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Document 62021CJ0296

Judgment of the Court (Third Chamber) of 24 November 2022.
Proceedings brought by A.
Reference for a preliminary ruling – Control of the acquisition and possession of weapons – Directive 91/477/EEC – Annex I, Part III – Deactivation standards and techniques – Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/2403 – Verification and certification of deactivation of firearms – Article 3 – Verifying entity approved by a national authority – Issuance of a deactivation certificate – Entity not included on the list published by the European Commission – Transfer of deactivated firearms within the European Union – Article 7 – Mutual recognition.
Case C-296/21.

Court reports – general – 'Information on unpublished decisions' section

ECLI identifier: ECLI:EU:C:2022:918

Provisional text

JUDGMENT OF THE COURT (Third Chamber)

24 November 2022 (*)

(Reference for a preliminary ruling – Control of the acquisition and possession of weapons – Directive 91/477/EEC – Annex I, Part III – Deactivation standards and techniques – Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/2403 – Verification and certification of deactivation of firearms – Article 3 – Verifying entity approved by a national authority – Issuance of a deactivation certificate – Entity not included on the list published by the European Commission – Transfer of deactivated firearms within the European Union – Article 7 – Mutual recognition)

In Case C‑296/21,

REQUEST for a preliminary ruling under Article 267 TFEU from the Korkein hallinto-oikeus (Supreme Administrative Court, Finland), made by decision of 26 April 2021, received at the Court on 7 May 2021, in the proceedings brought by

A

intervening parties:

Helsingin poliisilaitos,

Poliisihallitus,

THE COURT (Third Chamber),

composed of K. Jürimäe, President of the Chamber, M. Safjan, N. Piçarra, N. Jääskinen and M. Gavalec (Rapporteur), Judges,

Advocate General: M. Campos Sánchez-Bordona,

Registrar: R. Stefanova-Kamisheva, Administrator,

having regard to the written procedure and further to the hearing on 18 May 2022,

after considering the observations submitted on behalf of:

–        A, initially by himself then by P. Snell,

–        Poliisihallitus, by M. Koponen and M. Lehtonen,

–        the Austrian Government, by J. Schmoll and V.‑S. Strasser, acting as Agents,

–        the Finnish Government, by H. Leppo, acting as Agent,

–        the European Commission, by M. Huttunen and I. Söderlund and R. Tricot, acting as Agents,

after hearing the Opinion of the Advocate General at the sitting on 7 July 2022,

gives the following

Judgment

1        This request for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Council Directive 91/477/EEC of 18 June 1991 on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons (OJ 1991 L 256, p. 51), as amended by Directive 2008/51/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008 (OJ 2008 L 179, p. 5) (‘Directive 91/477’), and of Articles 3 and 7 of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/2403 of 15 December 2015 establishing common guidelines on deactivation standards and techniques for ensuring that deactivated firearms are rendered irreversibly inoperable (OJ 2015 L 333, p. 62).

2        The request has been made in proceedings brought by A concerning the decision of the Helsingin poliisilaitos (Helsinki Police, Finland) by which it refused to recognise the firearm deactivation certificates issued in Austria and presented when those weapons were transferred to Finland.

 Legal context

 European Union law

 Directive 91/477

3        Directive 91/477 was repealed by Directive (EU) 2021/555 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 March 2021 on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons (OJ 2021 L 115, p. 1). However, in view of the date of the facts at issue, the dispute in the main proceedings remains governed by the provisions of Directive 91/477.

4        According to the third and fourth recitals of that directive, its purpose was to approximate weapons legislation by introducing effective rules which allow control within Member States of the acquisition and possession of firearms and their transfer to another Member State.

5        Directive 2008/51 amended Directive 91/477 in its original version, inter alia, in order to incorporate into EU law the United Nations Protocol on the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts, components and ammunition, annexed to the United Nations Convention against transnational organised crime, signed on behalf of the European Community on 16 January 2002 by the European Commission in accordance with Council Decision 2001/748/EC of 16 October 2001 (OJ 2001 L 280, p. 5).

6        Recitals 1, 11, 12 and 15 of Directive 2008/51 read as follows:

‘(1)      Directive [91/477] established an accompanying measure for the internal market. It creates a balance between on the one hand the undertaking to ensure a certain freedom of movement for some firearms within the Community, and on the other the need to control that freedom using security guarantees tailored to that type of product.

