Posts Tagged Waste
It is too readily assumed by many that general Member States’ obligations under the EU’s environmental laws are context only, and not really legally binding. In my Handbook of EU Waste law however I report on a number of cases where the European Court of Justice has rebuked Member States for having failed to take measures to attain some of these general objectives. These cases relate to waste law, evidently, however in other cases the Court’s case-law extends this to EU environmental law generally.
One can now add C-153/16 EC v Slovenia to this list. Slovenia had attempted to address the continuation of waste tyres storage and processing at an abandoned quarry, in contravention of an expired environmental permit. The company dug in its heels, ia via prolonged litigation, with storage and processing continuing.
The Court of Justice found that Slovenia had infringed the general duty of care provisions, as well as enforcement obligations of the landfill Directive and the waste framework Directive. (On the related issues with respect to hazardous waste, the Court found the Commission’s infringement proceedings wanting).
Not all that glitters is gold, of course. The direct effect of these general duty of care provisions remains an issue, as does the absence, arguably, in EU law of a duty of care directly imposed upon waste holders and processors. For that, citisens need to pass via national law wich as current case shows, is not always up to scratch.
A quick note on second-hand goods and VAT. For my review of Bot AG’s Opinion in C-471/15 Sjelle Autogenbrug, see here. The Court held yesterday and defined (at 32) second-hand goods essentially as follows: in order to be characterised as ‘second-hand goods’, it is only necessary that the used property has maintained the functionalities it possessed when new, and that it may, therefore, be reused as it is or after repair.
The Court does not refer to EU waste law yet the impact on that area of EU law is clear.
Handbook of EU Waste Law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 1.
Sjelle Autogenbrug, second hand goods. A core tutorial on the VAT mechanism and how in law, all is connected.
In C-471/15 Sjelle Autogenbrug, Bot AG opined a few weeks ago. I find myself curiously drawn to VAT cases these days. Especially since I reported how in a VAT case, the CJEU perhaps accidentally came to a major decision on the Aarhus Convention. Also have a look for instance on how the same AG discusses ‘cultural services’ within the context of VAT (C-592/15 BFI). Or perhaps it is because I have a past (and potentially, a future) in customs duties and excise.
It is particularly interesting to ponder how terminology that is used across the board in EU law, specifically also regulatory law, is interpreted in the context of VAT. (Incidentally the Advocate General gives an excellent summary of VAT rules and why VAT can /should be set-off between traders). In the case at hand, Directive 2006/112 provides i.a. the following definition for second-hand goods: “second-hand goods” means movable tangible property that is suitable for further use as it is or after repair, other than works of art, collectors’ items or antiques and other than precious metals or precious stones as defined by the Member States;
Sjelle Autogenbrug I/S is a vehicle reuse undertaking whose main activity is the resale of used motor vehicle parts which it removes from end-of-life vehicles. It also engages in the environmental and waste treatment of end-of-life vehicles, a service for which it charges a standard price. Lastly, a lesser part of the undertaking’s overall turnover derives from the sale of scrap metal remaining after removal of the motor vehicle parts. Sjelle Autogenbrug purchases end-of-life vehicles — which are either vehicles whose lifespan has expired or total write-offs — from individuals and insurance companies who do not declare VAT on sales made. Sjelle Autogenbrug currently declares VAT pursuant to the applicable general rules. In 2010, it asked the tax authorities to apply the special margin scheme for second-hand goods to its activity of reselling used motor vehicle parts taken from end-of-life vehicles. The authorities refused.
Since the goods are reintroduced into the distribution chain, the taxable dealer is liable for VAT when he resells the goods. However, as the taxable dealer did not pay VAT when he purchased the second-hand goods from the non-taxable individual, he cannot deduct such VAT from the amount to be paid to the State, being an amount comprised exclusively of the VAT charged upon resale of those goods. This results in a lack of VAT neutrality and in the double taxation of the goods (at 26). The margin scheme was adopted to alleviate that difficulty. It aims to harmonise the rules applicable to the acquisition of new goods subject to VAT which are later resold as second-hand goods and to prevent double taxation and the distortion of competition between taxable persons in the area of second-hand goods.
The Danish government submits that the use in that provision of the words ‘as it is’ demonstrates that, in order to be classified as ‘second-hand goods’, the goods must retain their identity, which is not the case with spare parts since Sjelle Autogenbrug acquires, first of all, a complete vehicle. Furthermore, it argues that even if those spare parts could be classified as ‘second-hand goods’, it would not be possible to apply the margin scheme because the purchase price of the spare parts cannot be precisely determined.
