Le Tribunal de l’Union européenne confirme le rôle central de la BCE dans le Mécanisme de Supervision Unique

Judgment
T-122/15
16.05.2017
PartiesJurisdictionFormationJudge RapporteurAdvocate GeneralSubject-matter
Recours en annulationLandeskreditbank Baden-Württemberg c/ BCETribunal de l'Union européenneQuatrième Chambre élargieM. Prek/Politique économique et monétaire
KeywordsPolitique économique et monétaire – Surveillance prudentielle des établissements de crédit – Article 6, paragraphe 4, du règlement (UE) n° 1024/2013 – Article 70, paragraphe 1, du règlement (UE) n° 468/2014 – Mécanisme de surveillance unique – Compétences de la BCE – Exercice décentralisé par les autorités nationales – Évaluation de l’importance d’un établissement de crédit – Nécessité d’une surveillance directe par la BCE
Significant pointsL’arrêt rejette le recours en annulation formé par la Landeskreditbank Baden-Württemberg, une banque allemande d’investissement et de développement, contre la décision de la Banque Centrale Européenne (BCE) qui la qualifiait d’ « entité importante ». De ce fait, la banque allemande a été soumise à la surveillance directe de la BCE dans le cadre du Mécanisme de Surveillance Unique (MSU). Or, elle faisait valoir que, au regard de son profil de risque faible, l’exercice de cette compétence par l’autorité nationale était suffisante.

Le Tribunal a souligné que la BCE s’était vue attribuer une compétence exclusive en matière de surveillance des établissements de crédit dans la zone euro, cette supervision couvrant les missions figurant à l’article 4, paragraphe 1, du règlement 1024/2013. À la lumière des considérants du règlement MSU, le Tribunal a retenu que le Conseil de l'Union européenne envisageait une surveillance prudentielle directe des entités «moins importantes» en tant que simple mécanisme d'assistance à la BCE, plutôt que l'exercice d'une compétence autonome. Ainsi, les autorités nationales agissent dans le cadre de la mise en œuvre décentralisée d'une compétence exclusive de l'Union et n’exerce pas une compétence nationale. En conséquence, le principe de subsidiarité est sans pertinence au sein du MSU, puisqu’il ne s'applique qu'aux compétences non exclusives de l'Union.

Contrairement au principe de subsidiarité, le principe de proportionnalité est applicable aux compétences exclusives de l’Union européenne. Cependant, en l’espèce, la seule compétence des Etats susceptible d’affecter l’exercice d’une surveillance prudentielle directe de la BCE est la compétence de principe des États membres quant à l’exécution du droit de l’Union dans leur ordre juridique, soulignée à l’article 291, paragraphe 1, TFUE. En effet, cette disposition rappelle que, selon le système institutionnel de l’Union et les règles régissant les relations entre l’Union et ses États membres, il appartient à ces derniers, en l’absence d’une disposition contraire du droit de l’Union, d’assurer l’exécution du droit de l’Union sur leur territoire. Cependant, le Tribunal a estimé que l’article 70, paragraphe 1, du règlement-cadre MSU, qui permet à la BCE de dégrader en entité moins importante une banque ne saurait être interprété comme imposant de vérifier in concreto à l’égard d’un établissement relevant de la qualification d’important au regard des critères énoncés par l’article 6, paragraphe 4, du règlement de base si les objectifs de celui-ci peuvent être aussi bien atteints sous la surveillance directe des autorités nationales.

De même, pour ce qui est de la notion de « circonstances particulières », contenue à l’article 70, paragraphe 1, du règlement-cadre MSU, qui permet à la BCE de dégrader en entité moins importante une banque dont les actifs ont une valeur supérieure à 30 milliards d’euros, le Tribunal a retenu qu’elle devait être comprise comme se référant aux seules circonstances factuelles spécifiques impliquant qu’une surveillance prudentielle directe par les autorités nationales est mieux à même d’atteindre les objectifs et les principes du règlement de base et, notamment, la nécessité de garantir l’application cohérente de normes de surveillance prudentielle de niveau élevé. Il ne suffit pas qu’une surveillance directe par les autorités nationales dans le cadre du MSU soit autant à même d’atteindre les objectifs du règlement de base qu’une surveillance exercée par la seule BCE. A cet égard, le Tribunal a estimé que la requérante n’avait pas administré une telle preuve.

