Judging the Charter

The Charter in judicial practise with a special focus on the case of protection of refugees and asylum seekers


Case Number: C‑391/09

Relevance of Decision

Rare case, where the Court refers to Article 22 of the Charter obliging the Union to respect cultural and linguistic diversity of the Member States.

Facts of the case

Ms Malgožata Runevič‑Vardyn was born in Vilnius as a Lithuanian national of Polish ethnic origin. Her parents gave her the Polish forename ‘Małgorzata’ and her father’s surname ‘Runiewicz’.

According to the birth certificate her forename and surname were issued in their Lithuanian form ‘Malgožata Runevič’. The same forename and surname appear on a new birth certificate issued on 9 September 2003 by the Civil Registry Division of the City of Vilnius, and also on the Lithuanian passport issued to her by the competent authorities on 7 August 2002.

Her birth certificate issued in 1977 was written in Cyrillic characters while the birth certificate from 2003 was written using the Roman alphabet, on which her forename and surname appeared as ‘Malgožata Runevič‘.

In July 2006 a birth certificate on which her forename and surname appeared as ‘Małgorzata Runiewicz’, was issued to her on 31 July 2006 by the Civil Registry Office of the City of Warsaw (Poland).

On 7 July 2007, after she had lived and worked in Poland for some time, the she married Łukasz Paweł Wardyn, a Polish national, in Vilnius. On the marriage certificate issued by the Civil Registry Division of the City of Vilnius, ‘Łukasz Paweł Wardyn’ is written in the form ‘LUKASZ PAWEL WARDYN’ in capitals letters, that is, using the Roman alphabet without diacritic marks, while his wife’s surname appears in the form ‘MALGOŽATA RUNEVIČ-VARDYN’, that is, using only Lithuanian characters, which do not include the letter ‘W’.

The parties concerned are currently residing in Belgium with the child of their marriage.

On 16 August 2007, the first applicant in the main proceedings submitted to the Civil Registry Division of the City of Vilnius a request that her forename and surname be changed on her birth certificate from ‘Malgožata Runevič’ to ‘Małgorzata Runiewicz’ and that the forename and surname entered on her marriage certificate be changed from ‘Malgožata Runevič-Vardyn’ to ‘Małgorzata Runiewicz-Wardyn’.

By reply of 19 September 2007, the aforementioned Division informed Ms Runevič‑Vardyn that, under the legal rules in force in Lithuania, it was not possible to amend the entries made in documents indicating civil status.

Legal Questions

The CJEU was mainly asked to interpret Article 21 TFEU (Freedom of Movement) and the scope of Council Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin.

Court Findings

The court in its judgement emphasized, that although the scope of Directive 2000/43, as defined in Article 3(1) thereof, must not be interpreted restrictively, it does not cover national rules such as those at issue in the main proceedings which relate to the manner in which surnames and forenames are entered on certificates of civil status.

The freedom to move and reside freely guaranteed by Article 21 TFEU and the right not to be discriminated against in doing so may however also be applicable to any inconvenience caused by a refusal to amend the form in which the maiden name and the forename of the claimant are entered on her birth certificate. Even if the rules governing the way in which a person’s surname and forename are entered on certificates of civil status, are matters coming within the competence of the Member States, the latter must none the less, when exercising that competence, comply with European Union law, and in particular with the Treaty provisions on the freedom of every citizen of the Union to move and reside in the territory of the Member States.

The Court in its ruling refers to Article 22 of the Charter, which obliges the Union to respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity. National rules designed to protect the official national language by imposing the rules, which govern the spelling of that language, according to the Court can constitute, in principle, a legitimate objective capable of justifying restrictions on the rights of freedom of movement and residence provided for in Article 21 TFEU.

If the refusal to amend the joint surname of the couple in the main proceedings, who are citizens of the Union, causes serious inconvenience to them and/or their family, at administrative, professional and private levels, the national court should decide whether such a refusal reflects a fair balance between the interest of the member State concerned of its official national language and its traditions and the right of the claimants not to be discriminated against on grounds of their nationality in executing the freedom of movement and the respect for their private and family life.







Freedom of movement