Language Requirement for EU Workers Struck Down

A man walks by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg on Oct. 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)

(CN) – Requiring applicants seeking work at EU government institutions to be proficient in either English, French or German as a second language is discriminatory, the European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday, but left the door open for review if the institutions can prove a legitimate justification for the requirement.

Tuesday’s rulings resolve cases brought by Spain and Italy over language requirements for government workers.

In Spain’s case, the EU high court determined the European Parliament’s call for applications and the establishment of a database of drivers violated anti-discrimination laws. While the European Parliament justified its desire for candidates proficient in either English, French or German by noting “the interests of service, which will require recruited staff to be immediately operational and able to communicate effectively” in the three most commonly spoken languages at the institution, the court ruled the reasoning insufficient.

“The reasons given to justify the restriction on the choice of language 2 of the selection procedure do not in any way address the justification for that restriction in relation to the actual language needs relating to the duties that the recruited drivers will be required to perform,” the Luxembourg-based court wrote in a 9-page opinion. “In those circumstances, those grounds are not based on clear, objective and foreseeable criteria making it possible to conclude that the interest of the service requires, in the present case, such a difference in treatment based on language.”

The court also took issue with the application itself, which was only available in English, French and German. Not allowing candidates to apply in any of the 24 official languages of the EU resulted in “a difference of treatment based on language, which in principle is prohibited,” the court ruled.

In the second case, brought by Italy, the EU high court swatted back the European Commission’s appeal of a lower court’s finding the similar language restrictions used by the European Personnel Selection Office are unconstitutional.

Although the court agreed the personnel office has no obligation to conduct interviews in the language chosen by the applicant, the office’s failure to justify why it required proficiency in either English, French or German as a condition of employment dooms the requirement.

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