‘Like Dassonville on steroids’. Bobek AG in Rheinland on personality v territoriality, the nature of EU harmonisation, and its links with (as well as historic roots of) conflict of laws and regulatory competition.

In advising on a territorial restriction in an insurance clause earlier this month, I studied the CJEU judgment in C-581/18 Rheinland, important for the (limitations to the) reach of Article 18 TFEU, the general non-discrimination requirement on the basis of nationality. Bobek AG had earlier opined, and the Court followed, that in the absence of harmonisation and in a scenario with no EU links, Article 18 TFEU is not engaged. I had missed the AG’s earlier opinion – forgive me if I am late to this party.

It is important to sketch the context: Bobek AG had summarised the facts as

A German patient received, in Germany, defective breast implants manufactured by Poly Implant Prothèse SA (‘PIP’), a French undertaking that is now insolvent. The patient seeks compensation before the German courts from Allianz IARD SA, the French insurer of PIP. In France, manufacturers of medical devices are under a statutory obligation to be insured against civil liability for harm suffered by third parties arising from their activities. That obligation led PIP to conclude an insurance contract with Allianz, which contained a territorial clause limiting the cover to damage caused on French territory only. Thus, PIP medical devices that were exported to another Member State and used there were not covered by the insurance contract.

In this context, the Oberlandesgericht Frankfurt am Main (Higher Regional Court, Frankfurt am Main, Germany) enquires whether the fact that PIP was insured by Allianz for damage caused by its medical devices on French territory only, to the exclusion of that potentially caused in other Member States, is compatible with Article 18 TFEU and the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality contained therein.

This post is not on Article 18 TFEU. Rather, consider the excellent (and eloquent) discussion by Bobek AG at 109 ff. Does the imperative of equal protection of all European citizen-consumers, in the absence of EU harmonising law on the issue, preclude a national rule that, in effect, limits insurance cover to persons who undergo surgery on the territory of the Member State, thus indirectly limiting the cover to citizens of that Member State? Bobek AG emphatically and despite moral sympathy for the victims, says no. The alternative would be ‘like Dassonville on steroids’ (at 111), it would ‘turn regulatory competence within the internal market on its head’ (at 109).

Consider his link with conflict of laws at 114-115:

In other words, the fact that goods once came from another Member State is not a sufficient reason to suggest that any matter later concerning those goods is covered by EU law. If that logic were to be embraced, by a questionable interpretation of Article 18 TFEU, the movement of goods in Europe would become (once again) reminiscent of medieval legal particularism, [at footnote 78 he refers to the excellent work by my legal history colleague Randall Lesaffer] whereby each product would, like a person, carry its own laws with it. Goods would be like snails, carrying their homes with them in the form of the legislation of their country of origin, to be applicable to them from their production to their destruction.

Such a consequence would not only displace any (normal) territoriality in the application of laws, but would also generate conflicts of regulatory regimes between the Member States. Indeed, such an expansionist interpretation of Article 18 TFEU could make the legislation of any of the Member States potentially applicable on the same territory without any clear and objective criteria as to which legislation should prevail in a given dispute, with the victim being able to choose the most favourable legislation.’

Most delightful analysis.

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).

DNIs, patents, exhaustion and jurisdiction under Lugano: Parainen Pearl v Jebsen Skipsrederi.

A case title which sounds a bit like a Scandinavian crimi – that’s because it almost is. In [2017] EWHC 2570 (Pat) Parainen Pearl et al v Jebsen Skipsrederi et al the facts amounted to claimants, who had purchased a vessel containing a pneumatic cement system patented by defendant (a company domiciled in Norway), seeking a declaration of non-infringement (DNI) of said patent. The purchase was somewhat downstream for the vessel had been sold a number of times before.

Claimants suggested jurisdiction for the UK courts for DNIs relating effectively to the whole of the EEA (at least under their reasoning; the specific countries sought were Sweden and Finland). For the English (and Welsh side of things jurisdiction is established without discussion under Article 5(3) Lugano, forum delicti. Reference was made to Wintersteiger and to Folien Fischer.

Claimants suggested that by the first sale to the original owner, defendants had ‘exhausted’ their intellectual property thus rendering the vessel into a good free to sold across the EEA. Should the court agree with that view, that finding of exhaustion would have to be accepted, still the argument went, across the EEA. Hence, an initial finding of exhaustion, given the need to apply EEA law the same in all EEA Member States, would have to be accepted by all other States and conversely this would give the English courts jurisdiction for pan-EEA DNIs.

Arnold J refers to among others Roche, Actavis v Eli Lilly, Marzillier. He holds that a potential finding by an English court of exhaustion may not necessarily be recognised and enforced by other courts in the EU or indeed EEA: it is not for the UK courts to presume that this will be so (despite their being little room for others in the EEA to refuse to enforce): ‘(Counsel for claimant) argued that.., on a proper application of European law, there could only be one answer as to whether or not the Defendants’ rights under the Patent in respect of the Vessel had been exhausted. In my view, however, it does not follow that it would be proper for this Court to exercise jurisdiction over matters that, under the scheme of the Lugano Convention, lie within the province of the courts of other Contracting States.’

Article 5(3) which works for UK jurisdiction, can then as it were not be used as a joinder-type (Article 6(1) Lugano; Article 8(1) Brussels I Recast) bridgehead for jurisdiction on further claims.

Conclusion: UK courts have no jurisdiction in so far as the DNIs extend beyond the UK designation of the Patent.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11.2.4, Heading 2.2.12.1.

Cheers to that! The CJEU on excise duties, alcohol, packaging and regulatory autonomy in Valev Visnapuu.

