When a Dutch importer of ureaformaldehyde fell victim to domestically manipulated customs tariffs, the question of both ‘direct effect’ and the individual right to challenge an abuse of EU Treaties became subject to a preliminary ruling under article 177 EC.
Because of the supranational nature of the case it was first believed inapplicable when challenges to increased (or recategorised) tax rates were put into effect by national statutes, however the argument made was that at the time of the abuse, the original Treaty taxation of the affected product was set at just three percent; and so, when domestic reclassification set to increase the rate to eight percent, the claimant challenged the adjustment by citing article 12 of the Treaty of Rome, which explains that:
“Member States shall refrain from introducing between themselves any new customs duties or imports or exports or any charges having equivalent effect and from increasing those which they already apply in their trade with each other.”
While noting how in addition to the terms of article 12, article 95 EC states that:
“A Member State shall not impose, directly or indirectly, on the products of other Member States any internal charges of any kind in excess of those applied directly or indirectly to like domestic products.”
During the preliminary ruling hearing the European Court of Justice noted that if the protective principles of Community law were to remain excluded from violations of Member States it would defeat their very purpose; thus, it was held that the inherent meaning and purpose of article 12 was to afford unequivocal rights to individuals, who when taking issue with such matters, would do so in the knowledge that they were protected by the national courts.
In closing, it was held by the Court that all Member States would thereon refrain from increasing levies and customs duties conflicting with those put forward in the original Treaty of Rome; and that because the recategorisation of that specific tariff was now found to be illegal, the matter was referred back to the national courts in order to establish how best to reclassify the products, while the Court reminded the parties that:
“[A]ccording to the spirit, the general scheme and wording of the Treaty, Article 12 must be interpreted as providing direct effects and creating individual rights which national courts must protect.”