European Court of Justice condemns 'restrictive' language law in Flanders

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Michal Fabian  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:10
Member (2012)
Dutch to Slovak
+ ...
Ridiculous... May 3, 2013

I yet have to see a contract (or any other document, for that matter) from Wallonia not drafted in French. I was under the impression that an official language of a country is *official* for a reason.

How come all the street signs here in Luxembourg are only in French, German, English and Portuguese? What a violation of my freedoms!


Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:10
Spanish to English
+ ...
What a load of rubbish May 3, 2013

the same could be said for every country in the EU. In Spain, contracts are drafted in Spanish. Is that a crime too then? Does that prevent freedom of movement? Should all legal documents from Spain be drafted in Catalan, Euskera and Spanish just in case? Of course official documents are drafted in Dutch in Flanders. The official language is Dutch.

It would be great for translators if contracts had to be drafted in every possible language to avoid causing offence in cross-border situations. It's just not common sense.


Teresa Borges
Local time: 00:10
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
As far as I know the problem concerns only foreign workers May 3, 2013

"Under Flemish law on the use of languages, employees must complete their employment contract in Dutch.

Failure to comply with the law can result in a cancellation of the contract, even if the worker comes from abroad."

Would you sign a contract written in a language which you do not understand? I wouldn't...


Marie-Helene Dubois  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:10
Spanish to English
+ ...
I wonder what is meant by 'complete' May 3, 2013

Does it mean literally filling in the contract or does it mean that the person by law must work in Dutch? I'm inclined to think now reading it again that it's the latter. Requiring such a level of handholding that you considered it unfair to not be able to sign a contract in your own language would probably make you rather unattractive as an employee.

If it is about understanding the contract, I think that the responsibility lies with the person signing it to understand what he/she is signing (ie get a lawyer to explain it to you in your language, or even better get it translated).

If it is about actually working in Dutch, that's a different matter.


Steven Segaert
Local time: 02:10
Member (2012)
English to Dutch
+ ...
As one with a "Flemish" law degree... May 3, 2013

Flanders is a region of Belgium in which the official language is Dutch.

The Flemish law states that contracts (and all other official documents between employees and employers) need to be drafted in Dutch (Flemish), if the employer is situated in Flanders. This rules is applied to documents. In what language one actually works is not regulated.

In practice, contracts are routinely drafted in Dutch and a "non-official" translation is provided in a language everyone understands.

In this case, a Dutchman living in The Netherlands got employed by a company situated in Antwerp. The company is part of a multinational group with headquarters in Singapore. The contract was signed by the ceo of the company (the people who have lawyers who go to the ECJ are usually not the low-level employeesicon_smile.gif), who does not speak Dutch. So, the contract was drafted and signed in English - no signed version in Dutch. And that is against the current law.

When conflict arose, the Belgian judge ruled the contract void (because of the fact that it was not drafted in Dutch). The ECJ now says that this is in conflict with the free movement of workers, because although governments can make rules that have an adverse effect on the free movement of workers, these must pursue a legitimate objective in the public interest, must be appropriate to ensuring the attainment of that objective, and cannot go beyond what is necessary to attain the objective pursued. In this case, the ECJ finds that the law is disproportionate.

In other words, wanting Dutch to be used is a legitimate objective. The law is also effective in doing that. But it just goes too far because it prohibits making an authentic version of a contract in other languages, and because the penalty is the automatic nullity of the contract (even if no harm was done).

Or in other words still - it would have been ok if the law would say that no matter what other versions you make, there must be a copy in Dutch. Which is how the law will probably be changed.

This ruling only is about contracts with a cross-border (between countries of the EU) element. A French-speaking Belgian in the same situation would not have been helped by this, as that would have been a purely internal matter within the confines of a member state (Belgium).

On the other hand, there is no doubt that a Belgian judge, when faced with a similar case in the French-speaking part of the country, will apply this ruling even if it is not explicitly about the laws of that region.


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European Court of Justice condemns 'restrictive' language law in Flanders

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