(11)      With regard to the deactivation of firearms, point (a) of Part III of Annex I to Directive [91/477] simply refers to national legislation. The [United Nations Protocol on the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts, components and ammunition] sets out more explicit general principles for the deactivation of weapons. Annex I to Directive [91/477] should therefore be amended.

(12)      Due to the special nature of the activity of dealers, it is necessary that Member States exercise a strict control over this activity, in particular by verifying the professional integrity and abilities of dealers.

(15)      In order to facilitate the tracing of firearms and efficiently to combat the illicit trafficking and manufacturing of firearms, their parts and ammunition, it is necessary to improve the exchange of information between Member States.’

7        Article 1(1) and (2) of Directive 91/477 provided:

‘1.      For the purposes of this Directive, “firearm” shall mean any portable barrelled weapon that expels, is designed to expel or may be converted to expel a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of a combustible propellant, unless it is excluded for one of the reasons listed in Part III of Annex I. Firearms are classified in part II of Annex I.

For the purposes of this Directive, an object shall be considered as capable of being converted to expel a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of a combustible propellant if:

–        it has the appearance of a firearm, and

–        as a result of its construction or the material from which it is made, it can be so converted.

2.      For the purposes of this Directive, “dealer” shall mean any natural or legal person whose trade or business consists wholly or partly in the manufacture, trade, exchange, hiring out, repair or conversion of firearms, parts and ammunition.’

8        Part III of Annex I to that directive provided:

‘For the purposes of this Annex, objects which correspond to the definition of a “firearm” shall not be included in that definition if they:

(a)      have been rendered permanently unfit for use by deactivation, ensuring that all essential parts of the firearm have been rendered permanently inoperable and incapable of removal, replacement or a modification that would permit the firearm to be reactivated in any way;

Member States shall make arrangements for the deactivation measures referred to in point (a) to be verified by a competent authority in order to ensure that the modifications made to a firearm render it irreversibly inoperable. Member States shall, in the context of this verification, provide for the issuance of a certificate or record attesting to the deactivation of the firearm or the apposition of a clearly visible mark to that effect on the firearm. The Commission shall, acting in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 13a(2) of the Directive, issue common guidelines on deactivation standards and techniques to ensure that deactivated firearms are rendered irreversibly inoperable.

Pending coordination throughout the Community, Member States may apply their national laws to the firearms listed in this Section.’

 Implementing Regulation 2015/2403

9        Recitals 2 and 3 of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 state:

‘(2)      In accordance with Annex I, Part III, first paragraph, point (a), of Directive [91/477], objects which correspond to the definition of a “firearm” are not to be included in that definition if they have been rendered permanently unfit for use by deactivation, ensuring that all essential parts of the firearm have been rendered permanently inoperable and incapable of removal, replacement or a modification that would permit the firearm to be reactivated in any way.

(3)      Annex I, Part III, second paragraph, of Directive [91/477] requires Member States to make arrangements for the deactivation measures to be verified by a competent authority in order to ensure that the modifications made to a firearm render it irreversibly inoperable. Member States are also requested to provide for issuance of a certificate or record attesting to the deactivation of the firearm or the apposition of a clearly visible mark to that effect on the firearm.’

10      Article 2 of that implementing regulation, entitled ‘Persons and entities authorised to deactivate firearms’, provides:

‘Deactivation of firearms shall be carried out by public or private entities or by individuals authorised to do so in accordance with national legislation.’

11      Article 3 of that implementing regulation, entitled ‘Verification and certification of deactivation of firearms’, provides:

‘1.      Member States shall designate a competent authority to verify that the deactivation of the firearm has been carried out in accordance with the technical specifications set out in Annex I (“the verifying entity”).

2.      Where the verifying entity is also authorised to deactivate firearms, Member States shall ensure a clear separation of those tasks and of the persons carrying them out within that entity.

3.      The Commission shall publish on its website a list of the verifying entities designated by Member States, including detailed information on and the symbol of the verifying entity as well as contact information.

4.      Where the deactivation of the firearm has been carried out in accordance with the technical specifications set out in Annex I, the verifying entity shall issue to the owner of the firearm a deactivation certificate in accordance with the template set out in Annex III. All information included in the deactivation certificate shall be provided both in the language of the Member State where the deactivation certificate is issued as well as in English.

…’

12      Article 6 of that implementing regulation, entitled ‘Additional deactivation measures’, provides:

‘1.      Member States may introduce additional measures to deactivate firearms in their territory going beyond the technical specifications set out in Annex I.

