Hungarian Yearbook of International Law and European Law


Off Track, Again?

EU Citizenship and the Right to Social Assistance

Keywords EU citizenship, social assistance, jobseekers, EU legislature, Directive 2004/38
Authors Martijn van den Brink
Author's information

Martijn van den Brink
Martijn van den Brink: postdoctoral fellow, Jacques Delors Centre, Hertie School, Berlin.
  • Abstract

      The right of EU citizens to equal treatment with nationals of the host Member State in respect of social assistance has been subject to significant changes on several occasions between the Treaty of Maastricht and now. The CJEU has struggled to establish consistent standards prescribing when economically inactive citizens can claim social protection, and in 2014 its tendency to construe this right broadly suddenly came to an end. It backtracked on one-and-a-half decades of case law by ruling that citizens could lay no claim to social assistance unless the respective conditions set out in secondary legislation were met. This article discusses the relevant law and its evolution over the past decades for a twofold aim. (i) First, to clarify in an accessible manner in what respects the law has changed from 1993 to the present. (ii) Second, to articulate a framework that allows us to evaluate the CJEU judgments rendered during this period. This framework departs from established ways of thinking about this evaluative question. Much of the EU citizenship literature evaluates the case law by the outcome it brings about. I will argue, instead, that this evaluation is a matter of comparative institutional choice. Such a comparative institutional assessment shows that disputes over the right of EU citizens to claim social assistance should be decided in line with what the EU legislature intended. It follows that the application of a principle of judicial deference to legislation in the second period of social assistance case law from 2014 onwards was justified.

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