The European Court of Justice is poised to expand its case law on nationals of third countries with which the EU has association agreements. That will be the impact of the Gattoussi judgment handed down on 14 December 2006 (C-97/05), which is in keeping with the famous El Yassini judgment of 1999 (C-416/96).

The facts of the case are classic. Mohamed Gattoussi, a Tunisian national, married a German citizen on 30 August 2002. He was issued a visa for entry into Germany for the purpose of family reunification. The officials also granted Mr Gattoussi a work permit. The situation became more complicated following the couple's separation on 1 April 2004. The authorities reacted immediately. The Mayor of Russelsheim suspended Mr Gattoussi's residence permit on 23 June and ordered him to leave German territory without delay. The German authorities held that Mr Gattoussi had no independent right to remain in the country. He could not rely on the provisions of a specific German law because his cohabitation with his wife had not lasted for at least two years (the minimum period required by law). Nor could he rely on any right deriving from the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement. Article 64(1) of that agreement does not give Tunisian nationals any right of residence.

The Court of Justice made a clean break with the German interpretation. The article in question has "direct effect" and may have "effects on the right of a Tunisian national to remain in the territory of a Member State in the case where that person has been duly permitted by that Member State to work there for a period extending beyond the period of validity of his permission to remain". The Court based its reasoning on a comparative analysis of the association agreements with Morocco and Tunisia. The terms of both are virtually identical and the circumstances of the legal proceedings are comparable, leaving the door open to replicate the solutions laid down in the El Yassini ruling.

While this type of Euro-Mediterranean agreement is not designed to establish freedom of movement for workers, it...

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