Nineteen becomes Twenty-Five
For the Visitor and Traveller in Mainland Europe
Subtitle: What it is to be a Foreigner in our own Continent!
Barry and Margaret Williamson
Locked Down in the Fylde
Introduction: After having waited some 1,654 days for Brexit to actually begin, we are now learning every day of yet more lost freedoms imposed on us by the self-defeating 'Will of the British People' in the EU referendum of 23 June 2016. Is this really what they voted for?
Back in March 2019 we described on our website the nineteen probable Brexit-derived losses of freedom for the British traveller, who was completely free at that time to travel and roam throughout mainland Europe by car, van, motorbike or motorhome. With few or no plans, travellers could just get off the ferry or exit the tunnel and go where they pleased in any or all of more than 40 countries. Nearly two years ago we counted nineteen freedoms which we would lose with Brexit. Regulations that once only applied to foreigners would abruptly apply to the British (Northern Ireland may be something of an exception, remaining partly in the EU).
Millions died defending closed borders in the two World Wars of the twentieth century; immediately afterwards European countries began to work together to ensure it could never happen again. First there were 6 countries; then over the years it grew to 9, 10, 12, 15 until in 2004 it leapt to 25, as 10 Eastern European countries finally escaped the clutches of the collapsing USSR. Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia made it 28 until, to our shame and their amusement, the UK reduced the EU's membership to 27. As we leave, Macedonia and Albania are waiting to join with the 450 million EU citizens who are free to live, work, trade and travel as one people.
At the time of our article in early 2019, no-one knew which of the nineteen freedoms would remain when we finally left the EU. Now we do know, and the number has climbed to twenty-five!
The full details of our proposed nineteen lost freedoms are still on our website and here is a brief review of their fate:
1) International Driving Permit (IDP). The need for this is still to be decided and it may well be a matter for each and every mainland country to decide. Some countries may require the 1949 Convention IDP, while others require the 1926 Convention IDP.
2) Driving Licence. Drivers who live in an EU country who presently use their UK driving licence may have to exchange it for a local licence. In some cases they may have to take the local driving test (which can involve a written test in the local language) to obtain a local licence.
3) Vehicle Insurance. A Green Card from the vehicle's insurance company is now needed to prove that it has the minimum cover required by the countries which are visited. Some countries outside the EU (for example in the Balkans) will continue to require the purchase of a local Green Card at the border.
4) Breakdown Cover. Proof may be needed that any breakdown cover still operates in the countries to be visited.
5) Schengen. This is a major change. Travel in the Schengen zone (most of the EU plus Norway and Switzerland) is now limited to a total of 90 days in a rolling period of 180 days.
To quote: “The 180-day reference period is not fixed. It is a moving window, based on the approach of looking backwards at each day of the stay (be it at the moment of entry or at the day of an actual check, such as inland police control or border check upon departure). Absence for an uninterrupted period of 90 days allows for a new stay for up to 90 days.” Work that out!
Different rules apply to Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania who are not in Schengen, so visits to these countries do not count towards the 90-day Schengen total, but they do have their own limits.
To stay for longer than 90 days (for example to work or study in a given country) a visa or permit issued by that country will be required.
6) Visa to visit EU. The European Commission announced in November 2018 that UK travellers would still be able to visit within the Schengen zone without a visa, provided the same privilege is offered to European citizens visiting the UK. This is still uncertain. From 2022 it is likely that a Schengen Visa will be required and will have to be purchased in advance of travel.
7) EHIC. The European Health Insurance Card (currently issued to 27 million British People) may no longer be valid for emergency health care in EU countries. The British government is replacing the EHIC with a GHIC (Global Health Insurance Card), the details of which are as yet unknown.
8) Private Health Insurance. This is highly recommended or even compulsory in some countries.
9) Pet Passports. These are no longer valid in their present form. The requirements for cats, dogs and ferrets are more draconian than was feared, although as cyclists we are happy to see as many dogs as possible taken off the road. For pet lovers, here is what is needed:
When travelling to an EU country or Northern Ireland, the pet needs a microchip, a valid rabies vaccination and an animal health certificate. In addition, tapeworm treatment is required for dogs if they are travelling directly to Finland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Norway or Malta. In general, there's a need to check the rules of each country visited for any additional restrictions or requirements before travelling with pets.
If you're travelling to a non-EU country, you'll need to get an export health certificate (EHC) and complete an export application form (EXA) for each country and pet. You must nominate an official vet who will be sent the EHC so they can check that each pet meets the health and identification requirements of the country you're travelling to before you travel.
10) Blue Badge Parking. UK-issued blue badge parking permits may no longer be valid (this will make no difference to parking in Greece!)
11) Mobile Phone Roaming Charges. UK mobile phone network operators can return to making roaming charges as they please.
12) Getting Cash. Bank charges on ATM withdrawals abroad may increase – not to mention the continuing reduction in the pound's exchange rate against the euro and other European currencies, many of which are tied to the euro. For example, in 2016 before the referendum, £1 would buy €1.42. Today £1 buys €1.15, a reduction of nearly a fifth - and these are the official rates. At the airport or on the ferry the rate can be less than £1 = €1.
