Opinion of Mr Advocate General Saggio delivered on 13 April 2000. - Ursula Elsen v Bundesversicherungsanstalt für Angestellte. - Reference for a preliminary ruling: Bundessozialgericht - Germany. - Social security for migrant workers - Regulation (EEC) No 1408/71 - Articles 3 and 10 and Annex VI, Section C, point 19 - Old-age insurance - Validation of periods of child-rearing completed in another Member State. - Case C-135/99.
European Court reports 2000 Page I-10409
1. By an order lodged on 19 April 1999, the Bundessozialgericht (Federal Social Court) (Germany) referred a question to the Court for a preliminary ruling in a dispute between a migrant worker and the German social security administration on the question whether, for the purposes of the grant of an old-age pension, a period during which an employee brought up her son in a Member State other than Germany may be treated as a genuine period of child-rearing (Kindererziehungszeit), in relation to which German social legislation treats the compulsory contributions to the pension insurance scheme as having been paid.
Relevant national legislation
2. The German social security system allows the periods which an employee devotes exclusively to the upbringing of children to be taken into consideration under the pension insurance scheme. Under Paragraphs 56(1), and 249 of Book VI of the Sozialgesesetzbuch (Social Code, hereinafter the SGB VI), of 18 December 1989, compulsory contributions to the pension insurance scheme are deemed to have been paid during the period of child-rearing (Kindererziehungszeit) for the first three years of the children's lives only, if they were born after 1 January 1992, or for the first year of their lives, if they were born before that date. Paragraph 57 of the SGB VI also treats the period of child-rearing up to the end of the 10th year of the child's life as a period to be taken into account, provided that all the requirements for being credited with a period of child-rearing are also satisfied in that period. It should be emphasised that these contributions are notional, in the sense that to be taken into account they do not actually have to have been paid before or after the periods spent raising children: entitlement to an old age pension can therefore be acquired by accumulating only the notional contributions in respect of the periods spent bringing up children, without any working activity being carried on before or after those periods.
3. The social security benefit as laid down by German law reflects choices in family policy which seek to enable workers to bring up their children without compromising their pension rights. In this context, child-rearing is treated as a service in the general interest, and the period devoted to it constitutes an autonomous source of pension rights, in order also to secure equal treatment for activities carried out within the family.
4. The taking into account of periods of child-rearing is also subject to a territorial criterion under German law. Under the aforementioned Paragraph 56(1) of the SGB VI, for the parent to be able to receive the benefit the rearing of the child must have taken place in German territory, or at least must be deemed to have been. Child-rearing occurred in Germany if the parent was habitually resident there with the child. The third paragraph of that article states that child-rearing is equivalent to rearing a child in Germany if the parent raising the child was habitually resident with him or her abroad, and during the period of child-rearing or immediately before the birth of the child, completed periods of compulsory contribution in respect of an activity carried on there as an employee or self-employed person.
Relevant Community legislation
5. I should point out first of all that Article 48(1) and (2) of the EC Treaty (now, after amendment, Article 39 EC) guarantee freedom of movement for workers within the Community. That freedom shall entail the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States as regards employment, remuneration, and other conditions of work and employment. Article 51 of the EC Treaty (now, after amendment, Article 42 EC) then provides that the Council is to adopt such measures in the field of social security as are necessary to provide the freedom of movement for workers.
6. As is well known, the fundamental Community act on matters of social security for migrant workers is Council Regulation (EEC) No 1408/71 of 14 June 1971 on the application of social security schemes to employed persons and their families moving within the Community, codified by subsequent Council Regulation (EEC) No 2001/83 of 2 June 1983, amended and updated several times. Among the amendments in question, Council Regulation (EEC) No 2195/91 of 25 June 1991 concerns this case indirectly.
