Tuesday

5th Mar 2024

EU court curbs welfare rights

  • Judges in Luxembourg said Germany was right to cut off payments for the Swedish mother and her family (Photo: Gwenael Piaser)

EU judges have tightened rules on welfare for non-nationals in a move welcomed by the British government.

The Court of Justice in Luxembourg, on Tuesday (15 September), said host countries can stop welfare payments to people from other EU states even if they’ve spent some time working in the host country.

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It said if they’ve worked for less than one year, but then stop work and stop looking for work, their benefits can be stopped after six months.

They can also be deported, but only after authorities assess their individual circumstances and conclude that they’re not seeking a job and have become “an unreasonable burden”.

No special assessment is needed to stop their benefits, however.

The case arose out of Germany and involved a Swedish national family of Bosnian origin.

Nazifa Alimanovic and her three daughters moved to Germany in 2010. She and her eldest daughter worked for a short time before becoming long-term unemployed in 2011. They then claimed unemployment benefits and child support, for the two younger daughters.

The judgement is the second in a row restricting what the UK goverment calls “welfare tourism”.

A prior ruling, in 2014, said host countries can withhold benefits from non-nationals if they had never worked and never looked for work.

The European Commission, which is keen to mollify British politicians ahead of the upcoming in/out EU referendum, hailed Tuesday’s verdict.

Its spokesman, Christian Wiegand, told press in Brussels it “brings more clarity” to the limits of EU free movement.

“Free movement is the right to free circulation, not the right to free access to social benefits when searching for jobs. There are clear limits to entitlements for economically non-active EU citizens”, he said.

A UK government spokesman told media in London: “This is a welcome ruling which shows we are right to restrict benefits going to EU nationals who haven’t paid into the system in the UK”.

Anthea McIntyre, a spokeswoman for the ruling centre-right Conservative party, told the FT it’s “a major endorsement of our stance on benefit tourism and our views on free movement”.

She added: "Increasingly the rest of Europe is seeing things our way”.

David Cameron, the Tory PM, is currently visiting EU capitals before presenting a wishlist of EU reforms.

EU welfare and internal migration rules are to form a central part of his proposals, not least to address the anti-immigrant discourse of No campaigners in the in/out EU vote.

The court ruling comes amid a broader debate on EU free movement prompted by the refugee crisis.

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