Year: 2012 (Date of Decision: 18 July, 2012)
Forum, Country: Constitutional Court; Germany
Standards, Rights: Core content; Human dignity; Welfare State; Right to an adequate standard of living; Right to social security; Migrants
Summary Background: The issue at stake was whether the amount of cash benefits for asylum seekers was compatible with the fundamental right to a minimum level of existence as emerging from the right to human dignity (article 1.1 of the Basic Law) read in conjunction with the principle of a social welfare State (article 20.1 of the Basic Law).
Holding: The Court held that the provisions governing the cash benefits in question violate the fundamental right to the guarantee of a dignified minimum existence protected under the German Basic Law [paras. 1 and C.I.1]. This right is universal and applies to both nationals and foreign citizens [para. C.I.1.a]. It includes “…both humans’ physical existence, that is food, clothing, household items, housing, heating, hygiene and health, and guarantees the possibility to maintain interpersonal relationships and a minimal degree of participation in social, cultural and political life, since a human as a person necessarily exists in social context.” [para. C.I.1.b]. The benefits in question were just not enough to live a dignified standard of life.
The Court found that the benefits had not been altered since 1993, despite significant price increases in Germany and stated that adequate benefits have to be established in the particular context of circumstances in Germany. The Basic Law does not allow that needs for a dignified life be calculated at a lower level by referring to the existence levels in the country of origin or in other countries [para. C.I.1.d].
The Court was clear that political considerations must not undermine the principle of existenzminimum, stating that “Migration-policy considerations of keeping benefits paid to asylum seekers and refugees low to avoid incentives for migration…may generally not justify any reduction of benefits below the physical and socio-cultural existential minimum existence… Human dignity…may not be modified in light of migration-policy considerations” [para. C.II.2.c]. Further, the Constitution did not allow for differentiation among recipients of basic social benefits in accordance to their residence status; the legislature must always be guided by the concrete needs to secure a person’s existence [para. C.I.1.dd].
In addition the Court indicated that it was not clear that a realistic, needs-oriented calculation had been made in determining the amount of benefits. The decision mandates that it must be possible to calculate the amounts in a transparent manner that responds to actual and current needs [para. C.I.1.f].
In conclusion, the Court ordered the legislature to immediately enact new provisions in relation to cash benefits for asylum seekers that would secure them a dignified minimum existence. As an interim measure, the Court also put into place a transitional arrangement for the payment of increased cash benefits [paras. D.1 and 2].
Additional Comments: The decision also refers to the margin of appreciation principle in holding that the State enjoys such a margin in determining the form in which the benefits are given (in cash, kind or services) and the amount of the benefits to secure a minimum existence [para. C.I.1.d].
Link to Full Case: https://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/en/decisions/ls20120718_1bvl001010en.html