JUDGMENT OF THE COURT
11 January 2000 (1)
(Equal treatment for men and women — Limitation of access by women to
military posts in the Bundeswehr)
In Case C-285/98,
REFERENCE to the Court under Article 177 of the EC Treaty (now Article 234
EC) by the Verwaltungsgericht Hannover, Germany, for a preliminary ruling in the
proceedings pending before that court between
on the interpretation of Council Directive 76/207/EEC of 9 February 1976 on the
implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women as regards
access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions
(OJ 1976 L 39, p. 40), in particular Article 2 thereof,
composed of: G.C. Rodríguez Iglesias, President, J.C. Moitinho de Almeida,
L. Sevón (Presidents of Chambers), P.J.G. Kapteyn, C. Gulmann, J.-P. Puissochet
(Rapporteur), G. Hirsch, H. Ragnemalm and M. Wathelet, Judges,
Advocate General: A. La Pergola,
Registrar: L. Hewlett, Administrator,
after considering the written observations submitted on behalf of:
— Tanja Kreil, by J. Rothardt, Rechtsanwalt, Soltau,
— the German Government, by W.-D. Plessing, Ministerialrat at the Federal
Ministry of the Economy, and C.-D. Quassowski, Regierungsdirektor at the
same ministry, acting as Agents,
— the Commission of the European Communities, by J. Grunwald, Legal
Adviser, acting as Agent,
having regard to the Report for the Hearing,
after hearing the oral observations of Tanja Kreil, represented by J. Rothardt; of
the German Government, represented by C.-D. Quassowski; of the Italian
Government, represented by D. Del Gaizo, Avvocato dello Stato; of the United
Kingdom Government, represented by J.E. Collins, Assistant Treasury Solicitor,
acting as Agent, and by N. Pleming QC; and of the Commission, represented by
J. Grunwald, at the hearing on 29 June 1999,
after hearing the Opinion of the Advocate General at the sitting on 26 October
gives the following
- By order of 13 July 1998, received at the Court on 24 July 1998, the
Verwaltungsgericht (Administrative Court), Hanover, referred to the Court for a
preliminary ruling under Article 177 of the EC Treaty (now Article 234 EC) a
question on the interpretation of Council Directive 76/207/EEC of 9 February 1976
on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women as
regards access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working
conditions (OJ 1976 L 39, p. 40, hereinafter 'the Directive‘), in particular Article
- The question has been raised in proceedings between Tanja Kreil and the
Bundesrepublik Deutschland concerning the refusal to engage her in the
maintenance (weapon electronics) branch of the Bundeswehr.
The law applicable
- Article 2(1), (2) and (3) of the Directive provides:
'1. For the purposes of the following provisions, the principle of equal
treatment shall mean that there shall be no discrimination whatsoever on grounds
of sex either directly or indirectly by reference in particular to marital or family
2. This Directive shall be without prejudice to the right of Member States to
exclude from its field of application those occupational activities and, where
appropriate, the training leading thereto, for which, by reason of their nature or the
context in which they are carried out, the sex of the worker constitutes a
3. This Directive shall be without prejudice to provisions concerning the
protection of women, particularly as regards pregnancy and maternity.‘
- Article 9(2) of the Directive provides: 'Member States shall periodically assess the
occupational activities referred to in Article 2(2) in order to decide, in the light of
social developments, whether there is justification for maintaining the exclusions
concerned. They shall notify the Commission of the results of this assessment.‘
- Article 12a of the Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Basic law for
the Federal Republic of Germany) provides:
'(1) Men who have attained the age of eighteen years may be required to serve
in the Armed Forces, in the Federal Border Guard, or in a Civil Defence
(4) If, while a state of defence exists, civilian service requirements in the civilian
public health and medical system or in the stationary military hospital
organisation cannot be met on a voluntary basis, women between eighteen
and fifty-five years of age may be assigned to such services by or pursuant
to a law. They may on no account render service involving the use of
- Access for women to military posts in the Bundeswehr are governed in particular
by Article 1(2) of the Soldatengesetz (Law on Soldiers, hereinafter 'the SG‘) and
by Article 3a of the Soldatenlaufbahnverordnung (Regulation on Soldiers' Careers,
hereinafter 'the SLV‘), according to which women may enlist only as volunteers
and only in the medical and military-music services.
The main proceedings
- In 1996, Tanja Kreil, who has been trained in electronics, applied for voluntary
service in the Bundeswehr, requesting duties in weapon electronics maintenance.
Her application was rejected by the Bundeswehr's recruitment centre and then by
its head staff office on the ground that women are barred by law from serving in
military positions involving the use of arms.
- Tanja Kreil then brought an action in the Verwaltungsgericht (Administrative
Court) Hannover claiming in particular that the rejection of her application on
grounds based solely on her sex was contrary to Community law.
