Brits working in Brussels sue Commission over Brexit ‘discrimination’ – POLITICO
LONDON — A group of British civil servants working for the EU in Brussels are suing the European Commission for discrimination after bosses stopped covering their travel costs.
Under longstanding Commission rules, the executive reimburses travel costs for all Brussels-based civil servants when they return to their home countries – but insists the offer does not apply only to staff from the current EU Member States.
As a result, after Britain left the EU last year, the Commission notified all staff with only British nationality that they would no longer receive the lump sum for the return trip.
A group of 11 Britons are now suing the Commission, arguing the EU’s approach is illegal. They say the change in their circumstances was not a consequence of their own decisions – unlike in cases where someone can voluntarily renounce their nationality, for example through marriage.
The applicants, represented by lawyer Nathalie de Montigny, argue that the Commission’s decision is discriminatory on the basis of nationality, as it only applies to Commission staff from former EU countries. They also argue that it lacks objective motivation, justification or proportionality, and violates the Commission’s principle of compensation for the expatriate status of its staff.
“Officials with only British nationality are now subject to a very strict interpretation of the rules applicable to officials working for the EU,” de Montigny said.
“Those entering the civil service now know what their rights are and will be, whereas those who worked for the EU at the time of Brexit could not expect to lose the expatriation allowance which is still a reality. «
The Commission, the claimants said, should apply its statute « with the flexibility promised by the European Union » and « in a way that is generous to UK nationals and consistent with other internal rules ».
About 1,000 of the EU’s 60,000 civil servants are British, according to figures published in January, including 538 employed directly by the Commission.
Following the 2016 Brexit referendum, some Britons working for the bloc were able to obtain passports from other EU countries and thus retain their current status at work. But those who chose not to apply for EU citizenship, or who were simply not eligible for a passport from another EU state, were downgraded to third-country civil servant status.
The Commission said it did not comment on cases pending before the EU court, but a spokesperson noted that the executive had « consistently applied as broad an interpretation of the Staff Regulations as possible », in accordance with the Withdrawal Agreement (WA).
As part of a strict application of the staff regulations, the Commission can ask officials to resign if they lose their European citizenship. In the case of Brexit, however, he refused to apply such a rule only to civil servants of British nationality.
“Having said that, the Commission cannot ignore the fact that the UK is a third country, which has been the case since the end of the transition period under the WA, and that this factor may have led to changes entitlements, including the travel allowance, paid to UK staff or staff changing their place of origin in the UK,” the EU spokesperson said.
The Commission must now take the case to the Court of Justice of the EU, which is not expected to rule before 2023.