Case Law: Case C-265/95, Commission of the European Communities v. French Republic, (Eur. Ct. J. December 9, 1997) (Not yet Reported)

5 Colum. J. Eur. L. 477 (1999)

Eric F. Hinton. LL.M. 1998, Faculty of Law, Rijksuniversiteit Leiden.

Obligations of Member States; Agricultural products; Free movement of goods; Trade barriers resulting from actions by private individuals.

I. Facts and Procedure

Since the accession of Spain to the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1986, French fruit (particularly strawberry) and vegetable producers have reportedly suffered economic losses from competition with Spanish producers. As early as 1985, French farmers began to take destructive actions against Spanish produce imported into France. Tensions continued to escalate for approximately ten years. In 1993, French farmers engaged in a “systematic campaign to restrict the supply of agricultural products from other Member States.” Specifically, a group known as Coordination Rurale issued threats to French wholesalers and retailers, attempting to coerce them into stocking only French agricultural products and imposing minimum selling prices. Coordination Rurale also instituted a system of checks to ensure compliance with the imposed requirements.’ Additionally, French farmers (including Coordination Rurale) vandalized and destroyed produce being imported from other Member States. These incidents continued through 1997. Meanwhile, it was alleged that French officials did little or nothing to stop French farmers from destroying agricultural goods from other Member States. Particularly, it was asserted that French police who were monitoring the protests, failed to protect foreign trucks and produce from vandalism and destruction by French farmers. Moreover, the Commission claimed that in 1995, the French agricultural minister said, “although he disapproved of and condemned the violence by the farmers, he in no way contemplated any intervention by the police in order to put a stop to it.”

Wary of the disruptive effect of the French farmers’ actions on the common market, in 1985, the Commission first asked French authorities to undertake measures to combat the acts of vandalism.” The Commission continued semi-formal dialogue with France to deal with the problem for a number of years.” The French authorities repeatedly stated their support for maintaining trade in the Community, arguing that they remedied the disruption as best they could. However, the Commission found it necessary to take more formal action as new campaigns of violence against foreign produce occurred.

On July 19, 1994, the Commission commenced proceedings under Article 169 of the EC Treaty, alleging that France had failed to fulfill its Treaty obligations. France replied that it had sought to combat the vandalism by implementing preventative measures and through prosecuting offenders in French courts. In response, the Commission formally issued a reasoned opinion pursuant to Article 169(1)” alleging France’s failure to meet its obligations and inviting France to comply with the opinion within one month of its issue. In the opinion, the Commission opined that:

by failing to take all necessary and proportionate measures in order to prevent the
free movement of fruits and vegetables from being obstructed by actions by
private individuals, the French Republic had failed to fulfil its obligations under
the common organizations of the markets in agricultural products (COMs) and
Article 30 of the EC Treaty, in conjunction with Article 5 of that Treaty.

France countered that it had done all in its power to eliminate the disturbances and maintain the free movement of goods. However, France also argued that the unforeseeability and isolated nature of the farmers actions made them difficult to combat. Finally, France noted that in any event, it had accepted liability for the damages and had implemented procedures for settling the claims of the injured foreign producers. Consequently, based on France’s failure to comply with its opinion and pursuant to Article 169(2),2″ the Commission brought the matter before the European Court of Justice (ECJ).