2.      The Commission shall regularly analyse with the Committee established by Directive [91/477] any additional measure taken by the Member States and shall consider revising the technical specifications set out in Annex I in due time.’

13      Article 7 of that same implementing regulation, entitled ‘Transfer of deactivated firearms within the [European] Union’, provides:

‘1.      Deactivated firearms may only be transferred to another Member State provided they bear the common unique marking and are accompanied by a deactivation certificate in accordance with this Regulation.

2.      Member States shall recognise the deactivation certificates issued by another Member State if the certificate fulfils the requirements set out in this Regulation. However, Member States which have introduced additional measures in accordance with Article 6 may require proof that the deactivated firearm to be transferred to their territory complies with those additional measures.’

14      Article 8 of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403, entitled ‘Notification requirements’, provides:

‘Member States shall notify to the Commission any measures they adopt in the field covered by this Regulation as well as any additional measure introduced in accordance with Article 6. For that purpose, Member States shall apply the notification procedures laid down in Directive (EU) 2015/1535 [of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 September 2015 laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical regulations and of rules on Information Society services (OJ 2015 L 241, p. 1)].’

15      Annex I to that implementing regulation, entitled ‘Technical specifications for the deactivation of firearms’ and comprising three tables, sets out the deactivation operations to be performed in order to render the different types of firearms and their essential components irreversibly inoperable.

16      Annex III to that implementing regulation contains the model certificate for deactivated firearms with which the verifying entities designated by the Member States must comply.

 Finnish law

17      Under Paragraph 91 of the Ampuma-aselaki (1/998) (Law on firearms (1/1998), as amended; ‘the Law on firearms’), if a firearms trade licence or a licence authorising possession for private use expires or is revoked, the police must issue an order for the seizure by the police of the firearms, parts of firearms, cartridges and particularly dangerous ammunition, unless they have already been handed over to a holder of an appropriate licence. The police must also issue a seizure order if an owner of unauthorised firearms or parts of firearms, unauthorised cartridges or particularly dangerous ammunition reports the object to the police on his or her own initiative and surrenders it to the police for safekeeping.

18      Paragraph 112a of the Law on firearms, entitled ‘Transfer and import of deactivated firearms to/into Finland’, provides that any person who transfers or imports a deactivated firearm into Finland must, within 30 days of the transfer or import, present the firearm to a police department or the Police Directorate for the purposes of verification.

 The dispute in the main proceedings and the questions referred for a preliminary ruling

19      On 17 October 2017, A, whose business consists in the sale of historical military items, transferred three assault rifles originating from Austria into Finland.

20      On 24 October 2017, in accordance with Paragraph 112a of the Law on firearms, A presented those weapons to the Helsinki Police as being deactivated and produced the deactivation certificates which had been issued on 9 October 2017 by Company B, established in Austria.

21      On 15 February 2018, the Helsinki Police decided to seize the weapons pursuant to Article 91(2) of the Law on firearms. It considered that the deactivation of the assault rifles did not meet the technical requirements laid down in Annex I to Implementing Regulation 2015/2403. Consequently, it took the view that they had to be classified as firearms requiring a licence authorising possession.

22      A brought an action against that decision before the Helsingin hallinto-oikeus (Administrative Court, Helsinki, Finland), claiming that it was not for the Helsinki Police to verify the deactivation of the weapons in question on the ground that they originated from Austria, where they had been deactivated. First, the police ought to have recognised the deactivation certificate issued by Company B, in accordance with Article 7(2) of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403. Secondly, A submitted evidence showing that the deactivation of the weapons at issue complied with the requirements laid down in Annex I to that implementing regulation, including an exchange of emails with the Austrian Ministry of Defence and Sports, by which the latter confirmed that company B, a dealer, was 1 of the 16 verifying entities designated by Austria.

23      The Poliisihallitus (Central Police Administration) maintained that the weapons at issue could not be regarded as being deactivated, not only because the deactivation effected was incomplete, but also because the deactivation certificate had been issued by Company B, which was not a competent authority within the meaning of Article 3(1) of that implementing regulation and was not included in the list drawn up by the Commission pursuant to Article 3(3) of that same implementing regulation. In that regard, it pointed out that the authority designated on that Commission list for Austria was not company B but the Ministry of the Interior.

