EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Language requirements for employment

Regulation (EEC) 1612/68 of the Council of 15 October 1968 on freedom of movement for workers within the Community prohibits national rules which limit applications for, or offers of, employment to foreign nationals. However, the provision does not apply to ‘conditions relating to linguistic knowledge required by reason of the nature of the post to be filled’ (Article 3(1)) – an exception to the general rule in the regulation that entitles any EU-national ‘to take up an activity as an employed person, and to pursue such activity, within the territory of another Member State’ (Article 1).

The Irish government invoked a language requirement in refusing a teaching post to a Dutch woman, who did not speak the Irish language (Gaelic). Despite the fact that Gaelic was not necessary to do the job in question, the European Court of Justice in 1987 upheld the requirement of the language qualification in light of the national policy of maintaining and promoting the use of the Irish language, and Community policy, which did not prohibit such a policy to protect and promote a national language – particularly in the case of the education system. The Court did, however, assert that the principle of proportionality was applicable, though it did not preclude the application in this case (Groener v. Minister for Education, Case 379/87). A Commission Communication of 11 December 2002 on ‘Free movement of workers – achieving the full benefits and potential’ (COM (2002) 694 final) states that the language requirement must be reasonable and necessary for the job in question and must not be used to exclude workers, so that advertisements requiring a particular language as a ‘mother tongue’ are not acceptable.

See also: free movement of workers; mobility of workers; professional qualifications.

Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.
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