European Court of Justice (ECJ) Clarifies The Obligations Of Member States Regarding The Marketing Of GM Maize Seeds Approved At EU Level In Accordance With The Provisions Of Directive 90/220/EC

Date: Apr 10, 2000

On March 21, 2000, the ECJ issued a ruling in case C-6/99, Greenpeace v French Ministry of Agriculture. The French Supreme Court "Conseil d’Etat" asked the ECJ whether a Member State was bound to give its written consent to the marketing of a GM product if there had been no objections from other Member States or if there had been a favourable opinion from the Commission, or whether the Member State still retained some discretion as to the authorisation. In addition the French Court asked whether in specific circumstances, such as when a procedural irregularity occurs at national level in the decision to forward the application, the national authority would still be bound by the Commission’s decision requiring the Member state to authorise the marketing of the product. In its ruling, the ECJ stated that, since the authorisation request was introduced with a favourable opinion by the French authorities and received a positive assent from the Commission despite objections from other Member States, the French authorities could not refuse to proceed with the marketing authorisation at national level. However, the ruling allows the Member State (in this case France) to withdraw its initial approval upon discovery of new information as to potential risks to human health and the environment. If it were the case, the Member State would have to inform immediately the Commission and the other Member States so as to come to a new decision within 3 months as provided by article 16 of Directive 90/220/EEC. On the second question, the ECJ ruled that, if the national Court finds that, owing to procedural irregularities, the national authority shouldn’t have forwarded the application with a favourable opinion, the national Court must refer the issue to the ECJ to determine whether this irregularity affects the validity of the Commission’s decision. Pending the ECJ ruling, the national Court is allowed to suspend the application of the decision granting the marketing authorisation. According to a Commission’s spokeswoman, it is a "very general ruling, which [does] not prejudge Member States or community decisions on individual products."

For further information, please contact Jean Savigny at 32 2 541 0571 or savigny@khlaw.be or Rachida Semail at 32 2 541 0594 or semail@khlaw.be.