Unemployed EU citizens who go to another member state to claim benefits may be barred from some benefits, the European Court of Justice has ruled.
The ruling on so-called “benefit tourism”, relating to a case in Germany, could set an important legal precedent for the rest of the EU.
Tuesday’s ruling relates to a case involving a Romanian woman and her son living in Germany who had been denied access to a non-contributory subsistence allowance from the German social security system.
The court decided the German authorities were right to refuse her request, and there was no discrimination involved in denying her access to a non-contributory benefit which is available to German citizens.
It said the defendant did not have sufficient financial resources to claim residency in Germany after the initial three months and therefore could not claim that the rules excluding her from certain benefits was discriminatory.
More broadly, it said the right of EU citizens to live and work in other member states – the principle of freedom of movement – did not stop states passing legislation of their own excluding migrants from some non-contributory benefits available to their own citizens.
National Parliaments have the “competence to define the extent of the social cover” offered in the way of certain non-contributory benefits, it stated.
“The directive thus seeks to prevent economically inactive European Union citizens from using the host member state’s welfare system to fund their means of subsistence,” the European Court of Justice said in a statement.
“A member state must therefore have the possibility of refusing to grant social benefits to economically inactive European Union citizens who exercise their right to freedom of movement solely in order to obtain another member state’s social assistance.”
The ruling only applies to non-contributory benefits, benefits where the claimant does not make a contribution through the tax system.
The European Commission has said it supports action by member states to tackle abuse of the benefits system by migrants but that it will not countenance restrictions on the principle of freedom of movement and labor across Europe.