Free movement of capital and sustainable forest management. The CJEU in Huijbrechts.

Disclosure I represented the Flemish Region at the Court of Justice. I wrote this post on 11 December 2018. Given that the interpretation of the judgment has a bearing on the proceedings in the national court, I decided to hold back on posting  until those proceedings would have met their national end – which they still have not. Seeing as I thought the case might be of interest I decided to go ahead now anyway.

In C-679/17 Huijbrechts the European Court of Justice held in a fashion which is fairly typical of free movement of capital cases. The Court treads carefully. Positive harmonisation of tax law is difficult for the EU to achieve for this requires unanimity. Tax measures having a direct impact on free movement of capital, too strict an enforcement of the latter may be read as tax harmonisation via the back door.

The case at issue concerns a measure by the Flemish Region of Belgium to exempt sustainable managed forests from death duties (inheritance tax). The exemption is subject to there being a forest management plan, agreed with the relevant agency, and subject to a 30 year follow-up period (should in the interim the forest no longer be sustainably managed, the heirs pay the tax pro rata the remainder of the 30 year period). The heirs concerned did not enjoy the exemption for the forests are located outside the region and suggest this is an infringement of the free movement of capital.

Defence against suggestions of infringement of Article 63 TFEU’s free movement of capital rule typically follow the following sequence: free movement is not impacted; should this fail: the domestic and foreign situation are not objectively comparable; should this fail, per C‑256/06 Jäger, public interest requires an exemption (subject to a suitability and a proportionality test).

A crucial part of free movement judgments entails having to read the judgment with an eye on the factual circumstances: the Court typically employs a formula that reads something like ‘in circumstances such as those at issue in the national proceedings’ or ‘in circumstances such as those at issue in the national law’.

In Huijbrechts, the Court at 25-26 finds that Flemish and foreign forest are objectively comparable (only) where they are transboundary and concern woods that are part of one unit or landscape (lest my geographic knowledge fails me here, this limits the impact of the judgment to French and Dutch estates; Belgium has a land border with Luxembourg and Germany, too, but Flanders does not). Interestingly, at 22 the Court indicates that in making the like forest comparison (GATT, WTO and generally free movement scholars will know where I am heading here), the regulatory goal of sustainable forest management plays a role. (See the like product /service distinction in the WTO).

For that limited group of forest, the public interest exception imposes constraints: a blanket ban on considering sustainable management outside of Flanders fails the Treaty test, for it does not assist with the protection of the forests. Flanders will for that limited group have to allow the heirs (again: only where the forests are transboundary and concern woods that are part of one unit or landscape) to provide proof of sustainable management; should such proof be delivered, the burden of proof will revert to the Flemish tax authorities: they cannot blankly assume that they cannot get the necessary data from the foreign administration during the 30 year period: they have to request such data (typically: on a 30 year basis) and only should they fail to get them, can they still refuse to exempt.

The Court implicitly recognises the specific (dire) circumstances of forests in Flanders (at 31). It does not accept the heirs’ submission that the myriad of international and European policy documents on forest management somehow amount to positive harmonisation.

Geert.

 

Our scoping study on a principle of ‘essential use’ in international and European regulatory (particularly chemicals) law.

Update 15 May 2020 see the ECHA consultation on PFAS regulation launched this very week.

With Kathleen Garnett I have co-authored a paper where we scope the ‘essential uses’ approach to product regulation, particularly in chemicals.

Could calls for the stricter regulation of one particular type of chemical herald the introduction of a new (or not) ‘principle’ in international and EU regulatory law, namely that of ‘essential use’ as a precondition for market authorisation?

The concept of ‘essential use’ or ‘non-essential use’ has been referenced in a number of EU policy papers. Kathleen and I focus on Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (‘PFAS’)  in chemicals legislation and firstly, map the concept of ‘essential use’ in international and EU law; further, discuss its limited application in the case-law of the European Court of Justice; and, before we conclude, carry out a preliminary investigation as to (if it does not currently exist in EU law), whether it might be so included de lege ferenda.

Happy reading. We are submitting to journal.

Geert, Kathleen.

Attempt in the Austrian courts to repeal air traffic tax breaks puts polluter pays and CJEU Deutsche Bahn judgment in the spotlights.

