Case C-137/04

Amy Rockler

v

Försäkringskassan, formerly Riksförsäkringsverket

(Reference for a preliminary ruling from the Regeringsrätten)

(Freedom of movement for workers – Officials and servants of the European Communities – Parental benefits – Taking into account of the period of affiliation to the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme of the European Communities)

Summary of the Judgment

Freedom of movement for persons – Workers – Equal treatment

(EC Treaty, Art. 48 (now, after amendment, Art. 39 EC))

Article 48 of the Treaty (now, after amendment, Article 39 EC) is to be interpreted as meaning that, where national legislation concerning the allocation of parental benefits applies, which requires a worker to have been affiliated to a sickness insurance scheme for a certain minimum period for the calculation of the amount of those benefits, the period during which a worker was affiliated to the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme of the European Communities must be taken into account.

(see para. 28, operative part)




JUDGMENT OF THE COURT (Second Chamber)

16 February 2006 (*)

(Freedom of movement for workers – Officials and servants of the European Communities – Parental benefits – Taking into account of the period of affiliation to the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme of the European Communities)

In Case C-137/04,

REFERENCE for a preliminary ruling under Article 234 EC from the Regeringsrätten (Sweden), made by decision of 8 March 2004, received at the Court on 15 March 2004, in the proceedings

Amy Rockler

v

Försäkringskassan, formerly Riksförsäkringsverket,

THE COURT (Second Chamber),

composed of C.W.A. Timmermans, President of the Chamber, R. Schintgen, R. Silva de Lapuerta (Rapporteur), G. Arestis and J. Klučka, Judges,

Advocate General: A. Tizzano,

Registrar: C. Strömholm, Administrator,

having regard to the written procedure and further to the hearing on 17 November 2005,

after considering the observations submitted on behalf of:

–        the Försäkringskassan, formerly Riksförsäkringsverket, by H. Almström, acting as Agent,

–        the Swedish Government, by A. Kruse, acting as Agent,

–        the Commission of the European Communities, by D. Martin and K. Simonsson, acting as Agents,

having decided, after hearing the Advocate General, to proceed to judgment without an Opinion,

gives the following

Judgment

1        The reference for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Article 48 of the EC Treaty (now, after amendment, Article 39 EC).

2        That reference was made in the context of a dispute between Ms Rockler and the Swedish social insurance office (the Försäkringskassan, formerly Riksförsäkringsverket) in relation to the taking into account, for the calculation of the amount of parental benefit, of the period of employment during which Ms Rockler was affiliated to the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme of the European Communities.

 Legal context

3        Chapter 4 of the lag (1962:381) om allmän försäkring (Swedish law on the general social security scheme) (‘the AFL’) lays down provisions on parental benefits.

4        Under Chapter 4(3) of the AFL parental benefit is paid to parents by reason of the birth of a child for a maximum of 450 days and can be paid at any time until the child reaches the age of eight or completes his or her first year at school, if that should be later.

5        Chapter 4(6) of the AFL provides that the total minimum amount of the parental benefit is SKR 60 per day (‘the guaranteed amount’). It also provides that, for the first 180 days, the parental benefit is paid at the same rate as daily sickness benefit, if the parent concerned had sickness insurance cover providing for sickness benefit of more than the guaranteed amount for at least 240 consecutive days before the birth or the due date of birth.

6        Under Chapter 3(2) of the AFL, daily sickness benefit is based on the annual income the insured can currently expect to receive, unless his circumstances change, for work he does in Sweden.

 The main proceedings and the question referred for a preliminary ruling

7        Ms Rockler, who is a Swedish national, worked as head air hostess for an airline until 15 October 1996. She then worked as a secretary at the Commission of the European Communities in Brussels from 16 October 1996 to 31 December 1997. Thereafter she resumed full-time employment as an air hostess on 1 January 1998. She gave birth to a daughter on 2 July 1998.

8        The Swedish social insurance office refused, by decisions of 16 January and 20 March 1998, to pay Ms Rockler parental benefit in relation to daily sickness benefit for the first 180 days of her parental leave, on the ground that she was not, and could not have been, insured under the national sickness insurance scheme for benefits above the guaranteed amount for at least 240 consecutive days immediately before the due date of birth of her child and that she had not completed any insurance period under the legislation of another Member State.

9        Ms Rockler brought an action against those decisions before the Länsträtten i Skåne län which annulled them by judgment of 24 March 1999.

10      The national social insurance office appealed against that judgment before the Kammarrätten i Göteborg which reversed it by judgment of 27 December 2000.

11      Ms Rockler brought an appeal against that judgment before the national court.

12      It is in that context that the Regeringsrätten decided to stay the proceedings and refer the following question to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘Are the provisions of [Article 48 of the Treaty] to be interpreted as meaning that – where a provision of national law requiring a worker to have been insured for a certain qualifying period in order to receive payment at the rate of daily sickness benefit during parental leave applies – aggregation must include the period during which the worker was covered by the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme in accordance with the rules of the Staff Regulations for Officials of the European Communities?’

 Concerning the question

13      With its question the national court is essentially asking whether, where national rules such as those at issue in the main proceedings apply, Article 48 of the Treaty must be interpreted as meaning that the working period during which a worker was affiliated to the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme of the European Communities must be taken into account.