24      The Helsingin hallinto-oikeus (Administrative Court, Helsinki) dismissed A’s action by the decision of 26 June 2019. That court held that it was apparent from Articles 3 and 8 of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 that only a deactivation certificate issued by a competent verifying entity included in the list drawn up by the Commission could be considered to comply with that implementing regulation. Given that it had not received a deactivation certificate issued by such an entity, the Helsinki Police could carry out a technical inspection of the weapons and then seize them.

25      A brought an appeal before the Korkein hallinto-oikeus (Supreme Administrative Court, Finland), the referring court in the present case.

26      That court has four doubts. First, it takes the view that the system of mutual recognition established by Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 lacks clarity in that it does not provide for whether the inclusion on the list drawn up by the Commission of an entity designated by a Member State, provided for in Article 3(3) of that implementing regulation, is automatic or if it results from an express decision of the Commission.

27      Secondly, it questions whether a legal person governed by private law such as a commercial company may be classified as a ‘competent authority’ or ‘verifying entity’ within the meaning of Part III of Annex I to Directive 91/477 and Article 3(1) of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403.

28      Thirdly, the referring court has doubts as to the legal effects of publication of the list of verifying entities provided for in Article 3(3) of that implementing regulation. Although the referring court can see how publication has only informative effect, it nevertheless leans towards the view that that publication has a constitutive effect, with the result that, in order to be recognised, a deactivation certificate must be issued by a duly designated verifying entity, the detailed information of which is included in the list drawn up by the Commission under that provision. That interpretation would in fact be the most appropriate for ensuring the uniformity of EU law and would prevent the risk of divergent interpretations of firearm deactivation standards by the authorities of the various Member States.

29      Fourthly and lastly, since the Austrian authorities confirmed, in a letter addressed to A, that they had indeed designated company B as the ‘verifying entity’ within the meaning of Article 3(1) of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403, the Korkein hallinto-oikeus (Supreme Administrative Court) questions whether, in order to remedy the absence of reference to an entity on the list published by the Commission under Article 3(3) of that implementing regulation, such a means of proof is admissible in order to demonstrate the status of ‘verifying entity’ within the meaning of Article 3(1) of that implementing regulation.

30      In those circumstances, the Korkein hallinto-oikeus (Supreme Administrative Court) decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘In the case of transfers of deactivated firearms within the Union, taking into account the provisions of [Directive 91/477] and the provisions of [Implementing Regulation 2015/2403], in particular Article 3(1) of that regulation:

(a)      Can a verifying entity which has been confirmed by a national authority and has issued a deactivation certificate be regarded as an entity within the meaning of [Directive 91/477] and Articles 3 and 7 of [Implementing Regulation 2015/2403] even though it is not included in the list published by the Commission pursuant to Article 3(3) [of that implementing regulation], where various authorities of that Member State have notified the transferor of the weapons that the verifying entity, operating in the legal form of a limited liability company …, which issued the certificate is authorised to do so under that regulation?

(b)      Can a verifying entity designated by a Member State for the purposes of the deactivation of weapons also be validated by means of other evidence obtained from a national authority instead of by means of inclusion in the list published on the Commission’s website within the meaning of Article 3(3) of [Implementing Regulation 2015/2403], such that a deactivation certificate issued by that verifying entity meets the requirements laid down in that regulation to the effect that a Member State must recognise a deactivation certificate issued in another Member State in accordance with Article 7(2) of [Implementing Regulation 2015/2403]?’

 Consideration of the questions referred

 The first question

31      By its first question, the referring court asks, in essence, whether Part III of Annex I to Directive 91/477 and Article 3 of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 preclude a legal person governed by private law, such as a commercial company, from coming within the scope of the concept of ‘verifying entity’ referred to in paragraph 1 of that provision, where that person is not on the list published by the Commission under paragraph 3 of that provision.

32      It is appropriate to begin by examining the question whether the concept of ‘verifying entity’ within the meaning of Article 3 of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 is intended to include a legal person governed by private law, such as a commercial company. In that regard, although Annex I, Part III, to Directive 91/477 and Article 3 refer to the concept of ‘competent authority’, referred to in paragraph 1 of the latter provision as ‘verifying entity’, neither of those provisions nor any other provision of that directive or of that implementing regulation specifies what is meant by ‘competent authority’ and ‘verifying entity’.

33      That being so, since those provisions contain no reference to national law for those concepts, they must be regarded as autonomous concepts of EU law in order to ensure a uniform interpretation throughout the Member States.

