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C- 443/98 Unilever Italia v Central Food

[2000] ECR I 7535

Case summary last updated at 13/02/2020 21:47 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case C- 443/98 Unilever Italia v Central Food

(please read the Opinion of Advocate General Jacobs too– do you prefer the view of the Court or of the Advocate General?): Italy brought in domestic regulations on food labelling, despite a directive requiring no legislation on the subject for a period. C refused to accept delivery of U’s product and U sued for breach of contract. C’s defence was that the product did not comply with the regulations Italy had brought in so it would be unlawful to accept delivery. U argued that the regulations should not be applied since they were in breach of the directive. It said that the CIA ruling should be extended to failures to comply with delay procedures. ECJ held that a national court is required, in civil proceedings between individuals concerning contractual rights and obligations, to refuse to apply a national technical regulation which was adopted during a period of postponement of adoption prescribed in a directive. 
ECJ: It is clear from CIA that a law made domestically in breach of a rule set out in a directive leads to inapplicability of that law and there is no reason not to apply this in disputes between private individuals who contest a contract, just because CIA concerned competition law. There is a difference between rendering a national law obsolete due to procedural defect (allowed) and allowing a directive to impose an obligation on another, giving it de facto horizontal effect (not allowed, following Marshall). 
AG Jacobs (different approach to ECJ): National legislation should not be rendered unenforceable in private contractual relations of this kind. To allow this would be to create great legal uncertainty, and would be unfair as it would penalise one of the parties to the contract for the state’s failure. Also breach of a standstill clause of a directive (here) is different to breach of a notification clause (as in CIA) and therefore CIA wasn’t a direct precedent (This last point is a bit crap- both have the effect of preventing a common market- he really just objects to the CIA ruling and wants to confine it). In general AG Jacobs’ views make more sense.

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