Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The principle of non-discrimination in Europe (Or, why a Greek passport is actually a European one) by Christos Iliopoulos

One of the fundamental rules of European law is the prohibition of discrimination based on nationality. In plain words this means that a citizen of one Member State of the European Union (EU), who lives, studies, works or simply travels to another Member State of the EU, enjoys the same rights as the citizens of the host Member State.
The basic principle (with very few exceptions) is that, if you are a citizen/national of a country, which is a member of the EU, you are entitled to travel, work, establish, study and enjoy the same benefits in any other EU country, without discrimination of nationality, since you are a EU citizen.
This basic principle is implemented everyday in all EU countries, where millions of EU citizens move from one Member State to another, to find work, study, establish families or simply to enjoy residence in another EU country, without the need of a passport or a visa and with the issuing of a work and residence permit being a simply procedural and not a substantial matter.
There are, of course, cases, where national governments keep in existence rules which result in discrimination based on nationality. Such rules, regulations or laws, once discovered, are being quashed either by the national courts, or by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg. Every EU citizen is entitled to bring a case of nationality discrimination before the competent administrative authority or a court, claiming that the authorities of one EU country are not granting him/her the same rights they are granting to the citizens of the host country.
One such case resulted in the James Wood ruling of the European Court of Justice. James Wood, a British national, lived with his partner, Evelyne Arraitz, a French national, for more than 20 years in France. They had three children. One of their children, Helena Wood, died in a car accident in Australia.
French law gave to the French relatives of the victim, who died outside of the EU (in Australia), the right to receive compensation for material losses and for non-pecuniary losses. The French authorities actually gave compensation to the family members, who were French nationals, but not to the father of the victim, Mr. James Wood, on the grounds that he was a British and not a French national.
Indeed, French law stated that in such a case only French nationals were entitled to compensation. That law was violating European law, therefore it should be abolished.
Mr Wood lodged his claims based on Article 12 of the EU Treaty, which prohibits all discrimination on grounds of nationality. According to Mr Wood, who stated that he lived, worked and paid taxes in France, where he had lived for 20 years with his partner, a French national, he suffered discrimination, which consisted in the fact that he was not awarded compensation, which was, however, paid to the other members of his family. That is contrary to the principle of non-discrimination laid down by Article 12 EC.
The French administration countered that they were merely applying French law, which gave compensation only to French nationals.
The European Court finally issued its ruling stating that European law precludes legislation of a Member State which excludes nationals of other Member States who live and work in its territory from the grant of compensation intended to make good losses resulting from offences against the person where the crime in question was not committed on the territory of that State, on the sole ground of their nationality.
The Court therefore found that Mr. Wood had been discriminated against by the French administration, on the grounds of his nationality and that is a violation of European law, which precludes any discrimination between EU nationals, based on their nationality.
This is a very good example of the benefits which enjoy the holders of Greek passports. Greece is a Member State of the European Union and its citizens are entitled to travel, study, work and establish families and businesses all over the EU, enjoying the same rights and benefits with the citizens of the host EU Member State and without any discrimination based on their nationality.

Christos ILIOPOULOS, attorney at
the Supreme Court of Greece, LL.M.

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