The ECJ issued a fun judgment today on the mutual recognition of driving licenses in the EU.
The case involves one Mr. Akyüz, a German national who was denied a German driving license because his “strong aggressive tendencies” caused him to fail a required medico-psychological exam (para. 18). Being a savvy gentleman (and perhaps familiar with EU law?), Mr. Akyüz went to the Czech Republic and acquired a Czech licence instead. When he returned to Germany and drove using his new Czech qualification, he was convicted by the German courts for two counts of driving without a license. Mr. Akyüz appealed his convictions, and the German court sent a preliminary reference to the ECJ to ask whether Directives 91/439 and 2006/126 “must be interpreted as precluding legislation of a host Member State which allows that State to refuse to recognise, within its territory, a driving licence issued in another Member State in the case where the holder of that licence … was refused a first driving licence in that State on the ground that he did not satisfy, under that State’s legislation, the physical and mental requirements for the safe driving of a motor vehicle” (para. 35).
The ECJ answered in the affirmative:
41. It is for the issuing Member State to investigate whether the minimum conditions imposed by European Union law, particularly those relating to residence and fitness to drive … have been satisfied and, therefore, whether the issuing of a driving licence is justified … .
42. Once the authorities of one Member State have issued a driving licence … the other Member States are not entitled to investigate whether the conditions for issue laid down by that directive have been met. The possession of a driving licence issued by one Member State has to be regarded as constituting proof that on the day on which that licence was issued, its holder satisfied those conditions … .
While the Directive in question did provide exceptions to recognition in cases where a driving licence was withdrawn, or where a person was prevented from holding a driving license by a judicial decision, Mr. Akyüz’s case did not meet either of these conditions. Nor could the exceptions be read broadly to permit a refusal of recognition in this case. As the Court stated:
46. The exceptions to the obligation of mutual recognition of driving licences issued in Member States without any formality, which balances that principle against the principle of road safety, cannot be interpreted broadly without depriving of all substance the principle of mutual recognition of driving licences issued in other Member States … .
Germany was left with one more option, however. If the German authorities were in possession of “indisputable information emanating from the Czech authorities” that Mr. Akyüz was not resident in the territory of the Czech Republic at the time when a driving licence was issued to him, they could refuse to recognize the licence (para. 68). Even this limitation, though, should not be used merely to prevent individuals from gaming the system:
76. … the fact that the holder of a driving licence established his residence in a given Member State with the purpose of benefiting from less stringent legislation concerning the conditions under which a driving licence may be issued … does not, of itself, allow it to be established that there has been non-compliance with the normal residence condition.
Mr. Akyüz’s case now goes back to the German court to determine whether the Czech authorities have information that could justify a finding that the residence requirement was not fulfilled.