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Judgement date :05/09/2017
The case was examined under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 and Article 14 read in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found no violation of either Article.
The applicant, Mr Fábián, had lodged the complaint with the ECtHR due to the the suspension of disbursement of his pension which he considered to amount to an unjustified difference in treatment compared with pension recipients working in the private sector and those working in certain categories within the public sector. The suspension of his pension was based on the introduction of an amendment to the 1997 Pensions Act, according to which the disbursement of old-age pensions to persons employed at the same time in certain categories within the civil service would be suspended from 1 July 2013 onwards for the duration of their employment, a situation which applied to Mr Fábián.
Firstly, the Court observed that the interference in question had been prescribed by section 83/C of the 1997 Pensions Act and had pursued an aim in the general interest, that of protecting the public purse with a view to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Hungarian pension system and reducing public debt. [Paras 66, 67].
The next question to be addressed by the Court is whether the interference struck a fair balance between the demands of the general interest of the community and the requirements of the protection of the individual’s fundamental rights.
The case at hand does not concern either the permanent, complete loss of the applicant’s pension entitlements (compare and distinguish Béláné Nagy v. Hungary [GC], no. 53080/13, § 123, ECHR 2016; Apostolakis v. Greece, no. 39574/07, 22 October 2009; and Kjartan Ásmundsson v. Iceland, no. 60669/00, ECHR 2004 IX) or the reduction thereof (compare da Silva Carvalho Rico v. Portugal (dec.), no. 13341/14, 1 September 2015; Poulain v. France (dec.), no. 52273/08, 8 February 2011; and Lenz v. Germany (dec.), no. 40862/98, ECHR 2001 X), but rather the suspension of his monthly pension payments (see Panfile v. Romania (dec.), no. 13902/11, 20 March 2012 and Lakićević and Others v. Montenegro and Serbia, nos. 27458/06 and 3 others, 13 December 2011). Although the applicant thus did not receive his pension for the duration of that suspension, the Court nevertheless considers that this did not amount to a total loss of his entitlements to an old-age pension. The suspension was of a temporary nature in that disbursement would be (and was) resumed when the applicant left State employment; it did, therefore, not strike at the very substance of his right and the essence of the right was not impaired. [Para. 74].
The ECtHR thus found that a fair balance was struck between the demands of the general interest of the community and the requirements of the protection of the applicant’s fundamental rights, and that he was not made to bear an excessive individual burden. Accordingly, there has been no violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 taken alone. [Paras. 84,85].
The ECtHR proceeded to assess whether the difference in treatment compared to recipients of private sector old age pensions amounted to a violation of Article 14 read in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No.1 ECHR.
The Court went on to find that the applicant had not demonstrated that, as a member of the civil service whose employment, remuneration and social benefits were dependent on the State budget, he had been in a relevantly similar situation to pensioners employed in the private sector. Following the entry into force of section 83/C of the Pensions Act, it was the applicant’s post-retirement employment in the civil service that had entailed the suspension of his pension payments. It was precisely the fact that, as a civil servant, he had been in receipt of a salary from the State that was incompatible with the simultaneous disbursement of an old-age pension from the same source. As a matter of financial, social and employment policy, the impugned bar on simultaneous accumulation of pension and salary from the State budget had been introduced as part of legislative measures aimed at correcting financially unsustainable features in the pension system of the respondent State. Steps taken to reform deficient pension schemes had, in turn, been part of action taken with the aim of reducing public expenditure and debt. This did not prevent the accumulation of pension and salary for persons employed in the private sector, whose salaries, in contrast to those of persons employed in the civil service, were funded not by the State but through private budgets outside the latter’s direct control. Furthermore, under Hungarian law, employment in the civil service and employment in the private sector were treated as distinct categories, and Mr Fábián’s specific profession within the civil service was difficult to compare with any in the private sector; moreover, no relevant comparisons had been suggested by him. [Paras. 130-132].
Finally, with regard to his employment relationship, the State had not functioned only as regulator and standard-setter but had also been his employer. It was therefore for the State to lay down, in that capacity as employer, the terms of employment for its personnel and, as manager of the Pension Fund, the conditions for disbursement of pensions. Consequently, the Court held that there had been no discrimination, and therefore no violation of Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. [Paras 132-134].