Port cargo-handling services: the Court of Justice of the EU has condemned Spain because of its delay in liberalizing the sector

On 13 July 2017, by its judgment in Case C-388/16, the Court of Justice of the European Union found that Spain had not taken the necessary measures to ensure compliance with a 2014 judgment, by the deadline set by the European Commission.

In its judgment of 11 December 2014, the Court of Justice held that Spain had infringed the principle of freedom of establishment, since its legislation required undertakings from other Member States, wishing to carry out cargo-handling activities in Spanish ports of general interest, first, to register with a public limited dockers’ management company and, as the case may be, to hold shares in that company and, second, to give priority in recruitment to workers provided by that company.

Spain had time until 20 September 2015 to adopt the necessary measures to ensure compliance with the 2014 judgment. However, the Commission found that, by that deadline, Spain failed to fulfil its obligations and therefore brought a second action before the Court, seeking the imposition of financial penalties.

On 12 May 2017, Spain adopted, with effect from 14 May 2017, new legislation modifying the rules governing workers with regard to the provision of port cargo-handling services; thus, the Court has recognised Spain’s good faith, since it had also cooperated closely with the Commission during the pre-litigation procedure.

However, since the failure to fulfil its obligations continued for a significant length of time and given the seriousness of the non-fulfilment and the fact that it adversely affected freedom of establishment, which is one of the fundamental principles of the internal market, the Court has considered appropriate to order Spain to pay a lump sum of 3 million euro into the European Union budget.


Davide Scavuzzo