Case Law: Case C-33 7/9 7, C.P.M. Meeusen v. Hoofdirectie van de Informatie Beheer Groep (Eur. Ct. J. June 8, 1999).

6 Colum. J. Eur. L. 243 (2000)

Eva Brems. Lecturer at the University of Maastricht, the Netherlands.

Facts and Procedure

Miss Meeusen, the applicant in this case, is a Belgian woman who lives in Belgium and who is a student at the Provincial Higher Technical Institute for Chemistry, an institution of higher education in Antwerpen, Belgium. Her parents are equally of Belgian nationality and resident in Belgium. Her father is the director and sole shareholder of a company established in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Her mother is employed by that company for two days a week. Both parents have always earned their income in the Netherlands, and paid taxes and social security contributions in that country.

Upon starting her studies in 1993, Miss Meeusen applied for study finance to the Informatie Beheer Groep (IBG), the institution in charge of executing the Dutch Law on the financing of studies (Wet op de Studiefinanciering, WSF).

Under the WSF, fulltime students up to 27 years old have a right to a basic grant, the level of which is independent of their parents income. On top of that, they can receive a supplementary grant, the amount of which varies according to parental income, and a loan. Independently of their parents income, students also receive a public transport card that allows them free travel on trains, trams and buses either on weekdays or during weekends, and a reduction at other times. In most cases, students can get grants during four years, though for some studies shorter or longer terms apply. The amount of the grants and the maximum amount of the loan vary depending on whether students live with their parents or alone. For the period from January 1, 2000, to September 1, 2000, the monthly amount of the basic grant is BFR 144.25 for students living with their parents, and BFR444.25 for students living alone. The maximum amount of the supplementary grant is BFR393.06.

The tuition fee at Netherlands universities for the 1999/2000 academic year is BFR2,816 for all students enjoying study financing.

Since 1 September 1996, the basic grant and the supplementary grant are awarded under the form of a so-called “prestation grant. Since 1 September, 1999, this applies also to the public transport card. This means that the grants are initially loans. If a student obtains a sufficient number of study points during her first year, the loan for the first year becomes a grant. The loan for the following years becomes a grant if the student graduates within the required term of 6 years.

Study financing is granted directly to the students, not to the parents. When their child receives study financing, the parents stop receiving child benefits.

The right to study financing is granted to students who possess Netherlands nationality and to certain categories of foreign students resident in the Netherlands. It is limited to students pursuing studies in Netherlands institutions or in certain foreign institutions appointed by the Minister of Education.8 All institutions of higher education in Flanders are covered by the rule of article 9 (3) WSF, including the institution where Miss Meeusen pursued her studies. However, as she was not resident in the Netherlands, she was not entitled to study finance under the WSF.

In Belgium, Miss Meeusen was not entitled to a study grant either. Education is in Belgium a community matter.9 All the study grants of the Flemish Community are dependent on the income of the student or her parents. If the income is above a certain level, the student is not entitled to a grant. Such was the case of Miss Meeusen. Independently of their income, parents in Belgium continue to enjoy child benefits while their children pursue higher education, until the age of 25. Miss Meeusen’s parents however did not enjoy those either, because they were not working in Belgium.

After her application with the IBG, study finance was initially granted to Miss Meeusen, but her application was later rejected, and she was required to refund the funds already received. She filed an objection against that rejection with the same institution, which was dismissed. Under recently reformed Dutch administrative law, appeal against administrative decisions is generally open with the administrative sections of the courts of first instance. Higher appeal is possible before the Council of State. Study financing however is one of the areas in which specialized administrative courts continue to exist. The Study Finance Tribunal (Commissie van Beroep Studiefanciering) decides on all appeals against decisions under the WSF. No higher appeal is possible against its judgments.

In her appeal before the Study Finance Tribunal, Miss Meeusen claimed that the residence requirement of the WSF violated Council Regulation 1612/68/EEC on the freedom of movement of workers within the Community.

The Tribunal referred to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling.