Untraceable consumers under Brussels I

Section 4 of the Brussels I Regulation (Regulation 44/2001/EC) contains special rules of jurisdiction over consumer contracts, generally designed to protect the weaker party (i.e. the consumer). According to Article 16 (2), the professional party may sue the consumer only in the courts of the Member State where the consumer is domiciled. Does this provision also apply to consumers who left their last known domicile and are simply nowhere to be found? Does the Brussels I Regulation preclude the use of provisions of national law which enable proceedings to be brought against persons of unknown address? These, essentially, were the questions referred to the Court in the case of mr Lindner (C-327/10). A Czech bank brought proceedings in the Czech republic against Lindner, a German national. It appeared Lindner had left his last known domicile in the Czech republic before the proceedings against him were brought. The Czech courts tried to track him down, to no avail. The court held:

55    – (…) in a situation such as that in the main proceedings, in which a consumer who is a party to a long-term mortgage loan contract, which includes the obligation to inform the other party to the contract of any change of address, renounces his domicile before proceedings against him for breach of his contractual obligations are brought, the courts of the Member State in which the consumer had his last known domicile have jurisdiction, pursuant to Article 16(2) of that regulation, to deal with proceedings in the case where they have been unable to determine, pursuant to Article 59 of that regulation, the defendant’s current domicile and also have no firm evidence allowing them to conclude that the defendant is in fact domiciled outside the European Union;

– that regulation does not preclude the application of a provision of national procedural law of a Member State which, with a view to avoiding situations of denial of justice, enables proceedings to be brought against, and in the absence of, a person whose domicile is unknown, if the court seised of the matter is satisfied, before giving a ruling in those proceedings, that all investigations required by the principles of diligence and good faith have been undertaken with a view to tracing the defendant.

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Commission requests opinion of the Court on ACTA

Today Commissioner Karel de Gucht announced that the Commission will request the opinion (pursuant article 218 (11) TFEU) of the Court on the compatibility of ACTA with the Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights in particular. The Commisioner stated that

We are planning to ask Europe’s highest court to assess whether ACTA is incompatible – in any way – with the EU’s fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression and information or data protection and the right to property in case of intellectual property.

(…) But let me be very clear: I share people’s concern for these fundamental freedoms. I welcome that people have voiced their concerns so actively – especially over the freedom of the internet. And I also understand that there is uncertainty on what ACTA will really mean for these key issues at the end of the day.

So I believe that putting ACTA before the European Court of Justice is a needed step. This debate must be based upon facts and not upon the misinformation or rumour that has dominated social media sites and blogs in recent weeks.

As I have explained before the European Parliament on several occasions, ACTA is an agreement that aims to raise global standards of enforcement of intellectual property rights. These very standards are already enshrined in European law. What counts for us is getting other countries to adopt them so that European companies can defend themselves against blatant rip-offs of their products and works when they do business around the world.

More on ACTA can be found here, here and here.

The European Parliament on cross border transfer of company seat

In its Cartesio judgment (C-210/06) the Court ruled that “as Community law now stands, Articles 43 EC and 48 EC are to be interpreted as not precluding legislation of a Member State under which a company incorporated under the law of that Member State may not transfer its seat to another Member State whilst retaining its status as a company governed by the law of the Member State of incorporation.”

 The Court also stated that a Member State has the power to define the connecting factors to determine whether a company is incorporated under the law of that Member State. However this power “enjoys any form of immunity from the rules of the EC Treaty on freedom of establishment, cannot, in particular, justify the Member State of incorporation, by requiring the winding-up or liquidation of the company, in preventing that company from converting itself into a company governed by the law of the other Member State, to the extent that it is permitted under that law to do so”.

This judgment confirms the necessity of harmonizing the regimes of cross border transfer of company seat within the European Union, but it does not provide any clarification.

Considering the developments in the case law of the Court as well as the Stockholm Programme and its implementation, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution on cross border transfer of company seat within the European Union on 2 February 2012. In the resolution, the EP requests the European Commission to swiftly submit a proposal for a directive on cross border transfer of company seat.

Access to information in environmental matters

Directive 2003/4, which implements the Aarhus Convention, gives citizens and businesses the right to access to environmental information in possession of public authorities without making it necessary for them to state reasons. The definition of public authorities is therefore quite important, as the Directive applies as soon as a body falls under that definition. In case C-204/09 Flachglas Torgau, the undertaking Flachglas Torgau sought information from Federal Ministry for the Environment about the conditions in which the Federal Office for the Environment in Germany had allocated emission allowences between 2005 and 2007. This was refused by the Federal Ministry for the Environment on grounds that it related to the legislative process which had resulted in the adoption of the Zuteilungsgesetz 2007. The Directive allows Member States to exclude bodies or institutions from the definition of public authorities ‘when acting in a judicial or legislative capacity.’ Because the requested information related to documents that were used in the process of adaptation of the Zuteilungsgesetz 2007, the Federal Ministry maintained that that it had acted in a legislative capacity and that therefore the Directive did not apply to it.

