In its much-awaited judgment in Coman, delivered earlier this month, the Court of Justice ruled that the term ‘spouse’ for the purpose of the grant of family reunification rights under EU free movement law, includes the same-sex spouse of a Union citizen who has moved between Member States. This means that in such situations, the Union citizen can require the State of destination to admit within its territory his/her same-sex spouse, irrespective of whether that State has opened marriage to same-sex couples within its territory.
This is a landmark ruling of great constitutional importance which has the potential of changing the legal landscape for the recognition of same-sex relationships within the EU. It is, also, a judgment which is hugely significant at a symbolic level, as through it the EU’s supreme court made it clear that it considers same-sex marriages as equal to opposite-sex marriages, in this way reversing the discriminatory stance it had adopted in the early 00’s, when it ruled in D and Sweden v. Council that ‘[i]t is not in question that, according to the definition generally accepted by the Member States, the term marriage means a union between two persons of the opposite sex’.
On 8 May 2018, with the judgment in K.A. and others vs. Belgium, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) has added another piece to the now quite big puzzle that surrounds the legal status of EU citizens (and their third country family members). It ruled that Article 20 TFEU can be violated if a Member State refuses to examine a request for family reunification of a EU citizen with a third country national solely on the basis of an existing entry ban against the third country national. The Court argued that if the refusal compels the EU citizen to leave the territory of the EU as a whole, it deprives EU citizens of the genuine enjoyment of the substance of the rights conferred by virtue of their status. Like in the Zambrano case, the EU citizens in K.A. had never exercised their right to free movement.
Just a quick reminder of the Court’s main findings in Zambrano: In that case, Belgium had denied a right of residence to a Colombian father of two Belgian minors. The Court held that, by not giving the father of a Belgian child a derived residence right, Belgium will oblige the child to leave the territory of the EU as a whole, and therefore deprive the child of the genuine enjoyment of the substance of the rights’ conferred by the EU citizenship status. It was argued – and here is the revolutionary aspect – that this even applies in purely internal situations, e.g. where the EU citizen has never exercised his or her right to free movement. Normally, EU law only applies in situations with a cross-border element. Continue reading →
Many Europeans in the United Kingdom and British citizens on the continent are currently wondering whether they should adopt the nationality of their host state, in order to guarantee their residence rights after Brexit. One disadvantage of doing this is that they cease to be foreigners, people living in a state ‘other than that of which they are a national’ (Article 3, Citizenship Directive) and so lose all the specific rights that EU law grants to migrants in a host state, most notably those concerning family members. These migrants’ rights are largely found in the Citizenship Directive, and are the basis for the provisions on Citizens’ rights in the draft Brexit Withdrawal Treaty. Ceasing to be a foreigner thus creates legal risks, as well as advantages.
Lounes has now added an interesting twist to this situation. The essence of this judgment is that a migrant Union Citizen who naturalizes cannot be compared to a native citizen – their migrant history means that they should be treated differently, and continue to enjoy the rights they had as a migrant. It holds out the possibility of the best of both worlds for the potential Brexit victim. On the one hand, all the security that comes with possessing the nationality of their host state. On the other, all the privileges that come with being seen as a migrant in EU law. The draft Withdrawal Treaty, published on 28th February, seems to take this approach too. However, before the champagne can be uncorked we must wait for the final Treaty text, for it would only take small changes in the way that it defines those it protects to spoil the naturalization party. Continue reading →
Update (19/6/2018): On 19th June 2018 the Amsterdam Appeal Court decided not to refer the question of whether EU citizenship is automatically lost with Member State withdrawal to the Court of Justice of the European Union. The questions were declared ‘insufficiently concrete’ in light of the hypothetical nature of the complaint. It remains to be seen whether the legal dispute could re-surface if and when the issue of the loss of EU citizenship does become concrete when the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union is finalised. The judgment (in Dutch) can be found here, and a summary (in English) here.
