Squaring the circle? Fundamental right to a minimum standard of living and welfare conditionality

A discussion following the German Federal Constitutional Court’s decision on 5 November 2019 declaring the sanctions imposed on recipients of unemployment benefits in part unconstitutional.

The “Hartz IV” German labour market reform of 2005 has long been controversial - in particular, placing conditions on welfare recipients to receive benefits. Recipients of the standard welfare benefits in Germany can see their benefits reduced by 30%, if they refuse to take up or continue an employment opportunity with the possibility of a further reduction of 60%. Benefits can also be suspend in full if they grossly fail their obligations to cooperate. 

The German Federal Constitutional Court ruled on 5 November that this sanctioning scheme is in part unconstitutional as it fails to comply with the protection of fundamental rights - most notably, the fundamental right to a minimum standard of living.

How did the Court come to this decision? Is it convincing from a fundamental rights and a social policy perspective?  What are the implications for the current social welfare model in Germany? What comparisons can be drawn?

This event is part of the Debating Fundamental Rights events series.

Panel discussion

Başak Çalı is Professor of International Law at the Hertie School and Director of the School's Centre for Fundamental Rights. She is an expert in international law and institutions, international human rights law and policy. She has authored publications on theories of international law, the relationship between international law and domestic law, standards of review in international law, interpretation of human rights law, legitimacy of human rights courts, and implementation of human rights judgments.

Anke Hassel is Professor of Public Policy at the Hertie School. From 2016 to 2019 she was the Scientific Director of the WSI at the Hans Böckler Foundation. Anke Hassel has extensive international experience and scientific expertise in the fields of the labour market, social partnership, codetermination and the comparative political economy of developed industrial nations.

Florian Rödl is University-Professor for Private Law, Labour Law and Social at the Freie Universität Berlin since 2016. Before, he led a group of junior researchers at the Cluster of Excellence "Normative Orders" at Goethe-University, Frankfurt am Main.


Michal Kramer is Centre Manager, Centre for Fundamental Rights. Before joining The Hertie School she was a postdoctoral fellow at the interdisciplinary research group "Human Rights Under  Pressure", a joint programme of Freie Universität Berlin and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She held a teaching position at the Law Department of Freie Universität Berlin and a research position at The Israel Democracy Institute.

Hosted by the Centre for Fundamental Rights