Case C‑27/11, Vinkov

Court stresses Charter of Fundamental Rights applying to Member States only when implementing EU law, not creating any new competence for European Union.

>> This reference for a preliminary ruling from the Administrative Court in Sofia, essentially concerned the question whether non-recognition in national law of the right to a judicial remedy in respect of decisions imposing a financial penalty and the deduction of pointed for certain breaches of road traffic regulations, was compatible with Art. 2 of Protocol No 7 to the European Convention on Human Rights; Arts 47 and 48 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’); Arts 67 TFEU, 82 TFEU and 91(1)(c) TFEU; and well as several provisions of secondary European legislation.

While carrying out a manoeuvre in reverse gear in a car park in Sofia (Bulgaria), Mr Vinkov collided with another vehicle. Following that accident, a decision was taken in regard to Mr Vinkov by the Nachalnik Administrativno-nakazatelna deynost v otdel “Patna politsiya” na Stolichna direktsiya na vatreshnite raboti (Head of administrative penalty cases in the “traffic police” department of the Directorate for Internal Affairs in the capital region), by which he was held liable for a “minor traffic accident” and fined BGN 20, and four points were deducted from his driving licence.

Mr Vinkov lodged an appeal against that decision before the Sofiyski rayonen sad (District Court of Sofia), which dismissed the appeal by an order declaring it inadmissible. The Sofiyski rayonen sad considered that, having regard to the applicable provisions of the Law on road traffic, a decision, imposing a financial penalty of less than BGN 50 could not be challenged in court. Mr Vinkov challenged that order in the Administrativen sad Sofia-grad (Sofia Administrative Court).

>> Articles 67, 82 and 91 TFEU

The Court however held that with regard to Arts 67 TFEU, 82 TFEU and 91(1)(c) TFE it must be noted that since all of those provisions were directed solely at the institutions of the European Union and none of them concerned the system of penalties applicable to breaches of road traffic regulations they were not applicable in the main proceedings.

The Court reiterated that it had no jurisdiction to answer a question referred for a preliminary ruling where the interpretation of rules of EU law which was sought by the national court had no relation to the actual facts of the main action or to its purpose, and those rules were incapable of applying in the main proceedings (see, in particular, Case C567/07 Woningstichting Sint Servatius [2009] and Case C245/09 Omalet [2010]).

Consequently, the questions referred for a preliminary ruling were, in so far as they related to Arts 67 TFEU, 82 TFEU and 91(1)(c) TFEU, declared inadmissible.

>> Purely internal situation

The Court of Justice reached a similar conclusion with regard to the secondary legislation referred to. It held that in the present case, the dispute was purely internal. It concerned a person residing in Bulgaria who challenged the decision by which the authorities of that Member State imposed a penalty following a traffic accident that occurred in Bulgaria. Therefore, an interpretation of that principle of mutual recognition was of no relevance to the outcome of that dispute.

>> Charter of Fundamental Rights

With regard to the question of the referring court queries whether EU law precluded the rules of Bulgarian law at issue in the main proceedings in so far as they involved an infringement of the right to an effective remedy enshrined in Art. 6 of the ECHR and Arts 47 and 48 of the Charter, the Court held that the requirements flowing from the protection of fundamental rights were binding on Member States whenever they implemented EU law (see orders in Case C339/10 Asparuhov Estov and Others [2010]; Case C457/09 Chartry [2011]; and order of 14 December 2011 in Joined Cases C483/11 and C484/11 Boncea and Others [2012].

The Court pointed out that Article 51(1) of the Charter stated that the provisions of the Charter were addressed to the Member States only when they were implementing EU law. Moreover, the Court pointed out that tunder Art. 6(1) TEU, which conferred on the Charter the same legal value as the Treaties, the Charter did not create any new competence for the European Union. (on these provisions and their legislative background, see this article I published in the Common Market Law Review some years ago)

The Court held that, consequently, in a reference for a preliminary ruling under Art. 267 TFEU, where national legislation fell within the scope of EU law, the Court must provide all the criteria of interpretation needed in order for the national court to determine whether that legislation was compatible with the fundamental rights which derived in particular from the Charter (see, to that effect, Case C299/95 Kremzow [1997] and Case C256/11 Dereci and Others [2011]

In the present case, however, the Court found that was not apparent from the order for reference that the national legislation constituted a measure implementing EU law or that it was connected in any other way with EU law. Accordingly, the jurisdiction of the Court to rule on the reference for a preliminary ruling in so far as it related to the fundamental right to an effective remedy was not established