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

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.

 

 

Fremoluc: CJEU adopts a lenient (from MS standpoint) view on ‘purely internal’ measures. (External element easy to engineer, though).

In C-343/17 Fremoluc the CJEU held last week. It features as counsel no less than 4 fellow faculty at Leuven Law: 5 if one counts prof Elke Cloots whom we foolishly let escape to elsewhere – and who was the most vociferous (and, it would seem, persuasive) at the hearing, I understand. Had we had either one of my two collegae proximi who serve as judges on the CJEU assigned to the case, there would have been more residents of Collegium Falconis at Kircherg on the day of the hearing then there have recently been at Faculty meetings. But I digress.

The case essentially concerns services of general economic interests (SGEIs), as applied to the social housing sector: what kind of measures may a Member State roll-out to support the provision of such housing, in light of the free movement of not just persons but also services and capital. By extension, the case-law is also relevant to property rights restrictions across the EU.

In the case at issue applicant had seen a purchase of land torpedoed by the right of pre-emption of a relevant agency, relating to building land situated in areas earmarked for house renovation and house-building in 26 municipalities in its operating area. Fremoluc suggested the condition in the underlying decree that ‘as regards the provision of homes or land in a social housing project…, absolute priority must be given, at any stage of the project, to prospective tenants, leaseholders or buyers who have strong social, economic or socio-cultural ties with the operating area in question’, constitute an illegal condition under EU law. Consequently, it argued, the right of pre-emptive purchase itself was illegal.

The CJEU however, with reference to relevant case-law (please refer to the text of the judgment for same), held that the case was inadmissible, for it is purely internal: at 28-29: ‘it is not sufficient for the referring court to state that it is not inconceivable that nationals established in other Member States were or are interested in making use of Union provisions on fundamental freedoms to carry out activities in the territory of the Member State which enacted the national legislation in question and, consequently, that that legislation, applicable without distinction to nationals and to nationals of other Member States, is capable of producing effects which are not confined to that Member State.’ ‘The request for a preliminary ruling must clearly set out specific factors, that is, not hypothetical considerations but specific evidence, such as complaints or applications brought by operators situated in other Member States or involving nationals of those Member States, on the basis of which the required connecting link may be positively established. More particularly, the referring court may not merely submit to the Court evidence suggesting that such a link cannot be ruled out or which, considered in the abstract, could constitute evidence to that effect, and must, on the contrary, provide objective and consistent evidence enabling the Court to ascertain whether such a link exists.’

Such evidence of course in practice is easily engineered. A similar case therefore is bound to return to Luxembourg at some point soon.

Geert.

 

Essent 2.0. The CJEU surprisingly does distinguish. Support for renewable, ‘green’ energy not entirely carte blanche.

Excuse the attempt at pun in the title (which readers may have even missed. ‘Green’ v carte ‘Blanche’. It’s Thursday, and these are busy weeks). Apologies also to the readers who are new to the debate. The legality of support schemes for renewable energy  EU law has occupied mine and others’ mind for a little while now. One may want to refer eg to my paper on the Vindkraft et al judgment or to various postings on this blog. Specifically, for the latter, my post on the AG’s Opinion in Essent 2.0, case C-492/14., judgment issued today.

Bot AG had opined, very very reluctantly, that the Court’s case-law meant that Flanders could indeed reserve the benefit of the free distribution of electricity produced from renewable energy sources solely to generating installations directly connected to the distribution systems located in Flanders, thereby excluding generating installations located in other Member States.

The Court itself has now distinguished its own case-law: the EU has not harmonised the national support schemes for green electricity; this means that it is possible in principle for Member States to limit access to such schemes to green electricity production located in their territory. However the Court’s sympathy is now limited to schemes that support producers only. Green energy support schemes, whose production costs seem to be still quite high as compared with the costs of electricity produced from non-renewable energy sources, are inherently designed in particular to foster, from a long-term perspective, investment in new installations, by giving producers certain guarantees about the future marketing of their green electricity (at 110, with reference to Vindkraft).

However it is not the purpose of the Flemish scheme to give direct support to producers of green electricity. Rather, the free distribution of green electricity constitutes a financial advantage conferred primarily on the supplier of such electricity, which may, in certain circumstances, depending notably on the sale price which the consumer is charged by the supplier for his electricity, to a certain extent and indirectly also benefit the consumer (at 112).

Such a support mechanism offers no certainty that the economic advantage thus obtained for suppliers will ultimately actually and essentially be required to benefit producers of green electricity, particularly the smallest local generating installations which the Flemish Region claims to have wanted to support, which are not both producers and suppliers (at 113).

The Court is not game to assist the AG with his call for an explicit recognition of the potential to use discriminatory measures within the context of mandatory requirements (the implications of Cassis de Dijon). That is a pity, but not a surprise.

Overall, the Court’s judgment is a welcome safeguard to its more open-ended sympathy for renewable energy support schemes. Those who challenge such schemes in future, know what to do. They need to show that there is no certainty that the economic advantage obtained for suppliers will ultimately actually and essentially be required to benefit producers of green electricity, as opposed to distributors or consumers.

Next-up: a reversal of T-351/02 Deutsche Bahn?

Geert.

 

Not on my soil! The Council of the EU compromise on national vetoes to GMO cultivation.

The Council has published its first-reading position on a draft directive granting member states more flexibility to decide whether or not they wish to cultivate genetically modified organisms(GMOs) on their territory – I had flagged it here before I had an opportunity chance to look at the text. My initial reaction is confirmed however.

Under the text, the possibility would be provided for a Member State to request the Commission to present to the notifier/applicant its demand to adjust the geographical scope of its notification/application to the effect that all or part of the territory of that Member State be excluded from cultivation. The Commission shall facilitate the procedure by presenting the request of the Member State to the notifier/applicant without delay and the notifier/applicant should respond to that request within an established time-limit. In the event of refusal, the Member State may block cultivation on its territory for reasons other than the scientific assessment which will have been carried out by the relevant authorities. (And note that the EC may after refusal also proceed to adjusting geographically the request for authorisation for scientific reasons).

The list of ‘compelling reasons’ which may lead a Member State to refuse cultivation, is non-exhaustively listed as

(a) environmental policy objectives distinct from the elements assessed according to the Directive and to Regulation 1829/2003;  (since those environmental objectives will have been considered in the scientific assessment);

(b) town and country planning;

(c) land use;

(d) socio-economic impacts;

(e) cross-contamination with other products;

(f) agricultural policy objectives; and

(g) public policy.

Those grounds may be invoked individually or in combination, with the exception of the public policy exception (which awkwardly needs to be coupled with one of the other grounds). An authorisation procedure will apply (with no need to apply the transparency Directive, 98/34, concurrently).

An important point to note is that the Directive only applies to growing (‘cultivation’) of GMOs in situ: not to the import, marketing etc. of GMO containing products, food, feed etc. I would not be surprised that in practice this will mean a continuation of industry practice to leave the EU altogether for growing GMOs, focusing its efforts instead on securing authorisation to market. (This regime does not feature the much wider leeway for non-science driven objections).

Today is the Saint’s Day of Saint Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. A suitable day to ponder a proposal heavy with risk analysis, regulatory theory,  and trade law implications.

Geert.