14      According to settled case-law, any Community national who, irrespective of his place of residence and his nationality, has exercised the right to freedom of movement for workers and who has been employed in a Member State other than that of residence falls within the scope of Article 48 of the Treaty (Case C-385/00 de Groot [2002] ECR I-11819, paragraph 76; Case C-232/01 Van Lent [2003] ECR I-11525, paragraph 14; and Case C-209/01 Schilling and Fleck-Schilling [2003] ECR I-13389, paragraph 23).

15      In addition, it must be pointed out that an official of the European Communities has the status of a migrant worker. It is also apparent from settled case-law that a Community national working in a Member State other than his State of origin does not lose his status of worker within the meaning of Article 48(1) of the Treaty through occupying a post within an international organisation, even if the rules relating to his entry into and residence in the country in which he is employed are specifically governed by an international agreement (Joined Cases 389/87 and 390/87 Echternach and Moritz [1989] ECR 723, paragraph 11; Schilling and Fleck-Schilling, paragraph 28; and Case C-293/03 My [2004] ECR I-2013, paragraph 37).

16      It follows that a worker, such as Ms Rockler, who is a national of a Member State, may not be refused the rights and social advantages which Article 48 of the Treaty affords her (Echternach and Moritz, paragraph 12, and My, paragraph 38).

17      The Court has also held that the provisions of the Treaty relating to the free movement of persons are intended to facilitate the pursuit by Community citizens of occupational activities of all kinds throughout the Community, and preclude measures which might place Community citizens at a disadvantage when they wish to pursue an economic activity in the territory of another Member State (Case C-370/90 Singh [1992] ECR I-4265, paragraph 16; de Groot, paragraph 77; and Van Lent, paragraph 15).

18      In that regard, provisions which preclude or deter a national of a Member State from leaving his country of origin to exercise his right to freedom of movement constitute an obstacle to that freedom even if they apply without regard to the nationality of the workers concerned (de Groot, paragraph 78; Van Lent, paragraph 16; and Schilling and Fleck-Schilling, paragraph 25).

19      National legislation which does not take into account, for the calculation of the amount of parental benefit, periods of employment completed under the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme of the European Communities is likely to dissuade citizens of a Member State from working within an institution of the European Union situated in another Member State since, by accepting employment with such an institution, they lose the right to benefit under the national sickness insurance scheme from family benefits to which they would have been entitled had they not accepted that employment (see to that effect, My, paragraph 47).

20      Consequently, national legislation such as that in dispute in the main proceedings constitutes a barrier to the free movement of workers which is, as a rule, prohibited by Article 48 of the Treaty.

21      It is however necessary to examine whether that barrier is capable of being justified in the light of the provisions of the Treaty.

22      According to the Court’s case-law, a measure restricting one of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Treaty may be justified only if it pursues a legitimate objective which is compatible with the Treaty and respects the principle of proportionality. For that reason, such a measure must be appropriate for securing the attainment of the objective which it pursues and must not go beyond what is necessary in order to attain it (see, in particular, Case C-19/92 Kraus [1993] ECR I-1663, paragraph 32, and Case C-100/01 Oteiza Olazabal [2002] ECR I-10981, paragraph 43).

23      The Swedish Government submits that the AFL is based on objective considerations which are independent of the nationality of the persons concerned and proportionate to the objective which it legitimately pursues of combating abuse as regards the application of the principle of aggregation of insured periods. According to that government, granting parental benefit greater than that guaranteed to migrant workers who have been employed within an institution of the European Union would place a considerable financial burden on national social security schemes with the result that Member States which, like the Kingdom of Sweden, pay a higher amount of parental benefit could be forced to reduce those amounts.

24      In that regard, considerations of a purely economic nature cannot justify infringements of individual rights deriving from provisions of the Treaty enshrining the freedom of movement of workers.

25      Moreover, it must be borne in mind that the reasons which may be invoked by a Member State by way of justification must be accompanied by an analysis of the appropriateness and proportionality of the restrictive measure adopted by that State (Case C-8/02 Leichtle [2004] ECR I-2641, paragraph 45).

26      It must be noted that, in the present case, such an analysis is lacking. The Swedish Government merely alludes, without providing any precise elements to substantiate its arguments, to a hypothetical financial burden which would be put on the national social security scheme if the period of employment completed by a migrant worker under the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme of the European Communities were to be taken into account when applying Chapter 4(6) of the AFL.

27      It follows that there is no justification for the barrier to the freedom of movement of workers which results from the refusal to take into account, for the calculation of the amount of parental benefit, periods of employment completed by migrant workers under the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme of the European Communities.

28      In those circumstances, the answer to the question referred for preliminary ruling must be that Article 48 of the Treaty is to be interpreted as meaning that, where national legislation such as that at issue in the main proceedings applies, the period during which a worker was affiliated to the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme of the European Communities must be taken into account.

 Costs

29      Since these proceedings are, for the parties to the main proceedings, a step in the action pending before the national court, the decision on costs is a matter for that court. Costs incurred in submitting observations to the Court, other than the costs of those parties, are not recoverable.

On those grounds, the Court (Second Chamber) hereby rules:

Article 48 of the EC Treaty (now, after amendment, Article 39 EC) is to be interpreted as meaning that, where national legislation such as that at issue in the main proceedings applies, the period during which a worker was affiliated to the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme of the European Communities must be taken into account.

[Signatures]


* Language of the case: Swedish.