Kolpinghuis Nijmegen BV

European Law

Kolpinghuis Nijmegen BV
Image: ’21st Century Still Life’ by Jose A Hinojos

The definition of a Directive relies upon its effect upon a Member State as opposed to individuals unless so designed, and yet on this occasion, the criminal acts of a café were punished under the powers of an as yet transposed Directive, thus prompting the District Court to seek a preliminary ruling.

In July 1980, the European Council passed Directive 80/777/EEC in relation to the sourcing and sale of mineral water, which explained that:

“[O]nly waters extracted from the ground of a Member State and recognized by the responsible authority of that Member State as natural mineral waters satisfying the provisions of Annex I, Section I, of the Directive may be marketed as natural mineral waters.”

While the transposition period was four years from the date of the Directive implementation, the Member State in question failed to adopt it into their national laws.

On 7 August of 1984, the defendant Kolpinghuis Nijmegen BV was found stocking and selling mineral water that in fact consisted of nothing more than tap water and carbon dioxide. Indicted by the Keuringsdienst van Waren (Goods Inspectorate) the defendant was charged under art.2 of the Keuringsverodening (Inspection Regulation) for the sale of goods of unsound composition, and levied a fine of HFL 501.

With consideration of the fact that the Directive was not implemented into national law until 8 August 1985, the Officer van Justitie was of the opinion that the Directive was already legally enforceable, however the District Court sought a preliminary ruling under art.177 of the EC Treaty in order to establish whether:

(i) A Member State could rely upon the powers of a Directive as yet unadopted into national law.

(ii) Where a Directive has not yet been transposed, a national court could give direct effect to its provisions despite the individual standing to gain no benefit from such an act.

(iii) Where a national court has the option to follow national law, it should follow instead, the powers of an applicable Directive.

(iv) Any weight needed to be given to the first three points when the adoption threshold for the Directive was still open.

Referring to a number of similar cases such as Marshall v Southampton and South West Hampshire Area Health Authority and Von Colson and Kamann v Land Nordrhein-Westfalen, the Court relied upon Pretore di Salo v X to illustrate how:

“[A] Directive cannot, of itself and independently of a national law adopted by a Member State for its implementation, have the effect of determining or aggra­vating the liability in criminal law of persons who act in contravention of the provisions of that Directive.”

This translated that while the powers contained within a Directive can indirectly assist in the enforcement of both national and local laws, it could not serve as direct source of adjudication when determining individual liability, while the Court also noted that the date upon which hearing had occurred bore no relevance to the issues in questions 1-3, as the transposition window had yet to close.

Faccini Dori v Recreb Srl

European Law

Faccini v Recreb Srl
Image: ‘Snake Oil Salesman’ by Morgan Weistling

Private contracts between individuals are often overlooked in terms of actual rights, so when an Italian consumer entered into an agreement to purchase an English language course while visiting a railway terminal, the vendor looked to enforce the contract when notified that her order was to be cancelled.

Relying upon Doorstep Selling Directive (85/577/EEC), the applicant issued proceedings against the vendor and contended to the Giudice Concilliatore (Judge-Concillaitor) that arts.1(1), 2 and 5 conferred protective measures that allowed for rescindable notice within a period of seven days between consumers and private companies; which on this occasion was undertaken through written instruction to the contracting parties.

While the Directive had been in force for a number of years, the Italian government had failed to transpose it within the time allowed, therefore no domestic legislation existed concerning the facts of the case. As was common knowledge to Member States, a failure to adopt Directives in the prescribed period results in a loss of profit to the Member State when defending against direct effect claims by their citizens. In this instance however, the terms of the Directive, while both clear and precise, were related to dealings between individuals and so not subject to the benefit of protection, unless transposed under the guidance of Community law, and within the adoption window.

This presented the national court with a dilemma, inasmuch as they were unable to determine exactly what rights the claimant had when seeking cancellation of the contract, and if consideration was ultimately due to the vendor as per the terms of their agreement. For this reason, the court sought a preliminary ruling under art.177 and requested that the European Court of Justice clarify (i) if the terms of the Directive were clear and precise enough to provide direct effect, and (ii) whether despite a failure to adopt the measures in accordance with the Treaty, the claimant could rely upon them to enforce her individual right to cancel.

Having examined the arguments around horizontal effect between parties and the power of Directives, it was agreed that for reasons of legal certainty, future consideration must be given to broaden the scope of those entitlements when applying them to private and not public matters. That aside, it was still held that although the terms of the Directive were that of horizontal dealings, it was not possible for the claimant to rely upon them when seeking to terminate her agreement with the vendor.

However, because the Italian government had failed to adopt the Directive, and in light of the fact that there existed no domestic legislation to settle the matter, it was now possible for the national courts to transpose the effects of the Doorstep Selling Directive in order that a remedy could be provided in favour of the consumer, while conclusively holding that:

“Where damage has been suffered and that damage is due to a breach by the State of its obligation, it is for the national court to uphold the right of aggrieved consumers to obtain reparation in accordance with national law on liability.”