On 2 September 2015 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered an important judgement related to free movement rules in the EU, following a request for a preliminary ruling submitted by the regional administrative Court of Lazio (Italy) on 30 June 2014.
The request for a preliminary ruling concerned the interpretation of the European Council Directive 2003/109/EC concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU, and in particular the provisions relating to the conditions for issuing and renewing a residence permit.
According to recitals 9 and 10 in the preamble of the referred to Directive, “economic considerations should not be a ground for refusing to grant long-term resident status” and “the rules governing the procedures for the examination of applications for long-term resident status should not constitute a means of hindering the exercise of the right of residence”. In other words, the requirements or conditions set by member states for issuing or renewing the residence permit of a third-country national should not create an obstacle to the right of residence.
Following a case brought by the Italian General Confederation of Labour (GGIL) and the Istituto Nazionale Confederale Assistenza (INCA), the Italian administrative Court requested the ECJ to examine whether these EU Law provisions are compatible with an Italian Decree approved by the Italian Ministries for Home Affairs and Finance in October 2011, which requires third-country nationals to pay a fee which varies between EUR 80 and EUR 200 when applying for the issue or renewal of a residence permit, depending on the duration for which it is issued. The GGIL and the INCA contend that the fee which must be paid in Italy, pursuant to that Decree, is unfair and/or disproportionate and call for its cancellation.
In its judgement, the ECJ states that while Member States may make the issue of residence permits subject to the payment of charges and that they enjoy a margin of discretion when fixing their amount, that discretion is not unlimited and may not jeopardise the objectives pursued by the said Directive, namely the integration of third-country nationals who are settled on a long-term basis in the Member States.
Moreover, in its motivation the Court recalls the principle of proportionality as one of the general principles of EU law, according to which the measures taken to transpose a Directive must be suitable for achieving its objectives and must not go beyond what is necessary to attain them. Based on these arguments, the Court concludes that Directive 2003/109 precludes national legislation which requires third-country nationals to pay the aforementioned fees when applying for a residence permit in a Member State to be issued or renewed, especially when they are obliged to renew this permit frequently, as this further increases the financial impact of the fee. The Court considers that such a fee is disproportionate inasmuch as it undermines the objective of integration of the Directive and it is liable to create an obstacle to the exercise of the rights conferred by it.