The European Court of Justice against “benefit tourism”

Employment and Social Affairs

On 15th of September the European Court of Justice handed down a ruling that could set a major precedent to block the so-called “benefit tourism” across Europe: EU countries can withhold basic social benefits from EU migrants if they travel from another member country with no real intention of finding a new job. The ruling was hailed as a victory by several movements, namely in the UK and Germany, in their fight to stop “benefit tourism”: according to these movements many people from EU countries, like Bulgaria and Romania, move to other “more developed” just in order to get access to welfare privileges. Conservatives and euroskeptics across Europe argue that the free movement of people within the EU allow to easily welfare benefits, posing a threat to national social security systems.

On 15th of September the EU highest court decided in favor of a German law that excludes EU citizens from claiming some benefits if they arrive in the country for economic reasons. Nazifa Alimanovic, a Swedish woman, took Germany to the Court after she had their benefits cut off, despite she had stopped working. At the same time, the ECJ recognized that the same benefits should be granted to nationals who decided not to work. In Germany and in other Member States, job-seeking EU citizens who have worked for less than one year retain the right to social assistance for some months. Once the period has expired, benefits could be denied.

The ECJ verdict is based on a decision made last November. The Court had already ruled that EU citizens in Germany are not entitled to social assistance if they do not actively search for employment.

Since 2013, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Britain and France complained to the European Commission that citizens from some Member States, namely those from East Europe, were coming to their countries in order to take advantage of the generous benefits systems without contributing anything in return. In response, the European Commission published a report which found that “workers from other Member States are net contributors to the public finances of the host country”.

With the latest decisions of the European Court of Justice, the EU seems to have change its views, considering welfare tourism a real problem. The Court ruling will allow national governments to exclude EU migrants from such benefits if they come solely to claim welfare. The ruling will change the ability of EU citizens to access to social benefits in another country, granting national authorities the right to impose limitations.

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