EU court rules that Germany entitled to cut benefits to Swedish family who only worked briefly

BERLIN – Germany is entitled to cut off unemployment benefits to a Swedish family that came to the country to find work but only held temporary jobs for a short time, a European Union court ruled Tuesday.

There has been mounting concern in EU countries, particularly Britain, about perceived abuse of workers’ freedom of movement inside the 28-nation bloc and of welfare systems. The European Court of Justice decision followed its ruling last year that Germany was allowed to refuse jobless benefits to a Romanian immigrant who made no effort to seek work.

In the latest case, a Bosnian-born Swedish national and her three children, who were born in Germany during a previous stay there that ended in 1999, returned to Germany in mid-2010. The mother and eldest daughter worked in several temporary jobs lasting less than a year and didn’t work after that, a court statement said.

From December 2011 to May 2012, the family received benefits for the long-term unemployed and their dependents, until a Berlin job centre ended the payments. It argued that they weren’t entitled to the benefits “as foreign jobseekers whose right of residence arose solely out of the search for employment.”

The European court ruled that denying citizens of other EU countries some welfare benefits when their right of residence arises only from seeking work “does not contravene the principle of equal treatment.”

It said countries can refuse such benefits to other EU nationals who haven’t yet worked there or who have worked for under a year and then been unemployed for over six months.

“Free movement of citizens comes with rights and obligations,” EU spokesman Christian Wigand said. “It is not a right to free access to member states’ social security systems.”

The British government welcomed the ruling and said it supports its argument that EU nations “should have the freedom to design their own welfare systems without being constantly challenged by the courts.”


Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.