Key facts of the case:
Reference for a preliminary ruling — Structural funds — Regulations (EC) Nos 1083/2006 and 1080/2006 — European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) — Operational programme aiming to promote European territorial cooperation between the Republic of Estonia and the Republic of Latvia — Decision of the monitoring committee rejecting a subsidy — Provision that the decisions of that committee cannot be subject to legal review — Article 267 TFEU — Act adopted by an institution, organ or body of the European Union — Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union — Implementation of EU law — Article 47 — Right to effective judicial protection — Right of access to the courts — Determination of which Member State’s courts have jurisdiction to rule on an action.
Outcome of the case:
On those grounds, the Court (Fourth Chamber) hereby rules:
1) This request for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Article 256(1) TFEU, the second sentence of the first paragraph of Article 263 TFEU, the first paragraph, (b), of Article 267 TFEU, Article 274 TFEU, Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’) and Article 63(2) of Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006 of 11 July 2006 laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1260/1999 (OJ 2006 L 210, p. 25).
39) The referring court notes, firstly, that the Seirekomitee is a body established by agreement between the Republic of Estonia and the Republic of Latvia on the basis of Article 63(1) of Regulation No 1083/2006 and the programme document. Accordingly, the Charter applies to a case such as that in the main proceedings, in accordance with Article 51(1) thereof. In the event of the rejection of an application for aid, the fact that the decision of the Seirekomitee cannot be the subject of an appeal before any court, under Chapter 6.6 of the programme manual, runs counter to Article 63(2) of Regulation No 1083/2006, read in conjunction with Article 47 of the Charter.
42) In those circumstances, the Tartu ringkonnakohus decided to stay proceedings and refer the following questions to the Court for a preliminary ruling:
‘1. Are the rules of procedure of a monitoring committee jointly set up by two Member States, such as the programme manual adopted by the [Seirekomitee], which provide that “The decisions of the Monitoring Committee are not appealable at any place of jurisdiction” (Chapter 6.6.4 of the programme manual) compatible with Article 63(2) of Council Regulation No 1083/2006 in conjunction with Article 47 of the [Charter]?
2. If Question 1 is to be answered in the negative, must point (b) of the first paragraph of Article 267 [TFEU] be interpreted as meaning that Chapter 6.6.4 of [that programme manual] is an act of an institution, body, office or agency of the European Union which must be declared invalid?
3. If Question 1 is to be answered in the negative, must the second sentence of the first paragraph of Article 263 [TFEU] in conjunction with Article 256(1) [TFEU] and Article 274 [TFEU] be interpreted as meaning that the General Court of the European Union or the competent court under national law has jurisdiction to hear and determine actions against decisions of the [Seirekomitee]?’
57) By its first question, the referring court asks, in essence, whether Regulation No 1083/2006, read in conjunction with Article 47 of the Charter, must be interpreted as precluding a provision of a programme manual adopted by a monitoring committee in the context of an operational programme established by two Member States to promote European territorial cooperation where that provision provides that a decision of that monitoring committee rejecting an application for aid cannot be subject to appeal.
60) The fact that the Seirekomitee is not an institution, body, office or agency of the European Union, as follows from the answer to the third question asked by the referring court, does not prevent Article 47 of the Charter from applying if the adoption by that committee of the programme manual is an act falling within the scope of EU law.
61) In consequence, it is necessary to ascertain whether the programme manual implements EU law, within the meaning of Article 51(1) of the Charter.
62) In accordance with the settled case-law of the Court, the concept of ‘implementing Union law’, as referred to in that provision of the Charter, requires a certain degree of connection above and beyond the matters covered being closely related or one of those matters having an indirect impact on the other (see, inter alia, judgment in Kremzow, C‑299/95, EU:C:1997:254, paragraph 16).
65) Accordingly, it must be held that the adoption of the programme manual by the monitoring committee implements EU law within the meaning of Article 51(1) of the Charter.
66) Consequently, when it adopted that manual, the Monitoring Commission was required to comply with the provisions of the Charter.
67) The first paragraph of Article 47 of the Charter provides that everyone whose rights and freedoms guaranteed by EU law are violated has the right to an effective remedy before a tribunal in compliance with the conditions laid down in that article.
71) In those circumstances, the lack of any remedy against such a rejection decision deprives the applicant of its right to an effective remedy, in breach of Article 47 of the Charter.
72) It must be added that Article 52(1) of the Charter accepts that limitations may be made on the exercise of the rights and freedoms recognised by the Charter, as long as the limitations are provided for by law, respect the essence of those rights and freedoms and, subject to the principle of proportionality, are necessary and genuinely meet objectives of general interest recognised by the EU or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others.
74) Consequently, it must be found that, in so far as it provides that a decision of the Seirekomitee rejecting an application to aid cannot be subject to an appeal, the programme manual does not comply with the principle of effective judicial protection laid down in the first paragraph of Article 47 of the Charter.
76) Having regard to the foregoing considerations, the answer to the first question is that Regulation No 1083/2006, read in conjunction with Article 47 of the Charter, must be interpreted as precluding a provision of a programme manual adopted by a monitoring committee in the context of an operational programme established by two Member States and intended to promote European territorial cooperation where that provision does not provide that a decision of that monitoring committee rejecting an application for aid can be subject to appeal before a court of a Member State.
87) 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 (Fourth Chamber) hereby rules: