Luxembourg Stepchildren Entitled to Study Grants

     (CN) — Stepchildren of Luxembourg men denied financial aid for not being their legal “children” are eligible for higher education grants after all, an adviser to Europe’s highest court said.
     Noémie Depesme, Adrien Kaufmann, and Maxine Lefort applied for Luxembourg grants in 2013 to study medicine, law and economics, and sociology and anthropology, respectively, on the basis that their stepfathers had worked there for more than five years, as required by law.
     While Depesme and Kaufmann seek to attend the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France, Lefort wants to go to the Catholic University of Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.
     Depesme says her stepfather has been a frontier worker in Luxembourg for 14 years, and married her mother in 2006, while Kaufmann says his mother married his stepfather in 2007.
     Lefort, whose father is dead, says his mother remarried over five years ago, and his stepfather bears the full financial cost of running the household.
     But the Luxembourg authorities denied their applications in fall 2013, on the ground that the trios were not legally the “children” of a frontier worker.
     After the country’s Tribunal administratif declared the applications admissible but unfounded in January 2015, the students challenged the decisions in the Higher Administrative Court of Luxembourg.
     The court, in turn, stayed the proceedings to ask the European Union Court of Justice whether the social concept of “child” must also include stepchildren, from an economic perspective.
     Advocate General Melchior Wathelet ruled in the students’ favor Thursday, noting the EU law stating that a worker must enjoy the same social and tax advantages as national workers in any member state in which he works.
     Wathelet found this law is not separate from one defining “children” as dependants or direct descendants under the age of 21, as well as those of the parent’s spouse or partner.
     “I do not share this view which makes a watertight distinction between the scopes of the two rules and claims that the family of a citizen of the Union is not necessarily the same as the family of a citizen of the Union when he is considered in his capacity as a ‘worker,'” Wathelet wrote.
     “It not only leaves out of account the development of the EU legislation, which I have already described, but furthermore leads to situations which cannot be justified,” he added.
     The advocate general later said, “If the court were to follow the argument of the Luxembourg government, that would imply that the concept of ‘child’ was interpreted widely in the context of the right to be educated, but restrictively in relation to the award of the same social and tax benefits as national workers, including advantages relating to the financing of studies.”
     “Such a different interpretation of the concept of ‘child’ in the application of one and the same regulation would certainly not be justified,” Wathelet wrote.
     It would be inappropriate to adhere to the strictly legal definition, the ruling states.
     “A child who has no legal connection to the migrant worker but fulfils the definition of ‘family member’…must be regarded as the child of the worker and an indirect beneficiary of the social advantages,” Wathelet wrote.
     The judge also rejected the Luxembourg government’s argument “that it would be impossible for its authorities to find out in every individual case whether and to what extent the frontier worker who is the stepparent of a student does or does not contribute to the student’s maintenance.”
     An advocate general’s opinion is not binding on the EU Court of Justice, but they are typically followed.

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