Germany / Bavarian Administrative Court / 20 BV 16.1961 Company v Provincial capital Munich

Key facts of the case:

The plantiff is a company producing, filling and marketing honey, sold, among others, in small 20 g packages which do not indicate the country of origin. However, these packages are packed in paper boxes which display information on the country of origin.

Due to the lack of information on the country of origin on the small packages, the defendant issued a fine notice against the plaintiff. The plaintiff then brought an action for a declaratory judgment declaring that, by marketing small packages not intended for retail sail without indicating the country of origin, it had not infringed the Honey Regulation adopted to transpose Directive 2001/110/EC (the „Honey Directive“). The Administrative Court dismissed the action as unfounded, since there was an obligation to display the country of origin on the small packages as well. The plaintiff appealed against that judgment.

The Bavarian Administrative Court referred to the European Court of Justice the question if the small honey packages packed in a larger box are „pre-packed food“ within the meaning of Art. 1 (3) (b) of Directive (EC) 2000/13  and Art. 2 (2) (e) of Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011. In that case there would be a corresponding obligation for displaying the country of origin. In its reply, the CJEU stated that Article 1(3) (b) of Directive 2000/13/EC means that „each of the honey portion packs, which have the shape of a portion cup sealed by an aluminium lid and packed in larger boxes delivered to community establishments, is 'pre-packaged food' under the condition that those community establishments sell those portions individually or deliver them to the final consumer in ready-made dishes which are paid for on a flat-rate basis“.

The plaintiff stated that the judgment of the CJEU referred solely to the legal situation under Directive 2000/13/EC, which was, however, replaced on 13 December 2014 by Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011, on which the Court had not decided. In this respect, there is no binding effect and a transfer of the findings made to Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 is not possible. The CJEU did not rule on Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011, so that a new referral procedure had to take place.

Key legal question raised by the Court:

The Higher Administrative Court of Bavaria (Bayerischer Verwaltungsgerichtshof) was dealing with the question if there is an obligation to display the country of origin on small honey packages under Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011, to what extent the case law of the CJEU on the interpretation of Directive (EC) No 2000/13, which was repealed then, must be taken into account, and whether an obligation to display the country of origin infringes the applicant's fundamental rights or the free movement of goods under Union law.

Outcome of the case:

The Higher Administrative Court of Bavaria dismissed the appeal as unfounded. The relevant legal situation stems from Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 and Directive 2001/110/EC ('the Honey Directive'), according to which the applicant is obliged to mark the small packages with the country of origin. There was no infringement of the applicant's fundamental rights or of the free movement of goods under Union law.

The court ruled that the CJEU’s decision in the context of the preliminary ruling procedure can be applied to this case. The wording, context and purpose of the key provisions of Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 are in line with the provisions of Directive 2000/13/EC. Thus, displaying the country of origin is mandatory labelling under Article 9(1) (i) of Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011. It is irrelevant whether the small packages are sold  on an individual basis, as they are „pre-packaged food“ if intended to be offered for sale to the end consumer in a community establishment without further processing, which was the case here.

Since the interpretation of European Union legislation is at stake, the fundamental rights of Union law must be observed. The obligation to mark the country of origin on the small honey packages interferes with the plaintif’s freedom to conduct a business under Article 16 of the Charter but that interference is justified by purposes of public interest, consumer information and the protection of consumers against misleading information.

 

 

Paragraphs referring to EU Charter: 

“The obligation to mark the country or countries of origin on each package of honey portions does not infringe the applicant's fundamental rights. Since the present case concerns the interpretation of legal provisions of the European Union by the Member States which do not allow the German (federal) legislature any room for manoeuvre in implementation or regulation, the fundamental rights of European Union law are decisive (Art. 51 (1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights). The obligation to tag certain information onto a product or its packaging, such as the information on the country or countries of origin, falls within the scope of the protection of the freedom to conduct a business under article 16 of the Charter. The fundamental right under article 16 of the Charter includes the freedom to engage in economic or business activities, the contractual freedom and free competition and predeces the fundamental right of freedom to choose an occupation and the right to engage in work under article 15 of the Charter, at least insofar as product-related labelling obligations are at stake as modalities of an independent professional activity. However, the present interference on the freedom to exercise an independent profession is covered by the legitimate public-interest objective of consumer information and the protection of consumers against being mislead on the origin of honey. The obligation to mark the country or countries of origin serves to provide consumers with comprehensive information and, thus, to enable them to participate in economic life, which must be given high priority. On the other hand, the plaintiff can reasonably be expected to bear the increased expense associated with labelling the portion cups with the required information. The Senate is convinced that such labelling would be possible on the portion cups, especially since correspondingly labelled portion cups of competing products are on the market. Thus, the plaintiff is not required to do anything impossible in this respect. The economic effort associated with such labelling is also reasonable for the plaintiff, especially since the lid of the individual portion pack must in any case display various (mandatory) information. On the other hand, the plaintiff argues without success that the marketing of the honey portion packs with the corresponding labels of origin in the national language of smaller Member States of the European Union would no longer make economic sense due to an imbalance of investments and expected sales. After all, this is a business decision which the plaintiff has to take in the context of the legal legal provisions which are in force". (para. 41)

