Responsible Member State? Emotional Abuse by MUP Towards EU National

By 7 November 2019

November the 7th, 2019 - Croatia has been a member state of the European Union since July 2013. Some growing pains were expected throughout the following year, maybe two. The new system which allows ease of access to life and work in Croatia for other EU nationals of course takes a little time to implement, MUP's administrative staff need to be updated, and so on. 

Mistakes happen, and misunderstandings occur. EU law, however, is not complicated, and if you're employed in a position which demands you know it, and keep up to date with it, it's quite unexpected to be told, as an EU national (Netherlands), who was a former Croatian national on top of that, that you have ''no rights''. Amazing, no? Welcome to Croatia, the country set to preside over the EU at the beginning of 2020.

We at TCN do our best to help out foreign nationals (be they from the EU or outside of it) when it comes to residence and citizenship matters, and it's always amazing how many comments and emails we get from various people stating how their experience was very different to what both EU and Croatian law prescribe. We've read tales of nothing less than abuse, and while all such stories are utterly unacceptable, one such example among the thousands (literally), was from a former Croatian national, who is now a Dutch national, who had recently moved back to Zagreb - and it stood out from the crowd for all the wrong reasons.

The Dutch citizen in question wanted to get her Croatian citizenship back, but of course, she first sought legal residence, and as a Dutch national, she had every right to do so and have it all done and dusted without much fuss. However, she was instead belittled, demeaned, shouted at like a child, reduced to tears, told she had no family and also that she has no rights. We're keeping this woman's identity anonymous as per her perfectly understandable request after such an inexcusable experience at the hands of the Croatian authorities, but thanks to her unwillingness to just conform, SOLVIT, an EU body which helps mistreated EU nationals got involved, and not long after, so did the European Commission.

Here is her story of psychological abuse and public shaming by MUP. The disgraceful treatment she received at the hands of administrative clerks at the foreigners' department at Petrinjska police station, in the very heart of Zagreb has attracted the attention of the EC.

''I’m a foreign Croatian national who migrated to the Netherlands 13 years ago. After completing my masters and PhD in Amsterdam, I moved to the UK to do my postdoc at the University of Oxford, and went on to work for the London office of a large multinational company. I’ve recently returned to Croatia with the intention of staying permanently.

On the day after my arrival, I went to the Ministry of Interior Affairs (MUP) in Petrinjska to inquire on how to apply for temporary residence. As a Dutch citizen, I am technically not obliged to do this for the first 3 months of my stay, but it’s necessary for a whole host of practical reasons, e.g. I can’t register or drive my car without it. Because I’m well familiar with the fact that the documents required by the clerks can (and often do) differ from what is stated on the website, I went to Petrinjska in person to obtain a list of documents needed to apply. After an hour and a half long wait, I obtained the following list (which differs from what is on the website indeed, and I’m copying in its entirety in case it’s helpful to anyone):

- Form 1b
- Copy of a passport
- Proof of funds or a work contract
- Proof of health insurance
- Rental contract certified by a notary, or a landlord’s declaration signed at PUZ (can also be certificate of ownership)

I later found out only three of the above documents are required by law (passport, proof of funding, and proof of health insurance). Also, it struck me as bizarre that I had to wait 1.5 hours to obtain information that should so evidently be provided on MUP’s website. It made me wonder how much of the (enormous) queue was caused by the fact that zero of the process is digitised at the moment (my bet is almost all of it). But I went home and prepared all the documents listed above.

The following day I came back at 9:30 and waited for two hours, in which the line moved only by 10 numbers (I was 60 numbers away). Realising that I would not be up before the end of the working day, I left and decided to get up at 6 the following day so I can come back to Petrinjska at 7:45 to take my place in the queue. There were 50 people in the line before me when I got there, but thankfully they were not all waiting in the same counter and I did not have to wait too long. I handed over all the documents required above.

The clerk inquired why I needed the residence card. Assuming the meant what my immediate need for the card was, I replied that I needed to register my car. She said that was not a valid reason to reside in Croatia. Realising her original question was why I was in Croatia, not why I needed a card, I briefly stated why I was here (not expecting to be asked as it’s not on the above list, and not really knowing what aspects of my stay were relevant – is it relevant that I’m getting medical treatment in a private clinic, is it relevant that I’m following some courses, is it relevant that I’m planning to stay permanently?).

