Brussels, 5 May 2010
Establishment: Commission refers Greece to Court over discriminatory rules on petrol stations
The European Commission has decided to refer Greece to the Court of Justice over its rules restricting the establishment of petrol stations. The rules make it very difficult for businesses from other Member States to enter the Greek market, limiting competition in the market and choice for consumers. The Commission sent a reasoned opinion to Greece in June 2009 asking it to comply with EU law. As no satisfactory reply was received, the Commission has decided to take the case to the Court.
What is the aim of the EU rules in question?
The EU principle of freedom of establishment enables companies already operating in one Member State to set up their business anywhere else in the EU. Sometimes national laws can restrict this freedom, resulting in disadvantages to consumers, businesses and the economy as a whole. In these cases, the Commission takes action to ensure that this principle is respected and that EU companies can exercise their Internal Market rights freely.
How is Greece not respecting these rules?
Greece does not have coherent and proportionate rules relating to the location of petrol stations (i.e. they prohibit the establishment of petrol stations near certain public places, such as shops or residences, while allowing it near others, such as offices and hotels).
Moreover, it imposes minimum distances between a new petrol station and an existing one, therefore limiting the entry of new operators (including operators from other Member States) on the Greek market.
In addition, the authorisation procedure for petrol stations requires the applicant to provide a fire certificate that can be issued only by "certified" expert engineers. This means that a company wishing to establish a petrol station in Greece is limited to using a Greek expert, rather than using its internal resources or an expert from another Member State as it normally would.
How are EU citizens and businesses suffering as a result?
The rules outlined above restrict the ability of businesses from other Member States to establish a petrol station in Greece. Though equally applicable to Greek and foreign companies alike, they nevertheless have the effect of promoting existing operators, which are mostly Greek. This prevents multi-line retailers from competing on the Greek petrol retail market and limits the choice available to Greek consumers.
What are the next steps?
The Commission has referred Greece to the Court of Justice. In due course the Court will decide whether Greece will have to change its laws.
About infringement procedures
The European Commission has powers under Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) to take legal action – known as infringement procedures – against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations under EU rules. These procedures consist of three steps. The first is that the Member State receives a letter of formal notice seeking information if the Commission has concerns that there may be a breach of EU law and has two months to respond. If the Commission's concerns about a breach of EU legislation are confirmed, the Commission sends a reasoned opinion requiring the Member State to comply with EU law within two months. If there is no satisfactory reply, the Commission can refer the matter to the Court of Justice in Luxembourg. If the Court rules against a Member State and the Member State does not comply with the Court's ruling, the Commission can also request that the Court impose a fine on the country concerned.
Freedom of establishment:
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