A late-ish flag to keep an eye on Greenpeace’s class-action suit filed in the Austrian courts to have the Austrian tax breaks on air traffic (tax exemption on kerosene fuel for domestic flights and a VAT exemption on international flights) lifted. It is certain to engage the Chicago Convention and the European implementation of same. The argument is inter alia that the non-exemption for rail is a form of State Aid to the airlines. I wrote on the issues in 2016, featuring T-351/02 Deutsche Bahh, arguing that the CJEU could have forced the issue then. What would be most excellent would be for the Austrian courts to refer to Luxembourg so as the CJEU may revisit the issue 14 years on from the judgment of the then Court of First Instance, in a world were many look a lot less forgivingly at the exemptions’ implications for internalising negative environmental externalities.

Geert.

EU environmental law (with Leonie Reins), Edward Elgar, 2018.

 

 

Confédération Paysanne, precaution and GMOs. French High Court issues its final ruling taking CJEU findings to their logical conclusion.

A short post to flag the French Conseil d’Etat’s final ruling in which on 7 February it held that organisms obtained via in-vitro mutagenesis techniques should be subject to GMO regulation and that consequently as EurActiv summarise the French authorities must update regulation to include such crops within six months, which includes identifying the agricultural plant varieties which have been obtained by these techniques and subjecting them to the assessments applicable to GMOs.

The ruling follows the CJEU’s mutagenesis finding in C-528/16, reviewed at the time on Steve Peers’ blog here and subsequently by KJ Garnett in RECIEL here. The ruling put agro-bio industry narrators in a spin but in essence is an utterly logical consequence of EU law.

Geert.

The French Constitutional Court on exporting environmental pollution and health hazards.

I seem to be having my environment cap firmly on this week so I am happy to thank Le Monde for flagging the judgment of the French Constitutional Court 2019-823 of 31 January in which it sanctioned (against the wishes of applicants, the Union des industries de la protection des plantes, essentially Bayer, Syngenta, BASF)  the Government’s ban on the manufacturing of and exportation of pesticides banned for use in France but hitherto available for export, mostly to Africa.

The case I would suggest is one that is also very suited to a business ethics class. Interestingly the Act also mentions that it applies to the degree it is not incompatible with WTO rules – the WTO is not addressed in the judgment.

Applicants’ case is grounded on the freedom of ‘enterprise’ or ‘commerce’, as expressed in the 1789 Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen – but also the Decret d’Allarde 1791. To the mix of objectives to be balanced, the Court adds the protection of public health (Constitutional recital, 1946) and the Environment Charter 2004, from which the court deduces that environmental protection, as common heritage of mankind, is a Constitutionally ringfenced objective.

At 6 the Court without much ado posits that the French Government in pursuing environmental policy, justifiably may take into account the extraterritorial environmental consequences of activities on French soil.

Having referred to the EU ban on the use of the substances at issue, based on scientific considerations discussed at length in the run-up to the EU law at issue, the Court at 9-10 refers to the principle that it should not overzealous in second-guessing the exercise by Parliament of its balancing exercise. At 11, it notes that the 3-year transitionary period gives corporations ample transitionary time in line with their freedom of commerce.

To the Court, it’s all very much self-evident. For environmental policy and extraterritoriality, its findings are quite relevant.

Geert.

 

 

A language Fest: Sharpston AG on the Basel Convention and mixtures of wastes in Interseroh.

Update 6 July 2020 The Court held at the end of May (at the time of writing, an EN version is still not available). Given the mixed messages in the language versions of the Regulation’s Annexes, it gives priority to the international agreement which the Regulation is meant to transpose, ie the Basel Convention. From the statutory build-up of the relevant Basel Annex, it holds that mixtures of wastes cannot be classified under one of the relevant entries of the green list; and also that up to 10% impurities do not impact the classification.

In C-654/18 Interseroh Sharpston AG opined on 30 January, in answer to a German court wishing to ascertain whether a waste stream composed principally of paper products should be categorised as so-called ‘green’ waste and therefore subject to the flexible control procedure provided in the EU’s Waste Shipment Regulation 1013/2016. The referring court also asks whether such waste can still be categorised as ‘green’ if it contains up to 10% impurities.

The Regulation combines rules of purely EU origin, with a sometimes complex combination of OECD and 1989 Basel Convention rules. It generally employs a listing system with corresponding light signals (green and amber, previously also red) with the green list being the most desirable to exporters: these only require compliance with the same rules as ordinary commercial transactions.

Regardless of whether or not wastes are included on the list of wastes subject to the Green Control Procedure (Appendix 3 of the EU Regulation), they may not be subject to the Green control procedure if they are contaminated by other materials to an extent which (a) increases the risks associated with the wastes sufficiently to render them appropriate for submission to the amber control procedure, when taking into account the criteria in Appendix 6 to this Decision, or (b) prevents the recovery of the wastes in an environmentally sound manner’.

