Here's the story. Jacqueline Förster, a young German woman, went to the Netherlands and enrolled for training as a primary school teacher in 2000. She got a job to help support herself while she studied. She also got a grant from the competent Dutch authority, the IB-Groep, from September 2000. That authority took the view that Ms Förster was a ‘worker’ and, consequently, should be treated in the same way as a student of Dutch nationality as regards maintenance grants. Later, when it checked up, the IB-Groep discovered that Ms Förster had not been gainfully employed between July 2003 and December 2003. As she could no longer be considered to be a worker, the IB-Groep annulled the decision giving her a grant that was paid between July and December 2003 and asked her to repay the amounts paid during that time.
Ms Förster challenged that decision and claimed that she was already sufficiently integrated into Dutch society during the period at issue to be able to claim a maintenance grant as a student under EC law. She relied on the judgment in Case C-209/03 Bidar in which the Court of Justice held that the existence of a certain degree of integration may be deemed established by a finding that a student has resided in the host member State for a certain length of time. But, following that judgment the IB-Groep adopted a policy rule which provided that a student from the EU must have been lawfully resident in the Netherlands for an uninterrupted period of at least five years before claiming a maintenance grant.
The competent Dutch court, wondering whether Ms Förster should be treated like a Dutch national, then referred questions to the Court to ask under what conditions a student from another member State may be entitled to a grant and whether the residence requirement of 5 years is compatible with EC law.
The Court of Justice replied that such a 5 year requirement was indeed compatible.
In the first place, the Court held that Ms. Förster did not come within the ambit of Regulation 1251/70 that entitles a worker who has ceased her employment activity to remain permanently in the territory of a member State after having worked there as an employed person and to continue to be entitled to equality of treatment with nationals, subject to certain conditions: Ms Förster did not, as a matter of fact, meet those conditions.
Then, the Court held that that a residence requirement of 5 years, such as that laid down by the Dutch authorities, does not go beyond what is necessary to attain the objective of ensuring that students from other member States are to a certain degree integrated into the society of the host member State, as required by the judgment in Case C-209/03 Bidar. The Court found that the residence requirement was applied on the basis of clear criteria known in advance (see Case C-138/02 Collins). Consequently, the Court held a student who is a national of one member State and travels to another member State to study there can rely on the first paragraph of Article 12 EC in order to obtain a grant where she has resided for a certain period in the host member State. But Article 12 EC does not preclude the application to nationals of other member States of a requirement of five years’ prior residence even when such a requirement is not imposed on nationals.