13) UK Vehicle Excise Duty. 'Road Tax' paid in the UK excuses the driver from paying tax in another country (the French police in particular check on this). But this would not be the case if the UK VED were no longer recognised.
14) Vehicle Registration. Presently European countries allow foreign-registered vehicles to be used for 6 months without being required to re-register locally. This may no longer apply.
15) Internet Services. From the UK government website: “The EU Portability Regulation will cease to apply to UK-EEA travel from 1 January 2021. In the UK, the regulation will be revoked. Online content service providers will not be required under the regulation to provide content ordinarily available in the UK to a UK customer who is temporarily present in any other EEA Member State. This will not prevent service providers offering cross-border portability to their customers on a voluntary basis, but to do so they will need the permission of the owners of the content they provide.
UK customers visiting the EEA and EEA customers visiting the UK may see restrictions to the content available to them from 1 January 2021. This will depend on the terms of their services and the licences in place between service providers and right holders.”
16) Passports. Schengen and other European countries require there to be at least six months left on a passport on entering the country and that the passport is no more than 10 years old.
17) Number Plates. At present, British number plates incorporate the EU symbol and the country of origin (GB). In future, number plates on British registered cars will lose the EU symbol.
18) GB Sticker. Whether or not there is still a 'GB' on the number plate, all British-registered cars are now required to display a GB sticker for driving in mainland Europe. Scots will find that 'Ecosse' is no longer enough, even in France!
19) Confusion Reigns. Who, among all the multitude of police, border guards, customs officials, doctors, dentists etc throughout mainland Europe, will be clear about which regulation still applies or no longer applies to the British traveller, their vehicle or their animal? The traveller will need proofs of what may be required (for example a Green Card) or an explanation as to why something an official wants is not required (for example, an IDP)! While much of Brexit has caused amusement among mainland Europeans, we will no longer have the rights of EU membership or the respect we once had in being British!
Six More. Having finally left the EU (now the UK thinks it has actually 'Got Brexit Done' when it has only just started) a few more regulations have made their appearance. Brexit was meant to reduce rules and regulations originating in 'Brussels', whereas it means extra ones that were always there but didn't apply to us when we were members. Now they do apply: something our traders, travellers, truckers, fishermen, artists and entertainers are discovering literally to their cost in time and money!
Here are the extra regulations that turn nineteen into twenty-five (and we don't claim that this is a full list):
20) Trailers. Throughout mainland European countries trailers, including caravans, are separately registered and insured. Not least, this means a separate Green Card for the caravan or trailer, which may also need to have its own number plate (we were once pulled over in Germany by puzzled police for having the same number plate on our caravan as on our car). Some or all of these requirements may be applied to foreigners in some or all mainland countries.
21) Ham and Cheese Sandwich, anyone? Personal imports of meat and dairy products into the EU have been banned since the Brexit transition period ended. Truck drivers arriving at the Hook of Holland have already had their lunch box confiscated by Dutch customs officers. They were told: “You are no longer allowed to bring certain foods to Europe, like meat, fruit, vegetables, fish, that kind of stuff. Welcome to the Brexit” Customs wouldn't even release the bread for consumption. This will particularly affect travellers like us, with their motorhome fridge/freezer packed with English bacon, sausage, cheese, etc. Continental breakfasts only from now on!
22) Making a Local Insurance Claim. A claim following a road traffic accident in an EEA country (that means EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) may need to be made against the driver or their insurer in the country where the accident happened. This could involve bringing the claim in the local language.
23) Border Controls. Once inside mainland Europe, travellers will still be subject to the vagaries of each border control. For example, a traveller may need to show they have a return or onward ticket and enough money for the stay, as well as using separate lanes from the EU, EEA and Swiss citizens when queueing at the border. In other words, the hassle that other foreigners get – and no one-way tickets allowed.
24) Which Country? It has also emerged that some regulations restricting freedom will apply to the EU as a whole; others will vary depending on the individual country. Countries outside the EU will continue to have their own regulations. For example, Serbia which is not in the EU may no longer recognise a UK-issued Green Card at its border. Bulgaria and Romania are in the EU but not yet in the Schengen zone, and so stays in these countries do not count towards the Schengen 90-day limit.
25) Disrupted Journeys. The sum total of all these new regulations and bureaucracy may well be disruption to a journey at any or all of the borders that are crossed. It will be a good idea to allow for this lost time when heading for a return flight, train or ferry.
Conclusion. We will attempt a conclusion although all this restriction, regulation and confusion may never end. If you voted or even just supported (couldn't be bothered to vote) 'Leave', you deserve it – and more! Anyone thinking they could 'leave' Europe has probably never looked at a map to see where the UK is located (clue – it actually lies in 'Europe', half-way up on the left-hand side).
It's a sad irony that English has become the language of choice throughout the whole of mainland Europe. It's the language they use to each other: a Finn meeting a Spaniard will use English; it is indeed the common language. This would have been an enormous advantage for native English speakers if they hadn't lost it along with their own freedoms and respect throughout the mainland.
'Brexiters' used to say to 'Remainers' like us, 'You lost, get over it'. We now say to Brexiters 'We are all losers, and we may never get over it'.