ECJ Strikes Down Mandatory Use of Language in Contracts

On the basis of a ‘Letter of Employment’ dated 10 July 2004 and drafted in English, Mr Las, a Netherlands national resident in the Netherlands, was employed as Chief Financial Officer for an unlimited period by PSA Antwerp, a company established in Antwerp (Belgium) but part of a multinational group operating port terminals whose registered office is in Singapore. The contract of employment stipulated that Mr Las was to carry out his work in Belgium although some work was carried out from the Netherlands.

When he was dismissed, Mr Las challenged the validity of the Letter of Employment on the ground of a 1973 Belgian Decree on Use of Languages, which provides:

Article 1 – This decree is applicable to natural and legal persons having a place of business in the Dutch-speaking region. It regulates use of languages in relations between employers and employees, as well as in company acts and documents required by the law.

Article 2 – The language to be used for relations between employers and employees, as well as for company acts and documents required by law, shall be Dutch.

Article 10 – Documents or acts that are contrary to the provisions of this Decree shall be null and void. The nullity shall be determined by the court of its own motion. (…) A finding of nullity cannot adversely affect the worker and is without prejudice to the rights of third parties. The employer shall be liable for any damage caused by his void documents or acts to the worker or third parties.

Is this Belgian Decree contrary to the freedom of movement of workers in the European Union?

Yes it is, the Grand Chamber of the European Court held on April 16th in Anton Las v. PSA Antwerp NV (case C 202/11).

This is because “such legislation is liable to have a dissuasive effect on non Dutch speaking employees and employers from other Member States and therefore constitutes a restriction on the freedom of movement for workers.”

Of course, the Court held, the “objective of promoting and encouraging the use of Dutch, which is one of the official languages of the Kingdom of Belgium, constitutes a legitimate interest which, in principle, justifies a restriction on the obligations imposed by Article 45 TFEU.”

But this legislation is not proportionate to those objectives. ” [P]arties to a cross-border employment contract do not necessarily have knowledge of the official language of the Member State concerned. In such a situation, the establishment of free and informed consent between the parties requires those parties to be able to draft their contract in a language other than the official language of that Member State.”


Article 45 TFEU must be interpreted as precluding legislation of a federated entity of a Member State, such as that in issue in the main proceedings, which requires all employers whose established place of business is located in that entity’s territory to draft cross-border employment contracts exclusively in the official language of that federated entity, failing which the contracts are to be declared null and void by the national courts of their own motion.

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About Gilles Cuniberti

Gilles Cuniberti is a professor of law at the University of Luxembourg. Previously, he taught for 10 years at the Faculty of Law of Paris 12 University (Paris Val-de-Marne). His primary teaching and research interests are comparative law, conflict of laws, international arbitration and international litigation. He is a regular contributor to the Journal de Droit International (Clunet). He has been a visiting faculty at Duke Law School, Renmin University of China and Sheffield Hallam University. He holds a Doctorate in Law from Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne University and an LL.M. degree from Yale Law School. He was also a Paris-Oxford Doctoral Program Scholar for a year at Trinity College, Oxford. He is admitted to the Paris Bar and practiced on a part-time basis in the Paris office of a leading English firm from 1999 to 2004. SELECTED ARTICLES: Beyond Contract - The Case for Default Arbitration in International commercial Disputes, 32 FORDHAM INT'L L.J. 417 (2009) Le principe de territorialité des voies d'exécution, JOURNAL DU DROIT INTERNATIONAL 2008.963 The Recognition of Judgments Lacking Reasons in Europe: Access to Justice, Foreign Court Avoidance and Efficiency, 57 INT’L & COMP. L. Q. 25 (2008) L’apprezzamento dell’efficacia della clausola arbitrale da parte del giudice statale : un conflitto tra Italia e Francia, 21 DIRITTO COMMERCIO INTERNAZIONALE 2007.789 (with M. Winkler) E-mail:

One thought on “ECJ Strikes Down Mandatory Use of Language in Contracts

  1. marco

    France introduced also legislation to protect the use of the French language (Loi Toubon). Although it has a wider scope then employment contracts, according to Article L.122-39-1 du Code du Travail: “Tout document comportant des obligations pour le salarié ou des dispositions dont la connaissance est nécessaire à celui-ci pour l’exécution de son travail doit être rédigé en français.”

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