European Court of Justice overturns additional requirements for the marketing of construction products in German Building Rules List

By Christoph Mank and Eva Hugo, K&L Gates, Berlin

On 16 October 2014, the European Court of Justice[1] (ECJ) ruled that German law, which imposes additional authorization schemes on construction products even if they already bear the “CE” mark and are lawfully marketed in other member states of the European Union, violates the right on the free movement of goods on the single European market.

The facts

In the European Union, certain products are marked with the CE symbol to certify their compliance with product requirements under European Union law. Consequently, a CE-certified product is entitled to move freely on the European market and may be freely used for its intended purpose.

Nevertheless, German law, as reviewed by the ECJ, stipulates that CE-certified construction products are subject to additional approvals before their use and sale in the domestic market; such additional approvals are listed in building rules lists (Bauregellisten) A, B and C.

The present case solely referred to building rules list B and three construction products listed therein; namely, pipeline compressions, mineral wool insulating materials and gates, windows and exterior doors. All these construction products had in common was that they were marked with the CE symbol, which meant that they complied with requirements of the Construction Products Directive[2] of the European Union and, therefore, could be marketed and used freely on the European market. However, German public building law provides for additional national approvals for marketing the construction products on the German market.

Due to this practice, the European Commission received numerous complaints from manufacturers and importers who had difficulty in placing their construction products on the German market; the European Commission, therefore, launched infringement proceedings against Germany. Since Germany insisted during the preliminary procedure that the security of buildings cannot sufficiently be achieved by the CE marking alone, the European Commission decided to bring action before the ECJ.

The decision

The ECJ held that the additional approvals set out in building rules list B infringes article 4 paragraph 2 and article 6 paragraph 1 of the Construction Products Directive. According to those provisions, member states “shall not impede the free movement, placing on the market or use in their territory of products which satisfy the provisions of this Directive,” and were, correspondingly, CE-marked. The ECJ ruled that the German approval practice constitutes such an impediment.

The Court further stated that the Directive itself provides for specific procedures in the event that a member state considers the requirements of the Directive to be incomplete and insufficient. Due to the existence of those procedures, a member state is not allowed to arbitrarily impose its own additional requirements.

Consequences

Although the present decision refers only to the three aforementioned groups of construction products, the ruling will be applicable for all CE-marked construction products that are subject to further approvals according to German law. The European Commission, correspondingly, sees a precedent.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that the Court´s decision refers to the Construction Products Directive of 1989, replaced in 2013 by the Construction Products Regulation[3]. Hereafter, the CE marking no longer serves as a proof that the respective construction product complies with the requirements of European law. Now, it only shows that a declaration of performance has been issued by the manufacturer describing the performance of the construction product and its essential features; therefore, it is not clear whether, and to what extent, the member states are allowed to impose additional requirements under the new Construction Products Regulation. However, since the new Regulation also provides for special procedures in the event of incomplete and insufficient provisions, it can be assumed that member states will also not be allowed to impose their own additional requirements beyond the provided procedures. It remains to be seen if Germany will make use of those procedures.

Reactions to the present decision are quite different: while the European Commission and European associations welcome the decision with regard to the right of free movement of goods, German associations fear a decline in quality of construction products.


[1] Case no. C-100/13.

[2] Directive 89/106/EEC.

[3] Regulation EU 305/2011.

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