Bot AG disagrees:
- the EU legislature did not intend to exclude goods originating from a single whole which could be separated, such as parts taken from end-of-life vehicles (at 33)
- the key factor in the classification of goods as ‘second-hand goods’ is that the used goods must retain the characteristics they had when new (at 35). He refers in this context also tho the end-of life-vehicles Directive, 2000/53, which defined ‘reuse’ as ‘any operation by which components of end-of-life vehicles are used for the same purpose for which they were conceived’. ‘Motor vehicle parts fall squarely within that definition since, even when separated from the vehicle, they retain their original characteristics as they will be reused for the same purpose in another vehicle. The fact that those parts were removed from the vehicle is therefore of little consequence.‘ (at 35)
The Advocate General further considered that were the special margin scheme not to be applied, dealers of second hand spare parts would be disfavoured vis-a-vis those dealing in new spare parts. Hardly indeed a result that would be conducive to the circular economy.
EU waste law does not employ the notion ‘second hand goods’. In practice these goods have raised all sorts of demarcation issues. Summarising all these, if one and the same good is simply passed on to ‘a second hand’, ie the original owner no longer has a use for it but it can be passed on by someone else who will employ it for its original purpose and without there being a need for treatment or processing, it should not be regarded as waste.
It is only be looking into all nooks and crannies of EU law that ambitious projects like the circular economy will be a real success. Current Opinion is a good illustration of such successful consideration.
Handbook of EU Waste Law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 1.
The CJEU’s finding in Shell, was applied by the Court of first instance at Antwerp in a judgment from October last, which has just reached me. (I have not yet found it in relevant databases (not uncommon for Belgian case-law), but I do have a copy for those interested). The case concerned debunkered off-spec fuel, off the ship Else Maria Theresa (her engines apparently having been affected by the oil being off-spec), blended into /with a much larger amount of bunker oil.
The court applied the Shell /Carens criteria, leading to a finding of waste. In brief, the blending in the case at issue was not, the court held, standing practice in the bunkering /debunkering business, and /or a commercially driven, readily available preparation of off-spec for purchase by eager buyers. Rather, a quick-fix solution to get rid off unwanted fuel.
The judgment (which is being appealed I imagine) emphasises the case-by-case approach needed for the determination of ‘waste’. It relies heavily on (the absence of) evidence on market consultation and signals from interested buyers for the off-spec fuel.
Update 11 January 2016: Shell inform me that the DA (‘parket’ /Openbaar Ministerie) has appealed.
I have reported some time ago on the reverse logistics case involving Shell and Carens. As noted in that post, the CJEU instructed the court at Rotterdam to gauge the ‘true intentions’ of Shell vis-a-vis the contaminated fuel which it had taken back from one of its clients (Carens).
The Court at Rotterdam issued its final judgment on 23 December last, truly a christmas present for the companies involved for the accusations of illegal waste shipments were rejected. (I could not locate the judgment on ECLI yet: I have a copy for those interested).
The court first of all rejected a rather neat attempt of the Dutch prosecutor to get around the CJEU’s finding in para 46 of its judgment : ‘it is particularly important that the Belgian client returned the contaminated ULSD to Shell, with a view to obtaining a refund, pursuant to the sale contract. By so acting, that client cannot be regarded as having intended to dispose of or recover the consignment at issue and, accordingly, it did not ‘discard’ it within the meaning of Article 1(1)(a) of Directive 2006/12.‘ It was suggested that incoterm FOB (‘Free on Board’), applicable to the agreement between Carens and Shell, meant that the qualification of the payment by Shell could not have been a refund for defective goods (ownership of the goods already having been transferred prior to contamination) but rather the payment of damages for a contract not properly carried out. This, it was argued, made para 46 irrelevant for the facts of the case. The court at Rotterdam essentially argued that par 46 needs to be applied beyond the black letter of the law: in effect, in acting as they did and following their running contractual relationships, Shell and Carens had decided to annul the sale, sale price was refunded, and Carens could therefore not be seen as owner or holder of the goods.
Neither, the court held, could Shell be considered a discarding the fuel: the court paid specific attention to testimony that the fuel concerned was actually presented to market, with a view to establishing what price it could fetch. Offers were made which were not far off the initial sale price. Re-blending of the fuel was only done to obtain a higher price and was carried out in accordance with established market practices. Shell’s resale of the fuel, as holder of it, was not just a mere possibility but a certainty (language reminiscent of what the CJEU normally employs for the distinction recovery /disposal).
Final conclusion: the fuel at no stage qualified as waste and no one could have discarded it.
A very important judgment indeed – it will be interesting to see whether the prosecutor’s office will appeal.
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.