On July 18th, Advocate General Cruz Villalón delivered a fascinating opinion in a case that could very well keep quite a number of scholars interested in EU fundamental rights law busy for a while. In Association de Médiation Sociale not yet available in English as far as I can see) the Court is confronted with a set of fundamental questions. First, whether the workers’ right to information and consultation within the undertaking as enshrined in Article 27 of the Charter and implemented through Directive 2002/14 establishing a framework for informing and consulting employees in the Union can be applied in a legal dispute between two private parties, i.e. on its potential horizontal effect. Second, this also implies discussing – for the first time explicitly – the difference between rights and principles enshrined in Articles 51 (1) and 52 (5) of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. In particular, this requires shedding light on the notion of implementation of principles, as Article 52 (5) speaks of principles being ‘judicially cognisable’ only in the interpretation of their implementing acts and the ruling on their legality. Third, the act with which the Union implemented the principle in the present context is a directive, which again raises the question as to the limits to the effect of directives in a legal dispute between private parties, as has already caused problems in well-known cases like Mangold and Kücükdeveci. As the opinion is already quite comprehensive, I’ll keep my comments to the minimum to not try our readers’ patience.
Yesterday, the Court decided to give horizontal effect to Article 34 TFEU on the free movement of goods. In the Fra.bo case, the Oberlandesgericht Düsseldorf had asked whether a private-law association (DVGW) ought to be subject to the principle of free movement of goods. The organisation at issue operates both to draw up technical standards for products used in the drinking water supply sector and to certify products based on these standards.
As Laurens has pointed out in his post on the Advocate General’s opinion, the Court has accepted such horizontal effect for the other Treaty freedoms, but not yet for the case of the free movement of goods. Advocate General Trstenjak, however, suggested in her Opinion to extend the reasoning of cases like Bosman, Viking and Laval by analogy. Based on their horizontal effect, fundamental freedoms could thus be imposed in cases where non-public organisations held the power to draw up certain kinds of collective rules. In the present case, the German private organization DVGW possessed in her view a de facto competence to determine what fittings could be offered for sale on the market in pipes and accessories for drinking water supply in Germany (para 41). The Advocate General pointed out that horizontal effect was required by the effet utile of European Union law because (paras 46 ff.) the abolition of obstacles to trade imposed on Member States might otherwise be compromised by obstacles erected by private parties. Also, the fact that some Member States would rely on public standardisation bodies while others turn to private organisations may lead to inequalities in the application of EU law. Continue reading