Key facts of the case:
Reference for a preliminary ruling — Directive 98/59/EC — Approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to collective redundancies — Article 49 TFEU — Freedom of establishment — Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union — Article 16 — Freedom to conduct a business — National legislation conferring upon an administrative authority the power to oppose collective redundancies after assessing the conditions in the labour market, the situation of the undertaking and the interests of the national economy — Acute economic crisis — Particularly high national unemployment rate
Results (sanctions) and key consequences of the case:
On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby rules:
- Council Directive 98/59/EC of 20 July 1998 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to collective redundancies must be interpreted as not precluding, in principle, national legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, under which, if there is no agreement with the workers’ representatives on projected collective redundancies, an employer can effect such redundancies only if the competent national public authority which must be notified of the projected collective redundancies does not adopt, within the period prescribed by that legislation and after examining the documents in the file and assessing the conditions in the labour market, the situation of the undertaking and the interests of the national economy, a reasoned decision not to authorise some or all of the projected redundancies. The position is different, however, if — a matter which is, as the case may be, for the referring court to ascertain — in the light of the three assessment criteria to which that legislation refers and of the specific application of them by the public authority, subject to review by the courts having jurisdiction, that legislation proves to have the consequence of depriving the provisions of that directive of their practical effect.
Article 49 TFEU must be interpreted as precluding, in a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings, national legislation such as that referred to in the first sentence of the first paragraph of this point.
- The fact that the context in a Member State may be one of acute economic crisis and a particularly high unemployment rate is not such as to affect the answers set out in point 1 of this operative part.
- As pointed out, in the context of the present case, by the referring court, it is also settled case-law that the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Charter are applicable in all situations governed by EU law and that they must, therefore, in particular be complied with where national legislation falls within the scope of EU law (see, in particular, judgment of 26 February 2013, Åkerberg Fransson, C‑617/10, EU:C:2013:105, paragraphs 19 to 21).
- That obligation to comply with fundamental rights falls within the scope of EU law and, consequently, within that of the Charter. The use by a Member State of exceptions provided for by EU law in order to justify an obstruction of a fundamental freedom guaranteed by the Treaty must, therefore, be regarded as ‘implementing Union law’ within the meaning of Article 51(1) of the Charter (see judgment of 30 April 2014, Pfleger and Others, C‑390/12, EU:C:2014:281, paragraph 36).
- In the present instance, as the referring court has pointed out, national legislation such as that at issue in the main proceedings entails a limitation on exercise of the freedom to conduct a business enshrined in Article 16 of the Charter.
- It must nevertheless be borne in mind that Article 52(1) of the Charter accepts that limitations may be imposed on the exercise of rights enshrined by the Charter as long as the limitations are provided for by law, respect the essence of those rights and freedoms and, in accordance with the principle of proportionality, are necessary and genuinely meet objectives of general interest recognised by the European Union or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others (see, in particular, judgment of 31 January 2013, McDonagh, C‑12/11, EU:C:2013:43, paragraph 61).
- In respect of those various points, it must, in the first place, be stated that the mere fact that a Member State provides, in its national legislation, that projected collective redundancies must, prior to any implementation, be notified to a national authority, which is endowed with powers of review enabling it, in certain circumstances, to oppose the projected redundancies on grounds relating to the protection of workers and of employment, cannot be considered contrary to freedom of establishment as guaranteed by Article 49 TFEU or the freedom to conduct a business enshrined in Article 16 of the Charter.
- First, a mechanism imposing a framework on collective redundancies such as the mechanism described in the preceding paragraph does not seem — in principle — to be such as to affect the essence of the freedom to conduct a business enshrined in Article 16 of the Charter.
- On the basis of that case-law and in the light of the wording of Article 16 of the Charter, which differs from the wording of the other fundamental freedoms enshrined in Title II thereof, yet is similar to that of certain provisions of Title IV of the Charter, the freedom to conduct a business may be subject to a broad range of interventions on the part of public authorities that may limit the exercise of economic activity in the public interest (judgment of 22 January 2013, Sky Österreich, C‑283/11, EU:C:2013:28, paragraph 46).
- Secondly, it should be recalled that Article 52(1) of the Charter accepts that limitations may be imposed on the exercise of rights enshrined by the Charter as long as, in particular, in accordance with the principle of proportionality, they are necessary and genuinely meet recognised objectives of general interest or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others. As regards such rights and freedoms, it is to be noted that Article 30 of the Charter states that every worker has the right to protection against unjustified dismissal, in accordance with EU law and national laws and practices.
- Thus, a national regime imposing a framework, as referred to in paragraph 83 of this judgment, must seek, in this sensitive area, to reconcile and to strike a fair balance between the interests connected with the protection of workers and of employment, in particular protection against unjustified dismissal and against the consequences of collective dismissals for workers, and those relating to freedom of establishment and the freedom of economic operators to conduct a business enshrined in Articles 49 TFEU and Article 16 of the Charter.