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Brussels, 08 August 2000

Commission sends Italy a reasoned opinion on fixing the remuneration of customs agents

The European Commission has decided to send Italy a reasoned opinion for failure to comply with the competition rules in respect of the remuneration of customs agents despite a Court of Justice judgment.

The case goes back to 1993 and the Italian Government recently expressed its intention of adapting its legislation so that customs agents were free to set their own remuneration. Nevertheless, by sending a reasoned opinion the Commission wishes to ensure that the process will in fact be completed.

On 18 June 1998 the Court of Justice ruled that, by adopting a law requiring the National Council of Customs Agents (Consiglio Nazionale degli Spedizionieri Doganali) (CNSD) to set the tariff for customs agents, Italy had failed to fulfil its obligations under Articles 10 and 81 of the Treaty .

The Court judgment, which resulted from infringement proceedings initiated by the Commission against the CNSD, was confirmed by the Court of First Instance's judgment of 30 March 2000, rejecting the appeal lodged by the CNSD.

The Commission decided to send Italy this reasoned opinion despite the fact that a draft law providing for the repeal of the offending legal provisions is under discussion in the Italian Parliament and even though, pending a new law, the Ministry of Finance has written to the departments and professional associations concerned, informing them by ministerial circular that these provisions no longer apply.

While the Commission appreciates the Italian authorities' intention of complying with the Court judgment, it has to say that a ministerial circular does not have the force of law.

The Commission considers that in a sector such as this, where there is a longstanding tradition of strict price discipline, legal ambiguity will exist for as long as the law remains in force and it will be reasonable to believe that some customs agents will continue to feel themselves bound by the tariff.

Mario Monti, the Member of the European Commission responsible for competition, who has made this subject one of his priorities, has said that price competition applies to the professions just as it does to firms, in order to provide not only a choice of the services provided but also a choice based on the costs of those services.

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