One of the latest judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), released on November 11, 2014 (Case C 333/13), may be considered by states such as the United Kingdom and Germany as an pre-Christmas gift. ECJ clearly stated that Member States have right to refuse granting social benefits to economically inactive Union citizens.
Florin Dano, born in 2009 in Germany and his mother, Elisabeta Dano, are Romanian nationals. They are living in Germany with Elisabeta Dano’s sister in her house. Ms Dano obtained in 2011 a residence certificate of unlimited duration from the city of Leipzig, which also pays her child benefit. Since the father of F. Dano is unknown, his mother receives an advance on maintenance payments. The total sum of benefits is 317 Euro per month. Ms Dano is unemployed and has practically no education, her command of German is poor and – as ECJ stated – ‘there is nothing to indicate that she has looked for a job’. However, she made an application for the additional grant of benefits by way of basic provision. Her submission was refused twice by Job center Leipzig. The Social Court in Leipzig firstly wanted to take the same decision, but after analyzing this case decided to ask ECJ for preliminary ruling. The most important issue to resolve was concerning the general principle of non-discrimination on the one hand, and Member State’s right to prevent an unreasonable recourse to non-contributory social security benefits on the other.
Equal treatment not for everybody?
The Court of Justice of the European Union, namely the Grand Chamber, emphasized that under provisions of Directive 2004/38/EC there are conditions which need to be fulfilled in order to claim equal treatment with nationals of the host Member State. This condition is, inter alia, the requirement that the economically inactive Union citizen must have sufficient resources for himself and his family members. ECJ said that granting social benefits to person who is not complied with these requirements would be in opposition with the objective of the directive, which is to prevent EU citizens, who are nationals of other Member States, from becoming an unreasonable burden on the social assistance system of the host Member State. As a result, ECJ stated that Member States are entitled to ‘refusing to grant social benefits to economically inactive Union citizens who exercise their right to freedom of movement solely in order to obtain another Member State’s social assistance although they do not have sufficient resources to claim a right of residence’. Therefore in Ms Dano’s case ECJ found that she has no right to obtain additional social benefits.
Joy and concern
This preliminary ruling was welcomed enthusiastically, especially by commentators from the UK. After controversial James Cameron’s statement about abuse of the UK’ social system and threat of leaving the EU it is not surprising. Regardless of the assessment of this, it is worth noting that disagreement to ‘benefit tourism’ is commendable. The principle of non-discrimination is a significant achievement of the European integration, however, as it is observed, applying this rule without any conditions leads to abuses. It is interesting how this judgment will influence our European reality. One can hope it will help to reduce the existing tensions between Member States in issues regarding social system matters and free movement of people. Whereas there may arise anxiety about the next steps – whether will they move away – and how far – from principles which are currently accepted in the EU.