The Judges perform their duties in a totally impartial and independent manner.
Unlike the Court of Justice, the General Court does not have permanent Advocates General. However, that task may, in exceptional circumstances, be carried out by a Judge.
Cases before the General Court are heard by Chambers of five or three Judges or, in some cases, as a single Judge. It may also sit as a Grand Chamber (fifteen Judges) when this is justified by the legal complexity or importance of the case.
The Presidents of the Chambers of five Judges are elected from amongst the Judges for a period of three years.
The General Court has its own Registry, but uses the administrative and linguistic services of the institution for its other requirements.
The General Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine:
The decisions of the General Court may, within two months, be subject to an appeal before the Court of Justice, limited to points of law.
At 31 December 2014, the pending cases were split as follows: 61% direct actions, 34% intellectual property cases and 5% appeals and special procedures.
The General Court has its own Rules of Procedure. In principle, the proceedings include a written phase and an oral phase.
Any person who can prove an interest in the outcome of a case before the General Court, as well as the Member States and the institutions of the European Union, may intervene in the proceedings. The intervener submits a statement in intervention, supporting or opposing the claims of one of the parties, to which the parties may then respond.
The Judges then deliberate on the basis of a draft judgment prepared by the Judge-Rapporteur and the judgment is delivered at a public hearing.
The procedure before the General Court is free of court fees. However, the costs of the lawyer entitled to appear before a court in a Member State, by whom the parties must be represented, are not paid by the General Court. Even so, any person who is not able to meet the costs of the case may apply for legal aid.
An action brought before the General Court does not suspend the operation of the contested act. The Court may, however, order its suspension or other interim measures.
Interim measures are granted only if three conditions are met:
The order is provisional in nature and in no way prejudges the decision of the General Court in the main proceedings. In addition, an appeal against it may be brought before the Vice President of the Court of Justice.
This procedure allows the General Court to rule quickly on the substance of the dispute in cases considered to be particularly urgent.
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Environment and Consumers
The EU has banned the saleof seal products unless they come from traditional Inuit hunts for subsistence purposes. In 2013, the General Court upheld this ban. It decided that, taking account of the different rules adopted by the Member States concerning trade in seal products, the EU had the right to harmonise the rules relating to the sale of those products in order to avoid market disruption, also taking into account the issue of animal welfare.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami v Commission, T-526/10, 25 April 2013
Within the EU, genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) can only be sold if they have been authorised. In 2010, the Commission authorised the sale of the genetically-modified potato Amflora after receiving a scientific opinion indicating that the Amflora potato did not present a risk to human health or to the environment. The General Court annulled this authorisation on the basis of procedural errors; in particular that the Commissionhad failed to submit the draft authorisation to the competent committees.
Hungary v Commission, T-240/10, 13 December 2010
Freedom to provide services
According to EU law, events that a Member State judges to be of major social importance cannot be shown only on pay television but must also be broadcast on free-to-air television. In 2011, the General Court confirmed that a Member State could require free broadcast of all football matches of the World Cup and the European Football Championship. The General Court justified that decision on the basis of the public’s right to information and the need to ensure wide public access to television broadcasts of those events.
FIFA v Commission, T-385/07, 17 February 2011
Law on the EU Institutions
In 2007, the European Union Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) published a call for expressions of interest for the purpose of recruitment of contract staff by the European Institutions. That advertisement was written only in German, English and French. The General Court annulled the call for expressions of interest on the basis of linguistic discrimination. Its publication in three languages prevented some potential candidates from being aware of it and it favoured German-, English- and French-speaking candidates.
Italy v Commission, T-205/07, 3 February 2011
Trade Marks – Intellectual and Industrial Property
In 2012, the General Court held that VIAGUARA could not be registered as a Community trade mark for drinks because of the existing trade mark VIAGRA for medicinal products. While recognising that drinks and medicinal products are different goods, the General Court took the view that VIAGUARA could take unfair advantage of the reputation of the trade mark VIAGRA. The consumer could be led to purchase the drinks because he believed that it would have similarqualities to the medicinal product (in particular an increase in libido).
