In its ruling of 11 November, the Court of Justice of the EU stated that Member States are entitled to refusing to pay certain welfare benefits to EU citizens who do not seek employment. The court in fact responded to questions sent by a German social court in Leipzig. This social court is deciding on a case put forward by a Romanian citizen residing in Germany with her son. German authorities granted some welfare benefits to the lady and to her son, but refused to pay a benefit intended for active jobseekers. The authorities argued that the lady did not at all look for a job. The lady challenged the decision before a social court on the grounds of equal treatment of all EU citizens. This social court in turn asked the EU court for clarification of EU rules on EU citizens´ rights. The EU court reiterated that EU citizens can move freely inside the EU and reside anywhere up to 3 months without further conditions and without the host Member State´s obligation to pay any welfare benefits. After 5 years of residence EU citizens are entitled to welfare benefits similarly to the host Member State´s citizens. But in the period between 3 months and 5 years, as in the Romanian citizen´s case, the citizens without professional activity must have their own resources to finance their stay in another EU country. The welfare systems of the guest Member State cannot serve as a source of financing for the EU citizen. Therefore Member States must have a possibility to deny some specific welfare benefits to such persons, the EU court ruled. As a result, the German rules are in line with EU legislation and the German authorities were entitled to deny some welfare benefits to the Romanian citizen who, the EU court stressed, never worked in Romania or in Germany.
Although the case was technical in nature, it is very politically sensitive, mainly in the light of recent statements by the British PM Cameron concerning intra-EU migration. The Conservative MP considers curbing EU immigration to the UK, which would clearly breach EU law. The British increasingly fear that EU migrants are an excessive burden to the welfare system. The EU court ruling is therefore interpreted also as a goodwill gesture towards the UK.
20th February 2019
25th January 2019