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Document 62012CJ0543

Judgment of the Court (First Chamber), 4 September 2014.
Michal Zeman v Krajské riaditeľstvo Policajného zboru v Žiline.
Request for a preliminary ruling from the Najvyšší súd Slovenskej republiky.
Reference for a preliminary ruling — Directive 91/477/EEC — Issuing of the European firearms pass — National legislation according to which that pass is issued only to holders of a firearms licence issued for hunting or target shooting use.
Case C‑543/12.

Digital reports (Court Reports - general)

ECLI identifier: ECLI:EU:C:2014:2143

JUDGMENT OF THE COURT (First Chamber)

4 September 2014 ( *1 )

‛Reference for a preliminary ruling — Directive 91/477/EEC — Issuing of the European firearms pass — National legislation according to which that pass is issued only to holders of a firearms licence issued for hunting or target shooting use’

In Case C‑543/12,

REQUEST for a preliminary ruling under Article 267 TFEU from the Najvyšší súd Slovenskej republiky (Slovakia), made by decision of 13 November 2012, received at the Court on 28 November 2012, in the proceedings

Michal Zeman

v

Krajské riaditeľstvo Policajného zboru v Žiline,

THE COURT (First Chamber),

composed of A. Tizzano, President of the Chamber, A. Borg Barthet, E. Levits, M. Berger (Rapporteur) and S. Rodin, Judges,

Advocate General: J. Kokott,

Registrar: A. Calot Escobar,

having regard to the written procedure,

after considering the observations submitted on behalf of:

Mr Zeman, in person,

Krajské riaditeľstvo Policajného zboru v Žiline, by M. Gajdošová, acting as Agent,

the Slovak Government, by B. Ricziová, acting as Agent,

the European Commission, by A. Tokár and G. Wilms, acting as Agents,

having decided, after hearing the Advocate General, to proceed to judgment without an Opinion,

gives the following

Judgment

1

This request for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Articles 1(4) and 3 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 45(1) and 52(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’).

2

The request has been made in proceedings between Mr Zeman and the Krajské riaditeľstvo Policajného zboru v Žiline (Žilina Regional Police Force Headquarters) arising from the rejection by the latter of Mr Zeman’s request for the issue of a European firearms pass.

Legal context

International law

3

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, adopted by Resolution 55/25 of the General Assembly of 15 November 2000, is the main instrument for combatting transnational organised crime. It was opened for the Member States’ signatures between 12 and 15 December 2000 in Palermo (Italy) and entered into force on 29 September 2003. It was approved by Council Decision 2004/579/EC of 29 April 2004 on the conclusion, on behalf of the European Community, of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (OJ 2004 L 261, p. 69).

4

That convention is supplemented by three protocols, including the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, adopted by Resolution 55/255 of the General Assembly of 8 June 2001 (‘the protocol’).

5

Article 2 of the protocol, entitled ‘Statement of purpose’, provides:

‘The purpose of this Protocol is to promote, facilitate and strengthen cooperation among States Parties in order to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and ammunition.’

6

Article 10 of the protocol, entitled ‘General requirements for export, import and transit licensing or authorisation systems’, provides:

‘1.   Each State Party shall establish or maintain an effective system of export and import licensing or authorisation, as well as of measures on international transit, for the transfer of firearms, their parts and components and ammunition.

2.   Before issuing export licences or authorisations for shipments of firearms, their parts and components and ammunition, each State Party shall verify:

(a)

That the importing States have issued import licences or authorisations; and

(b)

That, without prejudice to bilateral or multilateral agreements or arrangements favouring landlocked States, the transit States have, at a minimum, given notice in writing, prior to shipment, that they have no objection to the transit.

3.   The export and import licence or authorisation and accompanying documentation together shall contain information that, at a minimum, shall include the place and the date of issuance, the date of expiration, the country of export, the country of import, the final recipient, a description and the quantity of the firearms, their parts and components and ammunition and, whenever there is transit, the countries of transit. The information contained in the import licence must be provided in advance to the transit States.

4.   The importing State Party shall, upon request, inform the exporting State Party of the receipt of the dispatched shipment of firearms, their parts and components or ammunition.

