Non-WTO compliance signals danger for EU

Companies and citizens may be able to sue European governments and EU institutions for failing to abide by World Trade Organization (WTO) rulings if the European Court of Justice (ECJ) approves a formal opinion from one of its advocate generals.

On 14 May, Siegbert Alber proposed a dramatic extension of the power of WTO decisions, claiming they should be regarded as European law and so available for claims by EU citizens for damages from governments flouting such rulings. Advocate general opinions are usually approved by the full ECJ, although this case could be controversial.

The proposal was based on a complaint from French meat-trading company Biret, which claimed it should be compensated for the refusal of the EU Council of Ministers to comply with a WTO ruling that an EU ban on imports of hormone-treated meat broke world trade rules.

Speaking to The Lawyer, Philip Ruttley, secretary to the World Trade Law Association, said: “The advocate general’s opinion is a most welcome recognition of the regrettable drawback of the WTO system.

“In the present state of EU law, citizens who are injured by WTO violations cannot take the EU, EU institutions or member states to court, and the same situation exists in the US, Canada and Japan. The Biret case is a particularly hard case, where the injustice of the system is flagrant.”