Press and Information Division


20 September 2001

Judgment of the Court of Justice in Case C-184/99

Rudy Grzelczyk      v.     Centre public d'aide sociale d'Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve


The Court of Justice has ruled that 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

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Mr Grzelczyk's entitlement to the minimex was then withdrawn with effect from 1 January 1999, the competent minister basing his decision to stop payment on the fact that Mr Grzelczyk was a student.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.

The Labour Tribunal, Nivelles, referred a question to the Court of Justice of the European Communities concerning the compatibility of the Belgian law with Community law, that is, with the Treaty and, more specifically, the principles of European citizenship and non-discrimination enshrined in the Treaty. Was it contrary to Community law for 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)?

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.

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