5.   Each State Party shall, within available means, take such measures as may be necessary to ensure that licensing or authorisation procedures are secure and that the authenticity of licensing or authorization documents can be verified or validated.

6.   States Parties may adopt simplified procedures for the temporary import and export and the transit of firearms, their parts and components and ammunition for verifiable lawful purposes such as hunting, sport shooting, evaluation, exhibitions or repairs.’

EU law

7

The control of the acquisition and possession of weapons in the European Union is, in essence, governed by Directive 91/477.

8

The first to seventh recitals in the preamble to that directive state:

‘… Article 8a of the Treaty provides that the internal market must be established not later than 31 December 1992; … the internal market is to comprise an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital is ensured in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty;

… at its meeting in Fontainebleau on 25 and 26 June 1984, the European Council expressly set the objective of abolishing all police and customs formalities at intra-Community frontiers;

… the total abolition of controls and formalities at intra-Community frontiers entails the fulfilment of certain fundamental conditions; … in its white paper “Completing the internal market” the Commission stated that the abolition of controls on the safety of objects transported and on persons entails, among other things, the approximation of weapons legislation;

… abolition of controls on the possession of weapons at intra-Community frontiers necessitates the adoption of effective rules enabling controls to be carried out within Member States on the acquisition and possession of firearms and on their transfer to another Member State; … systematic controls must therefore be abolished at intra-Community frontiers;

… the mutual confidence in the field of the protection of the safety of persons which these rules will generate between Member States will be the greater if they are underpinned by partially harmonised legislation; … it would therefore be useful to determine category of firearms whose acquisition and possession by private persons are to be prohibited, or subject to authorisation, or subject to declaration;

… passing from one Member State to another while in possession of a weapon should, in principle, be prohibited; whereas a derogation therefrom is acceptable only if a procedure is adopted that enables Member States to be notified that a firearm is to be brought into their territory;

…, however, more flexible rules should be adopted in respect of hunting and target shooting in order to avoid impeding the free movement of persons more that is necessary.’

9

Article 1(4) of the directive provides:

‘A “European firearms pass” shall be issued on request by the authorities of a Member State to a person lawfully entering into possession of and using a firearm. It shall be valid for a maximum period of five years, which may be extended, and shall contain the information set out in Annex II. It shall be non-transferable and shall record the firearm or firearms possessed and used by the holder of the pass. It must always be in the possession of the person using the firearm and any change in the possession or characteristics of the firearm, as well as the loss or theft thereof, shall be indicated on the pass.’

10

Article 2(1) of Directive 91/477 states:

‘This directive is without prejudice to the application of national provisions concerning the carrying of weapons, hunting or target shooting.’

11

Article 3 of that directive provides:

‘Member States may adopt in their legislation provisions which are more stringent than those provided for in this directive, subject to the rights conferred on residents of the Member States by Article 12(2).’

12

Article 11(1) and (2) of Directive 91/477 states:

‘1.   Firearms may, without prejudice to Article 12, be transferred from one Member State to another only in accordance with the procedure laid down in the following paragraphs. These provisions shall also apply to transfers of firearms following a mail order sale.

2.   Where a firearm is to be transferred to another Member State, the person concerned shall, before it is taken there, supply the following particulars to the Member State in which such firearm is situated:

the names and addresses of the person selling or disposing of the firearm and of the person purchasing or acquiring it or, where appropriate, of the owner,

the address to which the firearm is to be consigned or transported,

the number of firearms to be consigned or transported,

the particulars enabling the firearm to be identified and also an indication that the firearm has undergone a check in accordance with the Convention of 1 July 1969 on the Reciprocal Recognition of Proofmarks on Small Arms,

the means of transfer,

the date of departure and the estimated date of arrival.

The information referred to in the last two indents need not be supplied where the transfer takes place between dealers.

The Member State shall examine the conditions under which the transfer is to be carried out, in particular with regard to security.

Where the Member State authorises such transfer, it shall issue a licence incorporating all the particulars referred to in the first subparagraph. Such licence shall accompany the firearm until it reaches its destination; it shall be produced whenever so required by the authorities of the Member States.’

