Friday, March 27, 2015

AG Legal Opinion on Social Benefits for Migrants in Europe

A hot topic here in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe has been the issue of social welfare benefits for migrant workers.  European citizens have the right to move freely throughout the European Union (EU) - to attend university, work, etc.  However, some EU States are balking at what they perceive as "welfare tourism" - moving to a particular EU State solely to obtain social assistance.

This past November, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that a European national who moves to another EU State solely to obtain social assistance may be denied those benefits.  The case involved a Romanian mother, Ms. Dano, and her son, who were denied certain social benefits intended for workers by Germany because she had never worked in Germany, nor had she sought work.  She and her son did receive child support and maintenance payments.  The ECJ stated that EU Member States do not have to provide benefits for the first three months after residence.  The ECJ also emphasized that each person's claim to social benefits must be examined individually.  

Yesterday, Advocate General Melchior Wathelet issued a legal opinion further clarifying the requirement to pay social benefits to migrants.  He opined that EU nationals who move to another State to look for work are not entitled to social benefits, but cannot be automatically denied benefits if they have already worked in the country.  His opinion was issued in the case of Nazifa Alimanovic and her children, all of whom were born in Germany, but who are Swedish nationals.  The family moved back to Germany in 2010 after living abroad.  The mother and eldest daughter worked for a few months each, then applied for and received unemployment benefits for six months. The children also received other welfare benefits.  Germany stopped the unemployment payments after six months and Ms. Alimanovic sued to have her benefits reinstated, alleging Germany's action is  incompatible with EU law.

Mr. Wathelet opined that benefits may not be automatically terminated where a person has already worked in the country; has lived there for longer than three months; and whose children are being educated there.   The AG's opinion will not be binding unless adopted by the ECJ. The ECJ is expected to issue a full judgment later this year.


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