ECtHR - Andrejeva v. Latvia

The applicant was previously a national of the former USSR, before becoming a “permanently resident non-citizen” of Latvia, where she moved at age 12. Her case is concerned with the deprivation her of pension entitlements in respect of 17 years’ employment due to discriminatory reasons regarding her lack of Latvian nationality. The Court ruled that there had been a violation of the applicant’s rights under Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 and Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

Case name (in original language)
Andrejeva v. Latvia, Appl. No. 55707/00
Case status
Case number
Andrejeva v. Latvia, Appl. No. 55707/00, European Court of Human Rights, 18 February 2009
Date of decision
Court / UN Treaty Body
European Court of Human Rights
Language(s) the decision is available in
Applicant's country of birth
Applicant's country of residence
Relevant Legislative Provisions

The 1990 and 1995 State Pensions Acts

Soviet law (before 1991)

Article 91 and 109  of the Constitution (Satversme), as inserted by the Act of 15 October 1998

The State Pensions Act (new version)

Chapters 22 to 25 of the former Latvian Code of Civil Procedure (Latvijas Civilprocesa kodekss)


The applicant, Natālija Andrejeva, entered Latvian territory in 1954, at the age of 12, at a time when the territory was one of the fifteen “Soviet Socialist Republics” and hence de facto part of the Soviet Union. She has been permanently resident there ever since. In 1966 she took up employment in a Latvian factory.

From 1973 until November 1990 the applicant, although physically present on Latvian soil, worked for Soviet public bodies whose head offices were in Russia and Ukraine and which paid her salary every month by post office giro transfer. From November 1990 until her retirement in 1997 the applicant worked for employers based in Latvia. In August 1991 Latvia regained full independence. In December 1991 the Soviet Union, of which the applicant had previously been a national, broke up. The applicant was left without any nationality and was granted the status of “permanently resident non-citizen”.

In 1997 the Social Security Directorate calculated the applicant’s retirement pension without taking into account the 17 years during which she had worked for organisations based in Ukraine and Russia since, under the relevant legislation, only years spent working for Latvian employers could be taken into consideration in calculating the entitlement of foreign nationals and stateless persons living in Latvia. Latvian citizens, on the other hand, were entitled to a pension in respect of all periods of time worked, including those worked outside Latvian territory and irrespective of their social security contributions. As a result, she was awarded a monthly pension of 20 lati (approximately 35 euros (EUR)).

The applicant brought administrative and judicial proceedings, without success. Ultimately, the applicant’s appeal on points of law to the Senate of the Supreme Court, examined at a public hearing on 6 October 1999, was dismissed. The Senate upheld the district and regional courts’ findings that the period during which the applicant had been employed by Ukrainian and Russian companies could not be taken into account in calculating her pension.

The Supreme Court registry notified the applicant of the exact date and time of the public hearing. However, the hearing began earlier than scheduled and the Senate decided to examine the case before the parties had arrived. After hearing the opinion of the prosecutor the Senate dismissed the appeal, having observed that, according to law, anyone employed by a Latvian taxpayer was covered by the country’s compulsory insurance scheme. The applicant was not covered since her employers, who were based in Ukraine and Russia, did not pay taxes in Latvia. As she had been unable to participate in the hearing, the applicant requested the Senate to re-examine the case. The Senate refused the request with apologies.

In February 2000, the applicant was informed that, on the basis of an agreement reached between Latvia and Ukraine, her pension had been recalculated, with effect from 1 November 1999, to take account of the years she had worked for her Ukrainian-based employers.

The Chamber to which the case was assigned decided to relinquish jurisdiction to the Grand Chamber on 11 December 2007.

Decision & Reasoning

Article 14 in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1

With regard to the applicability of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1, the Government attached considerable importance to the difference between Soviet pensions, which were paid by the State from common budgetary resources in accordance with the solidarity principle, and the system gradually implemented from 1991 onwards, which was based on individual contributions by each beneficiary. The Court pointed out, however, that when a State chose to set up a pension scheme, the individual rights and interests deriving from it fell within the ambit of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1, irrespective of the payment of contributions and the means by which the pension scheme was funded.

Furthermore, where a State decided of its own accord to pay pensions to individuals in respect of periods of employment outside its territory, thereby creating a sufficiently clear legal basis in its domestic law, the presumed entitlement to such benefits also fell within the scope of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1. In the applicant’s case the transitional provisions of the Latvian State Pensions Act created an entitlement to a retirement pension in respect of aggregate periods of employment prior to 1991 in the territory of the former USSR, regardless of the payment of any kind of contributions, but it reserved this right to Latvian citizens. The applicant was thus refused the pension in question solely because she did not have Latvian citizenship. This sufficed for the Court to consider that the applicant’s pecuniary claim fell within the ambit of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1.

As to the merits of the case, the Court reiterated that once an applicant had established the existence of a difference in treatment, it was for the Government to show that such difference was justified. In the applicant’s case the difference in treatment pursued at least one legitimate aim compatible with the general objectives of the Convention, namely the protection of the country’s economic system. The Court proceeded to examine the proportionality of that aim and the means employed to achieve it. The national authorities’ refusal to take into account the applicant’s work “outside Latvian territory” was based solely on her nationality, as it had not been disputed that a Latvian citizen in the same position as the applicant, having worked in the same enterprise during the same period, would have been granted the disputed portion of the retirement pension.

