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Top EU court backs limits on benefits for migrants

3 min

The European Court of Justice said Tuesday that Germany was within its rights to refuse unemployment benefits to a Romanian immigrant who had not looked for work, a ruling that comes amid concern over welfare abuse by migrants from poor EU nations.


A European Union court ruled Tuesday that Germany was within its rights to refuse jobless benefits to an immigrant from Romania who made no effort to seek work in Germany, a decision that comes amid concern over perceived welfare abuse by migrants from poorer EU nations.

German judges sought a ruling from the European Court of Justice after a Romanian woman who arrived in Germany in 2010 sued a job center for refusing to grant her and her young son benefits intended primarily for the long-term unemployed and their children.

The EU court pointed to safeguards in EU rules which it said aim to “prevent economically inactive Union citizens from using the host member state’s welfare system to fund their means of subsistence.”

Member nations aren’t obliged to grant benefits to other EU countries’ citizens for the first three months and, if they stay longer and don’t work, they must have “sufficient resources of their own” to be entitled to residence, the court noted.

That wasn’t the case with the Romanian woman, who lives with her sister, has no professional training and hasn’t worked in Romania or Germany.

The EU has expanded over the past decade to take in formerly communist nations in central and eastern Europe and there has been mounting concern in other European countries, particularly Britain, about perceived abuse of workers’ freedom of movement and welfare systems.

German lawmakers recently approved legislation that foresees entry bans for EU citizens who fraudulently claim benefits.

Germany is firmly committed to the principle of free movement of workers in the EU. British Prime Minister David Cameron, however, wants to take steps to limit the level of migration from the EU into Britain.

Tuesday’s ruling proved EU countries “can avoid social benefits tourism without violating the free movement of citizens,” said Manfred Weber, the German caucus leader of the main conservative group in the European Parliament. “It sends a clear signal to the member states and to the British prime minister in particular.”

Britain’s Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith called the court’s decision an “excellent ruling” supporting his country’s position “that free movement is not an unqualified right.”

He said Britain had been working closely with Germany on the case and he expected it to have a major impact on how EU rules are interpreted.

“The fact Germany’s decision was challenged in this way is yet more evidence that the EU needs a much clearer legal framework, clarifying the original Treaties, allowing Member States to retain control over their own national welfare systems,” he said.


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