Driving licenses. The Court of Justice rules on the lack of mutual recognition between Member States

On 29 April 2021, the Court of Justice handed down its judgment in Case C‑56/20, AR v Stadt Pforzheim, on the interpretation ofDirective 2006/126/EC. The request has been made in proceedings between AR, an Austrian national holding a driving licence issued in Austria, and the Stadt Pforzheim (City of Pforzheim, Germany) concerning the affixing by the German competent authorities of an endorsement to his Austrian driving licence indicating a driving ban in Germany.

Due to having driven a vehicle in Germany under the influence of narcotic drugs in June 2014, on 10 August 2015 the competent driving-licence authority of the City of Pforzheim revoked AR’s right to drive within German territory, ordering him to submit his Austrian driving licence without delay so that it could be recorded as invalid in the Federal Republic of Germany by the affixing of a red “D” crossed out by a diagonal line thereto.  Since both his complaint and the following judicial appeal were dismissed, AR brought an appeal against the judgment at first instance before the Verwaltungsgerichtshof Baden-Württemberg (Higher Administrative Court of Baden-Württemberg; the “referring court”) claiming that, in accordance with Directive 2006/126, only the Member State in which the holder of that licence has his or her normal residence may issue and subsequently modify driving licences. 

In light of the need to interpret the relevant European legislation, therefore, the referring court decided to stay the proceedings and to ask the Court of whether Directive 2006/126 must be interpreted as precluding a Member State which has adopted, under the second subparagraph of Article 11(4) of that directive, a decision refusing to recognise the validity of a driving licence issued by another Member State on account of unlawful conduct on the part of its holder, which occurred during a temporary stay in the territory of the first State after the issue of that licence, from affixing to that licence also an endorsement indicating a prohibition, for that holder, on driving in that Member State, when that holder has not established his or her normal residence, within the meaning of the first subparagraph of Article 12 of that directive, in the territory of that Member State.

According to the Court, despite Directive 2006/126 does not preclude a Member State of temporary stay from refusing, on the basis of national rules, to recognise the right to use the driving licence issued to a person by another Member State, thereby terminating that person’s right to drive motor vehicles within the national territory, it cannot affix to such a licence an endorsement indicating a prohibition on driving within its territory. Both the issue and the subsequent alterations to a driving licence as well as the entries appearing on it, indeed, fall within the exclusive competence of the Member State in which the holder of that licence normally resides.

Marco Stillo