Working in Europe

EU legislation protects expat employees

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How much are European expats protected by European legislation? Here’s a brief guide to the essential EU legislation provisions for expats working in Europe.

"The most important EU regulation for expats is the freedom of movement," says Sanne van Ruitenbeek, attorney at law with Pallas Attorneys at Law in Amsterdam the Netherlands. 

Van Ruitenbeek sees this regulation as essential for expats because "it secures the right of expat employees within the EU to be protected against any discrimination based on nationality with regards to employment, remuneration and other employment or working conditions, as well as the right to move freely within the EU in order to pursue activities as employed persons. Expats should be aware of this European ground rule which should be obeyed by every EU member state, as well as by employers, and expats should not accept any violation of this right." 

EU legislation provisions

Here’s a quick guide to the essential EU legislation provisions.

Some EU provisions take direct effect and are therefore ‘self executing’, meaning a provision can create rights which an individual may rely on before their domestic court.
In order to have direct effect the provision has to be:

  • clear and unambiguous;
  • unconditional. This means, the right must not be dependent on a condition within the control of any institution of Community or the Member State itself;
  • not depend on further action. This means no further legislative or executive action is foreseen as a pre-condition for the provision to come into force.


Provisions in EU-Regulations are frequently self executing. The domestic court of a country decides whether the three above-mentioned criteria are met and therefore whether a provision is self executing or not.

Some EU provisions are not self executing and should be transported into national law by the member states within a certain transitional period. This is the situation with EU-Directives. However, if a member state does not implement a directive correctly and in time, an employee could in principle invoke the directive directly before the domestic court. The four criteria, however, stay applicable in this respect.

Provisions in treaties are not self executing, unless they meet the four above-mentioned requirements.

The Court building in Luxembourg

The role of the European Court Of Justice in Luxembourg

The European Court of Justice makes sure that EU legislation is interpreted and applied in the same way in all EU countries, so that the law is equal for everyone. It ensures, for example, that national courts do not give different rulings on the same issue.

The Court also makes sure that EU member states and institutions do what the law requires. The Court has the power to settle legal disputes between EU member states, EU institutions, businesses and individuals.

The preliminary ruling procedure

The national courts in every EU country are responsible for ensuring that EU law is properly applied in that country. But there is a risk that courts in different countries might interpret EU law in different ways.

To prevent this happening, there is a ‘preliminary ruling procedure’. This means that if a national court is in any doubt about the interpretation or validity of an EU law it may, and sometimes must, ask the Court of Justice for advice. This advice is given in the form of a ‘preliminary ruling’.

European Law

The following topics regarding employment in the EU are governed by EU legislation

  • Freedom of movement for workers.
  • Equal treatment of employees.
  • Working conditions.
  • Safety at work (such as exposure to risks).
  • Wages, income and working hours.
  • Industrial relations (such as the protection of employees in case of insolvency of their employer).
  • Protection of workers (such as collective redundancies, transfer of undertakings).
  • Employment incentives (such as vocational training).

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Here is an outline of the most important European legislation regarding employments in the EU.


  • Regulation (EC) No. 1612/68 of the Council of 15 October 1968 on the freedom of movement of workers within the Community. The right of free movement of workers is anchored in the founding treaties themselves and in particular Council Regulation (EEC) No. 1612/68 on the freedom of movement of workers within the Community, and is thus directly applicable in the member state even without being transposed into national law.
  • Regulation (EC) No. 44/2001 (EEX) of the Council of 22 December 2001 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters.
  • Regulation (EC) No. 593/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 on the law applicable to contractual obligations.

A demonstrator wearing a mask and a Deutsche Bank logo, uses a blow-up axe on another with a sign that reads 'wages' during protests against an international conference on financial regulation outside the German finance ministry in Berlin on 19 May 2010.


  • Directive 93/104/EC of the Council of 23 October 1993 concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time.
  • Directive 96/34/EC of the council of 3 June 1996 on the framework agreement on parental leave
  • Directive 96/71/EC of 16 December 1996 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 1996 concerning the posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services.
  • Directive 97/81/EC of the Council of 15 December 1997 concerning the Framework Agreement on part-time work.
  • Directive 98/59/EC of the Council of 20 July 1998 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to collective redundancies.
  • Directive 99/70/EC of 28 June 1999 concerning the framework agreement on fixed-term work.
  • Directive 2000/78/EC 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. The directive prohibits employment discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
  • Council Directive 2001/23/EC of 12 March 2001 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the safeguarding of employees' rights in the event of transfers of undertakings, businesses or parts of undertakings or businesses.


  • Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFREU): Article 23: Equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay.
  • European Convention on Human Rights: Article 4 prohibits slavery and forced labour.
  • European Convention on the legal status of Migrant workers (ETS No. 93): The Convention aims to eliminate the discrimination that exists in national legislations and to guarantee that migrant workers and members of their families are treated no less favourably than the nationals of the receiving State.
  • European Social Charter (ETS No. 163): Article 6 – The right to bargain collectively; 4.- the right of workers and employers to collective action in cases of conflicts of interest, including the right to strike, subject to obligations that might arise out of collective agreements previously entered into.

Sanne van Ruitenbeek, Pallas Attorneys at Law, Amsterdam / Expatica

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1 Comment To This Article

  • RobertMcClintock posted:

    on 16th November 2015, 07:37:15 - Reply

    The updated version is a treat to the employees. The new laws will lead to a number of improvements.