The European Court of Justice has dealt a blow to David Cameron’s 2010 election manifesto pledge to make immigrants from outside the European Union pass an English language test before they are allowed to come to the UK to marry. In a judgement handed down on Thursday, the EU’s top court overturned a German law requiring foreign spouses from certain non-EU countries to take a language test before receiving a visa.
Deutsche Welle reported that the court ruled in favour of a Turkish citizen who was denied a visa to live in Germany with her husband because she was illiterate and therefore unable to demonstrate basic German-language skills.
The German government claims that the goal of the language requirement is to prevent forced marriages as well as marriages made simply for the sake of obtaining a visa. The requirement is also meant to promote integration.
Although Turkey is not a member of the EU, the court said the language requirement is contrary to the EU-Turkey Association Agreement. The association agreement is part of EU law and is therefore superior to German national law.
The agreement prohibits introducing any new obstacles to the “freedom of establishment,” and the ECJ has held the 2007 German law to be such an obstacle.
A press statement released by the court said the requirement of a basic knowledge of the German language “as a condition for the issue of a visa for the purpose of reunification of spouses of Turkish nationals residing lawfully in its territory is contrary to EU law.”
The court said that even assuming the aims of preventing forced marriages, visa marriages and promoting integration could be met by the law, the language requirement goes beyond what is necessary “in order to attain the objective pursued, in so far as the absence of evidence of sufficient linguistic knowledge automatically leads to the dismissal of the application for family reunification, without account being taken of the specific circumstances of each case.”
In the general election of 2010, the Conservative Party manifesto pledged “there will be an English language test for anyone coming here to get married.”
While the court has demonstrated that Britain cannot impose such a language restriction on immigration by any of the 74m people who live in Turkey, the judgement may have effects which reach further than that.
The ECJ judgement was based on the fact that Turkey has an Association Agreement with the EU. This is “a framework for bilateral relations” and in some cases is a step towards entry to the EU.
According to the European External Action Service, the EU has concluded “Association Agreements (albeit not always under the name ‘Association Agreement’)” with countries that include Tunisia, Israel, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Macedonia and Albania.
Men or women seeking visas to enter Britain to marry an immigrant already established in the UK may use yesterday’s ECJ judgement as precedent for claiming they do not have to demonstrate any ability to speak English.
Gerard Batten, UKIP Member of the European Parliament for London, said: “This judgement illustrates the point that the ECJ is a politicized court that is an engine of further EU expansion and integration. This case has been decided not by reference to the actual law, but simply by considering which decision would better serve the long-term political goal of Turkey joining the EU.
“It also demonstrates how any British government’s hands are tied in this matter.”
Breitbart London has asked the Home Office for a comment and is awaiting a reply.