7. Regulation No 1408/71 applies, in the words of Article 2(1), to workers who are or have been subject to the legislation of one or more Member States and who are nationals of one of the Member States, including those frontier workers which Article 1(b) defines as workers employed in the territory of a Member State, but residing in the territory of another Member State, where they return daily or at least once a week. Article 4 states, ratione materiae, that Regulation No 1408/71 is to apply to all national legislations concerning the social security branches of, among other things, old age benefits and family benefits, the latter being understood as benefits in kind or in cash to cover family expenses. The principle of equality of treatment is stated in Article 3(1) of Regulation No 1408/71: Subject to the special provisions of this regulation, persons resident in the territory of one of the Member States to whom this regulation applies shall be subject to the same obligations and enjoy the same benefits under the legislation of any Member State as the nationals of that State. Residence clauses on the other hand, are clearly stated in Article 10(1) to be unlawful: Save as otherwise provided in this regulation, invalidity, old age or survivors' cash benefits, pensions for accidents at work or occupational diseases and death grants, acquired under the legislation of one or more Member States, shall not be subject to any reduction, modification, suspension, withdrawal, or confiscation by reason of the fact that the recipient resides in the territory of a Member State other than that in which the institution responsible for the payment is situated. Finally, I note that on the basis of Article 13(1) and (2)(a) of Regulation No 1408/71, the worker to whom this regulation applies shall be subject to the legislation of a single Member State only and that a worker employed in the territory of one Member State shall be subject to the legislation of that State even if he resides in the territory of another Member State.
8. Annex VI to Regulation No 1408/71 (in the codified version) contains special procedures for the application of the legislation of certain Member States. This annex was amended, with reference to Germany, by Article 1(12)(b)(v) of Regulation No 2195, which added - with effect from 1 January 1986 - in section C. GERMANY, point 19, which states: A period of insurance for child-rearing under German legislation is valid even for a period during which the employed person concerned brought up the child in another Member State provided that person was unable to engage in occupational activity by virtue of Paragraph 6(1) of the Protection of Mothers Law (Mutterschutzgesetz) or took parental leave under Paragraph 15 of the Federal Child-rearing Allowance law (Bundeserziehungsgeldgesetz) and did not engage in any minor (geringfügig) employment within the meaning of Paragraph 8 of SGB IV.
Facts of the main proceedings
9. Ursula Elsen, a German national, transferred her place of residence from Germany to France in May 1981, and has lived there since then continuously with her husband and her son, who was born in August 1984 in Germany. Until March 1985 she was engaged in an occupational activity subject to compulsory insurance in Germany, assuring the status of a frontier worker after her transfer of residence to France (May 1981). Her occupational activity was interrupted from July 1984 to February 1985 for maternity leave for the birth of her son. From March 1985, she has not been engaged in any occupational activity involving compulsory insurance in either Germany or France.
10. In September 1994, Mrs Elsen applied to the German Federal Insurance Office for Employed Persons (Bundesversicherungsanstalt für Angestellte), in Berlin, requesting that the period of child-rearing between 1 September 1984 and 31 August 1985, and the period to be taken into account for child-rearing from 22 August 1984 to 31 August 1994, should be credited as insurance periods. By decision of 12 September 1995 the insurance organisation refused the application, and that refusal was confirmed by a further decision on the objection dated 21 August 1996.
11. The action brought by her against the final refusal of the claim was dismissed by the Sozialgericht (Social Court), Berlin, by judgment of 11 August 1997. Mrs Elsen appealed directly to the Bundessozialgericht, seeking the setting aside of the judgment at first instance and the crediting to her of the insurance benefits due to her.
Question referred for a preliminary ruling
12. In the order for reference lodged on 19 April 1999, the Bundessozialgericht essentially asked the Court to clarify, in a preliminary ruling, whether or not Community law requires a period of child-rearing prior to 1 January 1986 to be taken into account for the purposes of the insurance benefits under German legislation, if the child was raised in another Member State (in this case France), but the parent who brought the child up was engaged, until the start of the maternal protection period and also after the period of maternity leave, in occupational activity as a frontier worker subject to compulsory insurance in the Federal Republic of Germany.
13. The referring court explains the reasons why the question submitted by it to the Court should be considered relevant to a decision in the main proceedings. In that connection it points out that the German insurance organisation rejected the claim of the plaintiff for inclusion in the insurance periods of the one-year period of child-rearing and the ten-year period to be taken into account for child-rearing, on the ground that the relevant German regulation at the time required that the child be brought up in German territory, or that the parent concerned should reside in Germany, whereas in this case the parent concerned (Mrs Elsen) had resided in France with her husband since May 1981 and had brought her son up there, and also on the ground that that child-rearing could not be considered equivalent to child-rearing in Germany. Therefore, a fundamental condition, which was indisputably territorial, for the allocation of the social benefit in question was lacking. If that condition were compatible with Community law, dismissal of the claim by the plaintiff would be lawful while, if it were not, dismissal would be unlawful and the plaintiff would receive the social benefit to which she is entitled.
