Archive for category Trade law

Anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. The High Court in Vattenfall et al v Prysmian et al.

Thank you Brick Court and Stewarts, among other, for flagging Vattenfall et al v Prysmian et al in which the High Court dismissed a call for summary judgment on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction.

A classic case of follow-up damages litigation in competition law, here in the high voltage power cables cartel, fines for which were confirmed by the CJEU early July. Core to the case is the application of Article 8(1)’s anchor defendants mechanism. Only two of the defendants are UK incorporated companies – UK subsidiaries of companies that have been found by the European Commission to have infringed EU competition law.

Authority cited includes of course CDC, Roche Nederland and Painer, and Cooper Tyre (sale of the cartelised products can amount to implementation of the cartel). Vattenfall confirms that for the English courts, ‘knowingly implementing’ the cartel has a low threshold.

At 89 ff the Court refers to the pending case of (what I now know to be) C-724/17 Skanska Industrial Solutions e.a.: Finnish Courts are considering the application for cartel damages against parent companies on acquiring cartelist subsidiaries, had dissolved them. Relevance for Vattenfall lies with the issue of knowledge: the Finnish courts wonder what Article 101 TFEU has to say on the degree of knowledge of the cartelist activities, relevant for the liability of the parent company. An application of fraus, or abuse in other words. Elleray DJ however, did not consider the outcome of that reference to be relevant for the case at hand, in its current stage of procedure.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

 

 

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Ceci n’est pas un corbillard. (This is not a hearse).

Readers can file this one under ‘exotic’. The title of this piece does not quite give it away yet: this post is a serious post on customs classification.

My wife and I have a more than average size family, ditto therefore also the family car. Our previous version was black. We had parked it a few summers ago on the village square close to the home of one of my sisters in law, a sleepy French hamlet. A local lady came up to me and asked respectfully who had passed away… She mistook our car for a hearse, leading to my brother-in-law suggesting I should put some stickers up saying ‘ceci n’est pas un corbillard’.

Now, to the serious issue: in Case C-445/17 Pilato, the Court of Justice was asked (the case was triggered by a BTI: Binding Tariff Information) how to classify a hearse under the EU’s combined nomenclature: heading 8704 (motor vehicles for the transport of goods); 8705 (special purpose motor vehicles, other than those principally designed for the transport of persons or goods (for example, breakdown lorries, crane lorries, fire fighting vehicles, concrete-mixer lorries, road sweeper lorries, spraying lorries, mobile workshops, mobile radiological units); or 8703 (Motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons (other than those of heading 8702), including station wagons and racing cars).

The Italian customs authorities have classified under 8703 – the importer is appealing, I am assuming given the higher tariff attracted by that heading. Arguments are very serious and technical, as one would expect for customs classification: details on separation racks, etc.

The Court held Wednesday last: at 25: the intended use of a product may constitute an objective criterion for classification; at 30: hearses are particularly built and equipped for the transport of coffins, which contain corpses. A human body, even lifeless, cannot be treated in the same way as goods which may be the subject, as such, of commercial transactions. Therefore, the principal use of hearses is for the transport of persons. 8703 it is (the Court gives some more reasons).

Exactly the kind of case which makes trade classes a little lighter a the right time (the best case for that, ever, involved my wife having to classify a shipment of toy replica. Details on that case I fear are strictly for students of my WTO class).

Geert.

 

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Unstunned slaughter and EU law. CJEU suggests total ban would be unjustified. Also keep an eye on tomorrow’s case re organic labelling and unstunned slaughter.

Wahl AG advised late November and the Court held late May in C-426/16 – see my post on his Opinion at the time and my previous posts on the issue. A European Regulation (1099/2009) provides for an unclear, and conditional, exemption from a requirement of stunning animals for religious slaughter.

The CJEU as readers will know practices judicial economy. On the face of it, the case only deals with the Flemish decision no longer to authorise, from 2015 onwards, the ritual (sic; why the EU institutions stubbornly refuse to name the practice by its proper name of religious slaughter is beyond me) slaughter of animals without stunning in temporary slaughterhouses in the that region during the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha).

Readers best consult the text of the judgment for it is as concise as it is complete. As the Court points out at 56, the derogation authorised by Article 4(4) of Regulation 1099/2009 does not lay down any prohibition on the practice of religious slaughter in the EU but, on the contrary, gives expression to the positive commitment of the EU legislature to allow such slaughter of animals without prior stunning in order to ensure effective observance of the freedom of religion, in particular of practising Muslims during the Feast of Sacrifice.  That is a clear indication of the CJEU being against a total ban (or at the least giving expression to the reality of the EU legislator not approving of such a ban).

