Under the EU Treaty, wherever EU students choose to study in the Union, they have the same rights to benefits as local students, unless EU law expressly excludes a benefit from the principle of equal treatment such as maintenance aid.
Article 18 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU prohibits discrimination on grounds of nationality within the scope of the Treaties. Exceptions to this are interpreted restrictively. An example of such an exception under EU law is the rule that permits a Member State not to provide maintenance grants or loans to EU students from other countries unless they have acquired the right of permanent residence, are workers or members of a workers´ family (Directive 2004/38, Article 24.2).
The Commission believes that the Netherlands has failed to apply the principle of equal treatment by limiting discounted fares on trains and buses to students who are either Dutch nationals or long-term residents in the Netherlands. All other EU citizens studying in the country, including Erasmus students, are therefore discriminated against.
The Commission has already sent two so-called ´reasoned opinions´ to the Dutch authorities, in 2010 and 2012, advising them that their fares policy is in breach of EU law. In October 2012, the Court of Justice of the European Union issued a ruling on a similar discrimination case (C-75/11) in which it found that Austria failed to ensure equal treatment by offering discounted fares that favoured its own nationals over other EU students.
Since the Netherlands has failed to act on the Commission´s advice or in light of the Court ruling, the Commission has now decided to refer the matter to the Court of Justice.
According to the 2012 Education Monitor (see page 45), nearly 28 000 students from other EU Member States, European Economic Area and EU candidate countries were enrolled in Dutch universities in 2010 – equivalent to 4.4% of the overall student population in the Netherlands at the time.