I inquired for a list of valid reasons to apply. The lady at the counter raised her voice and demanded that I left. I wasn’t really inclined to do that after having spent 7 hours on this up to that point, especially while knowing that information provided on websites often differs from what the clerks actually ask for. Several pieces of information I managed to gather from the clerk’s yelling that ensued were, for example, that some of the valid reasons to apply included family reunification, studying, or selling a property. Since the latter two reasons didn’t apply to me, I asked whether family reunification could somehow be applicable to me.

They asked what family I had here. With dozens of other people within hearing distance, I shared with her that I lost both my parents and my brother, and that I have a cousin whose family I am very close with. The clerk replied that I cannot reunite with family, since I don’t have one.

Throughout the whole process, I found it very odd that I was being asked for a reason of stay, since a) it was not told to me upfront (despite me making a dedicated trip the day before for that very purpose), b) I’m an EU citizen and I’d never had that problem with any other EU country. I found it especially odd that the rules communicated to me by the clerks seemed a lot like regulations for third (non-EU) country citizens. After repeatedly asking for a list of valid reasons to stay (at this point we’d already spent 15 minutes on this, with dozens of other people waiting in line), the only advice I managed to get was to read the Croatian Law for Foreign Nationals.

This is what I did; as initially expected, the law was very clear: I should be able to apply for temporary residence very easily and with minimum red tape. I spotted the following five inconsistencies between the law and the information communicated to be at MUP:

MUP: I was already once granted residence under ‘other purposes’, and I cannot reapply.

Law: I can apply under ‘other purposes’ multiple times.

MUP: If I had a valid reason to apply (which according to them I do not), I could only apply to reside in Croatia for a year.

Law: I can apply for a 5-year temporary stay, after which I can apply for permanent residence,

MUP: If I had a valid reason to apply, I could in theory apply on the basis of undergoing medical treatment, family reunification, or study.

Law: there are 4 valid categories of reasons to apply: work, other purposes, study, or reunification with an EU family member residing in Croatia (note: this is different to reunification with Croatian family members that the clerks listed).

MUP: I need to provide the five documents listed above.

Law: I only need to produce a copy of my passport, proof of funds, proof of medical insurance, and a filled-out form.

MUP: I was obliged to register a tourist stay on the day I landed in Croatia. Law: This fundamentally does not apply to EU nationals.

After this initial interaction with the clerks (and before reading the Law on Foreign Nationals) I left the counter really shaken; I’m not used to being yelled at and found the whole experience really distressing, especially as I remained polite throughout the interaction despite the clerk’s attitude. I started to think about things more calmly and realised that perhaps my ongoing medical treatment could be a valid reason to apply; I went back to verify and got confirmation. After contacting the clinic I am being treated in and getting a nurse, a doctor, and a lawyer involved in producing a document for me, I found out I was mis-informed by MUP and that medical treatment is not on the list of reasons to apply for EU nationals.

The highlight of the day occurred after I had read the Law and returned to the counter with correct information at my disposal (this was already 6 hours into that day’s visit to MUP).

I told the clerks I had read the Law as advised, and tried to tell them that the information I was given by them was inconsistent with the Law on several points, and that according to EU regulations I appeared to be entitled to submitting a residence application. What followed can only be described as verbal abuse. The clerks did not let me finish; instead, one of them suggested I wrote a complaint, which would then be rejected (“you can put all this in a complaint, and we will reject it”).

The other pointed out to people in the queue behind me that I was returning for the fifth time that day, and taking up time that should be theirs. They referred me to their superior (which witnessed our first exchange and was unfortunately unfamiliar with the law as well; he supported the clerk throughout our conversation). I waited for this gentleman for 45 minutes, and he then informed me that I was wrong and am not entitled to apply. I pulled out my mobile phone and showed him the relevant section in the Law on Foreign Nationals.

He was still not convinced, but luckily two of his co-workers had entered his office at that point, and he asked them to stay while I present my case to them. I did, and both of them immediately said I was right and am entitled to submitting a residence application.