That technical framework, the CJEU holds, is not in itself of such a nature as to place a restriction on the right to freedom of religion of practising Muslims. Whether the specific circumstances in Flanders, including the investment needed to convert temporary spaces into licensed abattoirs, in effect hinder Muslims’ practice of their faith in forum externum (at 44), is neither here nor there for the argument under consideration, which is that Article 4(4) itself is incompatible with the Charter on Fundamental rights.

One issue nota bene which was not sub judice, is the incomprehensible discrimination between ‘culture’ (exempt as a whole from the Regulation), and religion (regulated). In short: if myself and a bunch of locals slaughter animals without stunning on a Flemish medieval square, citing local custom, the Regulation does not catch me. But if I do so because I am religiously motivated not to stun, the Regulation’s regime kicks in.

Finally, I introduced my students at American University Washington, College of Law this morning to Case C-497/17Oeuvre d’assistance aux bêtes d’abattoirs. In this case (hearing at Kirchberg tomorrow) an NGO requests a certification body to stop certifying as ‘organic’, products obtained from religious slaughter, even though neither Council Regulation 834/2007 nor the Commission implementing Regulation 889/2008 on organic production and labelling of organic products with regard to organic production, labelling and control, mention stunned or unstunned slaughter. That case turns around scope of application, I would suggest, albeit that the shadow of the human rights implications hangs over it.

Geert.

 

 

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WTO examiners: at ease! Canadian Supreme Court holds in R. v. Comeau (New Brunswick restrictions on alcohol trade).

Fellow faculty about to examine students on the Law of the World Trade Organisation, have their exam sorted (especially if it is an oral exam). In 2018 SCC 15 R v Comeau the Canadian Supreme Court held last week. At issue is New Brunswick’s restrictive regime on the import and sale of alcoholic beverages. Greg Tereposky and Daniel Hohnstein have background to the case.

Despite the Province’s regime having clear trade impact, the SC held that it was not illegal under Canada’s internal free trade rules – with occasional reference to GATT and WTO. For comparative and exam purposes, the interesting angle is clear: has the Supreme Court adopted the kind of aims and effects test which the WTO is no fan of?

Copy of the judgment. 15 mins prep. And Bob’s your (oral exam) uncle.

Geert.

(Handbook of) The law of the World Trade Organisation, forthcoming at OUP with Demeester, Coppens, Wouters and Van Calster.

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Seatrade: Ships as waste.

Rechtbank Rotterdam held on 15 March last that 4 ships owned and operated by the Sea Trade concern had to be regarded as waste when they left the port at Rotterdam cq Hamburg (they were eventually beached in a variety of destinations). Not having been notified as waste, their shipment was considered illegal and the concern as well as some of its employees consequently convicted. (Illegal waste shipments being a criminal offense).

The court decided not to refer to the CJEU on the application of the waste definition to ships, as it considered the issue to be acte clair. The court’s review of the legal framework is included in Heading 4.3.4. As such, the analysis does not teach us much about the difficulty of applying the waste definition to international maritime logistics, in particular ship disposal. The court found at a factual level that the owners’ intention to dispose of the ships was clearly established when the ships left the EU, with, it suggested, the facts proving that the intention to dispose was at that moment of such an intensity as to trigger the waste definition.

The court does flag its appreciation for the difficulties. Not only is eventual disposal of hardware such as ships a possibility from the moment of their purchase. Such intention may also be withdrawn, reinstated, modified, at various moments of the ships’ life, fluctuating with market circumstances. Particularly given the criminal nature of the legal discipline here, I find that a very important driver to tread very cautiously and to look for firmer objective factors to establish intent.

Most probably to be continued on appeal.

Geert.

(Handbook of ) EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2017, para 1.20 ff. Disclosure: I acted as court expert.

 

 

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Unstunned slaughter and EU law. Wahl AG finds no justification for total ban.

A post suited to be this year’s last, given the religious context of the current holiday period: Wahl AG advised late November in C-426/16. See my previous posts on the issue. A European Regulation (1099/2009) provides for an unclear, and conditional,  exemption from a requirement of stunning animals for religious slaughter. (Regularly the practise is also called ‘ritual’; including in current Opinion. ‘Religious’ must be the preferred term).

