EU states can refuse benefits to migrants, top court rules

‘Economically inactive EU citizens’ seeking aid in other member states may be excluded from benefits

British prime minister David Cameron’s suggestion earlier this year that a cap on migrants from the EU could be considered provoked a hostile response from senior EU figures, including German chancellor Angela Merkel (above), who argued that EU free movement rules are sacrosanct. Photograph:  Carl Court/Getty Images

British prime minister David Cameron’s suggestion earlier this year that a cap on migrants from the EU could be considered provoked a hostile response from senior EU figures, including German chancellor Angela Merkel (above), who argued that EU free movement rules are sacrosanct. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

 

The European Union’s highest court has ruled today that a Romanian woman seeking social welfare in Germany was not entitled to full social security benefits, in a ruling that is likely to have ramifications for the debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union.

The case concerned a 25 year-old Romanian woman, identified as Ms Dano, who has been living in Germany since at least 2010 and has had a child there, but is not seeking employment.

The European Court of Justice ruled today that “economically inactive EU citizens who go to another member state solely in order to obtain social assistance may be excluded from certain social benefits”.

It found that, under the EU directive on free movement, Ms Dano and her son could not claim a right of residence in Germany, as they do not have sufficient resources. Hence they “cannot invoke the principle of non-discrimination laid down in the directive”, the court found.

“A member state must therefore have the possibility of 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.”

Ms Dano, who lives with her sister, is receiving child support benefits in Germany.

The debate over so-called “benefits tourism” has emerged as a key political issue in Britain ahead of next year’s general election.

British prime minister David Cameron’s suggestion earlier this year that a cap on migrants from the EU could be considered provoked a hostile response from senior EU figures, including German chancellor Angela Merkel, who argued that EU free movement rules are sacrosanct.

The debate over immigration has intensified within the EU over recent years, while the European Commission has criticised Britain for not properly implementing EU freedom of movement rules.

Concerns over immigration featured strongly in May’s European elections, with a number of fringe parties campaigning on an anti-immigration platform.

In France and Britain, anti-immigration parties the National Front and Ukip, respectively, topped the poll.

Speaking in Brussels this lunchtime, a European Commission spokeswoman said the commission welcomed the judgment, which “brings more clarity with regards to the rights of EU citizens and their family members” around access to assistance benefits when residing in another EU country.

Pointing out that member states can exclude non-active EU citizens who do not meet the conditions for right of residence due to the lack of sufficient resources, the spokeswoman said: “The European Commission has consistently stressed that free movement is the right to free circulation. It is not a right to freely access the member states’ social assistance systems, and the court confirms this today.”