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Brussels, 19 May 2011

Free movement of workers: Commission requests Belgium to put an end to discriminatory conditions for employment in the local public sector

Belgian law currently obliges candidates wishing to work in the local public sector in its Dutch, French and German speaking regions to obtain a specific language certificate issued in Belgium as proof of linguistic knowledge if they have not followed education in the language of the region. Following a complaint by an Austrian citizen, the European Commission considers this legislation to be discriminatory, disproportionate and in breach of EU law on freedom of movement for workers. This is why the Commission has requested Belgium to put an end to these discriminatory conditions and bring its rules in line with the Treaty and European legislation. The free movement of workers is a fundamental right for all EU citizens and is also an important way for countries to address skills gaps and shortages. The request takes the form of a 'reasoned opinion' under EU infringement procedures. Belgium now has two months to inform the Commission of measures it has taken to bring its legislation into line with EU law. Otherwise, the Commission may decide to refer Belgium to the EU's Court of Justice.

Belgian legislation on the use of languages for administrative purposes (la "loi sur l'emploi des langues en matière administrative") provides that candidates who wish work in the local public sector in the Dutch, French and German speaking regions and who have not followed education in the Dutch, French or German language must prove their linguistic abilities in the language of the region concerned by obtaining a certificate issued further to passing exams organised by SELOR (the Belgian governmental recruiting service). No other certificates are accepted as proof of language knowledge.

The Commission considers that this legislation is contrary to EU rules on free movement of workers which is enshrined in Article 45 of the Treaty of the European Union, in particular Regulation 1612/68 on the free movement of workers. Following the case-law of the Court of Justice (Judgment of 6 June 2000, case C-281/98), a certain level of language knowledge may be required for a job and possession of a diploma may be part of the criteria in assessing knowledge. However, the fact that it is not possible to submit proof of the required linguistic knowledge by another means - in particular by equivalent qualifications obtained in other Member States – is disproportionate and amounts to discrimination on grounds of nationality.

A letter of formal notice was sent to the Belgian authorities on March 22nd 2010.

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MEMO/11/312 - Infringement package overview

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