Introduction: A New Route from Amsterdam to Luxembourg
Despite the United Kingdom’s impending withdrawal from the European Union, a direct Eurostar train route from London to Amsterdam will soon be established. This route will enable, amongst others, all of those holding the status and rights of EU citizenship to move ‘freely’ between the two metropolises. This class still includes nationals of the United Kingdom, and ostensibly will continue to do until that Member State’s withdrawal is concluded in accordance with Article 50 TEU. An incorporeal yet no less direct route has now also been established between Amsterdam and Luxembourg as a result of a preliminary reference by the Rechtbank Amsterdam (‘District Court’) to the European Court of Justice (‘ECJ’) under Article 267 TFEU. Such a judicial pathway may facilitate retention of the status and rights created by Article 9 TEU and Article 20 TFEU for the aforementioned nationals of the withdrawing state. Continue reading →
When Britain leaves the EU there will be several million citizens of other Member States living in the UK, and probably around a million UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU. What happens to their rights when they suddenly cease to be living in the EU, or to be a Union citizen? This was one of the three ‘divorce’ issues that were addressed in the first phase of Brexit negotiations (the others were the Northern Irish border and the financial arrangements around withdrawal). That phase ended in December 2017 with a joint report to the Council setting out a basis for a future withdrawal agreement.
The citizen’s rights chapter of this report (paras 6-41) was the easiest to negotiate. The reason for this is that the UK, even fervent Brexiteers, had always maintained that it had no desire to throw out Union citizens already living in the country, and so very quickly the two sides could agree on a guiding principle: a freezing of the status quo. Those with Union rights at the time of the breakup would continue to enjoy them for as long as they remained, even if that be for life, while those who migrated after the Brexit date would fall under whatever new regime might be negotiated. The position of those who may arrive during a transition period, if one is negotiated, was not discussed, and is now the subject of fierce exchanges.
Thus where Union citizens and family members live in the UK on the basis of the citizen’s rights directive (2004/38), or Article 21 TFEU, or where UK citizens and family members live in other member states on either of these bases, at the date of withdrawal – which will probably be 30th March 2019 – then they will continue to enjoy the same rights, including non-discrimination and rights regarding social assistance, as they did before. The rights of their future children will also be the same as if the directive still applied, even if the children are adopted, conceived or born after Brexit. Moreover, the right to be joined by family members falling within Article 2 or Article 3(2) (partners in durable relationships) will continue after Brexit, provided that the relationship existed before Brexit day. The right to be joined by other Article 3 family members, such as more distant dependents, appears to be dropped after Brexit. For those who have lived in their host state for more than five years, their right of permanent residence, which gives them a right to social assistance if necessary, will continue provided they do not spend more than five years continuously abroad. Continue reading →
Economic activity has been the Holy Grail of free movement of persons since the start of the European integration project. In case of unemployment, through article 7(3)(b) of Directive 2004/38 mobile EU citizens keep their status as ‘worker’ if they have worked for more than a year in their host Member State and thereby earn a continued right to reside and access to social benefits. However, does this provision also apply to mobile Union citizens who have been self-employed? In contrast to the Irish Department of Social Welfare, the Court of Justice of the European Union answered this question positively in the Gusa-case of 20 December 2017: EU law also protects the self-employed when they cease work due to circumstances beyond their control. Although this outcome is perhaps not so spectacular in terms of legal reasoning, it might help strengthen the rights of a significant number of self-employed EU citizens in the run-up to the ‘Great Divorce’ following the Brexit-vote. The case was also spiced up in advance by a controversial interpretation of the right to permanent residence by the Advocate-General. Continue reading →
Can the Netherlands deny a third-country national (TCN), who is the primary carer of Dutch children, the right to reside? Two weeks ago, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) held in Chávez-Vílchez and Others that under EU law it cannot. In this important Grand Chamber decision, the CJEU has reaffirmed and expanded its landmark Ruiz Zambrano decision. Continue reading →
The European Citizens Initiative (ECI) is an agenda-setting tool that gives EU citizens an opportunity to directly influence EU policy. There were high expectations of the ECI enhancing EU democracy when launched in 2012, but only 3 ECIs have so far managed to collect the one million signatures needed to request the Commission to propose a legal act of the Union. EU citizen appetite for direct democracy remains strong, however, and there has been a recent resurgence in the ECI. The number of new initiatives has increased – including last week an ECI aiming to strengthen EU citizenship in the face of Brexit – and new ECIs are being strongly supported, with the Ban Glyphosate ECI gathering almost 700,000 signatures in less than 3 months.
