The CJEU in CIHEF on French restrictions to marketing and advertising of rodenticides and insecticides. A masterclass on exhaustive legislation, and on Trade and Environment.

I am hoping for a few gaps in yet again a mad diary this week, to catch up on quite a few developments I tweeted on earlier. First up is judgment in C‑147/21 Comité interprofessionnel des huiles essentielles françaises (CIHEF) et al v Ministre de la Transition écologique ea. The case concerns the possibility for Member States to adopt restrictive measures on commercial and advertising practices for biocidal products. It is a good illustration of the mechanism of precaution or pre-emption in EU law, and of the classic application of Article 36 TFEU’s exceptions to free movement of goods.

Applicants contest the French restriction of commercial practices such as discounts and rebates, as well as advertising, for two specific biocides categories: rodenticides and insecticides. The secondary law benchmark is Biocidal Products Regulation 528/2012.

As for the first category, commercial practices such as discounts, price reductions, rebates, the differentiation of general and specific sales conditions, the gift of free units or any equivalent practices, the Court, also seeking report in the AG’s Opinion, held [33] that the Regulation’s definitions of ‘making available on the market’ and ‘use’ of biocidal products are as such sufficiently broad to cover commercial practices linked to the sale of those products, however [34] that the Regulation does not seek to harmonise the rules relating to commercial practices linked to the sale of biocidal products.

That leaves the classic CJEU Case 8/74 Dassonville test (all measures of a Member State which are capable of hindering, directly or indirectly, actually or potentially, trade within the European Union are to be considered as measures having an effect equivalent to quantitative restrictions within the meaning of that provision), tempered by Joined cases C-267/91 and C-268/91 Keck et Mithouard : there is no direct or indirect hindrance, actually or potentially, of trade between Member States, in the event of:

  • the application to products from other Member States of national provisions restricting or prohibiting certain selling arrangements [[39] of current judgment the CJEU confirms this is the case here]
  • on condition that those provisions apply to all relevant traders operating within the national territory [41 held to to be the case here] and that they affect in the same manner, in law and in fact, the marketing of domestic products and of those from other Member States [[42] held to have to be judged by the national court but 43 ff strongly suggested to be the case here (i.e. there not being distinctive affectation of domestic cq imported products)].

Should the national court decide that (unlike what the CJEU indicates) the French measures are not selling arrangements, carved out from Article 34’s scope altogether, the CJEU [48] ff holds that the French measures most likely  (the final arbiter will be the French judge) enjoy the protection of both Article 36 TFEU’s health and life of humans exception, and the Court’s Cassis de Dijon-inserted ‘overriding reason in the public interest’ aka the rule of reason aka the mandatory requirements exception: strong indications are that the measures are justified by objectives of protection of the health and life of humans and of the environment, that they are suitable for securing the attainment of those objectives and that they do not not go beyond what is necessary in order to attain them. The referring court will have to confirm.

As for the French obligations relating to advertisements addressed to professionals (which includes in particular adding a specific statement), here the Court holds [60] ff that the Regulation does exhaustively harmonise the  wording of statements on the risks of using of biocidal products which may appear in advertisements for those products. This precludes the relevant French rules.

[68] ff however the French prohibition of advertising addressed to the general public, is held not to have been regulated by the Regulation, with the Court coming to the same conclusions as above, viz Article 34’s selling arrangements carve-out and, subsidiarily, Article 36 TFEU’s and the rule of reason exceptions.

A final check therefore is to be done by the referring court however it seems most likely the French restrictions will be upheld.

Geert.

EU Environmental Law, 2017, Chapter 17, p.308 ff.

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