CJEU reiterates case law on mutual recognition of certificates and free movement of goods (C-354/14)

In its Judgment in Capoda Import-Export, C-354/14, EU:C:2015:658, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJUE) has reiterated its case law on the mutual recognition of certificates for the purposes of free movement of goods within the internal market. 

In a timid Judgment, probably due to the limited amount of information made available by the referring court, the CJEU has reiterated the parameters under which Member States are obliged to allow the free circulation of goods legally produced or marketed in other EU countries.

In the case at hand, a Romanian dealer of car spare parts was fined for selling goods that had not been subjected to homologation in Romania. The dealer relied instead on a certificate issued by a German distributor of those goods. Romanian authorities did not consider such certificate sufficient and they insisted in either a manufacturer certificate or full homologation in Romania. Capoda challenged their decision on the basis of EU free movement rules.

The case is legally complicated because the relevant EU regime for mutual recognition of car spare parts has not (yet) been properly developed (see Directive 2007/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 September 2007 establishing a framework for the approval of motor vehicles and their trailers, and of systems, components and separate technical units intended for such vehicles and, particularly, Annex XIII), which requires to assess the issue of recognition of the distributor certificate under the general rules on free movement of goods (paras 34-38).

Succinctly, the CJEU stressed that 
39 ... it is settled case-law that all measures of a Member State which are capable of hindering, directly or indirectly, actually or potentially, trade within the European Union must be considered to be measures having an effect equivalent to quantitative restrictions within the meaning of Article 34 TFEU (see, inter alia, judgments in Dassonville, 8/74, EU:C:1974:82, paragraph 5, and in Juvelta, C-481/12, EU:C:2014:11, paragraph 16).
40 It follows, in particular, that, even in the absence of harmonising European Union measures, products lawfully produced and marketed in a Member State must be able to be marketed in another Member State without being subject to additional controls. In order to be justified, national legislation imposing such controls must be covered by one of the exceptions provided for in Article 36 TFEU or one of the overriding requirements recognised by the case-law of the Court and, in either case, must be appropriate for securing the attainment of that objective and not go beyond what is necessary in order to attain it (see judgments in ATRAL, C-14/02, EU:C:2003:265, paragraph 65, and Commission v Portugal, C-432/03, EU:C:2005:669, paragraph 42).
41 It is apparent from the file sent to the Court that the legislation at issue in the main proceedings imposes the application of an approval or homologation procedure to the products at issue in those proceedings, which is liable to constitute a measure having equivalent effect for the purpose of Article 34 TFEU unless that legislation also lays down exceptions to those procedures so as to ensure that products lawfully produced and marketed in other Member States are exempted.
42 However, it would also appear from that file that Article 1(8) of Government Decree No 80/2000 lays down such exceptions [which would cover to original products or to original spare parts, and would trigger the presumption that unless the contrary is proven, that the products are original if the part manufacturer certifies that the products match the quality of the components used for the assembly of the vehicle in question and have been manufactured in accordance with the specifications and production standards of the vehicle manufacturer]; it is for the referring court to verify whether that is the case.
43 If that should prove not to be the case, it would then be for the competent national authorities to show that that barrier to trade can be justified, in view of the products liable to be affected, by the objectives of protection of road safety and protection of the environment, which, according to the case-law, constitute overriding reasons in the public interest capable of justifying a measure having an effect equivalent to quantitative restrictions and that it is not only necessary, but proportionate in relation to such objectives (see, inter alia, judgment in Commission v Belgium, C-150/11, EU:C:2012:539, paragraphs 54 and 55).
44 As to whether EU law precludes the refusal to consider documents such as those adduced by Capoda [documents issued by distributors and not by the manufacturers] as being sufficient to demonstrate that parts, such as those at issue in the main proceedings, have already been approved or homologated or that they are original parts or spare parts of matching quality, for the purpose of national law, which are exempted, on that basis, from the procedure of approval or homologation by the RAR, it must be noted that it is for the Member States, in the absence of any European Union rules governing the matter, to determine the evidence which may be adduced in that respect, subject to the principles of equivalence and of effectiveness.
45 Subject to that proviso, EU law therefore does not preclude a rule that only certificates issued by the manufacturer and not by the distributor are capable, in principle, of establishing that the parts in question have already been approved or homologated or constitute original parts or spare parts of matching quality, for the purpose of national law. It should, moreover, be pointed out that Article 3(26) of Directive 2007/46, which defines the concept of ‘original parts or equipment’ for the purpose of that directive, provides that it is presumed, unless the contrary is proven, that parts constitute original parts if the manufacturer certifies them as being so (C-354/14, paras 39-45, emphasis added).
This leaves us with the uncertainty of knowing whether Romanian courts must equate the certificate from the distributor to that of the manufacturer, or whether a chain of certificates could be acceptable. However, in general terms, the reminder of the applicable rules and requirements under Arts 34 and 36 TFEU is a good refresher.