34      In that context, it should be remembered that the meaning and scope of terms for which EU law provides no definition must be determined by considering their usual meaning in everyday language, whilst also taking into account the context in which they occur and the purposes of the rules of which they form part (see, to that effect, judgment of 21 March 2019, Falck Rettungsdienste and Falck, C‑465/17, EU:C:2019:234, paragraph 28 and the case-law cited).

35      First of all, as regards the wording of those provisions, it should be noted that Article 3(1) of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 and Part III of Annex I to Directive 91/477 provide that the Member States are to designate a ‘competent authority’, referred to as the ‘verifying entity’ by that implementing regulation, to verify that the deactivation of a firearm has been carried out in accordance with the technical specifications set out in Annex I to that implementing regulation and, therefore, to ensure that the changes made to that weapon make it irreversibly inoperable.

36      In their usual meaning, the concepts of ‘authority’ or ‘entity’ must be understood as referring to any entity invested with power of a certain nature, so that the status of such an entity as being governed by public or private law is irrelevant. Although it is apparent from Article 3(1) of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 that the object of that ‘entity’ is to be ‘verification’, such clarification is merely indicative of the nature of the power exercised by that entity, namely a power to verify that the firearm was deactivated in accordance with the technical specifications set out in Annex I to that implementing regulation and, where that was done, a power to issue a deactivation certificate in accordance with Article 3(4) of that implementing regulation, and does not provide any details as to whether that entity is one governed by public law or private law.

37      It cannot, however, be inferred from those considerations that those concepts necessarily come within the notion of ‘public entity’, which refers specifically to the State, regional or local authorities and to entities set up by the State or those authorities to meet needs in the general interest (see, to that effect, judgment of 24 September 2020, NMI Technologietransfer, C‑516/19, EU:C:2020:754, paragraph 47).

38      It follows that both public and private entities may come within the concepts of ‘competent authority’ and ‘verifying entity’ in Article 3(1) of that implementing regulation and in Part III of Annex I to Directive 91/477, with the result that a legal person governed by private law, such as a commercial company like that at issue in the main proceedings, is liable to be such a ‘competent authority’ or ‘verifying entity’.

39      That interpretation is supported by the context surrounding Article 3(1) of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403. Whilst Article 2 of that implementing regulation provides that the deactivation of firearms is to be performed by public or private entities or persons authorised to do so in accordance with national legislation, Article 3(2) of that implementing regulation provides that, where a verifying entity also performs the function of deactivation of firearms, Member States must ensure a clear separation of tasks and persons performing them within that entity. Accordingly, it is apparent from a combined reading of Article 2 and Article 3(2) of that implementing regulation that the process of verification of deactivation of a firearm may be entrusted to a legal person governed by private law.

40      Lastly, the objectives pursued by Directive 91/477 and Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 support that interpretation.

41      It is apparent from recital 1 of Directive 2008/51 that Directive 91/477 seeks to ensure a balance between the existence of a certain freedom of movement for certain firearms and the need to regulate that freedom by security guarantees adapted to the nature of those objects, with a view to ensuring a high level of public security (see, to that effect, judgment of 23 January 2018, Buhagiar and Others, C‑267/16, EU:C:2018:26, paragraphs 49 to 52).

42      Those guarantees are reflected, first, in recital 12 of Directive 2008/51, in the requirement for Member States to exercise rigorous supervision of dealers, in particular by verifying their professional integrity and abilities.

43      Secondly, as is apparent from recital 15 of that directive, the legislature intended to facilitate the tracing of firearms and effectively combat the illegal traffic and manufacture of firearms, as well as their parts and ammunition, by promoting the exchange of information between Member States.

44      Thirdly, it is apparent from recitals 2 and 3 of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 that, in order to counter the risk of reactivating improperly deactivated firearms, it is for the Member States to designate a verifying entity responsible for verifying and certifying that modifications made to a firearm make it irreversibly inoperable, that is to say that, in accordance with point (a) of Part III of Annex I to Directive 91/477, all the essential parts of that weapon have been made permanently inoperable and incapable of removal, replacement or a modification that would permit the firearm to be reactivated in any way.

45      It follows that, in the light of the risks to public security posed by deactivated firearms, the free movement of those firearms can be ensured only by strict limits on the conditions relating to their deactivation and by ensuring that it has been carried out in accordance with the technical specifications set out in Annex I to Implementing Regulation 2015/2403, which it is for the verifying entity designated by the Member State concerned to verify.

