Joined Cases C‑523/11 and C‑585/11, Prinz

Condition of uninterrupted residence of three years for award of education grant infringing articles 20 and 21 TFEU

>> The requests for a preliminary ruling concern the question whether Articles 20 TFEU and 21 TFEU must be interpreted as meaning that they precluded the legislation of a Member State which made the award of an education grant for studies in another Member State for a period of more than one year subject to a sole condition that required the applicant to have a permanent residence, within the meaning of that law, in national territory for at least three years prior to commencing those studies.

The Court first of all recalled that, as German nationals, Ms Prinz and Mr Seeberger enjoyed the status of citizens of the Union under Article 20(1) TFEU and might therefore rely on the rights conferred on those having that status, including against their Member State of origin (see Case C‑192/05 Tas-Hagen and Tas [2006], and Joined Cases C‑11/06 and C‑12/06 Morgan and Bucher [2007]).

The Court reiterated that Union citizenship was destined to be the fundamental status of nationals of the Member States, enabling those who found themselves in the same situation to enjoy within the scope ratione materiae of the TFEU the same treatment in law irrespective of their nationality, subject to such exceptions as are expressly provided for (see Case C‑184/99 Grzelczyk [2001]; Case C‑224/98 D’Hoop [2002]; and Case C‑46/12 N. [2013]).

 The Court held that the situations falling within the scope of European Union law included those involving the exercise of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Treaty, in particular those involving the freedom to move and reside within the territory of the Member States, as conferred by Article 21 TFEU (see Case C‑76/05 Schwarz and Gootjes-Schwarz [2007]).

The Court held that national legislation which placed at a disadvantage certain of the nationals of the Member State concerned simply because they had exercised their freedom to move and to reside in another Member State was a restriction on the freedoms conferred by Article 18(1) EC on every citizen of the Union (see Case C‑406/04 De Cuyper [2006]).

The Court stressed that the opportunities offered by the Treaty in relation to freedom of movement for citizens of the Union could not be fully effective if a national of a Member State could be deterred from availing himself of them by obstacles placed in the way of his stay in another Member State by legislation of his State of origin penalising the mere fact that he had used those opportunities (see  C‑224/02 Pusa [2004]).

The Court argued that that consideration was particularly important in the field of education in view of the aims pursued by Article 6(e) TFEU and the second indent of Article 165(2) TFEU, namely, inter alia, encouraging mobility of students and teachers (see Case C-147/03 Commission v Austria [2005]).

The Court thus found that where a Member State provided for a system of education or training grants which enabled students to receive such grants if they pursued studies in another Member State, it must ensure that the detailed rules for the award of those grants did not create an unjustified restriction of the right to move and reside within the territory of the Member States laid down in Article 21 TFEU.

The Court held that a condition of uninterrupted residence of three years, was likely to dissuade nationals  from exercising their right to freedom of movement and residence in another Member State, given the impact that exercising that freedom was likely to have on the right to the education or training grant.

The Court reiterated that legislation which was likely to restrict a fundamental freedom guaranteed by the Treaty could be justified in the light of European Union law only if it was based on objective considerations of public interest independent of the nationality of the persons concerned and if it was proportionate to the legitimate objective pursued by the provisions of national law  (see Case C‑192/05 Tas-Hagen and Tas [2006], and Joined Cases C‑11/06 and C‑12/06 Morgan and Bucher [2007]).

The Court held that a measure was proportionate when, while appropriate for securing the attainment of the objective pursued, it did not go beyond what is necessary in order to attain it (see e.g. Case C‑379/11 Caves Krier Frères [2012]).

The Court held that although the existence of a certain level of integration may be regarded as established by the finding that a student had resided in the Member State where he might apply for an education or training grant for a certain period, a sole condition of residence, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, risked excluding from funding students who, despite not having resided for an uninterrupted period of three years in Germany immediately prior to studying abroad, were nevertheless sufficiently connected to German society.

The Court furthermore pointed out that other provisions of the legislation at issue in the main proceedings themselves permitted factors distinct from the place of residence of the applicant for the grant to be relevant, both in order to establish the centre of family interests of the person concerned and to determine whether the conditions for the award of the grant were fulfilled in the case of home-country nationals who had established their permanent residence abroad.

The Court held that it was for the national court to carry out the necessary checks in order to determine whether the persons concerned could prove a sufficient level of connection with German society capable of demonstrating their integration into that society.

The Court concluded that a sole condition of uninterrupted residence of three years, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, was too general and exclusive, and went beyond what was necessary to achieve the objectives pursued and could not, therefore, be regarded as proportionate.