CJEU Case C-426/16 / Judgment

Liga van Moskeeën en Islamitische Organisaties Provincie Antwerpen, VZW and Others v Vlaams Gewest
Policy area
Culture
Deciding body type
Court of Justice of the European Union
Deciding body
Court (Grand Chamber)
Type
Decision
Decision date
29/05/2018
ECLI (European case law identifier)
ECLI:EU:C:2018:335
  • CJEU Case C-426/16 / Judgment

    Key facts of the case

    Liga van Moskeeën en Islamitische Organisaties Provincie Antwerpen, VZW and Others v Vlaams Gewest.

    Request for a preliminary ruling from the Nederlandstalige rechtbank van eerste aanleg Brussel.

    Reference for a preliminary ruling — Protection of animals at the time of killing — Particular methods of slaughter prescribed by religious rites — Muslim Feast of Sacrifice — Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 — Article 2(k) — Article 4(4) — Obligation for ritual slaughtering without stunning to be carried out in approved slaughterhouses which satisfy the requirements of Regulation (EC) No 835/2004 — Validity — Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union — Article 10 — Freedom of religion — Article 13 TFEU — Respect for national customs with regard to religious rites.

    Outcome of the case

    On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby rules:

    Examination of the question has not disclosed any issues capable of affecting the validity of Article 4(4) of Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing, read together with Article 2(k) thereof, having regard to Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 13 TFEU.

  • Paragraphs referring to EU Charter

    6) Recitals 4, 8, 15, 18, 43 and 44 of that regulation state:

    ‘(4) Animal welfare is a [European Union] value that is enshrined in the Protocol (No 33) on protection and welfare of animals annexed to the Treaty establishing the European Community (‘Protocol (No 33)’).The protection of animals at the time of slaughter or killing is a matter of public concern that affects consumer attitudes towards agricultural products. In addition, improving the protection of animals at the time of slaughter contributes to higher meat quality and indirectly has a positive impact on occupational safety in slaughterhouses.

    (8) … Community food safety legislation applicable to slaughterhouses has been profoundly amended by the adoption of Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on hygiene of foodstuffs [OJ 2004 L 139, p. 1] and [Regulation No 853/2004]. Those Regulations emphasise the responsibility of food business operators to ensure food safety. Slaughterhouses are also subject to a pre-approval procedure whereby the construction, layout and equipment are examined by the competent authority to ensure that they comply with the corresponding technical rules on food safety. Animal welfare concerns should be better integrated into slaughterhouses, their construction and layout, as well as the equipment used therein.

    (15) Protocol No (33) underlines the need to respect the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating, in particular, to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage when formulating and implementing the [Union’s] policies on, inter alia, agriculture and the internal market. It is therefore appropriate to exclude from the scope of this Regulation cultural events, where compliance with animal welfare requirements would adversely affect the very nature of the event concerned.

    (18) Derogation from stunning in case of religious slaughter taking place in slaughterhouses was granted by [Council Directive 93/119/EC of 22 December 1993 on the protection of animals at the time of slaughter or killing (OJ 1993 L 340, p. 21)]. Since [the European Union] provisions applicable to religious slaughter have been transposed differently depending on national contexts and considering that national rules take into account dimensions that go beyond the purpose of this Regulation, it is important that derogation from stunning animals prior to slaughter should be maintained, leaving, however, a certain level of subsidiarity to each Member State. As a consequence, this Regulation respects the freedom of religion and the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance, as enshrined in Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

    (43) Slaughter without stunning requires an accurate cut of the throat with a sharp knife to minimise suffering. In addition, animals that are not mechanically restrained after the cut are likely to endure a slower bleeding process and, thereby, prolonged unnecessary suffering. Animals of bovine, ovine and caprine species are the most common species slaughtered under this procedure. Therefore, ruminants slaughtered without stunning should be individually and mechanically restrained.

    (44) Science and technical progress are regularly made with regard to the handling and restraining of animals at slaughterhouses. It is therefore important to authorise the Commission to amend the requirements applicable to the handling and restraining of animals before slaughter while keeping a uniform and high level of protection for animals.’

    ...

