EU verdict could sabotage SU reform

Majority of Danes support the SU reform, but an EU verdict means that the Danish authorities may have to provide more financial support to foreign students

The EU courts on Thursday rejected a Danish argument that students from other EU countries who came to Denmark to work and later began an education should not be eligible for the state-allocated student allowance, SU.

The decision, which comes at a time when the government is preparing to reform SU in order to save money, could have serious consequences for how many people that the Danish state is forced to support.

“Denmark has suffered a clear defeat. The education minister will most likely be forced to share the education allowance funds with more people than he would like to,” Peter Pagh, a professor who researches EU law at the University of Copenhagen, told Politiken newspaper.

The heart of the legal issue revolves around an EU citizen's intentions when initially coming to Denmark. Danish law  states that as an employee, an EU citizen should not face discriminatory treatment and has the same access rights to social benefits as Danish citizens. But the rules are different for students, and as a benchmark, citizens from other EU nations are not permitted to receive SU when studying in Denmark.

But in the particular case of an individual identified as LN, who was denied SU because he had originally come to Denmark to work before deciding to study at Copenhagen Business School, the EU court ruled against the Danish state.

Pagh said that the verdict opens up the possibility of other EU citizens gaining access to SU access by coming to Denmark to work for a couple of months before beginning their SU-granted studies.

“If you are a mother or father in Romania, some sound advice to a son or daughter would be to work a couple of months in Tivoli before starting to study,” Pagh said, while also praising the decision to take the matter to the EU courts. “In other cases, you have to tread through the entire Danish legal system, before ending up in the EU courts. Perhaps this will set a precedent.”

The decision comes just days after the education minister, Morten Østergaard (Radikale), rolled out the government's SU reform, from which they expect to save two billion kroner by 2020, by cutting down on the amount of SU some students receive and the length of time which they can receive it.

The Education Ministry said it would evaluate the ramifications of the EU verdict before making a comment.

The proposed SU reform wasn't particularly well-received by students, but following Østergaard’s presentation of the reform on Tuesday, a poll revealed that a majority of Danes back the reform.

According to a TNS Gallup survey complied for Berlingske newspaper, 51 percent of the population finds the proposal acceptable, while 30 percent believed it was too drastic. Just six percent of those asked said that the reform did not go far enough.

The Education Ministry's advisory board, SU-rådet, warned, however, that disposing of the extra SU year won’t have the desired effect, and student organisations, such as Danske Gymnasieelevers Sammenslutning (DGS), have argued that the government’s proposal is too intricate and unclear. The head of DGS also criticised the media narrative surrounding the reform.

“The government has had plenty of time to sugar-coat the SU reform. They’ve talked a lot about the crisis and how the students must contribute. They’ve used a lot of negatively-loaded terms such as ‘gap years’ and ‘cafe money’ when describing the situation,” Malene Nyborg Madsen, the head of DGS, told Berlingske.

SU costs the state an estimated 17 billion kroner a year.

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