European & International News

Top European court rules in favour of cross-border social security rights

[Brussels, 19 August 2011] On 21 July 2011 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered an important verdict for the protection of the rights of workers moving within the EU with regards to social security rights.

In its ruling of the ‘Case C-503/09 Lucy Stewart’ the European Court of Justice confirms the rights of EU citizens to move to another EU Member State and the right to social security coverage. In the case at hand, Ms Stewart, a 22 year-old national of the United Kingdom, moved to Spain with her parents when she was 11. Ms Stewart’s mother, as her daughter’s appointee, made a claim for ‘short-term incapacity benefit in youth’ for her daughter to the British Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

The claim was refused by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the ground that Ms Stewart did not satisfy the condition of residency in Great Britain. Her mother appealed to the British Court and was rejected. She then appealed to the European Court of Justice on the basis of incompatibility with EU law. The Court confirmed that the condition imposed on Ms Steward to establish a link of her presence in the UK (in the past) as a condition of her social security claim was contrary to EU law.

Social Security systems remain a national competence notwithstanding the fact that a European co-ordination of social security schemes between Member States exists for the past number of years and has been updated many times, the latest on 1 May 2010 (see: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=26&langId=en)

However, conditions imposed at national level with regards to access to social security rights vary across the Member States and according to the specific social security benefits (sickness, invalidity etc..) which can be seen in women’s access to paid maternity leave, particularly if they move from one country to another and/or do not meet conditionality criteria, such as having worked a number of days prior to taking maternity leave, residency conditions, etc. This ruling therefore is an important step in removing conditionality as an obstacle to the free movement of workers and reinforces the need in the future to move towards a European Social Security Strategy.

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