CJEU - C‑579/13, P, S v Commissie Sociale Zekerheid Breda, College van Burgemeester en Wethouders van de gemeente Amstelveen

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Country of Applicant: 
New Zealand
United States
Date of Decision: 
04-06-2015
Citation: 
Case C‑579/13
Court Name: 
Second Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union
Headnote: 

The Long- Term Residence Directive (Council Directive 2003/109/EC) does not preclude the imposition of an obligation to pass a civic integration examination, as long as this does not obstruct the objectives pursued by the Directive.

Facts: 

The case relates to two third country nationals, who having obtained long term resident status were subject to a civic integration examination, which under Dutch legislation, entails a language proficiency test as well as knowledge of Dutch society. Failing such an examination within a prescribed period the long term residents would be faced with a fine.

The applicants to the present case appealed the decisions obliging them to pass the civic integration examination to the Higher Social Security Court who in turn questioned the Dutch integration requirements as well as penalties for non-compliance and its adherence to the Long Term Residents Directive. In particular the Court questioned whether the Dutch legislation was compatible with the principle of equal treatment between nationals and third country nationals as well as the relevance of when the integration obligation was notified.

In this regard the Higher Social Security Court decided to stay proceedings and refer the following questions to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

“(1)      Must the aim and scope of Directive 2003/109/EC, or of Article 5(2) and/or of Article 11(1) thereof, be interpreted as meaning that the imposition of the civic integration obligation, under national law, on third-country nationals who have acquired long-term resident status, with penalties in the form of a system of fines, cannot be reconciled therewith?

(2)      In answering the first question, is it relevant whether the civic integration obligation was imposed before long-term resident status was granted?”

Decision & Reasoning: 

Noting that the Long Term Residence (LTRD) attaches a significant importance to the integration of third country nationals who are long-term residents, the Court goes onto hold that an integration condition required to be fulfilled before the grant of long term status does not infringe the Directive, given that this is expressly provided for in Article 5 of the Directive.

With regards to equal treatment between nationals and third country nationals, highlighting that integration requirements do not apply to the former but do for the latter, the Court advances that the situations of both groups are not comparable given that nationals would no doubt already have language and knowledge proficiency whereas third country nationals would not. The Court, therefore, found the principle ofequal treatment to have been respected.

Turning next to whether the national rule at issue could jeopardise the objectives of the Directive and, thus, its effectiveness, the Court considered that the results of the civic integration test, i.e. facilitation of communication, job market access and vocational training may in fact contribute to the achievement of the Directive’s objectives of integration. However, the means of implementing integration obligations must not jeopardise such objectives and in this manner the level of knowledge required to pass the test as well as accessibility of courses and material fees and the individual’s circumstances must be taken into account.

With regards to the penalty imposed where the test has not been passed the Court paid specific attention to the rate and frequency of such a fine as well as the amount required to be paid for the registration fee to take the test. Whilst it is for the referring court to verify, the CJEU opines that such high and cumulative fees are liable to jeopardise the Directive’s effectiveness.

Lastly, the Court held that it was irrelevant whether the persons concerned acquired long-term resident status before or after the integration obligation was imposed since in this particular case it was not a condition for receiving or retaining that status.

Outcome: 

The Court found that the Long Term Residence Directive and, in particular, Article 5(2) and Article 11(1) thereof do not preclude national legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which imposes on third-country nationals who already possess long-term resident status the obligation to pass a civic integration examination, under pain of a fine, provided that the means of implementing that obligation are not liable to jeopardise the achievement of the objectives pursued by that directive, which is for the referring court to determine.

Whether the long-term resident status was acquired before or after the obligation to pass a civic integration examination was imposed is irrelevant in that respect.

Subsequent Proceedings : 

The parallel clause on integration requirements in the Family Reunification Directive has also been referred to the CJEU in Case C-153/14 K and A with the Court finding that, in principle, civic integration exams did not undermine the aim of the Directive, but that these measures should be aimed at facilitating integration rather than acting as an obstacle. 

Observations/Comments: 

The Advocate General provided an Opinion on the 28 January 2015 which can be found here, whereby he found that the LTRD does not prohibit the introduction of integration measures for third-country nationals who are long-term residents. Such measures must, however, have the exclusive purpose of facilitating the integration of the person concerned and must not constitute a condition for the maintenance of that status or for the exercise of the rights which flow from it. In particular, those measures may not include any obligation to pass an examination relating to social integration.

The judgment in P and S has been commented on by Professor Steve Peers here.

Case Law Cited: 

CJEU - C‑558/07 S.P.C.M. and Others

CJEU - C‑508/10, Commission v Netherlands
Attachment(s): 
Other sources cited: 

Recitals 2, 4, 6 and 12 and Articles 4(1), 5 and 11 of the Long Term Residents Directive 

Authentic Language: 
Dutch
Country of preliminary reference: 
Netherlands
National / Other Legislative Provisions: 
Netherlands - Vreemdelingenbesluit 2000 (Foreigners Act)
Netherlands - Vreemdelingenbesluit 2000 (Foreigners Act) - Art 1
Netherlands - Vreemdelingenbesluit 2000 (Foreigners Act) - Art 20
Netherlands - Vreemdelingenbesluit 2000 (Foreigners Act) - Art 21
Netherlands - Law on civic integration (Wet inburgering) - Art 3
Law on civic integration (Wet inburgering) - Art 5
Law on civic integration (Wet inburgering) - Art 31