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EU Rights

EU Rights in the Spotlight – June

Two important cases related to the EU residence right enforcement and to the social benefits linked to that right were submitted to the attention of the European Court of Justice during the last month of June 2015.

In the first case, the Advocate General confirmed the past case law of the Court stating that EU citizens who move to a Member State of which they are not nationals may be excluded from entitlement to certain social benefits during the first three months. However, the Advocate General argued that these citizens may not be excluded during that period from entitlement to benefits, intended to facilitate access to the labour market, as long as they can prove the existence of a genuine link with the labour market in the host Member State.

In the second case, which concerned the legislation in force in the Netherlands, the Court ruled that obliging third-country nationals with long-term residence status to pass a civic integration exam is a legitimate requirement and it is compatible with EU law.

The first case concerns an opinion by the Advocate General Wathelet at the European Court of Justice on the social benefits that EU citizens may be entitled to when moving to another Member State as part of their EU residence rights.

According to the Advocate General, EU citizens who move to a Member State of which they are not nationals may be excluded from entitlement to certain social benefits during the first three months. However, they may not be excluded during that period from entitlement to benefits intended to facilitate access to the labour market without being given the opportunity to prove the existence of a genuine link with the labour market in the host Member State.

Those were the conclusions of the Advocate General with regard to a recent case submitted to the Court of a Spaniard, Joel Pena Cuevas, who arrived in Germany with his son in late June 2012 and was refused German benefits for the following months of August and September (case C-299/14).

According to the Advocate General, given that the Member States cannot require EU citizens to have sufficient means of subsistence and personal medical cover for a three-month stay based on article 6 of the “Citizenship” Directive 2004/38/CE (a requirement only applicable to EU citizens exercising their right of residence for over 3 months), it is legitimate not to require Member States to be responsible for them during that period.

In similar cases in the past (such as the Dano case C‑333/13) the Court already confirmed that, according to the said Directive, the host Member State is not obliged to confer entitlement to social benefits to a national of another Member State or to his family members for periods of residence of up to three months. In Wathelet’s view, this interpretation is consistent with the objective of maintaining the financial equilibrium of the social security systems of the Member States pursued by the Directive.

However, the Advocate General reaches a different conclusion if these social benefits are intended to facilitate access to the labour market. The EU law and in particular the freedom of movement for workers enshrined in article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union  specifically states that EU migrants shall enjoy equal treatment with country nationals in access to employment, which precludes nationals of other Member States from being excluded from such benefits during the first three months of their residence on the territory of the host Member State as long as they can provide evidence that they have a ‘genuine link’ with its labour market. In other words, as far as an EU migrant can prove that he/she was actively seeking employment during the first three months of residence in the host country and had the possibility of being employed, he/she would be entitled to claim social benefits intended to facilitate access to the labour market, as a result of the principle of non-discrimination and equal treatment enshrined in article 45 TFUE.

The second case concerns a judgement by the European Court of Justice where the Court interpreted that the imposition by Member States on third-country nationals with long-term resident status to pass a civic integration exam may be compatible with EU law.

Article 4 of the EU Directive 2003/109/EC provides that Member States are to grant long-term resident status to third-country nationals, who have resided legally and continuously within their territory for five years immediately prior to the submission of their application, in principle without any further requirements.

Yet in accordance with Dutch law third-country nationals, who are long-term residents, are required to pass a civic integration examination by a prescribed date, otherwise facing a fine of up of 1,000 EUR, in order to demonstrate the acquisition of oral and written proficiency in the Dutch language and sufficient knowledge of its culture. If the examination is not passed by the initial deadline, a new date is set and the amount of the fine becomes gradually increased.

Two third-country nationals in case C-579/13 brought actions before the Court of Justice of the EU on the decisions obliging them to pass that examination. The Court held that the said Directive does not preclude the imposition of the obligation to pass a civic integration examination, provided that the means of implementing that obligation are not liable to jeopardise the achievement of the objectives pursued by the Directive. The Court supported its judgment by noting that passing the integration examination in question is not a pre-condition for acquiring or conserving long-term resident status, but only gives rise to the imposition of a fine. Furthermore, the Court argued that such examination is compatible with EU law in that it contributes to the integration goal pursued by the Directive and more generally by the Treaty – having a good command and knowledge of the language and culture of a country being crucial for the full socioeconomic integration of a migrant to the host country. Nonetheless, the Court noted that in spite of the legitimacy and compatibility in abstract terms of a binding civic integration examination with EU law, attention must be paid to the practical implementation of such measures –taking into consideration inter alia the amount of the registration fee for taking the examination, the level of knowledge required to pass it, or the accessibility of courses and material necessary to prepare it-  in order to ensure that the implementation means do not undermine the integration purposes.

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