13

Article 12(1) and (2) of the same directive provides:

‘1.   If the procedure provided for in Article 11 is not employed, the possession of a firearm during a journey through two or more Member States shall not be permitted unless the person concerned has obtained the authorisation of each of those Member States.

Member States may grant such authorisation for one or more journeys for a maximum period of one year, subject to renewal. Such authorisations shall be entered on the European firearms pass, which the traveller must produce whenever so required by the authorities of the Member States.

2.   Notwithstanding paragraph 1, hunters, in respect of categories C and D, and marksmen, in respect of categories B, C and D, may, without prior authorisation, be in possession of one or more firearms during a journey through two or more Member States with a view to engaging in their activities, provided that they are in possession of a European firearms pass listing such firearm or firearms and provided that they are able to substantiate the reasons for their journey, in particular by producing an invitation or other proof of their hunting or target shooting activities in the Member State of destination.

Member States may not make acceptance of a European firearms pass conditional upon the payment of any fee or charge.

However, this derogation shall not apply to journeys to a Member State which prohibits the acquisition and possession of the firearm in question or which, pursuant to Article 8(3), makes it subject to authorisation; in that case, an express statement to that effect shall be entered on the European firearms pass.

In the context of the report referred to in Article 17, the Commission in consultation with the Member States, will also consider the effects of applying the second subparagraph, particularly as regards its impact on public order and public security.’

14

Recital 14 in the preamble to Directive 2008/51 states:

‘The European firearms pass functions in a satisfactory way on the whole and should be regarded as the main document needed by hunters and marksmen for the possession of a firearm during a journey to another Member State. Member States should not make the acceptance of the European firearms pass conditional upon the payment of any fee or charge.’

15

On 25 February 1993, the Commission adopted Commission Recommendation 93/216/EEC: on the European firearms pass (OJ 1993 L 93, p. 39), the second recital in the preamble to which states that ‘the purpose of the European firearms pass is to facilitate the free movement of sportsmen wishing to engage in hunting or target shooting in the Community; whereas a uniform pass bearing a common logo will be a tangible sign that this objective has been achieved’.

16

The model for the European firearms pass is annexed to that recommendation.

17

The Council of the European Union adopted Decision 2001/748/EC of 16 October 2001 concerning the signing on behalf of the Community of the United Nations Protocol on the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts, components and ammunition, annexed to the Convention against transnational organised crime (OJ 2001 L 280, p. 5). The Commission signed the protocol on behalf of the Community on 16 January 2002.

18

Taking the view, subsequently, that the accession of the Community to the protocol required amendments to certain provisions of Directive 91/477 and that it was important to ensure the coherent, effective and rapid application of the international commitments affecting that directive, the EU legislature adopted Directive 2008/51.

19

The accession to the protocol also gave rise to the adoption of Regulation (EU) No 258/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 March 2012 implementing Article 10 of the United Nations’ Protocol against the illicit manufacturing of and trafficking in firearms, their parts and components and ammunition, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UN Firearms Protocol), and establishing export authorisation, and import and transit measures for firearms, their parts and components and ammunition (OJ 2012 L 94, p. 1).

20

Recital 10 in the preamble to Regulation No 258/2012 reads:

‘Directive [91/477] addresses transfers of firearms for civilian use within the territory of the Union, while this Regulation focuses on measures in respect of export from the customs territory of the Union to or through third countries.’

21

Article 9(1)(a) and (b) of that regulation provides:

’Simplified procedures for the temporary export or the re-export of firearms, their parts, essential components and ammunition shall apply as follows:

(a)

No export authorisation shall be required for:

(i)

the temporary export by hunters or sport shooters as part of their accompanied personal effects, during a journey to a third country, provided that they substantiate to the competent authorities the reasons for the journey, in particular by producing an invitation or other proof of the hunting or sport shooting activities in the third country of destination, of:

one or more firearms,

their essential components, if marked, as well as parts,

their related ammunition, limited to a maximum of 800 rounds for hunters and a maximum of 1200 rounds for sport shooters;

(ii)

the re-export by hunters or sport shooters as part of their accompanied personal effects following temporary admission for hunting or sport shooting activities, provided that the firearms remain the property of a person established outside the customs territory of the Union and the firearms are re-exported to that person.

