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On 4 November 2015 the Council of State, the highest administrative court in the Netherlands, ruled that Bulgarian employees were not exempt from the obligation to possess a work permit to perform labour in the Netherlands. Until 1 January 2014, the date on which the work permit requirement for Bulgarian nationals was lifted, Bulgarians were only allowed to perform work in the Netherlands with a valid work permit, according to the Council of State.

Although Bulgarian nationals do not need a work permit to perform labour in the Netherlands anymore, the ruling of the Council of State is relevant for employers who were fined for employing Bulgarian nationals before 2014. Many of these cases are now being brought before court.

In its ruling, the Council of State rejects the argument that the priority principle, laid down in Bulgaria’s Act of Accession to the European Union, can be taken to mean that Bulgarian nationals should be treated as favourable on the Dutch labour market as Japanese nationals who do not have a work permit requirement anymore. According to the Council of State, the priority principle cannot be read as a most favoured nation principle. The Council of State holds that the priority principle only means that Bulgarian nationals should not be subjected to stricter requirements than third country nationals in general.

As a similar priority principle is laid down in Romania’s Act of Accession to the EU, we expect that the Council of State will adopt the same position regarding Romanian nationals.