(Reference for a preliminary ruling — Social policy — Directive 2000/78/CE — Equal treatment — Difference of treatment on grounds of religion or belief — Occupational activities within churches and other organisations the ethos of which is based on religion or belief — Religion or belief constituting a genuine, legitimate and justified occupational requirement, having regard to the organisation’s ethos — Concept — Nature and context of the activities — Article 17 TFEU — Articles 10, 21 and 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union)
SOURCE: Court of Justice of the European Union, Annual report 2018
The case giving rise to the judgment in Egenberger concerned the rejection of a job application submitted by a person of no denomination for a position with Protestant Work for Diaconate and Development, an association governed by private law which is an auxiliary organisation of the Protestant Church in Germany. According to the offer of employment, applicants had to belong to a Protestant church or a church belonging to the Working Group of Christian Churches in Germany. Since the applicant considered that she had been discriminated against on grounds of religion because she was not called to an interview, she sued Protestant Work in the German courts to secure compensation.
After providing useful guidance on the interpretation of Directive 2000/78 for the resolution of the dispute in the main proceedings, the Court stated that where it is not possible to interpret national law in conformity with that directive, the national court is required to ensure, within its jurisdiction, the judicial protection deriving for individuals from Articles 21 and 47 of the Charter and to guarantee the full effectiveness of those articles by disapplying if need be any contrary provision of national law, notwithstanding the fact that the dispute in the main proceedings is between two individuals. The Court pointed out that both Article 21 (prohibition of all discrimination on grounds of religion or belief) and Article 47 (right to effective judicial protection) of the Charter are sufficient in themselves to confer on individuals a right which they may rely on as such in disputes between them in a field covered by EU law and do not need to be made more specific by provisions of EU or national law.
According to the Court, that conclusion is not called into question by the fact that a court may, in a dispute between individuals, be called on to balance competing fundamental rights which the parties to the dispute derive from the provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union or the Charter, and may also be obliged, in the review that it must carry out, to make sure that the principle of proportionality is complied with. Such an obligation to strike a balance between the various interests involved has no effect on the possibility of relying on the rights in question in such a dispute. Furthermore, where the national court is called on to ensure that Articles 21 and 47 of the Charter are observed, while possibly balancing the various interests at issue, such as respect for the status of churches laid down in Article 17 TFEU, the Court considers that it will have to take into consideration, inter alia, the balance struck between those interests by the EU legislature in Directive 2000/78, in order to determine the obligations deriving from the Charter in the circumstances of the particular case.