The Court of Justice rendered on 16 February 2017 its judgment in Agro Foreign Trade & Agency Ltd v Petersime NV (Case C‑507/15), a case involving a commercial agency contract concluded between a Belgian principal and a Turkish agent. The contract had been submitted by the parties to Belgian law and featured a choice-of-forum clause conferring jurisdiction to the courts of Ghent, in Belgium.
The issue submitted to the Court concerned the interpretation of Directive 86/653 on the coordination of the laws of the Member States relating to self-employed commercial agents and of the 1963 Agreement establishing an association between the EU and Turkey, together with the Additional Protocol thereto.
Specifically, the Court was asked to determine whether the above texts preclude national legislation transposing the directive into the law of a Member State (Belgium, in the case at issue), which excludes from its scope of application a commercial agency contract in the context of which the agent is established in Turkey, where it carries out activities under that contract, and the principal is established in that Member State. The exclusion was such that, in the circumstances, the agent could not rely on rights which the directive guarantees to commercial agents after the termination of the contract.
The Court held that the Directive and the Association Agreement do not preclude such national legislation.
In its reasoning, the Court began by focusing on the scope of application of the Directive. Having noted that the situation of a contract between a EU principal and a non-EU agent is not expressly referred to in the Directive, the Court observed, relying on the second and third recitals of the Directive, that the harmonising measures provided thereunder seek to protect commercial agents in their relations with their principals, to eliminate restrictions on the carrying-on of the activities of commercial agents, to make the conditions of competition within the Community uniform, to promote the security of commercial transactions, and to facilitate trade in goods between Member States by harmonising their legal systems within the area of commercial representation.
It added that the purpose of the regime established in Articles 17 to 19 of the Directive is to protect freedom of establishment and the operation of undistorted competition in the internal market.
Accordingly, where the commercial agent carries out its activities outside the EU, the fact that the principal is established in a Member State does not present a sufficiently close link with the EU for the purposes of the application of the Directive.
The Court then moved on to determine whether the application of the Directive to commercial agents established in Turkey can follow from the Association Agreement.
The Court acknowledged that, pursuant to the Agreement, the provisions of the Treaties on the free movement of workers and the freedom to provide services must be extended, so far as possible, to Turkish nationals to eliminate restrictions on the freedom to provide services between the contracting parties.
It noted, however, that the interpretation given to the provisions of EU law concerning the internal market cannot be automatically applied by analogy to the interpretation of an agreement concluded by the EU with a non-Member State, and that the Association Agreement, which is intended essentially to promote the economic development of Turkey, does not establish any general principle of freedom of movement of persons between Turkey and the European Union. Its purpose is rather to guarantee the enjoyment of certain rights only within the territory of the host Member State.
By contrast, the Court stressed that, in the context of EU law, the protection of the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services, by means of the regime provided for by Directive 86/653 with respect to commercial agents, reflects the objective of establishing an internal market, conceived as an area without internal borders, by removing all obstacles to the establishment of such a market.
The Court concluded that the differences between the Treaties and the Association Agreement preclude the system of protection laid down by the Directive from being held to extend to commercial agents established in Turkey, in the context of that agreement.
Jean-Sylvestre Bergé (University of Lyon) has published an interesting analysis of the judgment in his blog Droit & Pluriel.