Sur la violation de l’obligation de motivation, les juges ont soulevé que l’avis de la commission administrative de réexamen fait partie du contexte dans lequel s’inscrit la décision attaquée et peut être pris en compte aux fins d’apprécier le caractère suffisamment motivé de ladite décision.
NoteworthyLe Tribunal a opté pour une interprétation large des compétences de la BCE. Il a donné la préférence à la déclaration de principe figurant à l’article 4, paragraphe 1, du règlement MSU selon laquelle la BCE dispose d’une compétence exclusive pour exercer une série de missions de surveillance prudentielle vis-à-vis de tous les établissements sur l’article 6 de ce règlement qui, au moins dans les versions française et allemande, fait référence aux compétences des autorités nationales à l’égard des établissements moins importants pour réduire ces dernières à une modalité d’assistance à la BCE (sur cette question, voir Ph.-E PARTSCH, “Droit bancaire et financier européen”, Larcier 2016, 2nd ed., pp. 516-517, n°s 901-903).

Ce jugement est une prise de position de principe en faveur d’une conception européenne et centripète du MSU dans lequel la BCE joue le rôle essentiel. Cet arrêt ouvre la porte à une centralisation grandissante de la supervision prudentielle. Il est probable que la BCE s’en prévaudra lorsqu’elle entendra préciser davantage, par voie d’orientations ou d’instructions générales, les modalités selon lesquelles les autorités nationales doivent accomplir des missions vis-à-vis des banques moins importantes.

Cependant, l’arrêt doit être lu avec prudence dans la mesure où la requérante n’a pas invoqué l’illégalité du règlement-cadre MSU, ni même, a fortiori et plus fondamentalement, du MSU lui-même, au regard des sources supérieures du droit européen. Cela étant, le Tribunal a veillé à interpréter les dispositions du règlement à lumière du Traité des principes généraux du droit de l’UE et dans le sens de leur conformité à ceux-ci. En outre, l’arrêt peut toujours faire l’objet d’un pourvoi devant la CJUE. Sous ces deux réserves, il constitue néanmoins un signal clair en faveur d’une conception large des compétences prudentielles de la BCE et étroitement subordonnée de ce qui apparaît comme constituer d’abord des obligations des autorités nationales.

The General Court confirms the central role of the ECB in the Single Supervisory Mechanism

Judgment
T-122/15
16.05.2017
PartiesJurisdictionFormationJudge RapporteurAdvocate GeneralSubject-matter
Action for annulment Landeskreditbank Baden-Württemberg v. ECBGeneral Court4th Chamber, Extend CompositionM. Prek/Economic and monetary policy
KeywordsEconomic and monetary policy — Prudential supervision of credit institutions — Article 6(4) of Regulation (EU) No 1024/2013 — Article 70(1) of Regulation (EU) No 468/2014 — Single supervisory mechanism — Competences of the ECB — Decentralised exercise by the national authorities — Assessment of the size of a credit institution — Need for direct supervision by the ECB
Significant pointsThe case dealt with the action for annulment, under Article 263 TFEU, brought by Landeskreditbank Baden-Württemberg, a German investment and development bank, against the decision of the European Central Bank (ECB) which classified it as a ‘significant entity’ (ie whose value of assets exceeds €30 billion) with the result that it found itself subject to the direct supervision of the ECB in the framework of the single supervisory mechanism (SSM). The applicant argued that, given its low risk profile, it could have been properly supervised by the competent national authorities.

The GC outlined that the ECB had been transferred the exclusive competence regarding the supervision of credit institutions in the Eurozone, in respect with the tasks set out in Article 4(1) of Council Regulation (EU) No 1024/2013. In the light of the recitals of that regulation, direct prudential supervision of ‘less significant’ entities by the national authorities was envisaged by the Council of the European Union as a simple mechanism of assistance to the ECB rather than the exercise of any autonomous competence by the national authorities. Thus, the national authorities are acting within the scope of decentralised implementation of an exclusive competence of the Union, not the exercise of a national competence. As a result, the principle of subsidiarity was irrelevant to the SSM, as this principle only applies to non-exclusive EU competences.

Unlike the principle of subsidiarity, the principle of proportionality is applicable to exclusive EU competences. However, in the case at issue, the sole national competence liable to be affected by the exercise of direct prudential supervision by the ECB is the Member States’ competence for the implementation of EU law in their legal orders as laid down in Article 291(1) TFEU. That provision recalls that, according to the institutional system of the Union and the rules governing relations between the Union and the Member States, it is for the latter, in the absence of any contrary provision of EU law, to ensure that EU law is implemented within their territory. Nevertheless, for the purpose of the preservation of that competence, the GC found that it cannot be held that Article 70(1) of the SSM Framework Regulation requires ascertaining on a case-by-case basis in respect of an institution classified as significant under the criteria laid down in Article 6(4) of the Basic Regulation whether its objectives may be just as well attained through direct supervision by the national authorities.

