Posts Tagged pre-emption

Now you see me, now you don’t. The CJEU on the precautionary principle in Fidenato.

Hang on a minute. Were not the EU and its Member States supposed to be precaution obsessed? Don’t the EU and its Member States alike adopt bans on all things GMO for no other reason than that they simply do not want them? How then can the CJEU hold in C-111/16 Fidenato that Member States do not have the option of adopting, in accordance with Article 54 of Regulation 178/2002, the EU’s general food safety law, interim emergency measures solely on the basis of the precautionary principle?

The reason lies in pre-emption, aka exhaustion, and in the balance between EU and national risk management which EU law strikes in the specific field of GM cultivation. Of note is that in the meantime most biotech companies have given up on cultivation of GM varieties in the EU.

As extremely well summarised by Bobek AG in his Opinion in the case, the formulation of the relevant EU legislation is such as to provide that post EU authorisation (here: of genetically modified maize MON 810) Member States may only take emergency measures where the continued cultivation of the approved products is ‘likely to constitute a serious risk’. While the precautionary principle may play its role fully at the level of the EU’s risk management preceding authorisation, and indeed post such authorisation, too, Member States are given less leeway in their national emergency measures. In prescribing these rules, the EU safeguards the harmonised approach to the GM varieties at issue.

(Mr Fidenato nb is something of a cause celebre among the GM community). Please note, again, that the case concerns the growing (‘cultivation’) of GM crops. Not the import, export or use of products containing GM.

Finally it is important to point out that the Court does not equate precaution with the absence of science. It is the degree of scientific certainty here which is relevant, not the absence ‘v’ presence thereof.


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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.





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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.



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REACH safeguard clause: EC allows first use by France and hints at flexible application

At the end of October, the European Commission authorised the first use, by a Member State, of the safeguard clause contained in the REACH Regulation. France has been allowed to ban cellulose wadding insulation materials used in buildings, to protect the public from exposure to ammonia released from ammonium salts in the materials. The authorisation will lapse in July 2015 lest an EU-wide ban on the substance, prepared  by France, will replace it by then.

As this was the first use of the measure, it remained to be seen how the EC would assess the French ban and the reasons for introducing it. It has adopted a great measure of deference to the national justifications invoked (in particular, incidents reported and initial measuring), even if the language of the safaguard itself is fairly restrictive.



Text of the safeguard clause (courtesy of REACHonline):

ARTICLE 129: Safeguard clause
1. Where a Member State has justifiable grounds for believing that urgent action is essential to protect human health or the environment in respect of a substance, on its own, in a preparation or in an article, even if satisfying the requirements of this Regulation, it may take appropriate provisional measures. The Member State shall immediately inform the Commission, the Agency and the other Member States thereof, giving reasons for its decision and submitting the scientific or technical information on which the provisional measure is based.
2. The Commission shall take a decision in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 133(3) within 60 days of receipt of the information from the Member State. This decision shall either:
(a) authorise the provisional measure for a time period defined in the decision; or
(b) require the Member State to revoke the provisional measure.
3. If, in the case of a decision as referred to in paragraph 2(a), the provisional measure taken by the Member State consists in a restriction on the placing on the market or use of a substance, the Member State concerned shall initiate a Community restrictions procedure by submitting to the Agency a dossier, in accordance with Annex XV, within three months of the date of the Commission decision.
4. In the case of a decision as referred to in paragraph 2(a), the Commission shall consider whether this Regulation needs to be adapted.


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Know your biomass from your biomass! The ECJ allows less favourable treatment of wood and wood waste in Industrie du bois de Vielsalm

In Industrie du bois de Vielsalm, Case C-195/12, the ECJ yesterday held in favour of the Walloon Region of Belgium, finding that a regional support scheme providing for the grant of ‘green certificates’ to cogeneration plants, which grants a larger number of green certificates to cogeneration plants processing principally forms of biomass other than wood or wood waste, does not infringe the principle of equality and non-discrimination.

The Court found first of all that Directive 2004/8 on the promotion of co-generation does not exhaustively regulate national support schemes for cogeneration and electricity production from renewable energy sources: Member States are given wide discretion.

It then argued that there are sound environmental reasons for discriminating against wood and wood waste in co-generation support schemes:

‘ (…) even at the level of the renewable nature of the resource, and hence from the point of view of its availability, as also from the point of view of sustainable development, prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources, and security of supply, wood, which is a resource whose renewal requires a long period, may be distinguished from agricultural products or household and industrial waste, whose production takes place in a much shorter space of time. (at 74)

‘Furthermore, it is common ground that the overall environmental impact produced by the increased use of biomass for energy production likely to follow from support measures differs according to the particular characteristics of the type of biomass used. As regards the environmental impact that could follow from enhanced support measures for the use of wood and/or wood waste for energy production, it may thus prove necessary to take into account that any excessive or premature deforestation which may be encouraged by such support measures is liable to contribute to an increased presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and adverse effects on biodiversity or water quality.

Increased development of agricultural products intended for energy production is liable for its part to increase various forms of pollution specifically linked with agricultural activities, in particular with the use of fertilisers and pesticides, such as adverse effects on the water supply. (at 75 ff)

Finally, factors such as the quantities in which the various renewable energy sources are present in the territory of the Member State concerned, or the level of development that may already have been achieved there as regards recourse to one or other renewable energy source for cogeneration or electricity production, are also capable of influencing the choices to be made with respect to the renewable energy sources to be promoted in that Member State for the purposes of environmental protection and security and diversification of the energy supply. (at 79)


It concluded

‘Having regard to all the foregoing, it must be considered that, in the light in particular of the objectives pursued by Directives 2001/77 and 2004/8 and the aims of the European Union in the field of the environment, and of the broad margin of discretion allowed to the Member States by those directives for the adoption and implementation of support schemes intended to promote cogeneration and electricity production from renewable energy sources, and having regard to the individual characteristics of the various categories of biomass capable of use in a cogeneration process, those categories must not be regarded in the context of such support schemes as being in a comparable situation for the purposes of the possible application of the principle of equal treatment, observance of which is ensured by European Union law.

The need to be able to treat those various categories of biomass differently and, in particular, in the light of various environmental considerations, to make choices as to the types of substances to benefit from support and to draw distinctions as regards the specific details of that support, including the amount of the support, must on the contrary be regarded as inherent in that context, without it being possible to consider, in the present state of European Union law, that by taking the view that those various categories of biomass are not in the same situation the Member States manifestly exceeded the limits of their broad discretion in the matter (see, by analogy, Luxembourg v Parliament and Council, paragraphs 50 and 51). ‘(at 80-81)


This last para is a textbook application of the principle of non-discrimination: treating different situations like, may also constitute a violation of the principle of equal treatment. Here, the difference in circumstance is entirely explained by the ECJ by recourse to the environmental qualities of different types of fuel.




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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.


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