(b)

When leaving the customs territory of the Union through a Member State other than the Member State of their residence, hunters and sport shooters shall produce to the competent authorities a European Firearms Pass as provided for in Articles 1 and 12 of Directive [91/477]. In the case of travel by air, the European Firearms Pass shall be produced to the competent authorities where the relevant items are handed over to the airline for transport out of the customs territory of the Union.

When leaving the customs territory of the Union through the Member State of their residence, hunters and sport shooters may, instead of a European Firearms Pass, choose to produce another document considered valid for this purpose by the competent authorities of that Member State.’

Slovak law

22

Law No 190/2003 on firearms and ammunition and amending certain Laws, as in force at the date of the order for reference (‘the Law on firearms’), was adopted by the Slovak legislature with a view to transposing Directive 91/477 into the Slovak legal order.

23

It follows from statements in the order for reference that, under the heading ‘The licence to possess or carry a firearm and the licence categories’, Paragraph 15(2) of that Law classifies a firearms licence according to the purpose of the use of the firearm or ammunition and according to whether the authorisation is to carry or possess the firearm. Those categories are as follows:

‘…

(a)

A — the carrying of a firearm and ammunition for the protection of person and property,

(b)

B — the possession of a firearm and ammunition for the protection of person and property,

(c)

C — the possession of a firearm and ammunition for employment purposes or for which authorisation has been given under specific legislation,

(d)

D — the possession of a firearm and ammunition for hunting purposes,

(e)

E — the possession of a firearm and ammunition for target shooting purposes,

(f)

F — the possession of a firearm and ammunition for museum or collection purposes.’

24

Paragraph 46 of that Law, governing the European firearms pass, provides:

‘1.   The European firearms pass is an authentic instrument which authorises its holder, on journeys to other Member States of the European Union, to carry the firearm entered on it and enough ammunition for the purpose that that firearm is to be used for, where the Member State of the European Union to which or through which he is travelling has given its agreement for him to carry that firearm to or through it. The form and contents of the European firearms pass are set out in a generally binding legal regulation, issued by the Ministry.

2.   Holders of a European firearms pass may, without prior authorisation from a Member State of the European Union, on a journey through two or more Member States of the European Union, export a firearm within the meaning of Paragraph 6(1)(a) to (c), or an automatically reloading long firearm the magazine and chamber of which cannot hold more than three cartridges, and the corresponding ammunition, for the purposes of exercising a hunting right, or a firearm within the meaning of Paragraph 5(1)(a) to (f) and of Paragraph 6, and the corresponding ammunition, with a view to participating in a event including target shooting, provided that they are in possession of a European firearms pass listing such firearm or firearms and provided that they are able to substantiate the reasons for their journey. This derogation shall not apply to journeys to a Member State which prohibits the acquisition and possession of the firearm in question or which makes it subject to authorisation; in that case, an express statement to that effect shall be entered on the European firearms pass.

3.   The European firearms pass is issued by a police department at the written request of a natural person who resides in [Slovakia], is the owner of a firearm listed in Paragraph 2 and is the holder of a group D or E firearms licence. A request for the issue of a European firearms pass must include the personal details of the requestor and the number and group of the firearms licence; two photographs are also to be included with the request pursuant to Paragraph 17(2)(a).

…’

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

25

Since 30 June 2010, Mr Zeman has held a group A firearms licence in accordance with the national legislation, which authorises him to carry a firearm for the protection of his person and property throughout Slovak territory. However, he does not hold a group D or E firearms licence, the issue of which supposes that the firearms in question are used for hunting and target shooting purposes.

26

On 22 November 2010, Mr Zeman submitted a request for the issue of a European firearms pass to the Okresné riaditeľstvo Policajného zboru v Žiline (Žilina District Police Force Headquarters). That request was rejected by decision of 21 December 2010.

27

That decision was upheld by the Krajské riaditeľstvo Policajného zboru v Žiline (Žilina Regional Police Force Headquarters), as the appellate police authority, on the ground that the conditions laid down in Paragraph 46(3) of the Law on firearms for the issue of a European firearms pass were not satisfied, since that pass can be issued only to the holder of a group D or E firearms licence, which are issued only for hunting and target shooting purposes.

