Bélané Nagy v. Hungary: a self-standing right to obtain social benefits under the ECHR?

This guest post was written by Ingrid Leijten, Ph.D. researcher and lecturer at the Leiden University Faculty of Law, Department of Constitutional and Administrative Law. See also the post she wrote for Verfassungsblog.

Over the years, the Court’s social security case law has not become much easier to understand. Meanwhile, the Court has rendered numerous judgments on a great variety of social benefits, pensions, etc., yet it is not always clear where it draws the line between ‘property’ and ‘mere hope’ to obtain a benefit (of a certain height), or between a reasonable and a disproportional interference with someone’s acquired social security rights. The social security case law of the Court remains vulnerable to criticism, not least also because of the tension inherent in the protection of ‘social’ interests under a document that is primarily ‘civil and political’ in kind.

In the recent case of Béláné Nagy v. Hungary the dissenters contend that the Court recognizes a right to obtain social security benefits under Article 1 P1, and hold that this is incompatible with this article’s object and purpose. Although it was decided by a three to four vote and hence might be referred to the Grand Chamber, the diverging conclusions of the majority and the minority make it worth discussing this case as an illuminative example of the complexity of the protection of social security interests qua property rights. After outlining the issue at stake and the findings of the Court, I will present the valid concerns of the dissenters, to argue that no matter how difficult this may be, it would be important for the Court to adopt a more transparent approach.

Continue reading