residence in Sweden under EU law – amounts to a deliberate restriction of their right to free movement under EU law. The origin of the problem lies in the Swedish law on the population register requiring EU citizens to demonstrate that they will reside in Sweden for a year or more before being able to obtain a personal identification number, but under EU law, EU citizens should be considered genuinely resident in after having lived in Sweden for over three months.

Comprehensive sickness insurance

The problem is further compounded by Sweden's unduly restrictive policy on comprehensive sickness insurance. While EU law does allow Sweden to require that EU citizens who are not in employment hold comprehensive sickness insurance for themselves and their family members, the rules must be applied in a proportionate way and must give due regard to all forms of healthcare coverage.

In practice, the way in which the Swedish administrative policy on comprehensive sickness insurance is applied means that neither private healthcare nor reliance on the Swedish public healthcare system is accepted by the Swedish tax authority. As a result, the Swedish tax authority will refuse to issue a personnummer to EU citizens who do not work, even if they have the means to study in Sweden or rely on income from a working spouse who is not an EU citizen.

Enforcement action needed

The complaint filed by the EU Rights Clinic provides a detailed legal analysis of the Swedish rules and how they breach the EU rules on the free movement of persons and workers. It urges the European Commission to take a strong enforcement stance by opening formal infringement proceedings against Sweden and bring the matter before the European Court of Justice without delay.

Together with our Swedish partner, Crossroads Göteborg, we have already identified close to 300 cases of people who have been refused a personnummer by the Swedish authorities. As new cases are bound to arise going forward into 2018, we continue to monitor the situation closely and stand ready to continue our advocacy efforts to ensure this problem can be resolved for the benefits of EU citizens living in Sweden.

This opinion piece was written by Anthony Valcke, the Founder and Supervising Solicitor of the EU Rights Clinic. The EU Rights Clinic is a collaboration between ECAS and the University of Kent in Brussels. As part of the ACT for Free Movement project, funded by EPIM, the EU Rights Clinic is investigating cases of breaches of free movement rights in EU Member States.

You can read the executive summary of the complaint here.

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