Viaguara v OHIM, T-332/10, 25 January 2012
The company Apple Corps, founded by the The Beatles, opposed the registration of the word ‘BEATLE’ for electric mobility scooters. The General Court agreed with Apple Corps, taking the view that the word ‘BEATLE’ could take unfair advantage of the repute and consistent selling power of the marks (THE) BEATLES held by Apple Corps. Persons with reduced mobility may be attracted by the very positive images of freedom, youth and mobility associated with the Apple Corps trade marks.
You-Q v OHIM, T-369/10, 29 March 2012
In 2010, Monaco sought protection in the EU for the international trade mark ‘MONACO’, which was refused for, amongst others, entertainment, sport and accommodation. The General Court upheld that decision, holding that the term MONACO, on account of, in particular, the renown of its royal family, the organisation of a Formula 1 Grand Prix and a circus festival, brings to mind a geographical territory and is purely descriptive of the origin or geographical destination of the services concerned. It cannot therefore be protected as a trade mark in the EU.
MEM v OMIH (MONACO), T-197/13, 15 January 2015
In 2004, the Commission imposed a fine of € 497 million on Microsoft for abusing its dominant position by refusing, for a number of years, to disclose to its competitors the information necessary to develop and distribute alternative solutions compatible with Windows. The General Court upheld the fine in a judgment of 2007. In 2008, the Commission imposed a further fine of € 899 million on Microsoft for its reluctance to act on the 2004 decision and disclose the information concerned to its competitors within the period set and for a reasonable rate. The General Court confirmed the analysis of the Commission but reduced the second fine to €860 in order to take account of the fact that the Commission had allowed Microsoft to continue to implement certain practices on a transitional basis.
In 2009, the Commission imposed two fines of € 553 each on the German company E.ON and the French company GDF Suez. The Commission alleged that they had concluded an agreement prohibiting each of them from selling in the other’s national market for gas conveyed from Russia to Germany and France. The General Court confirmed the Commission’s assessment but reduced each fine to € 320 million to take account of an error of the Commission as regards the duration of the agreement (which lasted a year less than the Commission had stated).
Collecting societies manage authors’ rights in relation to, amongst other things, musical works. They then grant the right to use the works to those who request it in return for payment of a royalty. In 2008, the Commission found that 24 of these societies had restricted competition by limiting the licences granted for the use of certain musical works only to their national territory. The General Court set aside the Commission’s analysis for lack of proof, especially given that the territorial limitation of the licences could be explained by the need to fight effectively against the unauthorised use of musical works.
CISAC v Commission, T-442/08, 12 April 2013
In 2011, the Commission decided that Microsoft’s planned takeover of Skype was compatible with EU law. Two of Skype’s competitors brought an action before the General Court, claiming that the takeover would have anti-competitive effects. The General Court, however, upheld the Commission’s decision. It found that the merger would not restrict competition either on the consumer Internet-based communications market or on the business Internet-based communications market.
Cisco Systems and Messagenet v Commission, T-79/12, 11 December 2013
In Austria, the costs incurred by the State to encourage electricity production from renewable resources are passed on to consumers. In 2008, the Austrian State planned to cap the burden of those costs for energy-intensive businesses. The Commission, however, took the view that the cap constituted State aid incompatible with EU law. The General Court agreed with the Commission, finding that such a cap was a type of special tax exemption benefitting certain businesses to the detriment of others, without that difference in treatment being justified on the basis of the objective pursued. Moreover, that aid was not compatible with the guidelines on State aid for environmental protection.
Austria v Commission, T-251/11, 11 December 2014
ING is a Dutch banking and insurance financial institution. During the financial crisis, the Netherlands provided ING with aid in the form of a capital injection, the repayment terms of which have been amended over time. The Commission found that those new terms had led to additional State aid of € 2 billion. The General Court, however, decided that the existence of State aid could not be established as the Commission did not examine whether a private investor placed in the same situation as the Netherlands State would have refused to grant such an amendment of the terms of repayment and thus such an additional advantage.
Netherlands v Commission, T-29/10, T-33/10, 2 March 2012
When it faced serious financial difficulties, the Italian airline company Alitalia was granted a loan of € 300 million by the Italian State in 2008, the Italian State also decided to sell its stake in the company. The Commission classified the loan granted to Alitalia as illegal (because a private investor placed in the same situation would not have granted such a loan), but authorised the sale of its assets, provided that the sale occurred at market price. Ryanair complained that Alitalia had benefitted from State aid which was incompatible with EU law, and brought an action before the General Court. The Court agreed with the Commission, upholdingit’s analysis on all points.