14. In the view of the referring court, point 19 of Section C of Annex VI to Regulation No 1408/71, introduced by Regulation No 2195 with effect from 1 January 1986 does not affect the decision to be given in this case. In fact, the period of child-rearing took place in the two years prior to that date (1 September 1984 - 31 August 1985), and also the 10-year period to be taken into account for child-rearing began on 22 August 1984, well before the date on which the new rule entered into force. In addition, notwithstanding those considerations, the plaintiff's claim could not be accepted in full under these rules. As the referring court itself explained, Paragraph 6 of the Mutterschutzgesetz (Protection of Mothers Law) ... applies only to persons who have an employment relationship (a circumstance which, in the case of the plaintiff, applied only up to March 1985); moreover, parental leave under Paragraph 15 of the Bundeserziehungsgeldgesetz (Federal Child-rearing Allowance Law) could be taken only as from 1 January 1986, because that law entered into force only on that date.
Answer to the question
Legal framework of the problem raised by the national court
15. In order to identify the Community law provisions on whose interpretation the Court is asked to express an opinion, it is first necessary to determine the period to which reference must be made in regard to the insurance position of a worker in the situation of the plaintiff in the main proceedings. I note that, according to the order for reference, Mrs Elsen carried on her occupational activity in Germany until March 1985, and that this activity was interrupted between July 1984 and February 1985, that is to say during the period in which she gave birth to her baby and benefited from maternity leave as laid down by German legislation. The birth of the child and the need consequent thereon to rear that child form the basis of the claim made by her in September 1994 to the competent German insurance organisation for the period of child-rearing between 1 September 1984 and 31 August 1985, and the period to be taken into account for child-rearing from 22 August 1984 until 31 August 1994 to be credited as insurance periods. It follows that the period to be taken into account in determining the provisions applicable to the situation which forms the subject-matter of the main proceedings, and to all similar situations, is the period beginning with the birth of Mrs Elsen's son in August 1984: this is because it is from that date that the claims of the worker in question against the German social security administration arise.
16. On that basis, it is now necessary to determine the status in August 1984 of a worker in the situation of the plaintiff in the main proceedings. When the child was born, Mrs Elsen unquestionably had the status of a frontier worker within the meaning of Article 1(b) of Regulation No 1408/71: in fact, she was employed as an employee in German territory, though residing in French territory, where she returned daily or at least once a week. That is not disputed by the Commission, or by the governments intervening in this case. Therefore, in August 1984, Mrs Elsen was subject to the social security legislation of the Federal Republic of Germany, of which she was a national, thus fulfilling both the subjective conditions (application to her of the legislation of a Member State and nationality of a Member State), to which the application under Article 2(1) ratione personae of Regulation No 1408/71 is subject. Thus, the abovementioned provision in Article 13(2)(a) of Regulation No 1408/71 applied to her; under that provision a worker employed in the territory of one Member State shall be subject to the legislation of that State even if he resides in the territory of another Member State. Therefore, on the date under consideration, that is August 1984, a worker in the situation of Mrs Elsen was subject exclusively to the German social security system, even though she was resident in another Member State.
17. At this juncture it must be determined whether the notional crediting of the compulsory contributions provided for in Paragraphs 56, 57 and 249 of the SGB VI for the periods devoted by the parent to bringing up children comes within old age benefits, or are family benefits, within the meaning of Article 4(1) of Regulation No 1408/71, these being construed as benefits in kind or in cash intended to cover family expenses. The referring court left the question open, upholding neither interpretation: for my part, I consider that the social security benefit in question may be classified as both an old age benefit and a family benefit. The fact that the German legislature provided for the aforementioned notional crediting of the contributions in the statutory pension scheme does not, in my view, exclude the possibility that this type of crediting may also be regarded as a social security benefit to cover family expenses: on the one hand, this is because the benefit in question forms part of the pension insurance scheme, under a mechanism for crediting notional contributions for periods which the insured person has devoted entirely to raising children, and on the other, represents a form of financial support granted by the State to the worker to cover family expenses. It is true that this benefit differs from the parental allowance laid down and regulated by the Bundeserziehungsgeldgesetz, since, as the Court has already held, it constitutes a financial benefit, of a non-contributory nature, paid to the worker who looks after and raises a child and who for that reason is not engaged in full-time employment or professional activity. Yet the benefit pursues the same aim of family policy as the parental allowance, which is to enable workers to devote themselves exclusively to raising children without having to face undue financial concerns, whilst at the same time maintaining an adequate income and a stable insurance situation in which contributions are made up notionally. In any case, the social security benefit considered here falls within the scope ratione materiae of Regulation No 1408/71, both in its aims and in the requirements for its allocation.