- Considering that the case required an interpretation of the Directive, the
Verwaltungsgericht Hannover decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the
following question to the Court for a preliminary ruling:
'Is Council Directive 76/207/EEC of 9 February 1976, in particular Article 2(2) of
that directive, infringed by the third sentence of Article 1(2) of the Soldatengesetz
(Law on Soldiers) in the version of 15 December 1995 (Bundesgesetzblatt I,
p. 1737), as last amended by the Law of 4 December 1997 (Bundesgesetzblatt I,
p. 2846), and Article 3a of the Soldatenlaufbahnverordnung (Regulations on
Soldiers' Careers), in the version published on 28 January 1998 (Bundesgesetzblatt
I, p. 326), under which women who enlist as volunteers may be engaged only in the
medical and military-music services and are excluded in any event from armed
The question referred for a preliminary ruling
- By its question the national court is asking essentially whether the Directive
precludes the application of national provisions, such as those of German law,
which bar women from military posts involving the use of arms and which allow
them access only to the medical and military-music services.
- The applicant argues that this bar constitutes direct discrimination contrary to the
Directive. She considers that, under Community law, a law or a regulation may not
prohibit a woman from access to the occupation which she wishes to pursue.
- The German Government, on the other hand, considers that Community law does
not preclude the provisions of the SG and SLV in question, which are in
accordance with the German constitutional rule prohibiting women from
performing armed service. According to it, Community law does not in principle
govern matters of defence, which form part of the field of common foreign and
security policy and which remain within the Member States' sphere of sovereignity.
Secondly, even if the Directive could apply to the armed forces, the national
provisions in question, which limit access for women to certain posts in the
Bundeswehr, are justifiable under Article 2(2) and (3) of the Directive.
- The Italian and United Kingdom Governments, which presented oral argument,
argue basically that decisions concerning the organisation and combat capacity of
the armed forces do not fall within the scope of the Treaty. Alternatively, they
submit that in certain circumstances Article 2(2) of the Directive allows women to
be excluded from service in combat units.
- The Commission considers that the Directive, which is applicable to employment
in the public service, applies to employment in the armed forces. It considers that
Article 2(3) of the Directive cannot justify greater protection for women against
risks to which men and women are equally exposed. As regards the question
whether the employment sought by Tanja Kreil forms part of activities whose
nature or the context in which they are carried out require, as a determining factor
within the meaning of Article 2(2) of the Directive, that they be carried out by men
and not by women, it is for the referring court to answer that question having due
regard for the principle of proportionality and taking account both of the discretion
which each Member State retains according to its own particular circumstances and
of the progressive nature of the implementation of the principle of equal treatment
for men and women.
- The Court observes first of all that, as it held in paragraph 15 of its judgment of
26 October 1999 in Case C-273/97 Sirdar  ECR I-0000, it is for the Member
States, which have to adopt appropriate measures to ensure their internal and
external security, to take decisions on the organisation of their armed forces. It
does not follow, however, that such decisions are bound to fall entirely outside the
scope of Community law.
- As the Court has already held, the only articles in which the Treaty provides for
derogations applicable in situations which may affect public security are Articles 36,
48, 56, 223 (now, after amendment, Articles 30 EC, 39 EC, 46 EC and 296 EC) and
224 (now Article 297 EC), which deal with exceptional and clearly defined cases.
It is not possible to infer from those articles that there is inherent in the Treaty a
general exception excluding from the scope of Community law all measures taken
for reasons of public security. To recognise the existence of such an exception,
regardless of the specific requirements laid down by the Treaty, might impair the
binding nature of Community law and its uniform application (see, to that effect,
Case 222/84 Johnston v Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary 
ECR 1651, paragraph 26, and Case C-273/97 Sirdar, cited above, paragraph 16).
- The concept of public security, within the meaning of the Treaty articles cited in
the preceding paragraph, covers both a Member State's internal security, as in the
Johnston case, and its external security, as in the Sirdar case (see, to this effect,
Case C-367/89 Richardt and 'Les Accessoires Scientifiques‘  ECR I-4621,
paragraph 22, Case C-83/94 Leifer and Others  ECR I-3231, paragraph 26,
and Sirdar, cited above, paragraph 17).
- Furthermore, some of the derogations
provided for by the Treaty concern only the
rules relating to the free movement of goods, persons and services, and
social provisions of the Treaty, of which the principle of equal
treatment for men
and women relied on by Tanja Kreil forms part. In accordance with
settled case-law, this principle is of general application and the
Directive applies to employment
in the public service (Case 248/83 Commission v Germany  ECR 1459,
paragraph 16, Case C-1/95 Gerster v Freistaat Bayern  ECR I-5253, paragraph
18, and Sirdar, cited above, paragraph 18).
- It follows that the Directive is applicable in a situation such as that in question in
the main proceedings.