In the dispute at issue Interseroh collects used sales packaging (lightweight packaging) from private final consumers throughout Germany which it then consigns to recovery. It ships the prepared waste paper across the border for recycling in a paper factory in Hoogezand (Netherlands). New paper and new paperboard is produced from the waste paper. The Netherlands purchaser, ESKA stipulates that the waste paper must meet the following specifications. It should be composed of at least 90% used, residue-drained, system-compatible paper, paperboard or cardboard (PPC) articles and PPC-based combinations, with the exception of liquid packaging board including packaging parts such as labels etc. Also, the waste stream must contain no more than 10% impurities (‘the mixture of wastes at issue’).

The Dutch and German import cq export authorities differ as to the inclusion or not of the transported wastes at issue, with the Dutch taking a more relaxed approach on the basis of the Dutch version of the relevant Basel entry B3020.

  • The Dutch version reads „De volgende materialen, mits deze niet vermengd zijn met gevaarlijke afvalstoffen:
    Oud papier en karton:
    – ongebleekt papier en karton of gegolfd papier en golfkarton; – overig papier en karton, hoofdzakelijk gemaakt van gebleekt chemisch pulp, dat niet in bulk is gekleurd; – papier en karton hoofdzakelijk gemaakt van mechanisch pulp (bv. kranten, tijdschriften en soortgelijk drukwerk); – overige, met inbegrip van: 1. gelamineerd karton, 2. ongesorteerd afval
  • The German version: “Folgende Stoffe, sofern sie nicht mit gefährlichen Abfällen vermischt sind:
    Abfälle und Ausschuss von Papier und Pappe
    – ungebleichtes Papier und Wellpapier und ungebleichte Pappe und Wellpappe; – hauptsächlich aus gebleichter, nicht in der Masse gefärbter Holzcellulose bestehendes anderes Papier und daraus bestehende andere Pappe; – hauptsächlich aus mechanischen Halbstoffen bestehendes Papier und daraus bestehende Pappe (beispielsweise Zeitungen, Zeitschriften und ähnliche Drucksachen); – andere, einschließlich, aber nicht begrenzt auf: 1. geklebte/laminierte Pappe (Karton) , 2. nicht sortierter Ausschuss.
  • The English version: The following materials, provided they are not mixed with hazardous wastes:
    Waste and scrap of paper or paperboard of:
    – unbleached paper or paperboard or of corrugated paper or paperboard; – other paper or paperboard, made mainly of bleached chemical pulp, not coloured in the mass; – paper or paperboard made mainly of mechanical pulp (for example, newspapers, journals and similar printed matter); – other, including but not limited to: (1) laminated paperboard, (2) unsorted scrap.

According to the wording of the German-language version, point 2 of the fourth indent covers ‘nicht sortierten Ausschuss’ (‘unsorted scrap’) and not ‘nicht sortierte Abfälle’ (‘unsorted waste’), as the Dutch Supreme Court held on the basis of the Dutch language version (‘ongesorteerd afval’). The term ‘scrap’ is not synonymous with the terms ‘waste’ or ‘mixture’. In addition, a distinction is drawn in the French language version between ‘mélange de déchets’ and ‘rebuts non triés’, just as in the English-language version between ‘mixture of wastes’ and ‘unsorted scrap’. The terms ‘scrap’ and ‘waste’ are therefore not synonymous. Since, in the Dutch language version of the heading of Basel Code B3020, the term ‘waste’ is not used, but it instead reads ‘papier, karton en papierproducten’, the term ‘afval’ in point 2 of the fourth indent in the Dutch-language version does not cover the entire entry, but only what does not come under the first three indents.

Specifically, on 20 May 2015, the Raad van State (Council of State, Netherlands) ruled in proceedings involving ESKA that a waste paper mixture, regardless of the presence of impurities, comes under Basel Code B3020. Accordingly, any such mixture of wastes constituted ‘Green’ listed waste and came within the list of wastes subject to the Green control procedure under Article 18 of Regulation No 1013/2006. It did so on the basis of the Dutch language version of Basel Code B3020. ESKA had previously been employing the stricter prior notification procedure under Article 4 of the Regulation.

Interseroh then brought an action before the referring German court seeking a declaration that it is entitled to ship the mixture of wastes at issue to other EU Member States in accordance with the Green control procedure.

