Brussels vs. Brussels

In a letter of formal notice, the Commission has recently ‘ordered’ the Austrian and Belgian governments to change their entry requirements for other EU students(*). The Commission argued that the caps and quotas that have been put in place by these governments are in breach of Article 12 of the EU Treaty (“Within the scope of application of this Treaty, and without prejudice to any special provisions contained therein, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited”).

A law introduced last year was intended to cut the number of non-Belgians accepted on certain courses like physiotherapy and verterinary medicine by implementing a cap of 30%. Before this law, as many as 80% of the places on these and other courses linked to medicine were filled by French students who did not meet the access requirements in their own country. The Belgian Government argues that this puts undue strain on universities and colleges and undermines its domestic goals in educating medical professionals. This very much resembles the fierce reaction of Austrian chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer.

According to the Times HE Supplement, the Belgian Minister for Higher Education, Marie-Dominique Simonet, is ready to take up the battle with the Commission:

Simonet argues that this is simply the beginning of a process that will allow the Government to show that its system is not discriminatory. She is ready to resort to legal avenues. “It is not for the Commission but for the European Court of Justice to say if the 30 per cent limit is against European law,” she said. In 2005, the court found that a broader limit in Austria was disproportionate rather than unjustified.

Instead of abolishing the quota, Simonet even intends to tighten the regulations for future foreign EU students. She has proposed measures to close a loophole whereby residency can be earned by working for six months in Belgium. She plans to extend the requirement to 15 months, making it even harder for foreign EU students to gain access to these programmes.

The Austrian and Belgian governments had until 24 March to respond to the letter of formal notice. I haven’t seen any of the reactions yet. I’ll keep you posted on this issue.

(*) See the posts on Europeanisation by stealth, Higher education and Europe, More Europeanisation and Austria versus Brussels for past developments in these cases. See also this post on European integration in higher education.

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