Ruling of 13 20 September 2001 of the Court in Case [C-184/99], Rudy Grzelczyk v Centre public d’aide sociale d’Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve  ECR I-06193
Referred by [Tribunal du travail de Nivelles – Belgium]
Mr. Grzelczyk, a French national, undertook a course of studies in physical education at the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve. During the first three years of his course, he defrayed his own costs of maintenance, accommodation and studies by taking on various minor jobs and by obtaining credit facilities. The fourth year of his studies being the most demanding, Mr Grzelczyk applied to the Public Social Assistance Centre for Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve (“the CPAS”) for payment of the minimum subsistence allowance, or “minimex”, for the year 1998/1999. He was initially granted the allowance.
Mr. Grzelczyk’s entitlement to the minimex was then withdrawn with effect from 1 January 1999, the competent minister basing his decision to stop payment on the fact that Mr Grzelczyk was a student.
When the benefit was introduced in 1974, entitlement was reserved to adults of Belgian nationality, residing in Belgium and not in possession of adequate resources. In 1987 entitlement was extended to include, amongst others, persons to whom the 1968 Community regulation on the freedom of movement of workers within the Community applied.
Mr. Grzelczyk brought an action before the competent Belgian court challenging the CPAS’s decision of 29 January 1999 to stop payment of the minimex.
Does the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality and the provisions of the EU citizenship preclude entitlement to a non-contributory social benefit to be made conditional, in the case of nationals of other Member States (in this case France), upon their being regarded as workers, given that that condition did not apply to nationals of the host Member State (in this case Belgium)?
ANSWER of the COURT:
The principle of non-discrimination and the provisions of EU citizenship, as enshrined by the Treaty, preclude entitlement to a non-contributory social benefit, such as the minimex, from being made conditional, in the case of nationals of Member States other than the host State where they are legally resident, on their falling within the scope of Regulation No 1612/68 of the Council of 15 October 1968 on the freedom of movement for workers within the Community when no such condition applies to nationals of the host Member State.
REASONING of the Court
The Court of Justice first of all held that the minimex was indeed a social benefit and that a Belgian student in the same position as Mr Grzelczyk would have satisfied the conditions for obtaining it. The Court thus found that Mr Grzelczyk had suffered discrimination solely on the ground of his nationality, which, within the sphere of application of the EC Treaty, was prohibited.
The Court of Justice held that among the situations falling within the scope of the Treaty are those involving the exercise of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Treaty and, in particular, situations involving the exercise of the right to move and reside freely in other Member States, which is guaranteed by the Treaty provisions concerning European citizenship. The status of citizen of the European Union is destined to be the fundamental status of nationals of all the Member States, conferring on them, in the fields covered by Community law, equality under the law, irrespective of their nationality.
Since the introduction of European Union citizenship by the Treaty on European Union, which entered into force on 1 November 1993, nothing prevents a citizen of the Union who pursued university studies in a Member State other than the State of which he was a national from relying on the prohibition of all discrimination on grounds of nationality.
The Court pointed out that the Member States may nevertheless require students wishing to benefit from the right of residence on their territory to declare that they have, in accordance with a Community directive, sufficient resources for themselves and, in relevant cases, for their family in order to avoid becoming a burden on the social assistance scheme of the host Member State.
The Court stated, however, that any assessment must be made at the time when the relevant declaration is made, adding that a student’s financial position may change with the passage of time for reasons beyond his control. The provisions of the Community directive do not therefore bar students from subsequently having recourse to the social security system of a host Member State.
That being so, the Court of Justice held that the provisions concerning non-discrimination and European citizenship preclude entitlement to non-contributory social benefits from being made conditional on a criterion which need not be satisfied by nationals of the host Member State in question.
The Court refused the request of the Belgian Government to limit the temporal effects of the judgment. The provisions concerning citizenship of the Union were applicable from the entry into force of the Treaty on European Union.
This was a cornerstone Ruling which set up the basis for the following Judgments in the area of EU discrimination and citizenship. In this respect, following the introduction of the EU citizenship in 1993, Article 17 and 18 TEC, the Court assessed the case brought before it under these provisions, and in the light of the principle of non-discrimination, even if the Belgian and UK Government argued that the case falls outside the scope rationae materiae of the Treaty. The assessment developed under the principle of equal treatment, where direct discrimination is prohibited. It was found to be direct discrimination, as the sole criteria that led to a difference in treatment was the nationality one. In this regard, the Court compared similar situations, i.e. two students, one French and one Belgian, and found that under Belgian law, the two categories of nationals are treated differently, where the latter is clearly disadvantaged.