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EU court topples German language-for-visa rule for Turks

BERLIN--The EU's highest court on Thursday rejected a rule requiring Turks wanting to join their spouses to live in Germany to have a basic knowledge of the language, a ruling that sparked criticism in Berlin.

Turks wanting to move to Europe's biggest economy to join their husband or wife will now no longer have to learn German beforehand following the Court of Justice ruling.

The case was brought against Germany by Naime Dogan, who in January last year was refused a visa to join her husband who had lived in Germany for 15 years.

The refusal was made under a 2007 family reunification rule requiring that spouses of Turks seeking residency in Germany be able to communicate in German at least at a basic level.

The condition was intended to prevent forced marriages and promote integration.

About three million Turks and Germans of Turkish origin live in Germany, making up its largest ethnic minority.

The Court of Justice said the policy clashed with the conditions of the European Union's Association Agreement with Turkey from the 1970s, as it “prohibits the introduction of new restrictions on the freedom of establishment.”

“Such a language requirement makes family reunification more difficult,” a court statement said, and was “a new restriction of the exercise of the freedom of establishment by Turkish nationals.”

The court added that while a government could decide new restrictions in the public interest — such as that of 2007 to help integration or fight forced marriages — “the language requirement at issue goes beyond what is necessary in order to attain the objective.”

Aydan Ozoguz, a Social Democrat who is the government's integration official and its first national minister with Turkish roots, called the ruling “good news.”

She said “the abolition of the compulsory test will have no negative effect” on integration — although she stressed Germany does want migrants to learn the language.

However politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc hit out at the decision.

Stephan Mayer, of the Bavarian-based Christian Social Union (CSU), said minimum language requirements were “key” to successful integration and to preventing the “emergence of parallel societies in our country.”

Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior member of the party and chair of the Bundestag's interior affairs committee, said he regretted Thursday's court ruling.

“Nothing has however changed in the reasons for introducing the rule in 2007,” he said in the business daily Handelsblatt Online.

His party colleague Guenter Krings said: “Successful integration requires language knowledge.”

But members of the opposition Greens and far-left Linke party were pleased to see the rule overturned.

Greens party leader Cem Ozdemir told news website Spiegel Online that language knowledge was a basic requirement for successful integration.

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