Furthermore, the GC stated that the declassification of a credit institution as ‘significant’ could be possible if there were ‘particular circumstances’, entailing that direct prudential supervision by the national authorities is better able to attain the objectives and safeguard the principles of the relevant rules. This includes in particular the objectives related to the need to ensure the consistent application of high supervisory standards. Then, by a literal interpretation of Article 70(1) of the SSM Framework Regulation, the GC found that that provision did not suggest that reclassification of a ‘significant entity’ as ‘less significant’ on the grounds that direct supervision by the national authorities under the SSM is just as able to achieve the objectives of the Basic Regulation than supervision by the ECB alone. As a result, the GC found that the applicant had not proved that the national authorities would be better able to achieve those objectives and safeguard those principles, but had merely attempted to establish that supervision by the German authorities was sufficient.

On the alleged infringement of the obligation to state reasons, the judges considered that the ECB’s Administrative Board of Review’s Opinion was part of the context of which the contested decision forms a part and may, therefore, be taken into account for the purpose of determining whether or not that decision contained a sufficient statement of reasons under the relevant case-law (see paragraphs 124-125).
NoteworthyThe GC adopted a broad interpretation of the competences of the ECB under the SSM. Indeed, the judges preferred to refer to the declaration of principle held in Article 4 of the SSM. According to this provision, the ECB has exclusive competence to carry out a series of supervisory tasks vis-à-vis all credit institutions than to Article 6 of the SSM, which, at least in the French and German versions, refers to the competences of the national authorities regarding less significant entity in order to declassify them as a form of assistance to the ECB (on this issue, see Ph.-E PARTSCH, “Droit bancaire et financier européen”, Larcier 2016, 2nd ed., pp. 516-517, n°s 901-903). The judgment is clearly in favour of a European and centrifyingl conception of the SSM where the ECB plays a key role. It therefore opens the door to a growing centralization of prudential supervision. The ECB will probably take advantage of the ruling in order to clarify, by further guidelines or general instructions, the way in which the national authorities have to carry out its missions imposed by EU law.

Of course, the judgement must be read carefully since the applicant did not invoke the illegality of the SSM Framework Regulation, nor, a fortiori and more fundamentally, the SSM itself in light of the Treaty (notably Article 127, paragraph 6, of the TFEU), the Charter of the fundamental rights of the EU and the general principles of EU law. Nonetheless, the GC interpreted the regulation in light of the Treaty and the general principles of EU law and found it was compliant with them. In addition, any step taken by the ECB within the SSM must comply with the principle of proportionality, the scope of which is not limited to the way national competences are impacted, as contemplated by the GC in the case at hand.

Finally, it is worth noting that the judgement could still be appealed before the ECJ. In any event, the judgment is clearly favorable to the ECB and detrimental to the national supervisory authorities.

CJEU judges that freedom to provide services prevents national legislation from imposing bans on online advertising for oral and dental care services

Judgment
C-339/15
04.05.2017
PartiesJurisdictionFormationJudge RapporteurAdvocate GeneralSubject-matter
Reference for preliminary rulingCriminal proceedings
against
Luc Vanderborght
CJEU3rd Ch.L. Bay LarsenY. BotFreedom to provide services
KeywordsNational legislation prohibiting, in absolute terms, advertising for oral and dental care services — Article 56 TFUE — Freedom to provide services — Protection of public health — Proportionality — Directive 2000/31/EC — Information society service — Advertising via an internet site — Member of a regulated profession — Professional rules — Directive 2005/29/EC — Unfair trading practices — National provisions relating to health — National provisions governing regulated professions
Significant pointsBy its judgment of 4 May 2017, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) stated that national legislation imposing a general and absolute prohibition of any advertising relating to the provision of oral and dental care services, notably through any online advertising, is contrary to EU law.

The present case concerned a Belgian qualified dental practitioner (Mr Luc Vanderborght) who advertised his dental services to patients including patients from other Member States between March 2003 and January 2014. These advertisements consisted in (i) a billboard outside his practice, (ii) advertisements published on a website and (iii) advertisements in local newspapers.

The Belgian professional association of dentists filed a complaint against Mr Vanderborght arguing that he had violated Belgian law, which prohibits in absolute terms any advertising relating to oral and dental care. The Court of First Instance of Brussels, before which the case was brought, decided to refer preliminary questions to the CJEU.

The CJEU considered that the Belgian legislation at issue is compliant with Directive 2005/29 (the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive) which does not call into question the national rules relating to the health and safety aspects of products or the specific provisions governing regulated professions (para. 28 and 30). However, it stated that Directive 2000/31 (Directive on electronic commerce) and Article 56 TFEU (freedom to provide services) preclude the Belgian general and absolute prohibition of respectively online and off-line advertising.

1. Directive 2000/31 (para. 50)

The aim of Article 8(1) of Directive 2000/31 is to grant members of a regulated profession the opportunity to use information society services (such as online advertising) in order to promote their activities. However such commercial communications have to be compliant with professional rules regarding the independence, dignity and honour of the profession of dentist, as well as its professional secrecy and fairness towards clients and other members of the profession. Nevertheless, in order to respect the practical effect of EU legislation, these professional rules cannot impose a general and absolute prohibition of any form of online advertising (websites) intended for the promotion of the performed activity (para. 43 and 44).