The Court agreed. It noted that although the Directive was intended to apply to administrative authorities, the purpose for excluding legislative authorities was ‘to ensure that the process for the adoption of legislation runs smoothly, taking into account the fact that, in the various Member States, the provision of information to citizens is, usually, adequately ensured in the legislative process’.  According to the Court, ministries do not fall under the definition of public authority to the extent that they participate in the legislative process.

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Delimitation of jurisdiction in competition law

What happens to the allocation of respective competences of the Commission and national competition authorities in if an international cartel is implemented both in the EU and the Czech Republic before accession to the EU but action is taken after accession? A number of undertakings had formed a worldwide cartel on the market for gas insulated switchgear and those companies were fined by the Commission and the Czech competition authority. The Commission decision concerned the implementation of the cartel within the EU, while the Czech competition authority concerned the implementation of the cartel within the Czech Republic before accession. However, the decisions were dated after the date of accession of the Czech Republic and after the entry into force of Regulation 1/2003. Does this preclude the Czech competition authority from fining the undertakings in question for the implementation of the cartel in Czech territory? The Court does not think so. The Court first holds that

 the provisions of Article 81 EC and Article 3(1) of Regulation No 1/2003 must be interpreted as meaning that, in the context of a proceeding initiated after 1 May 2004, they do not apply to a cartel which produced effects, in the territory of a Member State with acceded to the Union on 1 May 2004, during periods prior to that date.

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Case C-360/10 SABAM v. Netlog

While some consider dark clouds to be gathering above internet freedom in Europe, the Court continues to make judgments that protect fundamental rights and the rights of internet users. In SABAM v. Netlog (Case C-360/10 Sabam v. Netlog) the Court had to decide whether a Belgian court could require Netlog, the Belgian equivalent to Facebook, to immediatly cease making available works from SABAM‘s repertoire. The Court held that not only was the injunction requiring Netlog to install a filtering system, which would oblige Netlog to actively monitor all the data of its users and to prevent future IPR-infringements, contrary to article 15 of Directive 2000/31, it was also contrary to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. National authorities are required to “strike a fair balance between the protection of copyright and the protection of the fundamental rights of individuals who are affected by such measures (para. 43).” Applied to this case, the injunction

would result in a serious infringement of the freedom of the hosting service provider to conduct its business since it would require that hosting service provider to install a complicated, costly, permanent computer system at its own expense, which would also be contrary to the conditions laid down in Article 3(1) of Directive 2004/48, which requires that measures to ensure the respect of intellectual-property rights should not be unnecessarily complicated or costly (see, by analogy, Scarlet Extended, paragraph 48).

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Case C-282/10 Dominguez

Dominguez, a worker on sick leave for over a year, was denied vacation benefits because a French statute required that a worker should work at least 10 days a year before being able to claim vacation benefits. The Working Time Directive, however, requires all employees to be entitled to 4 weeks of paid vacation.

The duty of consistent interpretation, coined in Marleasing, requires national courts of Member States to interpret national law consistently with EU law. There are of course limits to this way of remedying discrepancies between EU law and national law such as contra legem interpretation.

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Defamation in the digital age

Last October, the grand chamber of the Court ruled in the joined cases of eDate and Martinez (C-509/09 and C-161/10) on the interpretation of Article 5(3) of the Brussels I Regulation (Regulation 44/2001/EC) in cases of alleged infringement of personality rights by means of content placed on an internet website. Article 5(3) grants jurisdiction to the court of the place where the harmful event occurred or may occur.

In earlier case law, Fiona Shevill, the Court had held that in case of defamation by means of a newspaper article distributed in several Member States, Article 5(3) must be interpreted as giving the victim a choice between fora. Firstly, the victim may bring the action before the courts of the Member State of the place where the publisher of the defamatory publication is established, which have jurisdiction to award damages for all of the harm caused by the defamation. Secondly and alternatively, the victim may bring the action before the courts of each Member State in which the publication was distributed and where the victim claims to have suffered injury to his reputation, and which have jurisdiction to rule solely in respect of the harm caused in the State of the court seised (paragraph 33 of Shevill). Could these criteria be applied in cases where the defamatory content was published on the internet?

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