BRUSSELS (Reuters) — European Union nations candeny benefits to EU migrants unless they have previously worked in their hostcountry, the EU's top lawyer said on Thursday, in a case brought by Germany andkeenly watched in Britain.
Even actively seeking work is not enough of a justificationto claim benefits at the same time, European Court of Justice AdvocateGeneral Melchior Wathelet said.
His opinion, which judges must consider in their finalruling, was likely to be welcomed by Eurosceptic parties in the 28-nation EUwhich argue that governments must do more to stop "benefit tourism"by EU migrants.
Wathelet's view reinforces the precedent set by a Novemberruling that said EU migrants can be denied benefits if they move to a countrywith no intention of finding a job.
"This confirms that the right to live and workelsewhere in the EU is not the same as the right to claim benefits," said CatherineBearder, a British liberal in theEuropean Parliament.
Immigration has become a divisive topic in Europe asit struggles to recover from years of economic crisis.
British Prime Minister David Cameron repeated hiscall last week for a "wide-scale change to the rules on welfare andbenefits", in a reference to popular suspicion that EU immigrants come toBritain to scrounge off the state.
Cameron has promised that, if he wins a May election, hewill renegotiate Britain's relationship with Europe on issues such asimmigration and then hold a referendum on its membership of the bloc by 2017.
In his opinion, the European Court of Justice'sWathelet said however that those who had worked in their host country shouldnot be penalised.
Germany was therefore wrong to stop benefits to aSwedish mother who became unemployed, Wathelet said.
Swedish mother-of-three Nazifa Alimanovic stoppedreceiving social benefits in Germany in 2012 after becomingunemployed. Alimanovic had worked in Germany between June 2010 and May2011. Germany's Federal Social Court brought the case to the EU court.
"Exclusion from social assistance benefits, providedfor by the German legislation, is not applicable to the situation of Ms Alimanovic,"Wathelet said.
Alimanovic's three children had been born in Germany andattended school there.