28

Mr Zeman appealed against that decision before the Krajský súd v Žiline (Žilina Regional Court), submitting in essence that the refusal to issue him with a European firearms pass is incompatible with the purpose of Directive 91/477 and contrary to EU law, in particular the Charter.

29

That action was dismissed as unfounded on the ground that that directive had been correctly transposed into the Slovak legal order. In addition, that court at first instance took the view that the relevant provisions of the directive do not have direct effect and that the right guaranteed in Article 45(1) of the Charter was not infringed.

30

Mr Zeman appealed against that decision before the Najvyšší súd Slovenskej republiky (Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic) which, in its order for reference, raised doubts as to the possibility of restricting the issue of the European firearms pass only to persons in possession of a firearm for target shooting or hunting purposes.

31

In the view of that court, since Article 1(4) of Directive 91/477 defines the concept of the ‘European firearms pass’, the content and scope of which cannot be changed by the legislation of a Member State, that provision confers on each holder of a firearms licence rights which stem from Directive 91/477 regardless of the category of firearms under consideration.

32

It does not clearly follow from the directive or from the preamble thereto that the European firearms pass is to be used only in connection with hunting and target shooting and that the provisions concerning the pass are to relate only to those two activities.

33

The refusal to issue Mr Zeman with a European firearms pass runs counter to the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States set out in Article 45(1) of the Charter, in that that right is closely linked with an individual’s right to the protection of his physical integrity and health, which he may protect by, inter alia, holding a firearm. The right to transport a firearm intended for the purposes of the personal protection of its bearer thus follows from the right to move freely. The national legislation therefore constitutes a greater restriction on the right to move freely than the stricter measures provided for in Directive 91/477 which may be adopted by the Member States in accordance with Article 3 of that directive.

34

The referring court states that it is aware of the danger of the misuse of weapons in the possession of a person making use of the freedom of movement within the European Union. Nevertheless, it is of the opinion that, even if Article 3 of Directive 91/477 were to allow a derogation from Article 1(4) of that directive to the effect that certain persons may be refused the issue of a European firearms pass, such a refusal must comply with Article 52(1) of the Charter and satisfy the principle of proportionality.

35

In addition, the Najvyšší súd Slovenskej republiky points out that the European firearms pass makes it easier for its holder to obtain authorisation to possess weapons in other Member States, since he could use a simplified procedure enabling him to avoid additional costs and administrative obstacles likely to hinder the free movement of individuals.

36

In those circumstances, the Najvyšší súd Slovenskej republiky decided to stay proceedings and refer the following questions to the Court for a preliminary ruling:

‘1.

Is Article 1(4) in conjunction with Article 3 of [Directive 91/477] and Articles 45(1) and 52 of the Charter to be interpreted as:

(a)

precluding a Member State from adopting legislation which would prevent a European firearms pass from being issued under Article 1(4) of that directive to the holder of a firearms licence (the relevant authorisation to possess a firearm), which was issued for a purpose other than for hunting or target shooting use and which … allows that person to possess (and carry) the firearm for which he is requesting that that European firearms pass be issued,

despite the fact that:

(b)

the legislation of that Member State (the home State) allows the licence holder, even without the European firearms pass, to take that firearm out of its territory to the territory of another Member State provided, merely, that he meets reporting obligations, and, even where a European firearms pass was issued, the position of that licence holder would not change in any way in relation to that home Member State (that is to say, that person would only have to meet identical reporting obligations)?

2.

If the answer to the first question is in the affirmative, where the legislation of the Member State precludes the issue of a European firearms pass to such a licence holder, does Article 1(4) of that directive have direct effect so that the Member State is on the basis of that provision required to issue a European firearms pass to that licence holder?

3.

If the answer to the first or the second question is in the negative, is the competent authority required to interpret legislation of the Member State, which:

(a)

does not expressly prohibit the abovementioned licence holder from obtaining the European firearms pass, but

(b)

provides for the issue of a European firearms pass only to a person holding a firearms licence (the relevant authorisation to possess a firearm) which was issued for hunting or target shooting purposes,

to the greatest possible extent so that the competent authority is required to issue a European firearms pass also to the holder of a firearms licence which was not issued for hunting or target shooting purposes, in so far as this is possible through giving indirect effect to Directive [91/477]?’

