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Decision in case 321/2018/TE on the European Commission’s decision to close an infringement complaint against Spain concerning the import of kit cars

Dostępne języki :  de.en
  • Sprawa :  321/2018/TE
    Otwarta 2018-04-16 - Decyzja z 2018-04-16
  • Dotyczy(Dotyczą) instytucji :  Komisja Europejska

The case concerned the registration of kit cars in Spain. The complainant submitted an infringement complaint against Spain to the Commission as he considered that the Spanish authorities did not treat all applicants equally. The Commission decided not to open infringement proceedings as it did not find an unjustified obstacle to the free movement of goods.

The Ombudsman inquired into the issue and found that the Commission’s arguments appeared reasonable and that there was no maladministration by the Commission.

Background to the complaint

1. The complainant is the owner of a company that is specialising in buying, selling and transporting British roadsters and kit cars[1]. The company is based in Spain.

2. The complainant had been trying to register cars, previously registered in the United Kingdom (UK), on behalf of several clients in Spain. In some cases, his efforts remained unsuccessful over a period of several months and he filed an infringement complaint against Spain with the European Commission on 4 August 2017[2]. In particular, the complainant considered the non-registration of some of his clients’ cars by the Spanish authorities discriminatory and an obstacle to the free movement of goods within the EU Single Market.

3. In October 2017, the complainant submitted further information and supporting documents to the Commission to substantiate his infringement complaint.

4. On 1 December 2017, the Commission sent a pre-closure letter to the complainant, saying that, overall, it could neither in the applicable Spanish law nor in the administrative practice of the Spanish authorities find a systemic refusal of registrations of kit cars previously registered in the UK. It had therefore decided not to open an inquiry and to close the case, if the complainant did not provide further information that justified an inquiry within four weeks.

5. On 4 December 2017, the complainant provided his comments on the Commission‘s pre-closure letter, asking the Commission to reconsider its decision to close the case. On the same day, the complainant also turned to the Ombudsman[3].

6. As the complainant had turned to the Ombudsman on the same day on which he had submitted his comments on the pre-closure letter to the Commission, the Ombudsman considered that the Commission had not had sufficient opportunity to reply. She thus rejected the complaint as inadmissible on 18 December 2017.

7. On 9 January 2018, the complainant contacted the Commission, providing further information in support of his infringement complaint.

8. As he did not receive a reply from the Commission, the complainant again turned to the Ombudsman on 9 February 2018.

9. On 12 February 2018, the Commission closed the infringement complaint, confirming the conclusion it had drawn in the pre-closure letter, namely that there was no systemic refusal and no unjustified restriction regarding the registration of kit cars in Spain with initial registration in the UK.

The inquiry

10. The Ombudsman opened an inquiry into the complainant’s position that the Commission was wrong to close the infringement complaint.

11. In the course of the inquiry, the Ombudsman considered the information provided by the complainant, including the decisions taken by the Commission with respect to his infringement complaint.

Arguments presented to the Ombudsman

12. The complainant claimed that the Spanish authorities responsible for the registration of kit cars did not treat applicants in an equal manner. Rather, there were different authorisation procedures and requirements for registering kit cars depending on the place of residence of the car owner.

13. To underline his claim, the complainant stated that one of his clients, who had re-located from the UK to Spain and registered a self-constructed vehicle that had previously been registered under his name in the UK, could do so comparatively fast and without incurring unreasonable costs. In contrast, another client who had bought a self-constructed car in the UK with the same technical documents and certificates but who had already been a resident of Spain, was experiencing difficulties as the registration process for his kit car was still ongoing after almost one year and a half.

14. The complainant considered this practice to constitute discriminatory treatment and, thus, an obstacle to the free movement of goods. As three more of the complainant’s clients were experiencing similar issues regarding the registration of their kit cars in Spain, the complainant also argued that the infringement was of a systemic nature.

15. The Commission argued that, even though the applicable EU law provided for minimum information[4] vehicle registration certificates have to contain, Member States were free to request additional information.

16. Further, due to the fact that kit cars are usually assembled by “amateurs”, these vehicles receive only an approval that is limited to the territory of the respective Member State. Besides that, the documents issued by the British authorities did not always contain all information necessary to identify and register a vehicle in another Member State.

17. The Commission also stated that, while every approval procedure could, under certain circumstances, constitute an obstacle to the free movement of goods in the European Union, such an obstacle could be justified by reasons of public interest, such as road safety, environmental protection and crime control.

18. The Commission also found that there was no systemic refusal by the Spanish authorities to register kit cars individually approved in another Member State. While different departments within the Spanish authorities might have evaluated the documents submitted by the complainant differently, this would not indicate a systemic illegal practice.

19. Finally, the Commission noted that it enjoys a wide margin of discretion in deciding when and how to pursue possible infringements of EU law. While the Commission will pursue the most serious and systemic breaches of EU law only, national courts are responsible for reviewing the compliance with EU law in individual cases. Thus, the Commission will normally not follow-up on individual cases of an incorrect application of EU law.

The Ombudsman's assessment

20. Under the EU Treaties[5], the Commission is responsible for overseeing the effective application, implementation and enforcement of EU law by the Member States. In the event that a Member State fails to fulfil an obligation under the Treaties, the Commission, as “Guardian of the Treaties”, can take measures (infringement proceedings) to bring this infringement to an end. In this role, the Commission enjoys a wide margin of discretion in deciding when and how to act in infringement proceedings against a Member State[6], and acts on the basis of its enforcement policy[7].

21. According to its enforcement policy, the Commission’s intervention is of a strategic nature and provides for action only if a Member State violates EU law by not or incorrectly transposing EU law into national law, or in the event of an incorrect application of EU law that is of a systemic nature.

22. The Ombudsman has consistently taken the view that her role in infringement cases is limited to verifying whether the Commission has acted diligently and in accordance with the principles of good administration.

23. In the present case, the Commission has taken the view that the complainant’s infringement complaint concerns individual cases and that the information provided by the complainant does not suggest a systemic incorrect application of EU law by Spain. The Commission’s conclusion that there are no grounds to further investigate the complainant’s infringement complaint is reasonable and in line with its enforcement policy.

24. The Commission also suggested that the complainant pursue his case at national level in Spain, as the administrations and courts of the Member States are responsible for safeguarding EU law. They have the competence to uphold the claims and actions of citizens that seek redress or financial compensation for the damage they suffer, when national measures infringe EU law.

25. The information provided in the complaint to the Ombudsman does therefore not suggest that the Commission committed maladministration when taking the decision not to further pursue the complainant’s infringement complaint.

Conclusion

Based on the inquiry, the Ombudsman closes this case with the following finding:

There has been no maladministration by the Commission.

The complainant and the Commission will be informed of this decision.

 

Fergal Ó Regan

Coordination of Public Interest Inquiries ‐ Unit 2

Strasbourg, 16/04/2018

 

[1] A kit car is an automobile that is sold as a set of separate components, designed to be assembled by the buyer into a functioning car.

[2] Infringement complaint CHAP (2017) 2659.

[3] Complaint 2123/2017/TE.

[4] See Annex I of Council Directive 1999/37/EC of 29 April 1999 on the registration documents for vehicles, OJ 1999 L 138/57, available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:31999L0037&from=EN.

[5] Article 17(1) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

[6] See, for instance, judgment of the Court of Justice in Case C-247/87, Star Fruit v Commission [1989], ECLI:EU:C:1989:58, para. 11.

[7] Communication from the Commission, EU law: Better results through better application, OJ 2017 C 18,

available at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/communication-commission-eu-law-better-results-through-better-application_en.