Cameron’s government warned European leaders that resistance to clampdown could put Britain’s EU membership in doubt
LUXEMBOURG: Britain is right to check whether citizens of other EU countries are lawful residents before awarding them child benefits, the EU’s top lawyer said Tuesday in a boost for David Cameron’s referendum negotiations.
The recommendation by the advocate general to the European Court of Justice to dismiss a case brought by the European Commission against Britain was hailed by London which has promised tough curbs on welfare for EU migrants.
British prime minister Cameron’s government has warned European leaders that resistance to its clampdown could put Britain’s EU membership in doubt ahead of an in-out referendum by the end of 2017.
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The European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU, took the case to the court in Luxembourg after it received many complaints from EU nationals saying London had refused child benefit claims because they had no right of residence.
However, the court’s advocate general Cruz Villalon urged the court in Luxembourg to dismiss the commission’s action.
“Checking whether claimants are lawfully resident in the host member state in accordance with EU law when claims for certain social benefits are dealt with is justified by the necessity of protecting that state’s public finances regulation,” Villalon said in a statement.
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The commission argues that the British approach to EU migrant claims for child benefits and child tax credits is discriminatory and defied the spirit of an EU regulation which takes account only of the claimant’s habitual residence.
Britain asks migrants to demonstrate their right to residence in what it sees as a proportionate step to ensure it pays out benefits to those sufficiently integrated in the country, according to the statement.
Villalon said although the “unequal treatment may be considered to be indirect discrimination, it is justified by the necessity of protecting the host member state’s finances.”
The British government “welcomes this opinion,” pending a final outcome of the case, a spokesman said.
The opinion “supports our view that we are entitled to ensure only EU migrants who have a right to be in the UK can claim our benefits,” he said.
The top court’s judges rarely contradict the findings of their top legal adviser.