Test of Slovak Benefits|Fails in EU Court

     (CN) – Slovakia did not break EU laws by limiting disability benefits and social security Christmas bonuses to low-income legal residents only, the European Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday.
     The rulings come after the European Commission took Slovakia to court in two actions after determining that the half of what was once Czechoslovakia broke EU laws against discrimination by only giving disabled-care benefits and social security Christmas bonuses to legal residents.
     While the commission considered the benefits to be sickness and old-age benefits for which EU law prohibits residency restrictions, the European high court found in one of two opinions that – in the case of disabled-care benefits – Slovakian authorities’ aim is to provide the most appropriate benefit for a severely disabled person’s needs after an assessment by a medical expert.
     “The objective pursued by the Slovak legislation is to grant to severely disabled persons the benefit which is the most appropriate to their personal needs,” the Luxembourg-based court wrote in an 11-page opinion. “The fact remains that the medical and social examinations and the detailed report, in which the proposal as to the type of allowance to be granted as compensation is set out, is carried out on the basis of objective and legally defined criteria. Furthermore, it is not disputed that the benefits at issue are not granted outside the situations provided for by EU law and that those benefits are withdrawn if the beneficiaries no longer meet the conditions for eligibility.
     “However, the commission has not established that those criteria give entitlement to the benefits at issue without the competent authority having any discretion as to their grant,” the court continued. “The existence of such a discretion, which must be exercised in a consistent and reasonable manner, does not give rise to the conclusion that the benefits at issue are granted to beneficiaries in the absence of any individual and discretionary assessment of their personal needs, on the basis of a legally defined position. Accordingly, those benefits do not constitute social security benefits within the meaning of EU law.”
     In a second opinion, the high court found that Christmas bonuses paid to pensioners – amounting to a maximum of $75 – was not an “old-age” benefit as defined by EU law and therefore falls outside the commission’s regulatory purview.
     “It must be held that the Christmas bonus is not paid exclusively to recipients of an old-age pension, an early old-age pension or a military and police retirement pension, but the group of beneficiaries also includes recipients of other types of pension, in particular, an invalidity pension, a social pension, a widow/widower’s pension or an orphan’s pension,” the court wrote in its 7-page opinion.
     “The commission has not given the reasons why, given the group of persons covered, which is defined so broadly, it considers that the Christmas bonus must be classified as an ‘old-age pension’ within the meaning of EU law.
     “It is clear from the documents submitted to the court that the purpose of the Christmas bonus is to provide a financial supplement to the recipients of the various legal pensions whose income does not exceed the threshold defined by law,” the court continued. “Insofar as the Christmas bonus is paid to recipients of retirement pensions or pensions treated as retirement pensions, that bonus supplements the means of subsistence of persons having reached a certain age.
     “Nevertheless, it cannot be held that the purpose of the Christmas bonus depends only on the type of pension it aims to supplement,” the court concluded, dismissing the commission’s actions.

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