18. It seems indisputable that a worker in the position of the plaintiff in the main proceedings will suffer a restriction to her enjoyment of the benefit in question under the territorial condition laid down by Paragraph 56(1) of the SGB VI. That condition makes entitlement to the social benefit subject to the condition that the children are raised in German territory or may be deemed to have been raised there. This means that the parent bringing up the child must have resided habitually in Germany with the child or resided habitually abroad, but - during the period of child-rearing or before the birth - must have carried on occupational activity subject to compulsory contributions (Paragraph 56(3) of the SGB VI). In the present case, the above condition meant that it was impossible for a worker like Mrs Elsen to benefit from the notional crediting of compulsory contributions to the statutory pension scheme as laid down by the German social security system to which she was subject, in relation to the period spent raising her child. In fact, Mrs Elsen did not reside with her son in Germany, but lived in France, where she did not carry on any occupational activity. It can therefore be stated that a territorial condition of this kind entails loss of the benefit by the person concerned, because the period devoted by her to raising her child in France cannot be taken into consideration in the calculation of the old age pension to which she is entitled under German legislation.
19. The foregoing may be summarised as follows: in August 1984, a frontier worker residing in France and working in Germany, where she was duly registered in the statutory pension insurance scheme, was not able to enjoy a social benefit, described as a social security benefit and provided for in the German statutory pension insurance scheme, merely because she was not resident in Germany. At this juncture it is reasonable to consider whether a situation of this kind is compatible with Community law.
Views expressed during the course of the written procedure
20. The Commission and the German Government consider that the situation described above is not incompatible with Community law. The possibility of making certain benefits conditional upon criteria of a territorial nature falls, it is argued, within the scope of State authority in social security matters, in light of the social and financial objectives pursued by the national insurance systems. In addition, the Commission points out that this case is a purely internal matter, since the plaintiff in the main proceedings is a German national who is claiming an insurance benefit laid down and regulated by the social security legislation of the Member State of which she is a national.
21. Conversely, the Spanish Government supports the argument that the situation of a worker such as Mrs Elsen is incompatible with Community law. In its view, such a situation is contrary to the criteria for allocating social security benefits laid down by Regulation No 1408/71, and, in particular, to the principle that any condition which restricts those benefits on the basis of place of residence is unlawful. More generally, the Spanish Government notes that since a situation of this kind has a Community, and not solely a national, dimension, it is contrary to the principle of freedom of movement for migrant workers, as laid down in Article 48 of the Treaty.
Opinion of the Advocate General
22. As the referring court rightly points out, the present case does not merely have a national dimension. It concerns the situation of a frontier worker who is refused a social benefit in the Member State in which she works because she resides in another Member State. There is therefore a connecting factor with a situation (that of the frontier worker) regarded by Community law as a source of law for migrant workers as against the Member State to whose social security system they are affiliated, to which both the provisions of the EC Treaty on freedom of movement for persons and the provisions of Regulation No 1408/71 apply in this case. It follows that we cannot be guided by case-law which states that the Treaty provisions on the freedom of movement for persons cannot be applied to activities which are confined in all respects within a single Member State.
23. Having stated the above, I am not convinced by the argument supported by the Commission and the German Government to the effect that the possibility of making entitlement to certain social security benefits subject to territorial conditions falls fully within the decision-making authority of the Member States in social security matters. I recognise that, on the basis of current Community law, the Member States retain their powers to organise their social security systems, and therefore can determine the rules for financing those schemes. But it should also be borne in mind that, as the Court has consistently held, in exercising the aforementioned powers of organisation the Member States must comply with Community law, and in particular the rules of the Treaty on freedom of movement for workers. The indefeasible necessity to ensure observance of Community law has also been upheld by the Court in relation to other cases of competence assigned to the authority of the Member States. I therefore consider that in the present case it was not permissible, even on financial grounds, for national legislation, such as the German legislation at issue, to derogate from Regulation No 1408/71 and from the principle of freedom of movement for workers.
