France labelled as anti-competitive by ECJ

European Union

In European Commission v French Republic, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that France's policy of offering national legal protection to geographical indications that are not covered by EU Council Regulation 2081/92 restricts imports between member states in breach of EU competition law.

Council Regulation 2081/92 and Article 30 of the EC Treaty allow EU member states to protect geographical indications in certain circumstances, even if imports are affected. In particular, Article 5(5) of the regulation provides that member states may apply to the European Commission for protection of geographical indications previously covered by the member state's national laws. Following such an application, member states can protect the relevant geographical indications on a national level until the commission issues a decision as to whether they will be protected across the European Union as a whole.

However, the commission took issue with France's geographical indications policy following its implementation of Law 94-2 of January 3 1994 and filed a complaint with the ECJ. The commission argued that this legislation was anti-competitive and that France had failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 28 of the EC Treaty because it protected certain names and regional labels (ie, Ardennes de France, Corse, Franche-Comte, Languedoc Roussillon, Limousin, Lorraine, Midi-Pyrénéés, Normandie, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Auvergne and Savoie) as geographical indications for a period of eight years irrespective of whether or not they were the subject of an application for protection under Council Regulation 2081/92.

The ECJ held that although France had modified its laws to conform to the regulation prior to the ECJ's ruling, it had not complied with the regulation within the period prescribed by the commission. This, said the ECJ, constituted a violation of France's obligations under the EC Treaty.

Karina Dimidjian, Bureau DA Casalonga-Josse, Paris

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