Case law to remember

C-265/95 Commission v France (Spanish Strawberries) 1983

Intro: 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.

Case: 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.

Legal Problem/Question: On July 19, 1994, the Commission commenced proceedings under Article 169 of the EC Treaty, alleging that France had failed to fulfil 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.

Decision: The CJ faced a situation of civil disorder, by French farmers blocking imports of agricultural produce, contrary to Article 34 TFEU. Despite complaints by the Commission, the French authorities had failed to take any significant action to prevent the demonstrations, arguing that more determine action might lead to more serious breaches of public order or even social conflict. The CJ refused to accept these arguments: Apprehension of internal difficulties could not justify a failure by a MS to apply union law correctly… It was for a MS to guarantee the full scope and effect of that law, to ensure its proper implementation, unless that state could show that action by it could have consequences for public order with which could not cope.

On those grounds, the Court of Justice declared that by failing to adopt all necessary and proportionate measures in order to prevent the free movement of fruit and vegetables from being obstructed by actions by private individuals, the French Republic had failed to fulfil its obligations under article 30 of the EC Treaty, in conjunction with article 5 of that Treaty, and under the common organisations of the markets in agricultural products.

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