This article provides a concise summary of the Bauer and Brossonn judgments, crucial for law students studying the enforcement of EU Charter rights in national contexts, particularly regarding pension rights.

In the case of C-569 570/16 Bauer Brossonn Judgments of the Grand Chamber, horizontal direct effect, vertical direct effect of EU legislation on state and private employers were explored

Facts of the Case

Horizontal direct effect, individual rights individuals conferred relied upon to make claims against other individuals before national court, was concerned here as the EU court had to work out whether such was applicable regarding the EU Carter of Fundamental Rights.

  • Two widows, Mrs Bauer and Mrs Brossonn, wanted to claim allowance in accordance with the paid annual leave of their husbands which had remained unclaimed due to their deaths; the former employers refused
  • Bauer’s deceased husband worked for the state, and Brossonn’s worked for a private company
  • Germany’s laws had barred such claims from widow and widowers, and therefore the claimants sought to have it resolved at EU court


  • Were the widows entitled to the to an allowance in lieu of the annual leave their spouses had not taken before their deaths?
  • As the employment relationship had terminated, would the allowance in lieu of annual be paid, as per Article 7(2) of the Working Time Directive 2003/88? This would mean the German legislation such matter was incorrect

Held by the European Court of Justice

As these were joined cases:

  • In Mrs Bauer’s case, she had a claim against the state employer through vertical direct effect;
  • Mrs Brossonn could rely upon horizontal direct effect from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights against her deceased husband’s private employer

Findings of the Court

  • “The right to a period of paid annual leave, affirmed for every worker by Article 31(2) of the Charter, is thus, as regards its very existence, both mandatory and unconditional in nature, the unconditional nature not needing to be given concrete expression by the provisions of EU or national law, which are only required to specify the exact duration of annual leave and, where appropriate, certain conditions for the exercise of that right. It follows that that provision is sufficient in itself to confer on workers a right that they may actually rely on in disputes between them and their employer in a field covered by EU law and therefore falling within the scope of the Charter” [85]

The court found that where the national law does not succeed to follow the Charter, they are to disregard it

  • “Article 31(2) of the Charter therefore entails, in particular, as regards the situations falling within the scope thereof, first, that the national court must disapply national legislation such as that at issue in the main proceedings pursuant to which the death of a worker retroactively deprives him of his entitlement to paid annual leave acquired before his death, and, accordingly, his legal heirs of the entitlement to the allowance in lieu” [86]
  • “It should be recalled that the right to paid annual leave constitutes an essential principle of EU social law” [80]

Significance of the Case on the Development of the Law

The judgments in the cases of Bauer (C-569/16) and Brossonn (C-570/16) by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) have made significant contributions to EU law, particularly in the areas of workers’ rights, pension entitlements, and the application of EU Charter rights at the national level. These cases offer important insights into the interpretation and application of EU law principles:

  • Enforcement of EU Charter Rights in Member States: The Bauer and Brossonn judgments reinforced the direct effect of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, particularly Articles 27 and 31, which concern workers’ right to information and consultation within the undertaking and fair and just working conditions. This affirmation has implications seen in later cases such as Tele2 Sverige AB (C-203/15) and Watson (C-698/15), where the CJEU emphasized the protection of data privacy as a fundamental right under the Charter. These decisions build on the foundation set by Bauer and Brossonn to ensure that EU rights are effectively integrated into national law, influencing how domestic courts apply these rights in diverse contexts.
  • Clarification of the Right to a Pension as a Fundamental Right: By ruling that the reduction in pensions could not disproportionately affect the financial security of retired workers, the CJEU in Bauer and Brossonn contributed to the evolving understanding of social rights under EU law. This interpretation aligns with and expands upon earlier cases such as C-398/09 (McCarthy) and C-147/11 (Casteels), where the rights of workers under EU law were foregrounded. Subsequent to Bauer and Brossonn, the case of C-168/18 (Shomron) further examined the scope of workers’ rights under the EU social security coordination regulations, stressing the necessity of safeguarding these rights across member states.
  • Impact on National Pension Systems and Policies: The rulings provided in Bauer and Brossonn have also affected national pension systems across the EU. They have mandated that national regulations must not contravene fundamental EU principles, such as equality and nondiscrimination (Article 21 of the Charter). The influence of these rulings is apparent in cases such as C-706/18 (Vueling Airlines), where issues of worker compensation and benefits were scrutinized under EU law principles, ensuring that member state policies conform to EU standards of fairness and equality.

Exam Questions and Answers

Below you will find answers to questions that are most commonly asked based on this case.

How have subsequent EU regulations or directives been influenced by the principles established in the Bauer and Broßonn cases regarding pension rights?

The principles established in the Bauer and Brossonn cases have significantly influenced EU policy, particularly concerning the protection of pension rights. For instance, these rulings have reinforced the importance of the EU’s Pillar of Social Rights, specifically Principle 15, which ensures that workers have a right to a timely access to affordable, preventive and curative health care of good quality. They also contribute to the ongoing discussions and proposals surrounding the adequacy of pensions in the EU framework. An example is the European Commission’s Green Paper on Ageing, which seeks to address the sustainability and adequacy of pensions, taking into account the CJEU’s stance on ensuring adequate living standards for retirees, as emphasized by Bauer and Broßonn.

What measures have member states taken to align their national pension laws with the CJEU’s rulings in these cases?

In response to the Bauer and Brossonn decisions, several member states have taken steps to review and adjust their national pension schemes to ensure compliance with EU law and the fundamental rights stipulated by the CJEU. For example, Germany has been involved in reforming its pension laws to prevent disproportionate reductions in pension benefits, ensuring that these do not threaten the economic security of pensioners. Similarly, countries like France and Italy have been reviewing their public pension systems to increase transparency and fairness in the calculation and adjustment of pensions, aiming to protect the financial security of retirees in alignment with EU fundamental rights principles. These reforms are part of broader efforts to adapt national social security systems to be in line with EU standards and judicial rulings.

Are there examples of national court decisions that have directly applied the Bauer and Broßonn rulings to resolve disputes regarding pension reductions or rights under national law?

Following the precedents set in Bauer and Brossonn, national courts across the EU have applied these principles in various cases related to pension rights and reductions. In the UK, for instance, before Brexit, decisions like those in Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v M applied CJEU rulings to ensure that pension reductions did not disproportionately affect the rights of individuals, aligning with the principles of nondiscrimination and social security rights under EU law. In Spain, the Supreme Court has referenced these CJEU decisions in cases challenging the fairness and legality of pension reforms, ensuring that any changes to pension schemes do not undermine the economic security of the elderly. These national decisions reflect the ongoing influence of CJEU jurisprudence on how member states handle pension rights and adjustments, ensuring compliance with EU law and fundamental rights protections.