Saturday, 12 July 2014

The CJEU transforms family reunion for Turkish citizens

Steve Peers

In this week’s judgment in Dogan, the Court of Justice in effect established a new set of rules for family reunion for most Turkish citizens living in the EU – although those rules will still differ in each Member State.

The case concerned Mrs. Dogan’s application to come to Germany to live with her husband, after spending thirteen (by now sixteen) years apart. She was refused on the grounds that her German language skills were not satisfactory, for even though she passed the relevant language test, her written German was not satisfactory due to illiteracy.

This raised two legal issues. First of all, since her husband ran a business in Germany, did the national rule breach the 1970 Protocol to the EU/Turkey association agreement, which prohibits new restrictions on establishment or the provision of services? Secondly, did the national rules comply with the EU’s family reunion Directive, which permits Member States to require family members to comply with ‘integration measures’?

The Court of Justice decided to answer only the first question. This means that its ruling is only relevant to Turkish nationals, rather than all third-country nationals. Having said that, Turkish nationals make up a large proportion of all third-country nationals in the EU, and the Court’s judgment on this point applies to all Member States, including the UK, Ireland and Denmark, which do not apply the family reunion Directive.

However, it should be noted that the Advocate-General’s opinion also argued that the integration requirement breached the family reunion Directive (see discussion here), and that there is another case before the CJEU which raises this issue (notably the K and A case; see further the Commission's recent guidance on the Directive, discussed here).

The judgment

Previously, the CJEU had held that the standstill on new restrictions on establishment and provision of services was binding, had direct effect, and prevented any new measures making it more difficult to exercise self-employment or provide services. But the previous case law only concerned those persons who were actually self-employed or providing services. Could it extend also to the rules regulating the family members of such persons?

The CJEU said it could. In the Court’s view, where the national law made family reunion ‘difficult or impossible’, the establishment of a self-employed person could be ‘negatively affected, since that person would ‘find himself [or herself] obliged to choose between his [or her] activity in the Member State concerned and his [or her] family life in Turkey’. In this case, the national rule made family reunion more difficult, and so violated the standstill clause.

Finally, the Court noted that a measure infringing the standstill clause could be permissible, if it could be ‘justified by an overriding reason in the public interest’, and was ‘suitable to achieve the legitimate objective pursued and does not go beyond what is necessary in order to attain it’. In this case, assuming that the objectives of the national law (preventing forced marriages and promoting integration) were overriding reasons in the public interest, the national law failed the proportionality test, since the refusal of an application on linguistic grounds was automatic, without taking account ‘of the specific circumstances of each case’.


In order to assess the impact of the Court’s ruling, it is necessary first of all to determine its scope. The geographical scope, as noted already, is all Member States. Also, while the family members of Turkish nationals will usually reside in Turkey, the judgment should logically apply also if those family members reside in another third State, or in a Member State. Although in the latter case, it is possible that EU immigration law, such as the long-term residents’ Directive, might also apply, that legislation is without prejudice to more favourable rules in treaties between the EU and third States.

The temporal scope, as established in the previous Dereci case, is 1973 for the first nine Member States (the date of entry into force of the 1970 Protocol to the association agreement), and the date of joining the EU for all other Member States. That means that the national law in force on that date regarding family reunion cannot be made worse for those joining Turkish nationals. Moreover, as established in Toprak and Oguz, if the national law is made more liberal after that date, the standstill also prevents any reversion to the more restrictive law.

Next, what is the personal scope of the judgment? There are three facets to this issue: the sponsor (ie the Turkish citizen in the EU); the family members who seek to join them; and issues of nationality law.

For the Turkish citizen in the EU, the standstill which the Court discussed here also applies to providers of services, but not (as the Court established in Demirkan) to recipients of services. There is also a parallel standstill relating to Turkish workers: according to Article 13 of Decision 1/80 of the EU/Turkey Association Council, the rules on access to employment of Turkish workers and their family members cannot be made more restrictive either. The case law on this provision (see most recently the Demir judgment) makes clear that the standstill on workers and the standstill on establishment must be interpreted the same way (although for the first nine Member States, the standstill on workers took effect in 1980, rather than 1973). In particular, the standstill on workers applies to measures concerning their first admission. It must logically also apply to rules on the first admission of the worker’s family members, since workers, like self-employed persons, would otherwise face a choice between carrying on with employment in a Member State and enjoying family life in another country.

As for family members, while this case concerned spouses, it would logically apply to any other family member as well (Mrs. Dogan had also originally applied for two of the couple’s four children to be admitted also). Simply put, the Turkish citizen in the EU could equally face a choice between his or her economic activity and family life with unmarried partners, children, parents or other family members as well.

Next, as for issues of nationality, one question is whether the primary right-holder and/or the family members concerned can still rely on the rule, if they are dual citizens of Turkey and another country. This question appeared to be answered by the CJEU in Kahveci and Inan, in which it ruled that dual citizens of Turkey and a Member State can rely on the EU/Turkey association rules. But in the pending case of Demirci, concerning social security, an Advocate-General has recently argued that dual citizens cannot invoke the rules. The CJEU will likely clarify this issue soon.

Another nationality-related question is whether third-country national family members of Turkish nationals (in this context, meaning family members who are not nationals of Turkey or a Member State) are covered by the standstill rules. It is clear that they are, by analogy with the recent judgment in Dulger.

Next, what is the material scope of the judgment? In other words, what type of rules relating to family reunion are covered? The test is whether the national rule makes family reunion difficult or impossible. This is apt to cover waiting periods, in-country applications, income requirements, fees for applications (see the Sahin judgment), age limits for spouses or children, and accommodation or sickness insurance rules. Furthermore, the standstill should equally apply as regards different categories of sponsors: for instance, more favourable rules that apply to groups such as refugees, long-term residents or highly-skilled workers cannot be made more restrictive either.  

Finally, what about the possibility of justification? The CJEU did not rule directly in this case as to whether prevention of forced marriages and integration were possible grounds of justification, although in Demir it ruled that prevention of irregular immigration could be such a ground. An example of a new rule which could surely be justified would be a ban on admission of family members if they have received a five-year prison sentence, as compared to a ten-year threshold previously. On the other hand, it seems doubtful that a national rule which simply aims to reduce the numbers of Turkish persons’ family members entering the country can be justified, in light of the overall objective of the association agreement of eventually providing for free movement of people and preparing for Turkish accession.

In any event, it is clear from the Dogan judgment that even if a new national restriction is justified, refusals cannot be automatic and must take account of individual cases. The requirement that the restrictions be ‘suitable’ also suggests that they must be the only possible means to achieve their end. More generally, it is surely the case that like any derogation from EU law, such restrictions and their application must also be judged in light of the EU Charter, namely the right to family life and rights of the child. 

Barnard & Peers: chapter 24, chapter 26

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