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European Union

Ville de Paris and Others v. European Commission

Jurisdiction: European Union General Court; European Court of Justice

Side A: Federal Republic of Germany and others (Government)

Side B: Municipality of Madrid (Government)

Side B: City of Brussels (Government)

Side B: City of Paris (Government)

Core objectives: Whether a Commission regulation fixing emission values for real driving emissions tests for new light vehicles prevents local governments from imposing restrictions on the circulation of passenger vehicles in relation to their pollutant emissions.

In 2007, the European Union (EU) legislature established a harmonized framework for the approval of motor vehicles to facilitate their registration, sale, and entry into service in the EU. Within this framework, the European Commission adopted Regulation 2016/646 to set up a procedure for testing the real driving emissions of certain motor vehicles to better reflect the emissions measured on the road. This Regulation was supplemented by Commission Regulation 2016/646, which establishes limits for emissions not to be exceeded during tests.

On June 26, June 29, and July 16, 2016, respectively, the City of Paris, the City of Brussels, and the Municipality of Madrid brought an action before the General Court to annul Regulation 2016/646. The cities argued that the regulation would prevent them from imposing restrictions on the circulation of passenger vehicles in relation to their air pollutant emissions. The Commission raised the objection that the contested regulation was not of direct concern to the applicants within the meaning of the fourth paragraph of article 263 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). 

In its judgment of December 13, 2018, the General Court partially upheld the actions and held that the contested regulation was of direct concern to the applicants. The General Court considered the regulation a regulatory act which does not entail implementing measures and which directly affects the cities’ powers to regulate the circulation of motor vehicles. On February 23, 2019, the Commission appealed to the European Court of Justice.

On January 13, 2022, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) set aside the judgement of the General Court, in particular the interpretation by the General Court of Directive 2007/46. The ECJ clarified that for the applicants to be directly concerned by the regulation (and therefore, for the action to be admissible), two conditions must be met. First, the contested measure must directly affect the legal situation of the applicant. Secondly, it must leave no discretion to the entity entrusted with the implementation. The ECJ held that the General Court erred when it stated that the cities were prevented from exercising their powers to regulate the circulation of passenger vehicles to reduce pollution. 

The disagreement between the General Court and the ECJ revolved around article 4, paragraph 3, second subparagraph of Directive 2007/46, which mentions that member states “shall not prohibit, restrict or impede the registration, sale, entry into service or circulation on the road of vehicles, […] if they satisfy the requirements of the [Directive].” The General Court inferred from the inclusion of the words ‘circulation on the road’ that the Directive restricted the regulatory powers of the local governments to adopt traffic restrictions for vehicles. As a result, the Directive and its implementing acts directly affect the legal position of the cities. 

The ECJ, however, ruled that the negative obligation in the second subparagraph of article 4, paragraph 3 must be read together with the first subparagraph. The first subparagraph gives the member states a positive obligation to “register or permit the sale or entry into service only of such vehicles, components and separate technical units as satisfy the requirements of this Directive,” without any mention of circulation on the road. As the two subparagraphs are complementary, the ECJ concluded that the General Court erred when it gave the second subparagraph a broader meaning. As a consequence, the General Court also erred when it derived from this that the cities were directly affected, and thus directly concerned, by the contested Regulation. 

The ECJ also mentioned that the obligations Directive 2007/46 imposes on Member States only concern placing motor vehicles on the market and not their subsequent use. Moreover, the cities are not liable to infringe on Directive 2007/46 (read together with Commission Regulation 2016/646) solely by adopting environmental protection legislation to limit the local circulation of certain vehicles. Through its judgment, the ECJ clarified that local governments do not violate the EU framework for testing real driving emissions when they adopt low-emission zones.

Case documents

from the Grantham Research Institute
from the Grantham Research Institute
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