2. Article 56 TFEU (para. 76)

The protection of public health and the dignity of the profession of dentist, being overriding reasons in the public interest (para. 67 and 68), are capable of justifying a restriction on the freedom to provide services. However, in the present case, the objectives could be attained through the use of less restrictive measures (para. 75). Being disproportionate to the legitimate objective, the general and absolute prohibition had to be declared incompatible with EU law.
Noteworthy1. The Vanderborght case is in line with the general trend of the CJEU to quash general and absolute prohibitions on advertising as being disproportionate to a legitimate objective.

2. However, it is also a remarkable illustration of this case law to the extent that it relates to advertising in favour of (para) health care services. Contrary to the CJEU milestone judgment “Société fiduciaire nationale d’expertise comptable” of 5 April 2011 (C-119/09), which relied upon Directive 2006/123 to preclude national legislation which totally prohibited any canvassing, in the present case this directive was not considered at all. Indeed, Article 2(2)(f) of the relevant directive, as supported by recital 22, excludes healthcare services from its scope. In any case, it remains still questionable if dental care services (including those for aesthetic reasons) are included in the designation “healthcare services” and fall or not within the ambit of the Directive 2006/123.

3. In this regard, the Vanderborght case constitutes an important judicial precedent against the general and absolute prohibition of any advertising. On the one hand, plaintiffs can invoke the Directive 2000/31 on electronic commerce in respect of online advertising. This legal basis issued from secondary legislation is of fundamental importance given to the foreseeable expansion of electronic commerce in the future. On the other hand, they can invoke the provisions of the Treaty regarding the freedoms of circulation which can provide them more rights than some Directives like the Directive 2006/123.

Anything to declare ? Bringing cash into the EU

Judgment
C-17/16
04.05.2017
PartiesJurisdictionFormationJudge RapporteurAdvocate GeneralSubject-matter
Reference for preliminary rulingOussama El Dakkak
v
Administration des douanes et des droits indirects
CJEU1st Ch.R. Silva de LapuertaP. MengozziTransfer of funds
KeywordsReference for a preliminary ruling — Regulation (EC) No 1889/2005 — Controls of cash entering or leaving the European Union — Article 3(1) — Natural person entering or leaving the European Union — Obligation to declare — International transit area of a Member State’s airport
Significant pointsThe CJ was asked by the French Cour de cassation whether the obligation laid down in Regulation (EC) No 1889/2005 on controls of cash entering or leaving the Community to declare any sum greater than €10,000 transported in cash applied to a passenger merely transiting from one non-EU State to another non-EU State via an European airport. The CJ answered in the affirmative and stated that the obligation to declare any cash sum over €10,000 was indistinctively applicable to every person entering or leaving the EU, including international transit areas of airports located in the territory of EU Member States.

In the case, Mr El Dakkak was ordered by the Benin company Intercontinental to transport by aeroplane American dollars (USD) from Cotonou (Benin) to Beirut (Lebanon) via the French airport Roissy-Charles de Gaulle where customs officials checked him and found $1,607,650 (approximately €1,511,545) and €3,900 in cash in his possession, which he had not declared.

Regarding the notion of “entering the EU”, the CJ judged that it entailed in movement of a natural person from a non-EU territory to a territory which is part of the EU. Due to the fact that neither the Regulation (EC) No 1889/2005 nor any provision of the treaties exclude the international transit areas of European airports from the EU territory or even provide any exceptions, Mr El Dekkak was judged to have entered the EU and was therefore subject to the obligation to declare.

In this respect, the CJ referred not only to the usual meaning of a ‘natural person entering or leaving’ the EU, and to the notion of EU territory within the Treaties (which is, as a general rule, of relevance for the interpretation of the scope of an act of secondary legislation) but also to the objective pursued by the Regulation (EC) N° 1889/2005, its international context (recommendations of the FATF) and its practical effect. Notably, the CJ emphasized that the applicability of the obligation at issue was consistent with the objective pursued by Regulation (EC) No 1889/2005, i.e. the discouragement and avoidance of the introduction of illicit money into the financial system and its investment after laundering. In order to guarantee the effectiveness of the control system for cash entering or leaving the EU, the notion of a “natural person entering or leaving” the EU had to be interpreted in a broad manner.
NoteworthyThe free movement of capital and goods within the EU, along with the abolition of systematic internal border checks facilitate significantly the circulation of cash. Accordingly, some legal constraints had to be adopted in order to fight against money laundering and financing of terrorism. The unfortunate recent terrorist attacks which have occurred since the delivery of this judgment are unlikely to soften such an approach.