The European Union’s top court will rule today (14 June) on whether Britain can deny family allowances to foreign workers with children living abroad, one of the hot-button issues in Britain’s looming referendum on EU membership.
A senior adviser has already recommended that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) dismiss a complaint against Britain brought by the European Commission, which accused London of
discriminating against other citizens of the bloc in setting its residence rules for welfare.
Since then, British Prime Minister David Cameron secured more freedom to curb UK benefits available to citizens of the other 27 EU member states in order to bring down the numbers of
people migrating to Britain.
However, those in favour of an EU exit say Britain should introduce a smarter migration system based upon its needs.
The court stresses its independence from politics, though EU officials say a number of recent decisions on benefits for migrants show sensitivity to concerns in Britain and other member states that have sapped popular support for the EU.
The European Commission argues that the British process of checking whether claimants of child benefit and child tax credit are legally resident discriminates against foreign EU workers because British citizens are not checked in that way.
However, Pedro Cruz Villalon, one of the advocates-general whose opinions are generally later followed by the judges, said Britain was entitled to ensure that those claiming benefits met
conditions set for taking up residence in other EU countries.
Residence checks are made only in “doubtful cases”, he said.
Other wealthier member states such as Germany also want to counter “benefit tourism” from poorer eastern European states which have joined the bloc since 2004.
That has seen a number of court judgments which underline that free movement for EU citizens is principally restricted to those in work or seeking work, or their dependents.