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Under the sun

Many older Britons have settled in Spain to enjoy the sun: the EU ensures that citizens of EU member states can receive their pensions abroad. What if the British are no longer part of the EU?

By Eric Bonse

Illustration: © Daniel Montero Galán
They live in Mallorca, in Valencia or even in Madrid: 310,000 Britons have settled in Spain, some for work, but most to enjoy their pensions under the warm Spanish sun. So far, this has been not a problem. The EU ensures that citizens of member states can receive their pensions in other European countries.

But since Britain plans to leave, many Britons in Spain and other EU countries are uncertain and worried. The expats fear for their pension rights if Brexit actually comes into force. Some are thinking about returning to their British homeland, which could become a problem for the Spanish economy.

He had never thought about the EU and its benefits, says British writer Michael Harris, who lives in Madrid. But with the Union, as with many important things in life, its meaning becomes clear only when it is lost. He wants to fight for his rights in the association “Eurocitizens”.

With the Union, as with many important things in life, its meaning becomes clear only when it is lost

What do these rights look like? Other EU citizens, such as the many German pensioners in Mallorca or former Spanish guest workers in Germany, don’t understand them or understand them only badly. This is because different rules apply in each EU country. Even the retirement age is determined differently in Spain, Great Britain and Germany.

The EU doesn’t care about the details, because social security systems are a national domain. Brussels, however, ensures that pensions are portable, can be taken with you, so to say, and that uniform rules apply. The basis for this is the free movement of workers in the internal market.

The British in Spain have benefited from this freedom of movement. Now they too have to fear for their rights. By contrast, the 230,000 Spaniards who once worked as guest workers in Germany need have no fears: their foreign pensions are safe – thanks to the EU.