Article 41 - Right to good administration
Article 16 - Freedom to conduct a business
Article 17 - Right to property
Key facts of the case:
Customs union – Regulation (EU) No 952/2013 – Determination of the non-preferential origin of certain motorcycles manufactured by Harley-Davidson – Commission Implementing Decision requesting the revocation of decisions relating to binding origin information adopted by the national customs authorities – Concept of ‘processing or working operations which are not economically justified’ – Right to be heard
Outcome of the case:
On those grounds,
THE GENERAL COURT (Eighth Chamber, Extended Composition)
1. Dismisses the action;
2. Orders Harley-Davidson Europe Ltd and Neovia Logistics Services International to pay the costs.
5. The fifth plea in law, alleging breach of general principles of EU law and of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
141 In the context of the fifth plea, the applicants claim that the contested decision breaches the principles of legal certainty and legitimate expectations, the principles of non-discrimination and proportionality, the right to good administration, the freedom to conduct a business and the right to property.
159 Article 41 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights provides that every person has the right, inter alia, to have his or her affairs handled impartially by the institutions of the European Union. That requirement of impartiality encompasses subjective impartiality, in so far as no member of the institution concerned who is responsible for the matter may show bias or personal prejudice, and objective impartiality, in so far as there must be sufficient guarantees to exclude any legitimate doubt as to bias on the part of the institution concerned (see judgment of 11 July 2013, Ziegler v Commission, C‑439/11 P, EU:C:2013:513, paragraph 155 and the case-law cited).
161 It should also be borne in mind in that respect that, according to Article 41(2)(a) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the right to good administration includes the right of every person to be heard, before any individual measure which would affect him or her adversely is taken. The right to be heard is one of the rights of the defence, a general principle of EU law which is applicable even in the absence of any specific rules in that regard. That principle requires that the addressees of decisions which significantly affect their interests should be placed in a position in which they may effectively make known their views with regard to the evidence on which those decisions are based (see judgment of 28 October 2021, Vialto Consulting v Commission, C‑650/19 P, EU:C:2021:879, paragraph 122 and the case-law cited).
180 In that regard, it should be recalled that, in paragraphs 41 to 46 of its judgment of 22 January 2013, Sky Österreich (C‑283/11, EU:C:2013:28), the Court of Justice recalled that the protection afforded by Article 16 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights covers the freedom to exercise an economic or commercial activity, the freedom of contract and free competition. Furthermore, in accordance with the Court’s case-law, the freedom to conduct a business is not absolute, but must be viewed in relation to its social function. On the basis of that case-law and in the light of the wording of Article 16 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which differs from the wording of the other fundamental freedoms laid down in Title II thereof, yet is similar to that of certain provisions of Title IV of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the freedom to conduct a business may be subject to a broad range of interventions on the part of public authorities which may limit the exercise of economic activity in the public interest.
181 Under Article 17(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, everyone has the right to own, use, dispose of and bequeath his or her lawfully acquired possessions. No one may be deprived of his or her possessions, except in the public interest and in the cases and under the conditions provided for by law, subject to fair compensation being paid in good time for their loss. Furthermore, the use of property may be regulated by law in so far as is necessary for the general interest.
182 Given that the rights guaranteed by Article 16 and Article 17(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights are not absolute, their exercise may be subject to limitations that are justified by objectives of general interest pursued by the European Union. In accordance with Article 52(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, any limitation on the exercise of the rights and freedoms recognised by the Charter of Fundamental Rights must be provided for by law, respect their essence and, subject to the principle of proportionality, be necessary and genuinely meet objectives of general interest recognised by the European Union or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others.