Moreover, the parties agreed that if the applicant became a naturalised Latvian citizen, she would automatically receive the pension in respect of her entire working life. The Court observed that very weighty reasons would have to be put forward before it could regard a difference of treatment based exclusively on the ground of nationality as compatible with the Convention; it found no such reasons in the applicant’s case.

Firstly, it had not been established, or even alleged, that the applicant had not satisfied other statutory conditions entitling her to a pension in respect of all her years of employment. She was therefore in an objectively similar situation to persons who had had an identical or similar career but who, after 1991, had been recognised as Latvian citizens. Secondly, there was no evidence that during the Soviet era there had been any difference in treatment between nationals of the former USSR as regards pensions. Thirdly, the applicant was not currently a national of any State but enjoyed the status of a “permanently resident non-citizen” of Latvia, the only State with which she had any stable legal ties and thus the only State which objectively could have assumed responsibility for her in terms of social security. In those circumstances, the arguments submitted by the Government were not sufficient to satisfy the Court that there was a “reasonable relationship of proportionality” in the applicant’s case that rendered the impugned difference of treatment compatible with the requirements of Article 14.

Notwithstanding the Government’s view that the reckoning of periods of employment was essentially a matter to be addressed through bilateral inter-State agreements on social security, the Court reiterated that by ratifying the Convention, Latvia had undertaken to secure “to everyone within [its] jurisdiction” the rights and freedoms guaranteed therein. Accordingly, the Latvian State could not be absolved of its responsibility under Article 14 on the ground that it was not bound by inter-State agreements on social security with Ukraine and Russia. Nor could the Court accept the Government’s argument that it would be sufficient for the applicant to become a naturalised Latvian citizen in order to receive the full amount of her pension. The prohibition of discrimination in Article 14 was meaningful only if an applicant’s personal situation was taken into account exactly as it stood.


Article 6 § 1of the Convention

The Court noted, among other things, that the appeal on points of law had been lodged not by the applicant herself or her lawyer but by the public prosecutor attached to the Riga Regional Court. The Government argued that the favourable position adopted by the public prosecutor had relieved the Senate from having to afford the applicant the opportunity to attend the hearing herself. The Court was not persuaded by that argument, in particular since it did not appear that under Latvian law, a public prosecutor could represent one of the parties or replace that party at the hearing. The applicant had been a party to administrative proceedings which had been instituted at her request. Accordingly, as the main protagonist in those proceedings she should have been afforded the full range of safeguards deriving from the adversarial principle. The fact that the appeal on points of law had been lodged by the prosecution service had in no way curtailed the applicant’s right to be present at the hearing of her case, a right she had been unable to exercise despite wishing to do so.


The Court ruled that there had been a violation of the applicant’s rights under Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 and Article 6 § 1 of the Convention.

The applicant was awarded EUR 5,000 in respect of all damage sustained according to Article 41 of the Convention.


Caselaw cited

Koua Poirrez v. France (no. 40892/98, ECHR 2003-X)

Gaygusuz v. Austria, 16 September 1996, § 36

Thlimmenos v. Greece [GC], no. 34369/97, § 40, ECHR 2000-IV

Burden v. the United Kingdom [GC], no. 13378/05, § 58, ECHR 2008)

Van der Mussele v. Belgium, 23 November 1983, § 48, Series A no. 70

Slivenko v. Latvia (dec.) [GC], no. 48321/99, § 121, ECHR 2002-II

Kopecký v. Slovakia [GC], no. 44912/98, § 35 (b), ECHR 2004-IX)

Kjartan Ásmundsson v. Iceland, no. 60669/00, § 39, ECHR 2004-IX

Domalewski v. Poland (dec.), no. 34610/97, ECHR 1999-V

Janković v. Croatia (dec.), no. 43440/98, ECHR 2000-X)

L.B. v. Austria (dec.) no. 39802/98, 18 April 2002

D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic [GC], no. 57325/00, §§ 175 and 196, ECHR 2007-IV

Ždanoka v. Latvia [GC], no. 58278/00, § 112, ECHR 2006-IV

Luczak v. Poland, no. 77782/01, §§ 49 and 55, 27 November 2007

Cañete de Goñi v. Spain, no. 55782/00, § 34, ECHR 2002-VIII

Gorraiz Lizarraga and Others v. Spain, no. 62543/00, § 56, ECHR 2004-III

J.J. v. the Netherlands, 27 March 1998, § 43, Reports 1998-II

Quadrelli v. Italy, no. 28168/95, § 34, 11 January 2000

Levages Prestations Services v. France, 23 October 1996, § 44

Annoni di Gussola and Others v. France, nos. 31819/96 and 33293/96, § 54, ECHR 2000-XI

Artico v. Italy, 13 May 1980, § 33, Series A no. 37

Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein v. Germany [GC], no. 42527/98, § 45, ECHR 2001-VIII).

Gorou v. Greece (no. 3), no. 21845/03, § 27, 22 June 2006

Miholapa v. Latvia, no. 61655/00, § 24, 31 May 2007