Ryanair v Commission, T-123/09, 28 March 2012
In 2011, the Commission introduced compulsory labelling for citrus fruits that are processed using preserving agents or other chemical substances after being harvested. Spain asked the General Court to annul these rules on the grounds that it only applied to citrus fruit producers – and not to producers of other fruits that are also processed after harvesting – and was therefore discriminatory. The General Court, however, found that, unlike those other fruits (bananas, watermelons, melon), the skins of citrus fruits can be used in cooking and therefore the packaging requirements ensure, without discrimination, a uniformly high level of consumer protection.
Spain v Commission, T-481/11, 13 November 2014
Orphacol is a medicine intended to treat very rare but serious liver disorders which can lead to the death of infants. In 2009, the French laboratory CTRS asked the Commission to authorise the this medicinal product. The Commission refused on the ground that CTRS had failed to set out the results of clinical trials. The General Court annulled that decision, finding that, under the applicable provisions, CTRS was not required to provide such results given that the medicinal product’s active substances had been in well-established medical use within the EU for at least 10 years.
Laboratoires CTRS v Commission, T-301/12, 4 July 2013
EU External Relations
Restrictive measures or ‘sanctions’ constitute a key tool of foreign policy by which the EU aims to create a change in the policy or behaviour of a country. They can take the form of arms embargos, asset freezes, restrictions on entry into and travel through the territory of the EU, import or export bans etc. They can target governments, companies, individuals and groups or organisations (such as terrorist groups for example).
In addition to terrorist organisations such as Al-Quaeda, around thirty countries have already had sanctions imposed on them by the Council of the European Union, including Afghanistan, Belarus, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Russia, Syria, Tunisia, Ukraine and Zimbabwe.
Eyad Makhlouf (the cousin of Syrian President Bashir Al Assad) had his funds frozen by the Council on the grounds that he was the brother of Rami Makhlouf (one of the most powerful Syrian businessmen) and a General Intelligence Directorate officer involved in violent repression against the Syrian civilian population. The General Court upheld the freeze, finding that Mr Makhlouf did not produce evidence that could cast doubt on the claim that he supported the Syrian regime. Furthermore, Mr Makhlouf’s rights of defence had not been violated because he was afforded the opportunity to defend himself effectively against the Council.
Makhlouf v Council, T-383/11, 13 September 2013
In 2010, the Iranian company Fulmen and its director were subject to a freeze of their funds on the basis that they were implicated, according to the Council, in the installation of electrical equipment at a secret site connected to the Iranian nuclear programme. The General Court, however, annulled the freeze. It found that the Council had based its reasoning on mere unsubstantiated allegations and that it had thus not provided evidence of an intervention by Fulmen or by its director at the site concerned. The General Court held that the Council was required to produce such evidence.
Fulmen and Fereydoun Mahmoudian v Council, T-439/10 and T440/10, 21 March 2012
‘Central counterparties’ are financial bodies which ensure the clearing of transactions by managing the credit risk of the parties. In 2011, the ECB imposed a requirement for central counterparties who deal with euro transactions to be located in the Eurozone. The United Kingdom, which is not part of the Eurozone, sought the annulment of that requirement since it penalised British central counterparties. The General Court agreed with the UK, finding that the ECB was not competent to establish such a requirement as regards location.
United Kingdom v ECB, T-496/11, 4 March 2015
Access to Documents
In 2009, Dutch MEP Sophie In’t Veld asked the Council for access to an opinion of its Legal Service on opening negotiations between the EU and the USA on the future SWIFT agreement (an agreement allowing American authorities to access European banking data for the purpose of fighting terrorism). The Council refused access to the entirety of that opinion. The General Court annulled that refusal in part (namely as regards everything that did not concern the specific content of the agreement and the negotiating directives). It found that the Council – when verifying whether the disclosure of the elements concerned could be justified by an overriding public interest – had not proved, with specific evidence, that there was a risk of undermining the protection of legal opinions, nor taken account of the fact that the opinion concerned related to the specific field of the protection of personal data.
In’t Veld v Council, T-529/09, 4 May 2012