Consideration of the questions referred

The first question

Preliminary observations

37

First of all, it must be noted that it is apparent from the file before the Court that Mr Zeman holds a group A firearms licence in accordance with the Slovak legislation, which authorises him to carry a weapon for the protection of his person and property throughout Slovak territory. However, it is not in dispute that he does not hold a group D or E firearms licence under the Law on firearms, for target shooting and hunting purposes.

38

Secondly, it is apparent from the order for reference that the only matter at issue in the main proceedings is not the fact that Mr Zeman is prohibited from transporting a weapon belonging to him to the territory of another Member State since he does not hold a European firearms pass, but the competent authority’s refusal to issue him with such a pass.

39

Thirdly, it must be pointed out that, under the heading ‘Freedom of movement and of residence’, Article 45 of the Charter, relied on by Mr Zeman and referred to by the referring court in its first question, gives ‘[e]very citizen of the Union … the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States’. In accordance with the Explanations on the Charter of Fundamental Rights (OJ 2007 C 303, p. 17), the right guaranteed by Article 45(1) is the right guaranteed by Article 20(2), first subparagraph, (a) TFEU, which right, in accordance with the second subparagraph of Article 20(2) TFEU, is to be exercised under the conditions and within the limits defined by the Treaties and by the measures adopted pursuant thereto. In so far as Directive 91/477 also concerns the free movement of the holders of firearms, in particular hunters and sport shooters, it constitutes such a measure. Accordingly, it is appropriate to answer the first question in the light of Directive 91/477 alone.

40

In those circumstances, the view must be taken that, by its first question, the referring court asks, in essence, whether Directive 91/477 must be interpreted as precluding national legislation which authorises the issue of a European firearms pass only to holders of weapons used for hunting and target shooting purposes.

Substance

41

In the absence of express provisions in Directive 91/477, it is appropriate to construe it in the light of the objectives which it pursues and its general scheme and context in order to provide a useful answer to the first question.

42

In that regard, it must be borne in mind that, in accordance with the second, third and fourth recitals in the preamble to Directive 91/477, that directive was adopted with the aim of establishing the internal market and the abolition of controls on the safety of objects transported and on persons entails, among other things, the approximation of weapons legislation.

43

In that context, the European Union legislature took the view that the abolition of controls on the possession of weapons at intra-Community frontiers necessitated the adoption of effective rules enabling controls to be carried out within Member States on the acquisition and possession of firearms and on their transfer to another Member State.

44

It is apparent from the sixth recital in the preamble to Directive 91/477 that that directive rests on the premiss that passing from one Member State to another while in possession of a weapon should, in principle, be prohibited and a derogation therefrom is acceptable only if a procedure is adopted that enables Member States to be notified that a firearm is to be brought into their territory.

45

Finally, under the seventh recital in the preamble to that directive, more flexible rules should, however, be adopted in respect of hunting and target shooting.

46

It follows therefrom that one of the objectives of Directive 91/477 is the prohibition, in principle, of cross-border transport within the European Union of firearms which are not used for hunting or target shooting purposes, with the exception of the cases where the Member States concerned give their authorisation in accordance with the procedures set out in Articles 11 and 12(1) of the directive.

47

Similarly, with regard to the scheme and general system of that directive, it must be noted that it does indeed constitute a partial and minimum harmonisation of some of the administrative requirements relating to the acquisition of weapons, their possession and their cross-border transport to the extent that Article 3 of Directive 91/477 entitles the Member States to adopt in their legislation provisions which are more stringent than those provided for in the directive.

48

Nevertheless, the fact remains that that Article 3 expressly precludes the exercise of that right from creating any restriction of the rights conferred on residents of the Member States by Article 12(2) of Directive 91/477. That provision provides precisely that, notwithstanding the procedure laid down in Article 12(1) of that directive, hunters and marksmen may, without prior authorisation, travel while in possession of weapons without other administrative formalities, provided that they are in possession of a European firearms pass listing such weapons and provided that they are able to substantiate the reasons for their journey, in particular by producing an invitation or other proof of their hunting or target shooting activities in the Member State of destination.