Sharpston AG at 27 starts by pointing out that the shipments at issue are kosher commercial and regulatory transactions: at least 90% of the mixture is made up of what can be described generically as paper, paperboard and paper product wastes. The waste also includes a maximum of 10% impurities. This, in other words, is not a cowboyesque trafficking practice. She then explores the legislative history of the amended Annexes, paying less attention to the linguistic analysis perhaps than one might expect – object and purpose is, after all, a guiding principle in the interpretation of texts with seemingly diverging language versions. She concludes from that assessment (please refer to her Opinion itself; there is little point in me paraphrasing it here) that the lighter, green list procedure can only apply if the notifier shows with scientific evidence that the level of impurities does not prevent the recovery of the wastes in question in an environmentally sound manner. She also acknowledges at 72 (as the EC already did in its 2009 FAQs) that clarity on the issue is wanting: ‘establishing what is a tolerable level of contamination is a matter that is due (perhaps, overdue) for examination’. However given the lack of formal regulatory guidance on the issue, the Article 28 procedure of Regulation applies: where the competent authorities of the Member State of dispatch and the Member State of destination cannot agree on the classification of a particular consignment of wastes (and hence on whether the more flexible Green control procedure in Article 18 may be used), the Annex IV amber list procedure must be applied.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Waste Law, 2nd ed 2015, Chapter 4.

 

The mooted Flemish ban on fireworks displays. A concise primer (with referral) on exhaustion, property rights (ECHR) and the internal market (TFEU).

Anyone short of exam essay Qs, consider the planned Flemish ban (with room for local, event-related exceptions) on fireworks displays. Akin to the issues in Ivory Ban or pet collars, at the core of the legal analysis is the legality of use restrictions on goods lawfully marketed in other Member States (see also my brief review of Amsterdam’s booze bikes here).

The exhaustive effect or not of EU secondary law will have to be discussed, as will Article 34 TFEU (including consultation and commissioned research issues and of course proportionality), and indeed A1P1 (Article 1, first Protocol) ECHR.

(For a recent more locally relevant issue, see the Supreme Court’s (Raad van State) December 2019 annulment of an Antwerp highway code rule banning the use of quads and introducing a strict exemption policy).

Geert.

 

 

The High Court on the lawfulness of the proposed ivory ban.

Update 18 May 2020 confirmed today by the Court of Appeal in [2020] EWCA Civ 649.

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post on e-collars, a short note on yet another trade and animal welfare /biodiversity case. In [2019] EWHC 2951 (Admin) Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures v Secretary of State for the environment, food and rural affairs, Justice Jay (‘Jay J’ even though correct might sound a bit too intimate) upheld the UK’s planned ban on ivory trade, stricter than anything in place elsewhere. As a general rule, the Act interdicts the sale of antique worked ivory, that is to say pre-1947 artefacts, unless one of limited exemptions is applicable.

The discussion engages CITES, pre-emption /exhaustion by harmonised EU law, the environmental guarantee of Article 193 TFEU (albeit not, oddly, the issue of notification to the EC), Article 34 TFEU, and A1P1 ECHR.

On uncertainty, Justice Jay refers to the precautionary principle: at 155: ‘we are in the realm of scientific and evidentiary uncertainty, and the need for a high level of protection. §3.1 of the Commission’s 2017 Guidance makes that explicit. Although the evidence bearing on the issues of indirect causation and demand in Far Eastern markets may be uncertain, statistically questionable, impressionistic and often anecdotal, I consider that these factors do not preclude the taking of bold and robust action in the light of the precautionary principle.’

Rosalind English has analysis here and refers even to Edmund de Waal’s novel The Hare with the Amber Eyes which has been on my reading list after my wife recommended it – this is a good reminder.

Geert.

EU environmental law (with Leonie Reins), Edward Elgar, 2018, p.28 ff., and Chapter 17 (p.308 ff).

The UK ban on e-collars. High Court finds decision does not breach property rights (ECHR) or internal market (TFEU).

Update 30 September 2020 for a similar judgment at the Belgian Constitutional Court, see here. This judgment engaged with A1P1 ECHR,  as well as alleged discrimination, particularly viz dog therapists where use may be continued; and viz electric cattle prods. Re e-collars for dogs the point is made that the danger to the animal’s welfare lies with its inappropriate use by the owner, something which the drafters of the statute is not the case with farmers; I do not think that is a correct assumption). The legality of the device in other Member States was not discussed.