- Under Article 2(2) of the Directive, Member States may exclude from the scope
of the Directive occupational activities for which, by reason of their nature or the
context in which they are carried out, sex constitutes a determining factor; it must
be noted, however, that, as a derogation from an individual right laid down in the
Directive, that provision must be interpreted strictly (Johnston, paragraph 36, and
Sirdar, paragraph 23).
- The Court has thus recognised, for example, that sex may be a determining factor
for posts such as those of prison warders and head prison warders (Case 318/86
Commission v France  ECR 3559, paragraphs 11 to 18), for certain activities
such as policing activities performed in situations where there are serious internal
disturbances (Johnston, paragraphs 36 and 37) or for service in certain special
combat units (Sirdar, paragraphs 29 to 31).
- A Member State may restrict such activities and the relevant professional training
to men or to women, as appropriate. In such a case, as is clear from Article 9(2)
of the Directive, Member States have a duty to assess periodically the activities
concerned in order to decide whether, in the light of social developments, the
derogation from the general scheme of the Directive may still be maintained
(Johnston, paragraph 37, and Sirdar, paragraph 25).
- In determining the scope of any derogation from an individual right such as the
equal treatment of men and women, the principle of proportionality, one of the
general principles of Community law, must also be observed, as the Court pointed
out in paragraph 38 of Johnston and paragraph 26 of Sirdar. That principle
requires that derogations remain within the limits of what is appropriate and
necessary in order to achieve the aim in view and requires the principle of equal
treatment to be reconciled as far as possible with the requirements of public
security which determine the context in which the activities in question are to be
- However, depending on the circumstances, national authorities have a certain
degree of discretion when adopting measures which they consider to be necessary
in order to guarantee public security in a Member State (Leifer, paragraph 35, and
Sirdar, paragraph 27).
- As the Court emphasised in paragraph 28 of its judgment in Sirdar, the question
is therefore whether, in the circumstances of the present case, the measures taken
by the national authorities, in the exercise of the discretion which they are
recognised to enjoy, do in fact have the purpose of guaranteeing public security and
whether they are appropriate and necessary to achieve that aim.
- As was explained in paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 above, the refusal to engage the
applicant in the main proceedings in the service of the Bundeswehr in which she
wished to be employed was based on provisions of German law which bar women
outright from military posts involving the use of arms and which allow women
access only to the medical and military-music services.
- In view of its scope, such an exclusion, which applies to almost all military posts in
the Bundeswehr, cannot be regarded as a derogating measure justified by the
specific nature of the posts in question or by the particular context in which the
activities in question are carried out. However, the derogations provided for in
Article 2(2) of the Directive can apply only to specific activities (see, to this effect,
Commission v France, cited above, paragraph 25).
- Moreover, having regard to the very nature of armed forces, the fact that persons
serving in those forces may be called on to use arms cannot in itself justify the
exclusion of women from access to military posts. As the German Government
explained, in the services of the Bundeswehr that are accessible to women, basic
training in the use of arms, to enable personnel in those services to defend
themselves and to assist others, is provided.
- In those circumstances, even taking account of the discretion which they have as
regards the possibility of maintaining the exclusion in question, the national
authorities could not, without contravening the principle of proportionality, adopt
the general position that the composition of all armed units in the Bundeswehr had
to remain exclusively male.
- Finally, as regards the possible application of Article 2(3) of the Directive, upon
which the German Government also relies, this provision, as the Court held in
paragraph 44 of its judgment in Johnston, is intended to protect a woman's
biological condition and the special relationship which exists between a woman and
her child. It does not therefore allow women to be excluded from a certain type
of employment on the ground that they should be given greater protection than
men against risks which are distinct from women's specific needs of protection, such
as those expressly mentioned.
- It follows that the total exclusion of women from all military posts involving the use
of arms is not one of the differences of treatment allowed by Article 2(3) of the
Directive out of concern to protect women.
- The answer to be given to the question must therefore be that the Directive
precludes the application of national provisions, such as those of German law,
which impose a general exclusion of women from military posts involving the use
of arms and which allow them access only to the medical and military-music
- The costs incurred by the German, Italian and United Kingdom Governments and
by the Commission, which have submitted observations to the Court, are not
recoverable. Since these proceedings are, for the parties to the main proceedings,
a step in the action pending before the national court, the decision on costs is a
matter for that court.
On those grounds,
in answer to the question referred to it by the Verwaltungsgericht Hannover by
order of 13 July 1998, hereby rules:
Council Directive 76/207/EEC of 9 February 1976 on the implementation of the
principle of equal treatment for men and women as regards access to employment,
vocational training and promotion, and working conditions precludes the
application of national provisions, such as those of German law, which impose a
general exclusion of women from military posts involving the use of arms and
which allow them access only to the medical and military-music services.
Rodríguez IglesiasMoitinho de Almeida
Delivered in open court in Luxembourg on 11 January 2000.
G.C. Rodríguez Iglesias