Postscript 10 December 2015 For a similar exercise, see Sharpston AG in C-472/14 Canadian Oil.

Less is sometimes more so I shall not attempt to summarise all issues in Case C-198/14 Valev Visnapuu. The case makes for sometimes condensed reading however it perfectly illustrates the way to go about dealing with obstacles to trade put in place for environmental, public health or, as in this case, both reasons.

Mr Visnapuu essentially forum shops Estonia’s lower prices on alcohol by offering Finnish clients home delivery of alcoholic beverages purchased there. No declaration of import is made to Finish customs and excise, thereby circumventing (accusation of course is that this is illegal) a variety of excise duties imposed for public health and environmental reasons, as well as a number of requirements relating to retail licenses and container requirements (essentially a deposit-return system) for beverages.

Confronted with a demand to settle various tax debts, as well as with a suspended prison sentence, Mr Visnapuu turns to EU law as his defence in a criminal proceeding. The CJEU then had to settle a variety of classic trade and environment /public health questions: whether the packaging and packaging waste Directive is exhaustive on the issue of deposit-return system (answer: no and hence the system additionally needs to be assessed vis-a-vis EU primary law: Article 34 ff TFEU or Article 110 TFEU); whether in the context of that Directive excise duties on packaging may be imposed (yes) and packaging integrated into a functioning return system exempt (yes; in the absence of indications that imported systems are less likely to enjoy the exemption); whether the relevant excise duties fall under Article 34 ff TFEU or Article 110 TFEU (answer: it is part of an internal system of taxation hence needs to be judged vis-a-vis Article 110 TFEU); and finally whether the retail licence requirement needs to be judged viz Article 34 or Article 37 TFEU (answer: mixed, given the various requirements at stake). Final judgment on proportionality is down to the Finnish courts.

Readers in need of a tipple would be advised to postpone until after reading the judgment. Again though the case shows that if one keeps a clear head, classic structures of applying EU law go a long way in untangling even complex matters of law and fact.

Geert.

 

 

 

Germany v Commission re toys: ECJ confirms that recourse to precautionary principle is no walk in the park.

The ECJ this morning held in Germany v Commission (for context see my earlier posting). On 1 March 2012, the European Commission only partially (and temporarily) granted Germany approval for upholding stricter limits on limit values for lead, barium, arsenic, antimony, mercury, nitrosamines and nitrosatable substances in toys (for the decision, see here).
The ECJ stood with Germany only in its appeal against the EC’s decision on values for lead: this decision was internally inconsistent (acknowledgement of higher public health protection in the German measures while at the same time unfounded (and vague) limitation in time for those German measures). However for all other substances, the ECJ rejected Germany’s appeal. In doing so it emphasises the burden of proof which the precautionary principle implies (often misrepresented by opponents of the principle). The review of the available scientific evidence shows first of all the challenges associated with the different methods employed by Germany cq the EC. The latter’s measures employ migration limits (migration being the amount of toxic substances not just released from the product but effectively absorbed by the human body), while Germany’s measures rely on bioavailability (the amount of chemical substances released from the product and available for human absorption, even if not all of that is necessarily effectively absorbed).

The ECJ supports the room for Member States to have divergent opinions on risk than those of the EC, however, it needs to show that the national measures better protect human health and do so in a proportionate way. The crucial shortcoming in Germany’s proof turned out to be that its exposure scenarios were, in the view of the ECJ, unrealistic (and not supported by further scientific reporting): they imply simultaneous exposure of a child to all possible toy safety Directive scenarios: dry, brittle, powder-like or pliable toy material; AND liquid or stocky toy material; AND scraped-off toy material.

Hum. That such simultaneous exposure should necessarily be unrealistic is of course open to debate. Many of us have tales to tell of children achieving the impossible with toys clearly not designed for the game a child or group of children might at some point concoct . (Reminiscent of the inherently flawed furniture endurance tests displayed by large furniture chains: I have always thought that letting our family loose on the displayed piece of kitchen, bathroom or dining room furniture would be a more realistic test than an engineered testroom).

As often with risk assessment and risk management: the final conclusion almost always remains open to discussion.

Geert.

 

Once more unto the breach – German action against Commission Decision on the Toy safety Directive provides a master class in EU law

Pre-script: this case is now known as Case T-198/12, and on 15 May 2013 the Court by way of interim measure ordered the Commission to grant approval to the German measures in full, at least until such time as a judgment on the substance has been issued. It made specific reference to the precautionary principle. The ECJ eventually held in May 2014.

 

I have always thought of legislation on, and trade in, toys, as a perfect illustration for many regulatory mechanisms worldwide. Prof Francis Snyder’s work (see e.g. here) is a perfect illustration of same.

This is no different for the general workings, and finer mechanics, of EU law. Once more, the sector hands teachers and practitioners of EU law a perfect illustration of harmonisation techniques, exhaustion (pre-emption) arguments, and judicial review.

On 1 March 2012, the European Commission only partially (and temporally) granted Germany approval for upholding stricter limits on limit values for lead, barium, arsenic, antimony, mercury, nitrosamines and nitrosatable substances in toys (for the decision, see here)  [As an aside, it is often said that one should never watch laws and sausages being made. Reading that list of substances, prima facie (only) one might want to add toys to that list]. Germany has announced it will appeal that decision with the Court of Justice of the EU.

I can think of one or two areas for discussion: risk management and migration limits v bioavailability (or the cheese and chalk argument); limits to pre-emption; application of the ‘environmental and health guarantee’ of Article 114 TFEU, including the principle of proportionality. Expect that future judgment to feature in core readers of EU law.

Geert.