16th Apr 2024

Commission welcomes EU ruling on UK welfare curbs

  • Unemployment office queue. Commission said: "EU free movement is about free circulation of people, not free access to social benefits systems" (Photo: EUobserver)

The EU's top court ruled on Tuesday (14 June) that the British government did not break European law with its policy of restricting social security to EU citizens.

The commission welcomed the ruling, which comes shortly before the UK's referendum on EU membership on 23 June, even though it in effect lost the case.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas praised the verdict for bringing ”legal clarity” to the application of EU social rules.

”The European Commission has consistently stressed that EU free movement is about free circulation of people, not free access to social benefits systems of the different member states,” he told reporters, adding that it was consistent with the EU-UK deal struck in February ahead of the referendum.

Schinas reminded journalists that social security was not harmonised at EU level.

"The court judgment confirms that the member states decide which conditions they will apply for access to the benefits," he said.

"The Juncker commission has been very consistent on the application of this principle."

His statements indicate that the current commission, which has been led by Jean-Claude Juncker since 2014, has different views to those of its predecessor that brought the case before the court.

The commission brought the action against the UK in 2013 after receiving complaints from EU citizens who were refused some benefits on the grounds that they did not have a right to reside in the UK.

The EU executive said at the time that such curbs were discriminatory and argued that the UK had failed to comply with rules on the coordination of social security systems.

But the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Tuesday (14 June) that the UK could refuse social benefits to EU citizens who lack the right to reside in the country.

The court agreed that the British demand that EU nationals must have a right to reside in the UK was a supplementary requirement that amounted to indirect indiscrimination against non-British people.

But the UK was acting to protect its national finances, the court said, and the measures did not go beyond what was necessary to attain that aim.

Commission's Schinas said that if the Remain vote wins on 23 June, the commission would present two proposals for rules governing access to social benefits for non-British citizens in the UK.

These proposals would be in line with the UK deal of 19 February, in which EU leaders laid down the conditions for UK's future membership of the Union.

Schinas announced that the EU executive could, at a later stage, propose a broader initiative to clarify the rights of EU citizens to receive social security in an EU country other than their own, in member states other than the UK.

"We will analyse the ruling and explore all other possible avenues," he said.

Germany has also indicated it would like to cut social benefits to EU migrants.


EU-UK deal must preserve social rights

Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Czech republic meet Monday to coordinate their position on EU-UK talks. Rights of EU workers are crucial for the group, writes the Czech Europe minister

EU to tighten rules on social benefits

EU citizens working away from their home countries will face tougher hurdles if they need to claim benefits, under plans from the commission.

UK-EU deal on Gibraltar only 'weeks away'

EU and UK negotiators said that a new post-Brexit settlement for Gibraltar was just weeks away from completion following four-way talks in Brussels on Friday (12 April).

Ukraine's farmers slam EU import controls on food products

The paradoxical move to tighten EU import controls on agricultural goods from Ukraine, despite the EU's vocal support for Kyiv, has sparked criticism from Ukrainian farmers. Overall, it is estimated the new measures could cost the Ukrainian economy €330m.


The Bolsonaro-Orbán far-right nexus

Defeated far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has given various reasons for sheltering at the Hungarian embassy in Brasilia — none of them make sense.

Latest News

  1. New EU envoy Markus Pieper quits before taking up post
  2. EU puts Sudan war and famine-risk back in spotlight
  3. EU to blacklist Israeli settlers, after new sanctions on Hamas
  4. Private fears of fairtrade activist for EU election campaign
  5. Brussels venue ditches far-right conference after public pressure
  6. How German police pulled the plug on a Gaza conference
  7. EU special summit, MEPs prep work, social agenda This WEEK
  8. EU leaders condemn Iran, urge Israeli restraint

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us