Belgian language rule curbs movement of workers: EU court adviser

Imposing Dutch as language for international employment contracts hinders free movement

BRUSSELS (Reuters) — Belgium's Dutch-speaking region of Flanders cannot impose Dutch as the language for international employment contracts, as doing so would hinder the free movement of workers, according to an adviser to the European Union's highest court.

Advocate General Niilo Jaaskinen said in a legal opinion published by the court that there was no pan-EU rule harmonizing the use of languages in employment contracts, but that a law such as the Flemish decree could discourage employees coming from outside Belgium or the Netherlands.

Jaaskinen's opinion related to a case in which a Belgian court asked the European Court of Justice if a Flemish decree, which stipulates that all employment contracts be drafted in Dutch, breached EU law.

The opinion is not binding on the ECJ judges, who will rule on the case in the next few months, but such recommendations are followed in the majority of cases.

"Contractual freedom must be respected in that the employee may agree to use a language specific to his working environment which is different from his own and from that used locally, especially where the employment relationship takes place in an international context," the Advocate General wrote in his opinion.

He said the objectives of the Flemish decree the protection of employees, effective judicial supervision and the protection of the language could also be achieved by other means.

The case is based on a complaint by a Dutch national working in Belgium, whose employment contracts were written in English, but after being dismissed in 2009 sought higher severance payments, saying the Flemish law meant his contract was null and void.

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