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Flanders condemned for language bias

11:55 18/04/2013

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has handed down a judgement against the Flemish community for infringing EU freedom of movement by only drafting workers’ contracts in Dutch, EurActiv reports. Under Flemish law on the use of languages, workers must complete their employment contract in Dutch. Non-compliance results in a cancellation of the contract, even if the worker comes from abroad. The Belgian court asked the ECJ to determine if the law infringed the freedom of movement of workers within the EU. The EU’s highest court said in a statement on Tuesday: “The court notes that only the Dutch text is authentic in the drafting of cross-border employment contracts concluded by employers whose established place of business is in the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. Consequently, such legislation, which is liable to have a dissuasive effect on non-Dutch-speaking employees and employers from other member states, constitutes a restriction on freedom of movement for workers.” The judgement carries distinct political significance for Belgium, a country where political parties are deeply divided over linguistic rights between the French- and Dutch-speaking communities.

The Luxembourg-based court found that the Flemish community had infringed the rights of Anton Las, a Dutch national who was working for a multinational group whose registered office is in Singapore. Not long after Las was hired as chief financial officer of PSA Antwerp, his employers terminated his contract, which was drafted in English. The Belgian government justified the law as part of a strategy to protect and promote the Dutch language. “The court states that such a restriction is justified only if it pursues an objective in the public interest, is appropriate to ensuring the attainment of that objective, and is strictly proportionate,” the ECJ said.

“Yet parties to a cross-border employment contract do not necessarily have knowledge of Dutch,” the court said. “In such a situation, the establishment of free and informed consent between the parties requires those parties to be able to draft their contract in a language other than the official language of that member state.”

Written by The Bulletin