The recent developments in EU citizenship have been admittedly fairly quiet in comparison to the uproar after the ever controversial Zambrano case where the interpretation of citizenship provisions under Article 21 TFEU went astray. In the case of Reyes, the question concerns a clarification on the Directive 2004/38 and the meaning of ‘dependant’ under Art 2(2)(c). The case concerns third country nationals (TCNs), the cases of which have dominated the scene since Zambrano. The persistence of claimants in this respect is thus admirable, suggesting that Zambrano and indeed, the Directive itself, left a lot to be desired. This persistent pattern is to be received positively, representing good opportunities to clarify confusing positions.
Ms. Reyes, a Filipina, was brought up by her grandmother in the Philippines when she was three years old after her mother left to work in Germany to support her family. Ms. Reyes’ mother is now a German citizen.
Throughout her life, Ms. Reyes never held a job but similarly never relied on the Philippines’ social benefits. Her mother periodically sent money to support her, her sisters and her grandmother. Ms. Reyes’ mother moved to Sweden to be with a Norwegian man in 2009, whom she married mid-2011. He received a retirement pension which was also sent to the Philippines for Ms. Reyes’ benefit. After moving, Ms. Reyes’ mother did not work, living on her husband’s retirement.
When Ms. Reyes entered the Schengen area early 2011, she was refused a residence permit as dependent family member by the Swedish Migrationsverket for being unable to prove the funds sent by her mother and her partner were to sustain her life in the Philippines (in the form of basic needs, lodging, healthcare) or that any home state public funds were supporting her. This was due to the fact that she was fully dependent on her grandmother and the Migrationsverket decided this indicated she was not dependent on her mother in Sweden.
The appeal by Ms. Reyes to the Migrationsverket was dismissed because whilst they agreed her basic needs were supported by her mother’s funds, there was not enough proof that she would be able to survive without dependence on her mother and partner if she were to remain in her home state. They argued that she was still young, had qualifications from there, lived there, and still had relatives there. Her mother’s choice to support her was not determinative in the decision that Ms. Reyes’ was not dependent.
The first question referred thus aims to clarify if Art 2(2)(c) Directive 2004/38 – the definition of a dependent family member – requires that those over 21 years old must prove that they had searched for employment and failed OR sought support from public funds and it was also not possible before being considered a family member. The second asks if this family member can still be considered a ‘dependant’ if they are considered to be fairly well qualified to get employment AND intends to find a job in that Member State. This would nullify the conditions under which they would be a dependent relative.
In 16 short paragraphs, the Court of Justice of the European Union makes a concise and very coherent decision on Ms. Reyes’ situation.
Seemingly considering the Opinion of AG Mengozzi, the Court referred to Jia, where the situation concerned the definition of a ‘dependant’ for over-21 year olds. The standard would be a situation of ‘real dependence’ which must be construed broadly. This is somewhat justified and explained by AG Mengozzi in that whilst the free movement of persons telos is not primarily to maintain family unity, this reasoning does not seem to have been totally ignored. It supports the broad position taken by the Court in its judgment, deciding that the situation where Ms. Reyes’ mother periodically and consistently sent money to support her daughter’s life in her home state would be one of sufficient dependence. This is, furthermore, absent of any necessity to prove they have tried to find work or seek support from public funds to support themselves. This requirement would place an extra burden on the citizen, which is against the spirit of the fundamental freedom to move and reside. The Court is clear in applying Jia that Sweden were in breach of their obligations under the Treaty.
Regarding the definition of ‘dependant’, the decision is fairly self-explanatory. To deny a citizen the status of a dependant purely on the grounds of their intention and chances to seek employment in the Member State would be against Art 23, Directive 2004/38 which expressly protects the right of family to seek employment if they have residence, Lebon also cited. Therefore, this should not interfere with its definition.
AG Mengozzi places a significant emphasis on the interpretation of Directive 2004/38 in a broad and generous manner in terms of protection of family members and the rights they should derive from it. He draws upon the teleological perspectives of the provisions, which favour the unity of a family whether all Union citizens or not. Though recognisably different conclusions have been reached by the Court in the past in regards to similar questions, it would appear that the CJEU were convinced in this case that Directive 2004/38 should not be considered narrowly for Ms. Reyes’ situation.
Certainly, the judgment is not a surprising decision. Considering the importance of the right to freely move and reside, which includes employment opportunities for family as codified by Directive 2004/38, the case represents a hammering home of the definition of a ‘dependant’. Indeed, it goes to show that Member States cannot arbitrarily try to avoid their obligations to Union citizens’ families by way of minor technicalities and additional requirements.