Current post is best read in conjunction with my post on Vindkraft . The essence of the questions put to the Court was whether the Treaty’s rules on the free movement of goods, preclude a national support scheme, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which provides for the issuance, by the competent regional regulatory authority, of tradable certificates in respect of green electricity produced on the territory of the region concerned and which places electricity suppliers under an obligation, subject to an administrative fine, to surrender annually to that authority a certain number of those certificates corresponding to a proportion of the total volume of the electricity that they have supplied in that region, without those suppliers being allowed to fulfil that obligation by using guarantees of origin originating from other Member States of the European Union or non-member States which are parties to the EEA Agreement.
The ECJ, like in Vindkraft, first of all does not rule on the qualification of certificates of origin as being ‘goods’ or not: the legislation at any rate hinders the free movement of the electricity underlying the certificates.
It subsequently basically confirms the main findings of Vindkraft, including the absence of express reversal of the non-applicability of the Rule of Reason to discriminatory measures (please refer again to my Vindkraft posting should the previous sentence make you scratch your heads). Yes, the Flemish regime restricts trade. Yes, this can be justified for environmental reasons. However, the Court does emphasise the proportionality test. In Vindkraft, the ECJ itself held the scheme to be compatible with the Treaty by virtue essentially of its highly transparent and market-driven character. In Essent, however, this final call is left to the national judge. For the Flemish scheme to meet the proportionality test, it is important that mechanisms be established which ensure the creation of a genuine market for certificates in which supply can match demand, reaching some kind of balance, so that it is actually possible for the relevant suppliers to obtain certificates under fair terms (at 112).
Furthermore, the fine in the absence of quota fulfilment must not impose excessive penalties imposed on the traders concerned (at 114). It is for the national court to verify this.
I had flagged the much less market-oriented character of the Flemish scheme as a distinguishing factor viz Vindkraft. It is now up to the Brussels court of first instance (and others beyond it, one imagines) to deliver the ultimate verdict.