A Member State which, on the basis of a recommendation drawn up for the application of the principles of a European Convention on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, has adopted annual protection measures stricter than those laid down by a directive may not rely upon reasons based on public morality, public policy or the protection of the health and life of animals in order to justify restrictions on the export of live calves to countries which apply the Community directive on minimum standards relating to the protection of calves.
Before 1995 between 500 000 and 600 000 veal calves were exported annually from the United Kingdom to other Member States. A substantial proportion of those calves was then reared in a production system called the 'veal crate system', under which each animal was reared in an individual box-like structure until ready for slaughter.
Those rearing conditions meet the requirements of the directive laying down minimum standards for the protection of calves having regard to the temporary derogations authorised by it. However, the rearing conditions under that system do not meet the requirements for raising veal calves laid down in an international convention or in a recommendation adopted in order to apply the principles of that convention.
The export of live calves to other Member States using the veal crate system has been a topic of considerable public concern in the United Kingdom.
Compassion in World Farming, an animal welfare organisation, made an application for judicial review of a decision of the British Minister of Agriculture in which he had said that he no power to restrict the export of veal calves. The High Court of England and Wales submitted certain questions to the Court of Justice on the validity of the directive and on the interpretation of the Treaty provisions on the free movement of goods.
With regard to the validity of the directive the Court found that since the convention and the associated recommendation contained no binding provisions for the contracting parties in respect of the conditions for raising cattle, they could have no effect on the validity of the directive.
In considering the possibility for a Member State to rely on reasons based on public morality, public policy or the protection of the health and life of animals in order to justify a restriction on the export of veal calves, the Court first emphasized that such a measure constitutes a quantitative restriction on exports prohibited by the EEC Treaty.
Although the Treaty allows restrictions on exports justified on the grounds of public morality, public policy or the protection of the health and life of animals to be maintained, such a possibility is no longer available where Community directives provide for harmonisation of the measures necessary to achieve that aim.
The Court therefore examined whether or not the directive in question provided for the necessary measures for the protection of the health of calves. It concluded from that examination that in the light of the wording of the directive, its context and the objectives which it pursues, that it lays down minimum common standards for the protection of calves that are confined for the purposes of rearing and fattening.
The fact that Member States are authorised to adopt, within their own territory, protective measures stricter than those laid down in a directive does not mean that the directive has not exhaustively regulated the powers of Member States in the area of the protection of veal calves.
It follows that a Member State cannot rely on Article 36 of the Treaty in order to restrict the export of calves to other Member States for reasons relating to the protection of the health of animals.
Finally, the Court rejected an argument based on reasons relating to the protection of public policy or public morality on the ground that a section of national public opinion believed that the system put in place by the directive does not adequately protect animal health. The Court made it clear that a Member State could not rely on the views or behaviour of a section of national public opinion in order unilaterally to challenge a harmonising measure adopted by the Community Institutions.
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