The other important area of ECI activity has been in the General Court where citizens are challenging the Commission’s restrictive approach to ECI registration: almost 40% of ECIs rejected to date. The first three judgments upheld the Commission’s registration decisions, but in the Minority Safepak case ECI organisers successfully challenged a Commission ECI registration decision for the first time. Published last month, the Court decision itself was only a minor, narrow victory for the ECI that left many questions still to be answered in its on-going legal saga. However, following last week’s surprising Commission response to the judgment, the annulment of the Commission’s decision to refuse registration of the Minority Safepak ECI could yet be a landmark decision in defending EU citizens’ rights of democratic participation and direct democracy in the EU. Continue reading →
And below:Bougnaoui v Micropole: Mildly Surreal Thoughts on Competence and Clothes (particularly when worn by women)
The two cases were decided on the same day by the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice. Although they both concern essentially the same fact set – a firm wishing to dismiss an employee who insists on wearing an Islamic headscarf – the questions referred were different, and the substantive discussion is found in Achbita. Bougnaoui, briefly noted at the end of this blog, addresses just one, odd, point: the Court confirmed that the fact that a Muslim woman wears a headscarf does not make her incapable of doing her work. That is little comfort though – since Achbita decided that she can probably be dismissed anyway.
In Achbita v G4S the Court of Justice was asked whether a private firm could prohibit the wearing of Islamic headscarves by employees who dealt with customers, or whether this violated the ban on religious discrimination in the workplace, found in Directive 2000/78. The claimant, Ms Achbita, worked as a receptionist for G4S in Belgium. When she began wearing a headscarf she was warned that it was against company policy, which disallowed all religious, political or philosophical signs in the workplace. When she continued, she was dismissed.
The Court found that under the right circumstances a company might be entitled to have a policy of this sort. One condition was that the policy must be in writing – in the interests of certainty and clarity. Another condition was that it must apply without distinction to all beliefs. Continue reading →
As the Brexit negotiations become a reality, the position of UK citizens living in other EU states, and of EU citizens living in the UK attracts ever more discussion, particularly within the UK, where there has been great political support for the idea that those already established in the UK should not simply be thrown out. Nevertheless, aspects of UK procedure and bureaucracy are making it extremely difficult for Union citizens to obtain recognition of their right to reside. At the heart of this is the lack of a UK population register and of any registration requirement, meaning that most Union citizens moving to the UK do so without formalities. That may seem refreshingly easy at first. However, it means that if a Union citizen wants the UK to recognize that they have a right of permanent residence, they have to prove retrospectively that their last five years have been both in the UK, and in compliance with the terms of the Citizenship directive. That raises enormous evidential problems. One of these is to do with sickness insurance: while taking no active steps to require this from new arrivals, the UK takes the view that only those who were privately insured against almost all medical risks were actually lawfully present. This comes as a nasty shock to many migrant citizens – most of them, like over 90% of UK citizens, use the National Health Service rather than private insurance. The discussion below explains how this situation has arisen, and considers whether the UK’s standpoint complies with Union law. It suggests that this issue should not be ignored in Brexit negotiations, as it concerns the rights and lives of many thousands of Europeans. Continue reading →
I. Introduction: A New Initiative for UK nationals After Brexit?
On 11 January 2016, the European Commission registered a European Citizens Initiative to create a “European Free Movement Instrument”. The purpose of the Initiative is to lobby the European Union institutions to create a mechanism by which individuals may be directly granted the rights of free movement provided by EU citizenship, which is currently predicated upon nationality of a Member State in accordance with Article 20 TFEU. The proposers of the Initiative – the “Choose Freedom Campaign” – outline that their intention is not to reform the nature of Citizenship of the European Union; they concede that “the EU isn’t a government, and only Nation states can issue Citizenship”. Instead, their ambition is more limited – they argue that the European Union should institute a “Universal Mechanism” in order to provide individuals with a European Union passport: “we beg the Commission to delineate a method by which all Europeans of good standing may be granted a signal & permanent instrument of their status and of their right to free movement through the Union by way of a unified document of laissez-passer as permitted by Article (4) of Council Regulation 1417/2013, or by another method”.
Although the information on the Initiative on the Commission’s website and the accompanying press release do not explicitly link the putative Free Movement Mechanism to Brexit, it seems clear that such a competence for the European Union to directly issue EU passports would address the loss of rights that will be attendant to UK nationals losing the status of EU citizenship provided to them through nationality of a Member State once the United Kingdom has withdrawn in accordance with Article 50 TEU. Continue reading →
If the UK withdraws from the EU, then its citizens will cease to be citizens of the Union. That much is simple – Article 20 TFEU doesn’t leave any doubt that Union citizens are those who are citizens of the Member States.
