Uncertain impact of new EU ruling on student grants

Fears arise over the future of the Danish student grant system after an EU court struck down German rules that restrict student grants to residents

Denmark may be forced to offer student grants to even more foreign students after an EU court struck down German rules that restrict who is eligible for their student grants.

The European Court of Justice ruled today that Germany broke the right to free movements of two German students when it denied them grants for a year of study abroad.

German rules stipulate that the students have to be resident in Germany for three full years before they start the year abroad in order to qualify for the grant. Because the students could not meet this one condition, their grant applications were denied.

According to a press release, Germany defended the residency condition, arguing that it meant only students who demonstrated a “sufficient degree of integration into German society” were awarded the grant for a year of study abroad.

But the court argues that the policy was too restrictive and ultimately excluded grants to German nationals who had strong connections to Germany.

“That may be the case where the student is a national of the Member State concerned and was educated there for a significant period or on account of other factors – such as, in particular, his family, employment, language skills or the existence of other social and economic factors,” the court stated in a press release.

The court added that the German policy would likely dissuade German nationals from exercising their right to freedom of movement and residence in other EU countries out of fear of losing the right to the education or training grant.

The effect of the new ruling is now being analysed by the Danish government but some politicians and experts have already expressed their concern about EU rulings that open up welfare to residents of other member states.

”I fear that this is another step in the direction of destroying the universal welfare system we have in Denmark,” SU spokesperson for Venstre, Mads Rørvig, told Berlingske newspaper. “I fear the verdict will undermine our EU system that we have in place for SU.”

The ruling follows previous EU court decision in February which found that EU residents in Denmark can claim SU as long as they have had a part-time job in the months leading up to their application. The Education Ministry estimates that the decision could cost Danish taxpayers 200 million kroner a year.

Philip Dimisits Lerer, chairman of the association of upper secondary students, Danske Gymnasieelevers Sammenslutning (DGS), said the worst possible outcome would be if foreign students were able to take SU to study in another country.

“The big question after this verdict is whether more students will come from abroad to Denmark but then travel to another country to study,” Lerer told Politiken newspaper. “But it is important to use to say that this should not be an excuse for reducing the SU system”

Simon Emil Ammitzbøll, SU spokesperson for Liberal Alliance, also expressed concern.

“If the government doesn’t act now, Denmark will end up becoming a buffet for EU residents and that was never the idea behind EU cooperation,” Ammitzbøll told Berlingske. “The government needs to quickly discuss this subject with their European colleagues. If that doesn’t work then the government will need to go to courts or change the tax and welfare system.”

He added: “Financial support for Danish students is the most lucrative in the world but it could be hard to keep in the future if all young EU residents can come here and get SU as soon as thy arrive.”

The government has stated that they will examine the consequence of the ruling against Germany and present their findings in the autumn.