EU migrants can be denied unemployment benefits, the European Court of Justice has ruled, in a move welcomed by the British government as a vindication of David Cameron’s renegotiation proposals.
The ECJ found that countries have a right to deny dole payments to citizens from another EU state, even if they have previously worked in the country.
Migrants who have worked for less than a year can expect benefits in their host country for no more than six months if they are sacked, the Luxembourg court found.
It goes further than a previous ruling, which confirmed the right of states to deny benefits to EU migrants who have never worked.
The Coalition government tightened the eligibility for benefits of EU migrants, including ending dole payments after six months to those that do not have a “genuine prospect” of work.
A British Government spokesman said: “This is a welcome ruling which shows we are right to restrict benefits going to EU migrants who haven’t paid into the system in this country.
“It also further supports our argument that individual member states should have the freedom to design their own welfare systems without being constantly challenged by the courts.”
David Cameron is seeking to deny EU citizens in-work benefits such as tax credits until they have worked for four years in the UK. Other countries insist it is discriminatory and have threatened to block it.
The ECJ considered the case of a Bosnian-born Swedish mother living in Germany with her three children, who was cut off from social assistance payments six months after her temporary job ended.
Judges declared that an unemployed EU migrant who had worked for less than a year “can rely on the principle of equal treatment and is entitled to social assistance” for six months.
Pawel Swidlicki, an analyst at Open Europe said: “This may go some way towards reassuring the public that free movement does not entail unfettered access to welfare.
“It also reinforces the principle that in some circumstances, member states can treat EU migrants differently from their own nationals; the challenge for David Cameron will be to secure a political agreement among EU leaders to extend this to in-work benefits.”
Catherine Bearder, a Liberal Democrat MEP, said: “I hope the myth of benefit tourism will now be put firmly to bed so we can focus instead on the many real and significant challenges facing the EU.”