I tweeted the judgment the day it was issued, apologies for late succinct review. I wrote a few years back on the legality of use restrictions on goods lawfully marketed in other Member States, and see also my brief review of Amsterdam’s booze bikes here. In [2019] EWHC 2813 (Admin) The Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association v Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Morris J upheld the UK Government’s ban on e-collars (a hand-held remote-controlled (not automated: a distinction that matters as Rosalind English points out) e-collar device for cats and dogs, used particularly in dogs for training purposes).

His analysis engages all the right issues in discussing the lawfulness of a ban at 204 ff under Article 34 TFEU (including consultation and commissioned research issues and of course proportionality), less focused than I would have expected perhaps on the fact that these items are lawfully marketed elsewhere in the EU, and indeed A1P1 (Article 1, first Protocol) ECHR. The remainder of the judgment discusses internal UK judicial review. An excellent primer on trade and animal welfare under EU and ECHR law.

Geert.

 

 

Regina v Biffa: Jury instructions and the Basel export ban.

Update 3 July 2020. The conviction was upheld in [2020] EWCA Crim 827.

Update 10 October 2019 BIFFA was found guilty (and has asked for leave to appeal) and reportedly has been fined £350.000.

[2019] EWCA Crim 20 Regina v BIFFA Waste Services is a rare example of interlocutory appeal concerning jury instruction and summing up. It involves Regulation 1013/2006, the Waste shipments Regulation, particularly the EU’s enforcement of the ‘Basel Ban‘: the ban on exports of hazardous wastes destined for disposal in non-OECD countries.

The only real point arising on appeal is whether (contrary to the judge’s approach at Crown Court) the prosecution was to be required to show not just that a shipment of wastes was not ‘Green List’ wastes but rather household (domestic) wastes, but in addition, to prove that the waste was contaminated by other materials to an extent which prevented the recovery of waste in an ‘environmentally sound manner’ (the general Basel condition for exports); and whether the jury was to be instructed in the summing-up accordingly.

The containers in question were to form part of a larger consignment of containers (448 in total) destined for China. In May and early June 2015 they were the subject of interception and examination at the port of Felixstowe by officials of the Environment Agency. It is asserted that such examination revealed that these particular containers, or some of them, included significant contamination by items which were not mixed paper items at all; for example, soiled nappies and sanitary wear, sealed bags of excrement, clothing, food packaging, plastic bottles and so on. It is asserted that this was indicative of the consignments being mixed household waste rather than mixed paper waste: it being common ground that household waste, as such, could not be lawfully exported in this way to China.

Of particular specific relevance for the appeal is Recital (28)  of the Waste Shipments Regulation which provides “It is also necessary, in order to protect the environment of the countries concerned, to clarify the scope of the prohibition of exports of hazardous waste destined for recovery in a country to which the OECD Decision does not apply, also laid down in accordance with the Basel Convention. In particular, it is necessary to clarify the list of waste to which that prohibition applies and to ensure that it also includes waste listed in Annex II to the Basel Convention, namely waste collected from households and residues from the incineration of household waste.”

Davis LJ at 33 deals swiftly with the issue. Appreciating that plenty could be said about the precise application of the Regulation, he nevertheless simply points to the prosecution’s intention. They have never sought to say that these were consignments which were indeed essentially Heading B3020 waste paper but nevertheless contaminated by other materials not collected from households (for example, corrosive fluids or dangerous metals etc). so as to prevent recovery of the waste in an environmentally safe manner. They had relied solely on showing the jury that the shipment was not paper waste. If it was, then the waste in question could not be B3020 waste paper (which is within the “green” list of waste which may legitimately be exported). If it was proved that the relevant consignments were indeed heading Y46 waste (household waste) instead, then that was within Article 36(1)(b) of the Regulation and that was the end of the matter. If, on the other hand, the prosecution failed to prove that the relevant consignments were indeed Y46, then that too was the end of the matter and the defendant was entitled to be acquitted.

At 36 he ends with congratulatory remarks to judge Auerbach at Crown Court:

In a matter which is by no means the common currency of Crown Courts, he speedily produced a comprehensive reserved written ruling which set out in full detail the legislative background and authorities; fully analysed and discussed the competing arguments; and explained the reasons for his conclusion with crystal clarity. It is just because of the care and detail underpinning his ruling that this court has been able to approach matters rather more succinctly than otherwise might have been the case.’

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Waste Law, 2nd ed 2015, Chapter 4.