Judges in a landmark ruling have said EU migrants cannot expect to live off state handouts in another country if they cannot support themselves.
In a decision which will be music to the Prime Minister’s ears after a rocky start to the week, the European Court said national governments must be able to refuse social security handouts to people even if they come from within the EU.
Luxembourg was asked to look into the case of a Romanian woman who moved to Germany with her child. She received German child benefit and social security payments but, owing to a poor level of education, also applied for a subsistence allowance from the German social security system. This allowance is non-contributory, but the German authorities denied her application on the basis that German law does not allow the payments to be made to EU citizens seeking employment in Germany.
Judges concluded that the woman, Ms Dano, had been residing in Germany for more than three months, was not seeking employment and did not enter Germany in order to work. She was capable of working but had never had a job in either Romania or her adopted country – and was not even looking for work. She also had a conviction in Romania for petty theft, the Daily Mail reports.
The ECJ argued that member states “must have the possibility of refusing to grant social benefits to economically inactive Union citizens who exercise their right to freedom of movement solely in order to obtain another Member State’s social assistance.”
The news was welcomed by the Conservatives who are arguing for reform on EU rules, hoping that reforms will encourage voters in any referendum to support remaining in the political bloc and quash concerns over immigration which have been driving supporters to UKIP.
Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “a step in the right direction” while Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said it was “an excellent ruling”.
“The case underlines that free movement is not an unqualified right and will have a major impact on the way the Commission interprets law in future” he added.
Anthea McIntyre MEP, Conservative employment spokesman, said:
“The European Court of Justice has ruled in favour of common sense. The court has made it clear that the original purpose of free movement is to allow free movement of labour and not of benefits tourists.
However critics of the EU have said that the decision on who is and isn’t entitled to benefits was made by a foreign court, not the national government.
UKIP said that while the UK remained in the EU abuse of the British benefit system could only be stopped by radically changing the rules at home.
Its Home Affairs spokesman Diane James MEP said the government “needs to examine this judgement closely and if need be, look to alter the rules on habitual residence which gives EU migrants open access to many UK benefits even though some of them are in reality, are not seeking work.
“The same unease that prevails in Germany about abuse of the welfare system is also present in the UK. If EU migrants in the UK are not genuinely seeking work, and pose a large threat to the fairness of the British welfare system, then we must take action to prevent it from being abused.”