EU court upholds ban on ‘welfare tourism’
The European Union’s top court has ruled that governments can deny benefits to citizens from another EU state if they have moved countries “solely” to claim benefits.
The ruling has come as a relief to governments under fire from Euro-sceptical parties across the continent with agendas on immigration issues.
Britain and Germany, which are both witnessing strong support for anti-immigration populist parties, have hailed Tuesday’s judgment from the European Court of Justice.
Britain and Germany have complained of “welfare tourism” and face strong opposition at home over immigration policies because of it.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to describe the decision as “simple common sense”.
“It is a good step in the right direction because, as I have said, the right to go and work in other countries should not be an unqualified right,” Mr Cameron said.
“There should be rules about restricting benefits,” he said.
The ruling stemmed from the case of a Romanian woman who wanted to stay in Germany claiming benefits and not look for work.
Elisabeta Dano, a 25-year-old Romanian woman living in Leipzig, had her application for benefits refused. The local employment centre argued that there was a lack of evidence to prove that the woman, who has lived in Germany since 2010, had ever actively looked for work.
After an appeal was rejected by a Leipzig social court, the case was transferred to the ECJ in Luxembourg.
In its ruling, the ECJ emphasised that while EU migrants had the right of residence in another EU country for up to three months, the country was under no obligation to pay social benefits during that period.
If migrants stay for more than three months but less than five years, right of residence is dependent on whether they have sufficient resources to support themselves or their family members.
The decision is also likely to relieve pressures within the European Union over immigration issues, which have grown more profound during the long economic crisis and with the block expanding to include newer and poorer members, like Romania and Bulgaria.
Germany’s labour ministry, which is drawing up plans to curb welfare abuse, said: “The right to free movement of persons is a high principle and symbolises the idea behind the European Union. But there are limits to the right for equal treatment, which are defined in the European directive on free movement”.
“From now on, incoming EU citizens must, in principle, support themselves financially,” it said.
Britain and Germany are to press ahead with plans to clamp down on so-called ‘welfare tourism’ after the EU court ruling.
Latest figures show there were 38,580 migrants from the EU claiming government benefits in the UK in February this year.
British officials say they are working up plans to bar any out-of-work EU citizen from benefits.
UK Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: “This is an excellent ruling – and supports our view that people coming to the UK who don’t have sufficient resources to support themselves and would become an unreasonable burden should not be able access national welfare systems.”
AMES Staff Writer