The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled yesterday (25 February) that EU citizens can be legally denied access to certain social benefits in the first three months of their stay in another member state. EurActiv Germany reports.
In Germany, it is already common practice. EU citizens that have been in the country for less than three months are not entitled to unemployment benefits or child support under German social security laws. Only those who pay into the system are able to get support. It is a system that is employed in most EU countries.
The ECJ provided the ruling in response to questions posed by the Higher Social Court of North Rhine-Westphalia, in western Germany, as it was expected to resolve a dispute between a Spanish family and a German job centre. The job centre had refused to grant benefits to Joel Peña Cuevas and his son for the first three months of their stay in Germany.
Peña Cuevas and his son arrived in the country a few months after his partner and their daughter. The former was in work by that point and receiving benefits.
Migrants have to wait at least a year before they are entitled to the same benefits as Germans, but this is dependent on the applicant finding paid employment.
In late 2015, the ECJ ruled that excluding certain people from social benefits is not contrary to the principle of equal treatment. This means that Germany is allowed to refuse to grant benefits provided for by its ‘Hartz 4’ system to migrants from EU countries, even if they have already worked for a period of time in Germany.
For EU citizens that come to the country without the expressed intention of seeking employment, they will continue to be ineligible to receive benefits. A member state must retain the possibility to deny social benefits to migrants that do not intend to seek work, said the Court in its judgement.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) agreed with the ruling. “Responsibility for the different social benefit systems doesn’t just lie centrally in Brussels, but with the member states,” said Merkel before the EU summit last week.
In principle, the ECJ saw no contradiction with two of the core principles of the European Union: free movement of workers and non-discrimination.
When it comes to protecting domestic welfare systems, Merkel appears to be on the same page of United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron. There was “no disagreement between the UK and Germany when it comes to social welfare”, Merkel added. One of Cameron’s main demands during the marathon talks held in Brussels was for a four-year ban on EU migrants in-work benefits. This will now be entirely dependent on the UK voting to remain in the EU on 23 June and further approval by the European Parliament.
German Labour Minister Andrea Nahles (SPD) echoed Cameron’s thoughts on the subject. At the end of 2015, she announced that social assistance entitlement for EU migrants would be limited, following a ruling by the Bundessozialgericht (Federal Social Court).