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Student benefits cause a populist overreaction

COPENHAGEN – The European Students’ Union (ESU) is dismayed by the political debate in Denmark where the Liberal and People’s Party have used a recent judgment by the European Court of Justice as a lame excuse to attack international students residing in the country.

Morten Østergaard, the Minister of Education in Denmark, has introduced a new analysis indicating that the ruling would cost the Danish state 200 million DKK a year (32 million euros) because students coming from other Member States of the European Union would be entitled to student support as long as they have the status of workers before starting their studies.

The Liberal and People’s Party have used this opportunity for scare tactics, saying that Denmark will be flooded by students from other EU states because of the attractive social benefits offered and the number of courses that are taught in English. Those opposition parties wrongly claim that the social welfare system is under threat because of this judgment.

Populist rhetoric used by politicians

It saddens us that Danish politicians have decided to use the same populist rhetoric as when governments say they will be flooded by Romanians and Bulgarians when employment restrictions will be lifted in 2014. This was simply not the case when ten new countries joined the European Union in 2004 and it will not happen in Denmark because of one judgment,” Karina Ufert, ESU’s Chairperson comments.

ESU reminds the Liberals and the People’s Party about the fundamental values of the European Union concerning equal rights of citizens and freedom of movement.

These politicians are missing the main point because this judgment is not only important for Denmark but also all Europe. Students of all nationalities have to know their rights when they go to another country and this ruling says that they cannot be discriminated against because of their nationalities. It is wrong to predict beforehand that students will flock to Denmark to claim benefits and then head straight back to their national countries. A study from the Netherlands has shown that it would be sufficient if only a portion of international students stay behind for it to be economically sufficient. Most students would consider staying following their studies if they would be somehow able to contribute to the Danish society,” Ufert says.

Recognising the value of international students

In February, the Danish government presented its plans to reform the student support system in Denmark claiming that the system was too expensive because Danish students were too old when they graduated. That proposal was harshly criticised by Danish students that demonstrated against any cuts to social welfare. However, the Minister has now publicly taken a stand against the attacks from the opposition parties by recognising the value of international students rather than looking at them as a problem or additional costs to the system.

A similar case has been filed against the government of Luxembourg because students from other EU states have been denied student loans unless they provide authorities with a Luxembourgish residence permit. There, the Luxembourgish government considers education to be primarily a national matter and responsibility.

Students should be treated equally and fairly regardless of their origin as the European Court of Justice confirmed in Denmark’s case. These judgments will be an extremely important contribution in enhancing student mobility in Europe, improving the rights of students across Europe and strengthening the vision for a European identity for education,” Ufert says.

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For more information, please contact:

Karina Ufert, ESU Chairperson: +32/473.669.892 // or Robert Hlynur Baldursson, ESU Communications Manager: +32/473.669.894 //

The European Students’ Union, headquartered in Brussels, is the umbrella organisation of 47 national unions of students from 39 European countries. ESU represents and promotes the educational, social, economical and cultural interests of students at the European level. Through its member unions, ESU represents over 11 million students in Europe. To find out more about ESU, follow us on Twitter @ESUtwt, check out or Facebook page or visit ESU celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2012.


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