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European court dismisses Estonian sugar penalty action

Sugar. Photo is illustrative.
Sugar. Photo is illustrative. Source: (Tairo Lutter/Postimees/Scanpix)

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has dismissed the action Estonia filed in spring of 2015 to recoup from the EU the €34.3 million that the country paid as penalty for excessive stocks of sugar.

According to the court's decision, Estonia will have to pay its own as well as the European Commission's legal expenses.

The European Commission presented two arguments against hearing the case, one of which contended that the contested act was essentially a statement of opinion and the second of which was that Estonia did not submit new circumstances necessitating a review of the case.

Although the court agreed with Estonia's position that the Commission's contested decision could not be considered simply a statement of opinion as it had legal consequences, it also agreed with the Commission that Estonia's complaint did not contain new circumstances necessitating a review of the sugar penalty decision.

Estonia took legal action in March 2015 after the European Commission did not grant its application to return the money paid for sugar stocks deemed by the Commission to be excessive at the moment of the country's entry into the EU.

The Commission refused the Estonian application on the grounds that, in its judgement, the factual circumstances concerning sugar and other agricultural stockpiles were different, and not translating legal acts had a different effect on entrepreneurs and member states, spokespeople for the Ministry of Rural Affairs, known then as the Ministry of Agriculture, told BNS at the time.

Estonia took the view that the European Commission had breached several general law principles deriving from the founding treaty like the principles of good governance and lawfulness of the union's actions, and this had brought along the union's unfounded enrichment.

The lawsuit was backed by the stance of the European court that the European Commission had failed to fulfill its obligation to ensure that necessary legislative acts were published in the Official Journal of the European Union in Estonian language by the day of Estonia's accession to the union.

As the General Court of the European Union quashed the European Commission's decision regarding excessive stocks of agricultural products other than sugar, the Commission returned to Estonia €6.6 million the country had paid into the union's budget by the end of 2012.

Referencing the same ruling, Estonia sought the return of the sugar penalty as well, but the Commission turned down the application in December 2014.

Estonia has paid €34.264 million as a penalty for surplus sugar, 75 percent of the total adjudged amount of €45.7 million. Estonia was allowed to keep the remaining 25 percent to cover its own expenses.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

Source: BNS

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