24. On this point, I would emphasise that in its case-law the Court has interpreted Article 13(2)(a) of Regulation No 1408/71, under which a person employed in the territory of a Member State is subject to the legislation of that State even if he resides in the territory of another Member State, as meaning that the provision would have no practical effect if the residence condition laid down by the legislation of the Member State in whose territory the person is employed for affiliation to the insurance scheme which it establishes could be relied on against the persons referred to. The aforementioned provision in Article 10(1) of Regulation No 1408/71 concerning the waiving of residence clauses, is also significant; under that provision social security benefits cannot, as a general rule, be compromised by reason of the fact that the recipient resides in the territory of a Member State other than that in which the institution responsible for payment is situated. It appears to me that the situation of the plaintiff in the main proceedings falls fully within the scope of Articles 10(1) and 13(2)(a) of Regulation No 1408/71, since the condition of residence which is raised against her precludes her entitlement to a social benefit which would otherwise certainly have been granted to her.
25. More generally, I consider that the condition in question conflicts with the principle of the freedom of movement for workers established by Article 48(1) of the Treaty, since the German legislation places migrant workers at a disadvantage, in regard to the social security benefits with which we are concerned, as compared with workers who do not avail themselves of freedom of movement. I should point out that the fact that Mrs Elsen is a German national is not relevant for the purpose of reaching a decision on the question. In my Opinion of 29 September 1998 in Case C 90/97 Swaddling, I already had occasion to observe that the principle of equality of treatment as between migrant workers and persons who do not avail themselves of freedom of movement may be inferred from Article 48 of the Treaty; that equality must be understood as meaning that, save for exceptions which are plainly based on nationality and therefore prohibited, it is compatible with differentiated treatment only if such treatment is justified by requirements which are in conformity with Community law and fully comply with the principle of proportionality. Moreover, the Court has stated on several occasions that the aforementioned Article 48 implements a fundamental principle enshrined in Article 3(c) of the EC Treaty (now Article 3(1)(c) EC), which provides that the activities of the Community are to include the abolition, as between Member States, of obstacles to the freedom of movement for persons. In that respect, the EC Treaty certainly precludes national legislation which places Community nationals at a disadvantage when they seek to carry on economic activities in the territory of a Member State: therefore, any national provisions which deter workers from exercising their right to freedom of movement constitute obstacles to that freedom even if they apply without regard to the nationality of the workers concerned. If these principles are applied, a worker in the situation of the plaintiff in the main proceedings must be held to suffer a restriction in exercising a fundamental right, that of freedom of movement, insofar as before 1 January 1986 the German legislation made entitlement to certain social security benefits whose purpose was to encourage child-rearing subject to the condition that the children be raised in Germany and that, therefore, the worker concerned had to reside in Germany with the children.
26. The argument which I have put forward does not contradict point 19 of Section C of Annex VI to Regulation No 1408/71, introduced by Regulation No 2195/91 with effect from 1 January 1986. For the purpose of calculating notional compulsory contributions to the pension insurance scheme, that provision allows the period during which the worker concerned brings up a child in another Member State to be taken into consideration, but makes that possibility subject to specific conditions: it is necessary for the worker to be on maternity leave or parental leave and not to have had an occupation described as minor by German legislation. In my view, the new provision inserted in Regulation No 1408/71 is not intended to make any innovation in relation to the previous position, in the sense that it does not introduce a social benefit which was not previously provided for; rather it regulates in detail the system applicable to a situation which previously gave rise to some uncertainties in interpretation (as is borne out moreover by the question now before the Court). In that regard, the answer which I propose that the Court should give to the question does not interfere with the choice of legislative policy made by the Council in 1991, which, both in terms of its wording and date of its entry into force, is not of direct concern to the situation of the plaintiff in the main proceedings.
27. In light of the foregoing, I propose that the Court should give the following reply to the question referred for a preliminary ruling:
Article 48(1) of the EC Treaty (now, after amendment, Article 39(1) EC), and Articles 10(1) and 13(2)(a) of Council Regulation (EEC) No 1408/71 of 14 June 1971 on the application of social security schemes to employed persons and their families moving within the Community, must be interpreted as precluding national legislation, such as that in force in Germany before 1 January 1986, from providing that periods devoted by a frontier worker to raising children may be taken into consideration for the notional calculation of the compulsory contributions to the statutory pension insurance scheme only on condition that the children are raised in Germany or can be deemed to have been raised there.