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EU Rights in the Spotlight – Summer Update

07 September 2016
EU Rights

During the Summer, the European Court of Justice issued two important judgements with implications for the right to free movement. Both cases concern the entitlement to social benefits. In the first case, as a result of employment status, and, in the second case, derived from residency. In addition, the European Commission took Austria to the European Court of Justice in July over an infringement of the freedom to provide services – namely, the right to do business across the EU. More recently, the Court has issued a judgement on the criminal prosecution of EU citizens.

The first case concerns an Austrian civil servant who claimed an allowance from his employer in lieu of paid annual leave, which he had not taken owing to sickness, before voluntarily deciding to terminate his employment and retire on a pension. His employer refused his request on the grounds that, in accordance with national rules on the remuneration of civil servants, when a worker terminates his own employment, he is not entitled to such an allowance. Faced with this case, the Administrative Court of Vienna asked the European Court of Justice whether the Austrian rules were compatible with EU Law and the Working Time Directive 2003/88/EC. The Court determined that every worker is entitled to paid annual leave of at least 4 weeks, regardless of their state of health or the reason why their employment was terminated, thus ruling in favour of the Austrian worker.

The second case concerns a ruling of the European Court of Justice in response to numerous complaints received by the European Commission from non-British EU citizens resident in the UK about alleged restrictions to certain family benefits, which are being made conditional upon lawful residency checks by the UK authorities. Essentially, the Court held that, while the requirement of lawful residency in the UK is, indeed, discriminatory vis-à-vis UK citizens who satisfy this condition by default, this difference in treatment can be justified by a legitimate objective, such as the need to protect the finances of the host Member State, being the UK in this case. This judgement sparked a lot of debate as it was released in the run-up to the EU referendum vote in the UK and was criticised for its potential interference in the Brexit debate.

The third case concerns a case brought by the Commission against Austria to the European Court of Justice on restrictions on the freedom of establishment of foreign ski instructors. The Commission considers that some Austrian provinces (Tyrol and Styria) impose unjustified restrictions on ski instructors coming from other EU countries, putting them at a disadvantage compared to Austrian instructors, thus infringing on the freedom to provide services across the EU that is guaranteed under EU law.

The fourth case concerns a recent ruling by the European Court of Justice in the area of criminal justice. The case involves an Estonian national who was arrested in Latvia whilst subject to an extradition order by Russia, which was granted by the Latvian authorities. In its ruling, the ECJ contends that member states have no obligation to grant every Union citizen who has exercised their right to free movement the same level of protection from extradition that it grants its own citizens. The Court emphasises, though, that the member state concerned is obliged to take the necessary steps to ensure that the individual would not be at risk of the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment. This judgement may raise questions regarding the principle of non-discrimination among EU citizens.