    21) First of all, the applicants challenge the applicability of Regulation No 1099/2009 to ritual slaughter on the ground that Article 1(3)(a)(iii) excludes from the scope of the regulation the slaughter of animals during ‘cultural or sporting events’. In the alternative, the applicants challenge the validity of the rule laid down in Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009, read together with Article 2(k) thereof, in so far as, on one hand, it infringes freedom of religion protected by Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’) and Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, signed at Rome on 4 November 1950 (‘the ECHR’) and, on the other, it fails to comply with Belgian customs relating to the religious rituals for the Feast of Sacrifice guaranteed by Article 13 TFEU.

    ...

    26) In those circumstances, the Nederlandstalige rechtbank van eerste aanleg Brussel (Court of First Instance (Dutch-speaking), Brussels) decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following question to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

    ‘Is Article 4(4) of [Regulation No 1099/2009], read in conjunction with Article 2(k) thereof, invalid due to the infringement of Article 9 of [the ECHR], Article 10 of the [Charter] and/or Article 13 [TFEU], in that it provides that animals may be slaughtered in accordance with special methods required by religious rites without being stunned only if such slaughter takes place in a slaughterhouse falling within the scope of [Regulation No 853/2004], whereas there is insufficient capacity in the Vlaams Gewest (Flemish Region) to meet the annual demand for the ritual slaughter of unstunned animals on the occasion of the … Feast of Sacrifice, and the costs of converting temporary slaughter establishments, approved and monitored by the authorities, into slaughterhouses falling within the scope of [Regulation No 853/2004], do not appear relevant to achieving the objectives pursued of animal welfare and public health and do not appear proportionate thereto?’

    ...

    35) In reality, that argument seeks to challenge the very possibility of declaring the rule laid down in Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009, read together with Article 2(k) thereof, invalid by reference to the primary law of the European Union and, in particular, the provisions of the Charter and the FEU Treaty on the basis that the obligation which derives from that rule, to carry out ritual slaughter in approved slaughterhouses, is not in itself a restriction on the exercise of the freedom of religion and national customs in connection with religious rituals.

    ...

    37) By its question, the referring court asks the Court of Justice to examine the validity of Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009, read together with Article 2(k) thereof, in the light of Article 10 of the Charter and Article 9 of the ECHR and Article 13 TFEU, in so far as those provisions of Regulation No 1099/2009 require ritual slaughter on the Feast of Sacrifice to be carried out in approved slaughterhouses which satisfy the technical requirements laid down by Regulation No 853/2004.

    ...

    39) First of all, as regards the right to freedom of religion referred to by the question, the national court makes reference to the protection granted to it by Article 10 of the Charter and Article 9 of the ECHR.

    40) In that connection, it should be pointed out that whilst, as Article 6(3) TEU confirms, fundamental rights recognised by the ECHR constitute general principles of EU law and whilst Article 52(3) of the Charter requires rights contained in the Charter which correspond to rights guaranteed by the ECHR to be given the same meaning and scope as those laid down by the ECHR, the latter does not constitute, as long as the European Union has not acceded to it, a legal instrument which has been formally incorporated into EU law (judgments of 26 February 2013, Åkerberg Fransson, C‑617/10, EU:C:2013:105, paragraph 44; of 3 September 2015, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Others v Commission, C‑398/13 P, EU:C:2015:535, paragraph 45; and of 15 February 2016, N., C‑601/15 PPU, EU:C:2016:84, paragraph 45).

    41) The examination of the validity of Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009, read together with Article 2(k) thereof, requested by the referring court, must therefore be carried out having regard to Article 10 of the Charter (see, by analogy, judgment of 15 February 2016, N., C‑601/15 PPU, EU:C:2016:84, paragraph 46 and the case-law cited).

    42) Next, it must be ascertained whether the specific method of slaughter prescribed by religious rights, within the meaning of Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009, falls within the scope of Article 10(1) of the Charter.

    43) In that connection, it must be recalled that, according to settled case-law, the right to freedom of conscience and religion enshrined in Article 10(1) of the Charter includes, inter alia, the freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance (see, to that effect, judgments of 14 March 2017, G4S Secure Solutions, C‑157/15, EU:C:2017:203, paragraph 27, and of 14 March 2017, Bougnauoi and ADDH, C‑188/15, EU:C:2017:204, paragraph 29).

