Article 16 - Freedom to conduct a business
Article 17 - Right to property
Article 20 - Equality before the law
Key facts of the case:
Request for a preliminary ruling from the High Court (Irlande).
Reference for a preliminary ruling – Maritime transport – Rights of passengers when travelling by sea and inland waterway – Regulation (EU) No 1177/2010 – Articles 18 and 19, Article 20(4), and Articles 24 and 25 – Cancellation of passenger services – Late delivery of a vessel to the carrier – Notice given prior to the originally scheduled date of departure – Consequences – Right to re-routing – Procedures – Payment of the additional costs – Right to compensation – Calculation – Concept of ticket price – National body responsible for the enforcement of Regulation No 1177/2010 – Competence – Concept of a complaint – Assessment of validity – Articles 16, 17, 20 and 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – Principles of proportionality, legal certainty and equal treatment.
Outcome of the case:
On those grounds, the Court (Fourth Chamber) hereby rules:
41) Irish Ferries challenges both the decision of 25 January 2019 and the notices issued under Articles 18 and 19 of Regulation No 1177/2010 before the High Court (Ireland), claiming, in the first place, that that regulation does not apply where the cancellation of the passenger service occurs several weeks before the date of the scheduled sailings. In the second place, Irish Ferries challenges the interpretation and application by the Irish Transport Authority of Articles 18 to 20 of Regulation No 1177/2010. More specifically, it maintains that the delay in delivery of the ship at issue constitutes extraordinary circumstances exempting it from payment of the compensation provided for in Article 19 of that regulation. In the third place, Irish Ferries complains that the Irish Transport Authority infringed Article 25 of that regulation by exceeding its powers. In its view, the Irish Transport Authority exercised its jurisdiction over services departing from France and heading to Ireland, given that those services fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the French authority. In the fourth place, Irish Ferries complains that the Irish Transport Authority infringed Article 24 of Regulation No 1177/2010 by failing to limit the effect of its decision to passengers who had made a complaint in the form and within the deadlines specified in Article 24 of that regulation. In the fifth place, Irish Ferries contests the validity of the regulation in the light of the principles of proportionality, legal certainty and equal treatment, and of Articles 16, 17 and 20 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’).
In those circumstances, the High Court decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court for a preliminary ruling:
(9) (a) What principles and rules of EU law should the referring court apply in assessing the validity of the Decision and/or the Notices of the national … body [designated for the enforcement of Regulation No 1177/2010] by reference to Article 16, 17, 20 and/or 47 of the Charter and/or principles of proportionality, legal certainty and equal treatment?
(b) Is the test of unreasonableness that should be applied by the domestic court that of manifest error?
(10) Is [Regulation No 1177/2010] valid as a matter of EU law having regard in particular to:
(a) Articles 16, 17, and 20 of the Charter?
(b) the fact that airline operators have no obligation to pay compensation if it informs the airline passenger of the cancellation at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure [Article 5(1)(c)(i) of Regulation No 261/2004]?
(c) the principles of proportionality, legal certainty and equal treatment?’
131) By its ninth question, the referring court asks, in essence, whether, in its assessment of the validity of the decision taken by a national body responsible for enforcing Regulation No 1177/2010, the national court must apply Articles 16, 17, 20 and 47 of the Charter and the principles of proportionality, legal certainty and equal treatment, and whether its review must be confined to identifying any manifest error.
139) By its tenth question, the referring court asks, in essence, whether Articles 18 and 19 of Regulation No 1177/2010 are invalid in that they do not comply either with the principles of equal treatment, proportionality and legal certainty or with Articles 16, 17 and 20 of the Charter.
140) In the first place, the referring court asks, in essence, whether Articles 18 and 19 of Regulation No 1177/2010 are invalid in the light of the principle of equal treatment and Article 20 of the Charter.
141) Irish Ferries claims generally that that regulation infringes the principle of equal treatment and Article 20 of the Charter by imposing a series of obligations on maritime carriers to which passenger air and rail carriers are not subject, even though all those carriers are in a comparable situation. In that regard, Irish Ferries submits more particularly that, while an air carrier may, under Article 5(1)(c) of Regulation No 261/2004, avoid paying compensation if it informs the passenger of the cancellation of the flight at least two weeks before the scheduled time of departure, Regulation No 1177/2010 does not provide for such an option for a maritime carrier.
147) It follows that Articles 18 and 19 of Regulation No 1177/2010 do not infringe the principle of equal treatment or Article 20 of the Charter.
169) In the fourth place, the referring court asks, in essence, whether Articles 18 and 19 of Regulation No 1177/2010 are compatible with Articles 16 and 17 of the Charter guaranteeing, respectively, the freedom to conduct a business and the right to property of maritime carriers.
171) Next, Article 52(1) of the Charter accepts that limitations may be imposed on the exercise of rights enshrined by it 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 European Union or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others.
173) In the present case, although the referring court refers to Articles 16 and 17 of the Charter, account must also be taken of Article 38 of the Charter, which, like Article 169 TFEU, seeks to ensure a high level of consumer protection in EU policies, including maritime passengers. As has been noted in paragraph 51 above, protection of the passengers is among the principal aims of Regulation No 1177/2010.
175) It follows that those provisions do not infringe Articles 16 and 17 of the Charter.