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Jutta Johannes- Case [C-430/97]

August 5th, 2011 | Posted by DUCA LL.M in EU Law

Ruling of 10 June 1999 of the Court the First Chamber in Case [C-430/97], Jutta Johannes v Hartmut Johannes [1999] ECR I-03475

 

Referred by [Amtsgericht Köln – Germany]

 

FACTS:

 

The partiest in the main proceedings, both German nationals, married on 18 April 1963 in the United States of America.

The marriage was dissolved by a decree of divorce pronounced by the Tribunal de Première Instance (Court of First Instance), Brussels, on 28 April 1986 against the petitioner under Belgian law, as the law of the last common place of residence of the parties. That decree became absolute on 28 October 1988 and was recognised by the Ministry of Justice of the Land Nordrhein-Westfalen on 21 April 1995.

The deffendant in the main proceedings, a former official of the Commission, has been in receipt of a retirement pension from the European Community since 1 June 1996.

The applicant, Mrs Johannes is claiming, pursuant to the German Law, apportionment on a pro rata basis of the pension rights acquired during the marriage by the parties to the main proceedings, including those acquired by Mr Johannes in his capacity as a Commission official.

The parties agreed that Mr Johannes’ pension rights in respect of the Bundesversicherungsanstalt für Angestellte (Federal Insurance Office for Salaried Employees), relating to a period of employment prior to his appointment as a Community official, are subject to German law as regards apportionment of those rights. However, Mr Johannes contends that the pension paid to him by the European Commission should not be apportioned, relying on arguments based on Community law, in particular on the principle of non-discrimination, as enshrined by the Treaty and Article 27 of Annex VIII to the Staff Regulations.

ISSUES/QUESTIONS:

 

Whether the Staff Regulations, and in particular Article 27 of Annex VIII thereto, preclude the application of rules of national law, such as Paragraph 1587 et seq. of the German Civil Code, which provide for apportionment of pension rights between divorced spouses/ whether the principle of non-discrimination precludes the laws of a Member State regulating the consequences of divorce between an official of the Communities and his former spouse from causing the official to bear a heavier burden, on account of his nationality, than would be borne by an official of a different nationality in the same situation.

 

ANSWER of the COURT:

 

Staff Regulations and in particular Article 27 of Annex VIII thereto, does not preclude the application of rules of national law, such as Paragraph 1587 et seq. of the German Civil Code, which provide for apportionment of pension rights between divorced spouses.

The principle of non-discrimination does not preclude the laws of a Member State regulating the consequences of divorce between an official of the Communities and his former spouse, regard being had to the spouses’ nationality as a connecting factor, from causing the official concerned to bear a heavier burden than would be borne by an official of a different nationality in the same situation.

 

REASONING of the Court

 

The Court followed Advocate General Opinion and stated that EU legislature has no competence to lay down the rights of spouses in divorce proceedings, including those resulting from any compensatory adjustment of pension rights as provided for under German law. Those rights are governed by the rules of private law and family law applying in the Member States, which fall within the competence of those Member States. As a consequence, the Staff Regulations are intended only to regulate the legal relations between the European institutions and their officials, by establishing a series of reciprocal rights and obligations and by affording certain members of an official’s family rights which they may assert in relation to the European Communities. t follows that the Staff Regulations do not in any way preclude the application of national rules of law of the kind contained in Paragraph 1587 et seq. of the BGB, providing for the compensatory adjustment of pension rights between divorced spouses.s

 

As regards the second question, Mr. Johannes compares his situation to that of a European official possessing Belgian nationality and subject to Belgian law. Since there exists no machinery under Belgian law for the apportionment of pension rights, such an official could not be required to pay sums as great as those which Mr. Johannes may be ordered to pay. Mr. Johannes infers from this the existence of discrimination on grounds of nationality, since the difference between the two situations rests solely on the difference in nationality.

 

That argument was not upheld as the Court agreed to the the German Government and the Commission point of view and ruled that the prohibition of all discrimination on grounds of nationality laid down by the Treaty applies only within the Treaty’s area of application. Furthermore, neither the national provisions of private international law determining the substantive national law applicable to the effects of a divorce nor the national provisions of civil law substantively regulating those effects fall within the scope of the Treaty.

 

Comments:

In respect to the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality, it will take affect only if the conflictual situation falls under the competence of EU law. Even if Mr. Johannes correctly invoked the general principle of equal treatment, i.e. Belgian v. German system, the Court found that following existing disparities between Member States’ legislation in family law, nationality of the parties to the proceedings is taken into consideration solely as a connecting factor applied by the rules of private international law for the purposes of determining the substantive national law applicable to the effects of the divorce.

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