Joined CJEU Cases C-407/19 & C-471/19 | Katoen Natie Bulk Terminals NV and General Services Antwerp NV v Belgische Staat & Middlegate Europe NV v Ministerraad

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Publication Date 2019-2021
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Information Guide concerning Cases C-407/19 and C-471/19 from the Court of Justice of the European Union, which relates to the activity of dockers in port areas, access to the profession and recruitment.

Further information:

Under Belgian law, dock work may be carried out only by recognised dockers. In 2014, the European Commission sent Belgium a letter of formal notice, in which it informed that its dock work legislation infringed the freedom of establishment. In 2016, Belgium adopted a royal decree relating to the recognition of dockers in port areas, establishing the arrangements for the implementation of the Law organising dock work (Wet Major). This led the Commission to close the infringement procedure.

Katoen Natie Buld Terminals and General Services Antwerp - two companies carrying out port operations in Belgium and elsewhere - requested the Belgian Council of State (Raad van State) to annul the 2016 royal decree, as it impeded their freedom to engage dockers from Member States other Belgium to work in Belgian port areas. In parallel, Middlegate Europe was ordered to pay a fine following it was found by the Belgian police to have allowed dock work by an unrecognised docker. The latter company challenged the constitutionality of the Law organising dock work before the Belgian Constitutional Court (Grondwettelijk), viewing the legislation as disregarding the freedom of trade and industry of undertakings.

The Constitutional Court decided to refer questions to the CJEU in June 2019 - just like the Council of State in the previous month - on the compatibility of the national rules, which maintain a special regime for the recruitment of dockers, with the EU's freedom to provide services (Art 56 TFEU) and freedom of establishment (Art 49 TFEU). The Court was also asked to identify additional criteria enabling the conformity of the docker regime with EU law requirements to be clarified.

On 11 February 2021, the CJEU found that the Belgian legislation reserving dock work to recognised workers may be compatible with EU law if it is aimed at ensuring safety in port areas and preventing workplace. The Court added that the intervention of a joint administrative committee in the recognition of dockers is neither necessary nor appropriate for attaining the objective pursued.

Related Links
Commentary and Analysis
ETF Europe: Statement, 16/09/2020: ETF Management Committee statement in solidarity with Belgian Dockers
IBJ/IJE: Partner Blog, 23/03/2021: CJEU: Belgian systems for the recognition of dockworkers partially violates EU law

CJEU CURIA: Case C-407/19 | Katoen Natie Bulk Terminals and General Services Antwerp
CJEU CURIA: Case C-471/19 | Middlegate Europe
CJEU: Press Release No 15/21, 11/02/2021: Judgment in Joined Cases C-407/19, Katoen Natie Bulk Terminals NV and General Services Antwerp NV v Belgische Staat and C-471/19, Middlegate Europe NV v Ministerraad

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