49

It is in the light of those considerations that the legal nature of the European firearms pass and the scope of the Member States’ autonomy as regards its issue must be examined. In accordance with Article 1(4) of Directive 91/477, the European firearms pass is to be issued on request to a person lawfully entering into possession of a firearm, it is to record the firearm or firearms possessed by that person. It must indicate any change in the possession or characteristics of the firearm, as well as the loss or theft thereof.

50

That provision thus defines the European firearms pass without, however, giving an express indication of the scope of the rights conferred by that pass.

51

It is appropriate to note that the fact that the pass is issued to a person who is already an authorised holder of a weapon under the national provisions suggests that it does not replace the national permit for the acquisition and possession of weapons. It follows from the fact that the pass is issued only on request that the authorised possession of firearms is not subject to any requirement that the person in possession of the firearm must hold a European firearm pass.

52

In addition, it must be noted that Article 1(4) of Directive 91/477 refers to Annex II thereto, which details the information which the European firearms pass must contain. In accordance with Annex II, the pass must include the statement: ‘The prior authorisation referred to above is not in principle necessary in order to travel with a firearm in categories C or D with a view to engaging in hunting or with a firearm in categories B, C or D for the purpose of taking part in target shooting, on condition that the traveller is in possession of the [European] firearms pass and can establish the reason for the journey’. It follows therefrom that Article 1(4) of the directive, read in conjunction with Article 12(2) thereof, is intended mainly to facilitate the transport of weapons used for hunting or sporting purposes.

53

In those circumstances, firstly, it must be found that it is only to hunters and sport shooters to whom the Member States are required to issue a European firearms pass since, if that were not granted, those categories of persons would not be able to exercise the right expressly conferred on them by that directive.

54

Secondly, it must be pointed out that, provided only that the national provisions at issue do not constitute an obstacle to that right of hunters and sport shooters, the Member States may adopt in their legislation provisions which are more stringent than those provided for in Directive 91/477 and are therefore not required to issue a European firearms pass to other holders of weapons.

55

That interpretation is corroborated by the analysis of certain provisions of other acts of EU law concerning firearms.

56

Thus, although it is true that Regulation No 258/2012 does not apply to the main proceedings, it is none the less appropriate to state that Article 9 of that regulation provides for simplified procedures for the temporary export or the re-export of firearms which are reserved to hunters and sport shooters.

57

Similarly, recital 14 in the preamble to Directive 2008/51, like the second recital in the preamble to Recommendation 93/216 confirm that the purpose of the introduction of the European firearms pass was to facilitate the free movement of hunters and sport shooters in possession of their weapons from one Member State to another to the extent strictly necessary to achieve that objective.

58

Moreover, it must be borne in mind that, in accordance with the settled case-law of the Court, EU legislation must, so far as possible, be interpreted in a manner that is consistent with international law, in particular where its provisions are intended specifically to give effect to an international agreement concluded by the European Union (see, inter alia, judgments in Bettati, C‑341/95, EU:C:1998:353, paragraph 20; SGAE, C‑306/05, EU:C:2006:764, paragraph 35; Peek & Cloppenburg, C‑456/06, EU:C:2008:232, paragraphs 29 to 32, and Donner, C‑5/11, EU:C:2012:370, paragraph 23).

59

Such an interpretation supports the considerations set out in paragraph 54 of the present judgment. Article 10 of the protocol, while requiring the State Parties to put into place an effective system of import, export and transit licensing of firearms, authorises, in paragraph 6 thereof, the introduction of simplified procedures for the temporary import and export and transit of firearms solely for verifiable lawful purposes such as hunting, sport shooting, evaluation, exhibitions or repairs.

60

It follows from all the foregoing considerations that Directive 91/477 must be interpreted as not precluding national legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which authorises the issue of a European firearms pass only to holders of weapons used for hunting and target shooting purposes.

The second and third questions

61

In view of the answer given to the first question, there is no need to answer the second and third questions.

Costs

62

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 (First Chamber) hereby rules:

 

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, must be interpreted as not precluding national legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, which authorises the issue of a European firearms pass only to holders of weapons used for hunting and target shooting purposes.

 

[Signatures]


( *1 ) Language of the case: Slovak.

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