European Law Monitor

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Free Movement of Goods

Most people have heard of the term "free movement" and have a rough idea of what it means. The aim of this article is to give people an overview of the key principles governing free movement.

The core principles, as laid out in the Treaty, state that

  • measures which amount to a total or partial restraint on imports, exports or goods in transit, are prohibited between Member States.
  • All measures, other than those which apply   equally to domestic and imported products,
  • which hinder imports which could otherwise take place,
  • which make importation more difficult or costly than the disposal of domestic production,
    are prohibited under the Treaty.   Therefore, all trading rules which
  • cause you to physically alter your product to comply
  • and which are capable of hindering, directly or indirectly, actually or potentially, intra
    Community trade, are prohibited under EU law.   A measure hinders intra Community trade if it is designed to regulate trade, and it has an impact on the volume of sales.

In 1979, the EU came out with a key principle regarding the mutual recognition of products.
This established that each Member State must accept on its territory products which are legally produced and/or marketed in other Member States. Member States may only apply national restrictions that are justified on the grounds of

  • public morality, e.g. banning the importation of pornography from the Netherlands to the UK was justified on the grounds of public morality.
  • public policy;
  • public security;
  • the protection of health and life of humans, animals or plants;
  • the protection of national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value;
  • the protection of industrial and commercial property.
  • Environmental protection
  • Consumer protection
  • Fiscal supervision effectiveness
  • Protection of public health
  • Protection of workers
  • Cultural activities

Any national measures imposed must be shown to be both necessary, and proportional. Such prohibitions or restrictions must not constitute a means of arbitrary discrimination or a disguised restriction on trade between Member States.

In 1993, the European Court of Justice held that non discriminatory national measures restricting or prohibiting selling arrangements were held to be permissible. Selling arrangements basically covers what you can sell, how you sell it, and where.

Finally, under the free movement of goods rules Member States are forbidden to impose customs duties on imports and exports between Member States. Nor are they allowed to impose charges which have the same effect as customs duties.