A decision made by Austria to adjust child benefits for its non-resident workers, as of January 1, 2019, has sparked off reactions in countries where this measure translates into less money for the beneficiaries
Romania is one of these countries, which is actually seeing an indexation of 0.484 – a coefficient which represents the difference of prices between the two countries, calculated according to a European-level index. In more concrete terms, the benefits in question are to be halved. This benefit indexation does not reflect the principle of equality and non-discrimination, common values the European Union was founded on, neither does it reflect the “united in diversity” principle, the European project was consolidated upon, Natalia-Elena Intotero, the Minister for the Romanians Abroad said in Bucharest.
The Ministry has announced that the situation of the Romanians affected by this law, which is also impacting citizens from other EU countries and has to be approached at European level, has become its priority. From Bucharest’s point of view, as long as the Romanians have the same obligations as the local workers, paying taxes like them, they deserve to enjoy the same rights. The latest child benefit indexation for non-resident workers in Austria is a clear case of discrimination and the government is considering the idea of referring the issue to the EU Court of Justice, the Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu has said.
The Minister of Labour and Social Justice, Marius Budai, said in an interview on Radio Romania that: “Romania’s clear stand on this issue is that all European workers must benefit from equal treatment in the EU countries they are working in. Their right to free movement is one of the fundamental rights of the EU and of the single market. Romania is thus opposing any initiative that might infringe upon the workers’ rights to free movement and the rights derived from paying the same taxes as their local counterparts and will take action to solve this issue. We have also held talks with the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen, who agreed with Romania’s stand on the issue.”
The European Commission has announced it will have a closer look at the Austrian law from the viewpoint of its compatibility with European legislation. Meanwhile, a Commission spokeswoman has recalled Brussels’ well-known stand – the indexation of family benefits isn’t in line with EU laws. The Austrian Minister for Family has initially rejected Bucharest’s criticism, adding that Romania, as holder of the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union, must have a neutral position. According to professor Iulian Chifu, this is true, but Romania, as any other member state is entitled to its own viewpoint on the issue. Professor Chifu has also recalled that the social benefit issue was debated upon in Britain during the campaign on the Brexit referendum.
Iulian Chifu: “At that time, it was the UK Independence Party, UKIP, with Nigel Farage, who brought up such issues. Some of the conservatives, like Boris Johnson, London’s Mayor at that time, embraced the idea and backed this aberration. However, debates at that time were carried out at the level of the European Commission and Britain learnt - what other countries, including Austria, had already known - that all these social or support benefits as well as taxes or duties, cannot be imposed discriminately based only on the worker’s country of origin or the differences between residents and European citizens. In fact, these things are relatively clear and quite simple. Anytime a law that runs counter to EU principles is issued, an infringement procedure comes into effect. Unless the state, which issued the law wants to amend it in due time, the European Commission – which also serves as a watchdog when it comes to implementing EU agreements and treaties – initiates legal proceedings against that state at the European Court of Justice.”
Professor Chifu believes that since this issue was discussed four years ago, procedures are to be quick and sanctions to be seen shortly in the case of this law, which is clearly discriminatory at European level, being completely anti-European. By and large, the Court is expected to issue a ruling in several months, a year and a half at the latest. The state which issued the law will have to comply and bring amendments to its own legislation so that it may adjust to European rules, rules that it assumed when it joined the bloc.