46      As the Advocate General observed in points 43 to 49 of his Opinion, it cannot be considered that the designation of a legal person governed by private law as a ‘verifying entity’, responsible for verifying that the firearms were deactivated in accordance with the technical specifications set out in Annex I to that implementing regulation and for issuing the corresponding certificate is, as such, capable of jeopardising the objectives pursued by that directive and that implementing regulation, provided that that designation is accompanied by effective and thorough supervision of that entity by the competent public authorities of the Member State concerned covering, inter alia, in the case of a dealer as in the main proceedings here, their professional integrity and abilities.

47      Next, it is necessary to determine whether, in order to be classified as a ‘verifying entity’ within the meaning of Article 3(1) of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403, the competent authority referred to in that provision must also be included on the list published by the Commission pursuant to Article 3(3) thereof.

48      In that regard, it should be noted that, in accordance with Article 3(1) of that implementing regulation, it is for the Member States to designate their verifying entity, whilst Article 3(3) provides that the Commission is to publish on its website a list of the verifying entities designated by the Member States and detailed information on them such as their symbol and contact information.

49      Furthermore, it is apparent from Article 8 of that implementing regulation that the Member States are to notify the Commission of any measures they adopt in the field governed by Implementing Regulation 2015/2403.

50      It follows from a combined reading of those provisions that it is for each Member State, in accordance with the principle of sincere cooperation, to notify the Commission immediately not only of the detailed information of the verifying entity designated by it, as well as the symbol and contact information of that entity, but also to notify any changes affecting that information, so that the list provided for in Article 3(3) of that implementing regulation is constantly updated and complete.

51      As noted in paragraph 43 above, the EU legislature intended to promote the exchange of information between Member States in order to facilitate the tracing of firearms and to combat effectively the illegal traffic and manufacture of firearms, as well as their parts and ammunition.

52      Furthermore, when deactivated firearms are transferred within the European Union, Article 7(2) of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 provides that Member States are to recognise the deactivation certificates issued by another Member State if those certificates satisfy the requirements set out in that implementing regulation.

53      In that context, the drawing up and updating of the list provided for in Article 3(3) of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 are of central importance and it is therefore crucial that that list accurately includes all the ‘verifying entities’ designated by the Member States and that the information which it contains is updated without delay. The very purpose of drawing up that list is to enable the supervisory authorities of the State in which deactivated firearms are transferred to ensure, by means of a simple, immediate and effective publicity mechanism, that the entity which issued the deactivation certificates at issue is indeed a ‘verifying entity’ within the meaning of Article 3(1) of that implementing regulation.

54      Therefore, it must be held that the entry of a ‘verifying entity’ on the list drawn up by the Commission, which presupposes that each Member State notifies the Commission, in accordance with Article 8 of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403, of the information referred to in Article 3(3) of that implementing regulation, constitutes a formal condition which must be complied with in order for a legal person governed by private law, such as a commercial company, to be regarded as a ‘verifying entity’ within the meaning of Part III of Annex I to Directive 91/477 and Article 3 of that implementing regulation.

55      It follows that information from an entity on that list that the Member State to which it belongs has designated another entity which does not appear on that list as a ‘verifying entity’ is not sufficient to show that the latter entity constitutes a ‘verifying entity’ within the meaning of point (a) of Part III of Annex I to Directive 91/477 and Article 3 of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403.

56      Only the interpretation of the concept of ‘verifying entity’ outlined in paragraph 54 above is capable of enabling the controlling authorities of the State in which deactivated firearms are transferred to be able to verify, immediately and effectively, the identity of the verifying entity which issued a certificate for the deactivation of weapons and, therefore, preserve a high level of public security by ensuring the deactivation of firearms and by protecting against any risk of reactivating an improperly deactivated weapon.

57      In the light of all the foregoing considerations, the answer to the first question is that Part III of Annex I to Directive 91/477 and Article 3 of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 must be interpreted as not precluding a legal person governed by private law, such as a commercial company, from coming within the concept of ‘verifying entity’, referred to in paragraph 1 of the latter provision, where that person appears on the list published by the Commission pursuant to Article 3(3) of that implementing regulation.

 The second question

58      By its second question, the referring court asks, in essence, whether Annex I, Part III, to Directive 91/477 and Article 7(2) of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 must be interpreted as meaning that, where a deactivation certificate for a firearm is issued by a verifying entity designated by a Member State, the Member State to which the deactivated firearm is transferred is required to recognise that certificate.