Still, while that provision was once thought to make Union citizenship dependent on national citizenship, in Rottmann the Court turned it neatly around, showing how it made national citizenship equally dependent on EU law. In that case a German citizen was faced with threatened denaturalisation, which would be likely to leave him stateless. He argued that the denaturalisation, because it also deprived him of his Union citizenship, was an interference with his EU law rights, and so should be constrained by EU law.
He won on the principle, although he probably lost on the facts: the Court said that indeed, a national measure which deprives a Union citizen of their Union citizenship clearly falls within the scope of EU law, and is therefore subject to judicial review in the light of EU law rules and principles. However, it went on to say that such a measure is not per se prohibited. It must merely be proportionate. Denaturalising fraudsters probably is, in most circumstances. Continue reading →
Following its strict findings in the Dano and Alimovic judgments, the Court of Justice of the European Union could not but state the obvious in case C-299/14 (García-Nieto and others): Member States may exclude economically inactive EU citizens from social assistance who are residing in the host Member State for a period shorter than three months. Again, the Court opts for legal certainty in rigorous and explicit terms and emphasises the objective of preventing the foreign EU citizen from becoming an unreasonable burden on the host Member State’s social assistance system. However, just like with Dano and Alimanovic, this comes with a human cost. This time the Court neglected the possibility to give a more substantial meaning to the unity of the family, allowing discrimination towards the migrant worker. Continue reading →
Hector Salamanca was vulnerable. The Mexican was old and, after having suffered a stroke, tied to the wheel chair. He had no means of communication save a tiny bell he barely managed to ring. After most of his family was dead, he lived the life of a lonesome vegetable in a nursing home.
Donald Gately is vulnerable. His sense of honour and duty as a staffer at Enfield House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House had practically compelled him to defend a drug addict who had got involved in a fight. In the fight, Don G. was shot in the shoulder. Now, he is tied to the hospital bed, suffering from inhuman pain, pain from which only opioids could bring relief – though not for him, for opioids had been the focus of his long history of substance abuse and now he is desperately abstinent.
Protecting Vulnerable Groups is a great book. It made me see all of the above (and more) in a new light. To be sure, Protecting Vulnerable Groups is not a book about Breaking Bad or Infinite Jest. It is not an economic, sociological, or socialist book either, despite the appearance the title creates. No, Protecting Vulnerable Groups is a rock solid book on the law, in particular case law. It explains how the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice attend to the vulnerable. Sometimes, the courts explicitly find persons vulnerable, as in MSS v Belgium and Greece when an asylum-seeker was declared “particularly vulnerable” (Protecting Vulnerable Groups, p. 249); sometimes the idea of vulnerability is merely inherent in the courts’ case law. Both occurrences are discussed extensively in the book. Continue reading →
As is becoming a tradition with our blog (albeit a bit late this year), we present to you our top 10 most read posts of the last year. We have had another good year of blogging behind us: more readers contributing to the content of the blog with 33 posters coming from approximately 14 different countries this year. Equally important is that readership is steadily increasing according to Google Analytics (plus: we now have almost 1600 email subscribers and 2400 followers on twitter). Most of you are from the UK, followed by the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the United States, Italy, Sweden, France, Ireland and Poland, respectively.
Keeping in mind that there is a certain bias in favour of older posts which have had more time to become popular, this is the 2015 list of most read posts of the year: Continue reading →
Citizenship is typically conceived of as membership in a political community, carrying with it certain rights and obligations, and especially the right to participate in the government of that community. Union citizenship has until recently been deficient in that regard. Despite the existence of a democratically elected assembly since 1979 in the form of the European Parliament, the links between this parliament and the status of Union citizenship have been ambiguous with the parliament representing not a single group of Union citizens but rather the ‘peoples’ of Europe, those peoples being defined by Member States and national law.
The Treaty of Lisbon changes that paradigm, stating boldly that the European Parliament represents no longer the peoples of Europe but rather the ‘citizens of the Union’. The link between Union citizenship and the European Parliament being made apparent, it was perhaps only a matter of time before the Court drew the conclusion that the rights of Union citizenship contained a stand-alone right to vote in European Parliamentary elections. That decision has just occurred in the judgment in Delvigne. Continue reading →