    44) Furthermore it must be observed that the Charter uses the word ‘religion’ in a broad sense, covering both the forum internum, that is the fact of having a belief, and the forum externum, that is the manifestation of religious faith in public (judgments of 14 March 2017, G4S Secure Solutions, C‑157/15, EU:C:2017:203, paragraph 28, and of 14 March 2017, Bougnauoi and ADDH, C‑188/15, EU:C:2017:204, paragraph 30).

    45) It follows that the specific methods of slaughter prescribed by religious rituals within the meaning of Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009 fall within the scope of Article 10(1) of the Charter (see, by analogy, ECtHR, 27 June 2000, Cha’are Shalom Ve Tsedek v. France, CE:ECHR:2000:0627JUD002741795, § 74).

    ...

    49) It follows that that slaughter is covered by the concept of ‘religious rite’ within the meaning of Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009. Therefore, it falls within the scope of Article 10(1) of the Charter.

    ...

    52) Having set out those preliminary observations, it must be considered whether the rule laid down in Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009, read together with Article 2(k) thereof, constitutes a restriction on the right to freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 10 of the Charter.

    ...

    57) That interpretation is confirmed by recital 18 of Regulation No 1099/2009 which clearly states that that regulation lays down an express derogation from the requirement for stunning animals prior to slaughter, specifically for the purposes of ensuring respect for the freedom of religion and the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance, as laid down in Article 10 of the Charter.

    ...

    68) It follows from the foregoing considerations that the rule laid down in Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009, read together with Article 2(k) thereof, does not in itself give rise to any restriction on the right to freedom of religion of practising Muslims protected by Article 10 of the Charter during the Feast of Sacrifice.

    ...

    74) Thus, the mere fact that the application of Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009, read together with Article 2(k) thereof, is likely to affect the freedom to practice ritual slaughter in one region of one Member State in particular cannot affect the validity of that provision with regard to Article 10 of the Charter. Since Regulation No 1099/2009 has an impact in all Member States, its validity must be examined taking into account not the particular situation of a single Member State, but that of all EU Member States (see, by analogy, judgment of 4 May 2016, Poland v Parliament and Council, C‑358/14, EU:C:2016:323, paragraph 103 and the case-law cited).

    ...

    79) It follows from the foregoing that the doubts expressed by the referring court as to a possible infringement of freedom of religion as a result of the disproportionate financial burden which the Muslim communities concerned may have to bear are unfounded and are not capable of invalidating the considerations set out in paragraph 68 of the present judgment, according to which the rule laid down in Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009, read together with Article 2(k) thereof, does not in itself create any restriction on the right to freedom of religion by Muslims guaranteed by Article 10 of the Charter.

    80) It follows from all of the foregoing considerations that the examination of Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009, read together with Article 2k thereof, has not disclosed any issues affecting its validity with regard to Article 10 of the Charter.

    ...

    83) In any event, even if it were found that the national court refers to those provisions of national law, the fact remains that, since it was held that the rule resulting from the application of Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009, read together with Article 2(k) thereof, does not entail any restriction on the right to freedom of religion of Muslims guaranteed by Article 10 of the Charter, nothing submitted to the Court leads to the conclusion, because of the same considerations as those set out in paragraphs 56 to 80 of the present judgment, that Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009, read together with Article 2(k) thereof, is invalid with regard to Article 13 TFEU.

    84) Having regard to all of the foregoing considerations, the answer to the question referred is that examination of the question has not disclosed any issues capable of affecting the validity of Article 4(4) of Regulation No 1099/2009, read together with Article 2(k) thereof, having regard to Article 10 of the Charter and Article 13 TFEU. 

    ...

    85) Since these proceedings are, for the parties to the main proceedings, a step in the action pending before the national court, the decision on costs is a matter for that court. Costs incurred in submitting observations to the Court, other than the costs of those parties, are not recoverable.

    On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby rules:

    Examination of the question has not disclosed any issues capable of affecting the validity of Article 4(4) of Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing, read together with Article 2(k) thereof, having regard to Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 13 TFEU.