At this point I started to cry; I was overwhelmed by everything that had happened that day and in the two days before. I told them I was not sure how to actually submit my application, as they would not accept it at the counter. One of them walked me to the counter and explained to the clerks that they needed to accept my application. After a 12-hour process spread across three days, I had finally managed to submit my application. The waiting time for resolution is 5-6 weeks (during which I cannot drive, and living on a hill without public transport this practically means being trapped at home).

While waiting at MUP, I reported the whole case to European Commision’s SOLVIT system (and I strongly encourage other EU nationals to report similar violations; the system was designed to address exactly these type of situations: 'Unfair rules or decisions and discriminatory red tape can make it hard for you to live, work or do business in another EU country.'

I also inquired with the clerks about who oversees their work, but the only response I got from them was ‘Madam, we’re the Ministry of Internal Affairs’, implying that they don’t report to anyone. I believe there is a large-scale problem in Croatia with adherence to EU laws (I was persistent enough and spoke the language so was ultimately able to get the application accepted, but many are not lucky enough). This is a systemic problem and is highly prevent in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as evidence by the fact that even the senior supervisor on the floor denied me the right to submit a residence application.

The clerks’ abusive attitude is a separate problem and I believe it needs to be thoroughly addressed as well. Sadly, the vast majority of Croats are accustomed to this kind of treatment and consider it standard; I think it is very important that they understand it is not, and that they are entitled to fair treatment and correct information. I would encourage anyone who has experienced a similar treatment to come forward, whether to the media or to relevant EU institutions.

Update: SOLVIT quickly responded with the following:

''Dear ___,
Thank you for your message. My apologies for all the distress you have experienced. Indeed it sounds like they have treated you unfairly. Unfortunately since you have managed to submit your residence application and have it accepted, you do not have a concrete problem anymore. This means that we are unable to intervene, because we can only help when there is a concrete problem for the applicant. Since we believe it is important that you notify the treatment you have experienced, we would like to suggest to hand in a complaint through the European Commission. You can find out more information through (a link they provided).
They are able to look into complaints concerning situations that have already occurred and have already been resolved.''

As per their advice, I forwarded my complaint to European Commission, who is now looking into it. In the meantime, after nearly a 5-week wait and having to submit another document not formally required by law (proof of ownership of my apartment, which under Article 161 of the Law on Foreign Nationals is not required), I got my temporary residence approved. I now need to wait an additional three weeks to get my residence card. After noting to a clerk at MUP that this seems quite long, he informed me I was “very lucky”, as “people often wait 2 months”.

I sighed and noted that Croatian bureaucracy is quite bad, adding that this was not his fault personally. He responded that after I got my citizenship (which I have no intention of applying for, but I guess he assumed this was something I wanted to pursue) I would be able to complain. I replied saying that EU nationals have rights, too. His response was: “No, you don’t”.

Can you believe that, just think about it for a second. A public servant in an EU country tells an EU citizen that they have no rights in Croatia.

I will quote here Article 153 of the Law on Foreigners: ''(1) A national of an EEA Member State and members of his or her family, whether or not they are nationals of an EEA Member State and who have the right of residence in the Republic of Croatia, shall be equal to the citizens of the Republic of Croatia under the provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.''

I did not explain the law to the gentleman, because given his position he should have known it (at least the basics; this is the first article of the section on EU nationals in Croatia); I just told him that we still have rights, despite what the MUP's staff think.''

If you are an EU national and you have experienced similar issues or feel you have been mistreated, given the incorrect information by MUP, publicly, verbally abused or shouted at, we at TCN urge you most strongly to report the issue to SOLVIT and to the European Commission.

SOLVIT deals with unresolved cases and you can click here to report your issue.

The European Commission investigates such issues which have already been resolved, and you can report your issue here.

If you'd like us to tell your story, email us at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. We have been collecting experiences across various expat groups and beyond, and we intend to write an article including all of them. The response was overwhelming, and the stories of abuse, misinformation and mistreatment are rife. As stated, we intend to publish them all and forward the article to the European Commission, who is now investigating the case described in this article.

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