Paragraphs referring to EU Charter (original language): 

„Die Verpflichtung, auf jeder Honig-Portionspackung das Ursprungsland bzw. die Ursprungsländer anzugeben, verstößt nicht gegen Grundrechte der Klägerin. Da es vorliegend um die Auslegung von Rechtsvorschriften der Europäischen Union durch die Mitgliedstaaten geht, die dem deutschen (Bundes-)Gesetzgeber keinen Umsetzungs- oder Regelungsspielraum einräumen, sind die Grundrechte des europäischen Unionsrechts maßgeblich (Art. 51 Abs. 1 GR-Charta). Die Pflicht, bestimmte Hinweise auf einem Produkt bzw. auf dessen Verpackung anzubringen, wie hier die Angabe des Ursprungslandes bzw. der Ursprungsländer, greift in den Schutzbereich der unternehmerischen Freiheit nach Art. 16 GR-Charta ein. Das Grundrecht nach Art. 16 GR-Charta umfasst die Freiheit zur Ausübung einer Wirtschafts- oder Geschäftstätigkeit, die Vertragsfreiheit und den freien Wettbewerb und geht dem Grundrecht der Berufsfreiheit nach Art. 15 GR-Charta vor, jedenfalls soweit produktbezogene Kennzeichnungspflichten als Modalitäten einer selbständigen Berufstätigkeit im Streit stehen. Der vorliegende Eingriff in die Freiheit der selbständigen Berufsausübung ist jedoch durch das legitime Gemeinwohlziel der Verbraucherinformation und den Schutz der Verbraucher vor Irreführung über die Herkunft des Honigs gedeckt. Die Pflicht zur Angabe des Ursprungslandes bzw. der Ursprungsländer dient einer umfassenden Information des Verbrauchers und damit seiner gleichberechtigten Teilhabe am Wirtschaftsleben, welcher ein hohes Gewicht beizumessen ist. Dem gegenüber ist der Klägerin der erhöhte Aufwand, der damit verbunden ist, die Portionsbecher mit den verlangten Angaben zu versehen, zumutbar. Eine entsprechende Kennzeichnung wäre auf den Portionsbechern nach der Überzeugung des Senats möglich, zumal sich entsprechend gekennzeichnete Portionsbecher von Konkurrenzprodukten im Verkehr befinden. Der Klägerin wird also insoweit nichts Unmögliches abverlangt. Der mit einer entsprechenden Angabe verbundene wirtschaftliche Aufwand ist der Klägerin auch zumutbar, zumal auf dem Deckel der einzelnen Portionspackung ohnehin verschie-dene (Pflicht-)Angaben aufgedruckt sein müssen. Dagegen wendet die Klägerin ohne Erfolg ein, dass ein Inverkehrbringen der Honig-Portionspackungen mit entsprechender Ursprungsangabe in der jeweiligen Landessprache in kleineren Mitgliedstaaten der Europäischen Union wegen eines Missverhältnisses von Aufwand und zu erwartenden Umsätzen wirtschaftlich nicht mehr sinnvoll wäre. Denn dabei handelt es sich letztlich um eine unternehmerische Entscheidung der Klägerin, welche sie im Rahmen der geltenden Rechtsvorschriften zu treffen hat.“ (Rn. 41)

Language: 
German
Deciding body (original language): 
Bayerischer Verwaltungsgerichtshof (BayVGH)
Language: 
German