ITALY discriminated against 1,500 foreign language lecturers excluded from competing for supply-teaching jobs at Italian universities over the past 16 years, the European Court of Justice has ruled.
The decision allows foreign lecturers suffering similar discrimination elsewhere in the European Union to go to their local courts, which must apply the ruling.
Italian universities could lose their funding for EU programmes such as Socrates as a result of the judgement. The social affairs and employment committee of the European parliament, due to report on the Italian universities in May, could recommend that the budget committee axe Socrates cash to Italy on the basis of non-compliance with European law.
Hugh McMahon, Labour MEP for Strathclyde West and social affairs and employment rapporteur, said: "Withdrawal of financial support is the way ahead. Member states who don't carry out EU judgements can be fined."
Roy Perry, Britain's Conservative spokesman on the European parliament's education and culture committee, has written to education commissioner Edith Cresson. "I am not satisfied that the Italian universities are fulfilling their obligations under Socrates and I remain far from happy about the way they are treating the English language lecturers," he said.
Announcing the ruling, Nial Fennelly, an advocate general, of the ECJ, said: "National rules governing the allocation to staff of paid temporary teaching in universities which, by conferring eligibility only on certain categories of staff, operate disproportionately to the detriment of non-national employees, constitute unlawful covert discrimination against workers on the grounds of nationality."
David Petrie, one of three British lecturers whose applications for supply-teaching posts at the University of Verona had been annulled, said: "Given two previous ECJ decisions against Italy for similar discrimination and given that I wrote to the Italian higher education ministry three years ago alerting them to this problem, I think this infraction could reasonably be regarded as grave."
A second lecturer, Robert Hill, with six supply-teaching applications annulled by Verona, said: "It was ridiculous of the university to deny application to people who are obviously qualified. A bizarre feature of language teaching and teacher training in Italy is that foreign language lecturers are often much sought after in sectors outside the university, yet constantly ignored within."
EU law does not harmonise practices within EC universities; each member state can organise its universities as it sees fit. But it cannot discriminate against EU nationals without falling foul of Article 48 of the Treaty of Rome. Thus Italy could be sued for rejection of applications for supply-teaching posts, sabbatical leave, research grants and other privileges enjoyed by Italians.