59      It should be noted that Article 7(2) of that implementing regulation provides that Member States are to recognise certificates of deactivation issued by another Member State if those certificates satisfy the requirements set out in that implementing regulation.

60      It is apparent from the wording of that provision that recognition of the certificate issued by a ‘verifying entity’ is, as observed by the Advocate General in points 73 and 74 of his Opinion, neither automatic nor unconditional, since it is subject to the condition that the certificate satisfy the requirements laid down in that implementing regulation.

61      As observed in paragraph 41 of the present judgment, in order to ensure a high level of public security, the free movement of objects such as firearms must be restricted by safeguards adapted to the nature of those objects, which means, as observed in paragraph 44 of the present judgment, that it is necessary to avoid the risk of reactivating the firearms that are improperly deactivated by ensuring that all essential parts of those weapons have been rendered permanently inoperable and incapable of removal, replacement or a modification that would permit the firearm to be reactivated in any way.

62      To that end, the authorities of the Member State to which a deactivated firearm is transferred may, in addition to checking any additional deactivating measures adopted under Article 6 of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403, perform a series of checks at the time that firearm is presented and of the accompanying certificate of deactivation.

63      In that regard, first, as is apparent from paragraph 57 above, it is important that the deactivation certificate be issued by a ‘verifying entity’ designated by a Member State and included on the list published by the Commission pursuant to Article 3(3) of that implementing regulation.

64      Secondly, Article 3(4) of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 requires the deactivating certificate issued to comply with the model form set out in Annex III to that implementing regulation and the information contained therein to be drawn up not only in the language of the Member State in which it is issued, but also in English.

65      Thirdly, it is also apparent from Article 3(4) of that implementing regulation that the issuance of that certificate is subject to the condition that the firearm has been deactivated in accordance with the technical specifications set out in Annex I to Implementing Regulation 2015/2403. Accordingly, the issuance of that certificate has the specific objective of giving concrete expression to the finding of the verifying entity that the deactivation operations were performed in accordance with those technical specifications, with the aim of ensuring that the essential parts of a firearm have been rendered permanently inoperable and incapable of removal, replacement or a modification that would permit the firearm to be reactivated in any way.

66      In that context, as observed by the Advocate General in point 88 of his Opinion, the competent authorities of the Member State to which a deactivated firearm is transferred are not required to recognise the deactivation certificate issued by a verifying entity designated by another Member State and accompanying that weapon, if those authorities find, during a summary examination of the weapon in question, that that certificate clearly does not satisfy the requirements set out in that implementing regulation.

67      In the light of all the foregoing considerations, the answer to the second question is that Part III of Annex I to Directive 91/477 and Article 7(2) of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403 must be interpreted as meaning that, where a deactivation certificate for a firearm is issued by a ‘verifying entity’, the Member State to which the deactivated firearm is transferred is required to recognise that certificate, unless the competent authorities of that Member State find, during a summary examination of the weapon in question, that that certificate clearly does not satisfy the requirements laid down in that implementing regulation.

 Costs

68      Since these proceedings are, for the parties to the main proceedings, a step in the action pending before the national court, the decision on costs is a matter for that court. Costs incurred in submitting observations to the Court, other than the costs of those parties, are not recoverable.

On those grounds, the Court (Third Chamber) hereby rules:

1.      Part III of Annex I to Council Directive 91/477/EEC of 18 June 1991 on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons, as amended by Directive 2008/51/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008, and Article 3 of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/2403 of 15 December 2015 establishing common guidelines on deactivation standards and techniques for ensuring that deactivated firearms are rendered irreversibly inoperable

must be interpreted as not precluding a legal person governed by private law, such as a commercial company, from coming within the concept of ‘verifying entity’, referred to in paragraph 1 of the latter provision, where that person appears on the list published by the European Commission pursuant to Article 3(3) of that implementing regulation.

2.      Part III of Annex I to Directive 91/477, as amended by Directive 2008/51, and Article 7(2) of Implementing Regulation 2015/2403

must be interpreted as meaning that, where a deactivation certificate for a firearm is issued by a ‘verifying entity’, the Member State to which the deactivated firearm is transferred is required to recognise that certificate, unless the competent authorities of that Member State find, during a summary examination of the weapon in question, that that certificate clearly does not satisfy the requirements laid down in that implementing regulation.

[Signatures]


*      Language of the case: Finnish.

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