Practised in particular by the Jewish (Shechita; leading to ‘kosher’ meat) and Muslim (Zabihah; with halal meat) faith, a core aspect of the practice is that animals are not stunned prior to slaughter. The science on the effect of stunned or unstunned slaughter is equivocal. What is certain is that neither stunned nor unstunned slaughter, when carried out incorrectly (well documented in the case of stunned slaughter) aids the welfare of the animal.

The Flemish Minister responsible for animal welfare announced that, from 2015 onwards, he would no longer issue approvals for temporary slaughter plants at which religious slaughtering could be practised during the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice because such approvals in his view were contrary to EU legislation, in particular the provisions of Regulation 1099/2009. The muslim community objects to the discontinuation of temporary slaughter plants.

The Advocate-General’s Opinion is lengthy, and there is a lot to chew on.  There is little point in rehashing all the AG’s points: readers are best referred to the Opinion itself. Of note however is

  • Firstly, the AG’s attempt strictly to delineate the issue.

The case he suggests is simply about what material conditions, in terms of equipment and operating obligations, must accompany unstunned slaughter in order for it to comply with the relevant EU rules. He suggests a rephrasing of the referring court’s questions in that direction. Along these lines he also in substance refuses to entertain the questions as to the validity of Regulation 1099/2009 itself, or the exemption from the duty to use approved slaughterhouses under the Regulation’s ‘cultural’ exception. (See footnote 13). In my view the Regulation is very vulnerable on this issue: sporting and cultural events are entirely excluded from its scope of application; religious rites are subject to a qualified exemption. That to me cannot survive a discrimination test.

The Brussels court had given the case a much wider scope: it suggested that the contested Flemish decision creates a limitation on the exercise of freedom of religion and undermines Belgian customs relating to religious rites, since it obliges Muslims to perform the ritual slaughter of the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice in slaughterhouses that have been approved in accordance with Regulation No 853/2004. In the opinion of that court, this limitation is neither relevant nor proportionate in order to attain the legitimate objective of protecting the welfare of animals and human health (at 20). The AG however sees no limitation of freedom of religion at all, resulting from the general obligation to use approved slaughterhouses.

  • Despite the attempt at delineation, the background to the case is undeniable and filters through in the Opinion.

If only because the AG has to complete the analysis should the CJEU disagree with his view that freedom of religion is not being limited, he does review the legality of a total ban on slaughtering other than in plants that have been approved in accordance with the rules established in Annex III to Regulation No 853/2004.

First of all he refers to European Commission audits of the previously approved temporary slaughterhouses to make the point that they protected animal welfare sufficiently. He directly criticises the Regulation for its arguably disproportionate criteria in this respect: see in particular at 127.

Religious slaughter falls squarely within the European Convention of Human Rights Article 9’s freedom of religious expression. It is clear that the AG believes that the ban on unstunned slaughter other than in approved abattoirs, in the name of animal welfare or otherwise,  offends freedom of religious expression to such a degree that it simply must not pass: para 133 and the preceding argumentation is very clear.

The AG’s reasoning holds all the more for a total ban un unstunned slaughter full stop. That is the clear implication of this Opinion and one which must be welcomed.

Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!

Geert.

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Booze bikes banned from Amsterdam. Time for a pousse-cafe:the EU law analysis that never was.

At the end of October the Rechtbank Amsterdam held that ‘booze bikes’ can be kept from parts of Amsterdam. The municipality had resorted to the ban both to address congestion (the bikes are slow and chunky; the roads in the part of Amsterdam concerned, narrow) and rowdiness (the bikes are often used for stag parties and let’s just say that the ‘bike’ part of the trip is not the one that attracts its users). In my experience (from a resident’s point of view) these bikes are a bit like Brexit: attractive for five minutes to some; a right nuisance for the remainder of the journey.

In 2009 I wrote a short piece reflecting on use restrictions from an EU point of view. In it I refer ia to C-142/05 Mickelsson and to C-110/05 Commission v Italy (motorcyle trailers) – my analysis and that of Peter Oliver may be applied here mutatis mutandis. The degree to which lawfully marketed products may be restricted in their use has so far not entertained the Court of Justice in great numbers. Yet the use of such restrictions is bound to increase, with local authorities in particular imposing restrictions for environmental, public health and other ‘sustainable development’ purposes. Witness e.g. Venice banning wheeled suitcases, historic city centres banning diesel cars etc.

In the booze bike case the Court at Amsterdam (at 2.9) simply said that applicants should have provided detail of their argument as to why the ban might contravene EU law. Expect a second round on similar cases at some point.

Geert.

 

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