EU: European court declares grant rules illegal

The European Court of Justice has declared illegal rules that insist European Union students wanting to study in another EU state must continue a course subject they have already begun in their home country – if they want to receive a grant from the government of the country where they normally live.

The court specifically ruled against a German law that says to obtain an education or training grant from German education authorities, expatriate students usually based in Germany must continue a subject for at least one year in a German college or university.

The judges said such students should be eligible to receive grants from their ‘home state’ for any foreign EU studies where they can demonstrate “a certain degree of integration into the society” of the grant-awarding country. This proviso was accepted by the court to prevent EU students shopping around for grants in any member state, regardless of their attachment to a particular country.

But the court concluded that German insistence on students receiving German grants continuing German course subjects abroad was too tough, and so broke EU treaty rules underpinning the right of EU citizens to move freely around all member states.

Pooling of sovereignty under EU treaties means the court’s ruling must be obeyed. It also sets precedents within all member countries which can be used to legally challenge perceived injustices across the EU.

In this instance, the judges were considering two related cases. In one, a German national with British roots, Rhiannon Morgan, began studies in September 2004 in applied genetics at the University of the West of England, Bristol, having earlier applied to Cologne education authorities for an education or training grant.

She argued that the grant claim was legitimate because genetics courses were not offered in Germany and she was a German citizen who had attended secondary school in Germany. The Bezirksregierung Köln refused, saying grants were only available for “courses of study attended outside Germany…[where they] represent the continuation of education or training pursued for at least one year in Germany”.

The other case focused on German national Iris Bucher who had been studying ergotherapy at the Hogeschool Zuyd, Heerlen, in the Netherlands, close to the German border. She commuted from a German border community and also applied for a German grant but was refused on the same grounds given to Morgan.

The European court, based in Luxembourg, ruled that the “degree of integration” into society which a grant awarding member state could legitimately require of a student studying abroad in the EU must “be regarded as satisfied” where applicants completed their secondary schooling locally.

It continued: “In those circumstances, it is apparent that the first-stage studies condition, in accordance with which higher education studies of at least one year must have been undertaken beforehand in the member state of origin, is too general and exclusive.”