EUR-Lex Access to European Union law

Back to EUR-Lex homepage

This document is an excerpt from the EUR-Lex website

Document 62014TJ0312

Judgment of the General Court (Second Chamber) of 7 July 2015.
Federazione nazionale delle cooperative della pesca (Federcoopesca) and Others v European Commission.
Action for annulment — Fisheries — Community control system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the common fisheries policy — Commission decision establishing an action plan to overcome shortcomings in the Italian fisheries control system — Act that does not, in itself, alter the applicant’s legal situation — Lack of individual concern — Inadmissibility.
Case T-312/14.

Digital reports (Court Reports - general)

ECLI identifier: ECLI:EU:T:2015:472

JUDGMENT OF THE GENERAL COURT (Second Chamber)

7 July 2015 ( *1 )

‛Action for annulment — Fisheries — Community control system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the common fisheries policy — Commission decision establishing an action plan to overcome shortcomings in the Italian fisheries control system — Act that does not, in itself, alter the applicant’s legal situation — Lack of individual concern — Inadmissibility’

In Case T‑312/14,

Federazione nazionale delle cooperative della pesca (Federcoopesca), established in Rome (Italy),

Associazione Lega Pesca, established in Rome,

Associazione generale cooperative italiane settore agro ittico alimentare (AGCI AGR IT AL), established in Rome,

represented by L. Caroli, S. Ventura and V. Cannizzaro, lawyers,

applicants,

v

European Commission, represented by A. Bouquet and D. Nardi, acting as Agents,

defendant,

APPLICATION for annulment of Commission Decision C(2013) 8635 final of 6 December 2013 establishing an action plan to overcome shortcomings in the Italian fisheries control system,

THE GENERAL COURT (Second Chamber),

composed of M.E. Martins Ribeiro, President, S. Gervasoni (Rapporteur) and L. Madise, judges,

Registrar: J. Palacio González, Principal Administrator,

having regard to the written procedure and further to the hearing on 6 February 2015,

gives the following

Judgment

Background to the dispute

1

Article 102 of Council Regulation (EC) No 1224/2009 of 20 November 2009 establishing a Community control system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the common fisheries policy, amending Regulations (EC) No 847/96, (EC) No 2371/2002, (EC) No 811/2004, (EC) No 768/2005, (EC) No 2115/2005, (EC) No 2166/2005, (EC) No 388/2006, (EC) No 509/2007, (EC) No 676/2007, (EC) No 1098/2007, (EC) No 1300/2008, (EC) No 1342/2008 and repealing Regulations (EEC) No 2847/93, (EC) No 1627/94 and (EC) No 1966/2006 (OJ 2009 L 343, p. 1) provides:

‘1.   Member States shall provide the Commission with any relevant information as that may request on the implementation of this Regulation. In submitting a request for information, the Commission shall specify a reasonable time limit within which the information is to be supplied.

2.   If the Commission considers that irregularities have occurred in the implementation of the rules of the common fisheries policy or that the existing control provisions and methods in particular Member States are not effective it shall inform the Member States concerned, which shall then conduct an administrative inquiry in which Commission officials may participate.

3.   The Member States concerned shall inform the Commission of the results of the inquiry and forward a report to the Commission drawn up not more than three months after the Commission’s request. This period may be extended by the Commission, on a duly reasoned request from the Member State, for a reasonable delay.

4.   If the administrative inquiry referred to in paragraph 2 does not lead to the removal of the irregularities or if the Commission identifies shortcomings in the control system of a Member State during the verifications or autonomous inspections referred to in Articles 98 and 99 or in the audit referred to in Article 100, the Commission shall establish an action plan with that Member State. The Member State shall take all necessary measures to implement that action plan.’

2

On 17 December 2012, the European Commission informed the Italian Republic that it had identified irregularities adversely affecting compliance with certain rules of the common fisheries policy, in particular those relating to the fishing of highly migratory species in the Mediterranean. The Commission reminded the Italian Republic of its obligation to conduct an administrative inquiry into its control system, under Article 102(2) of Regulation No 1224/2009.

3

The administrative inquiry was carried out by the Italian control authority appointed by the Italian State on 13 February 2013, with the assistance of Commission officials.

4

The final report of the administrative inquiry was forwarded to the Commission on 17 April 2013.

5

The Commission took the view that the administrative inquiry had not resulted in the removal of the irregularities it had previously identified and drew up a draft action plan with the Italian authorities.

6

By Decision C(2013) 8635 final of 6 December 2013, taken under Article 102(4) of Regulation No 1224/2009 (‘the contested decision’), the Commission adopted an action plan designed to overcome the shortcomings in the Italian fishing control system. The actions contained in the plan include action 13, which requires the adoption of additional technical measures concerning compatibility between the ‘ferrettara’ system, combining different traditional systems using small-mesh drift nets, and other fishing gear; action 15, which provides for the adoption of alternative measures in order to make up for the lack of satellite monitoring and imposes a reporting obligation on certain vessels authorised to fish for swordfish; action 16, which envisages the implementation at national level of international provisions on swordfish minimum catching sizes and the technical characteristics of long-lines; and, lastly, action 17, which makes provision for strengthening the dissuasive nature of the financial penalties imposed in respect of recurring serious infringements.

Procedure and forms of order sought by the parties

7

By application lodged at the Court Registry on 28 April 2014, the applicants, Federazione nazionale delle cooperative della pesca (Federcoopesca), Associazione Lega Pesca and Associazione generale cooperative italiane settore agro ittico alimentare (AGCI AGR IT AL), brought the present action.

8

By document lodged at the Court Registry on 23 July 2014, the Commission raised an objection of inadmissibility under Article 114(1) of the Rules of Procedure of the General Court of 2 May 1991.

9

On 8 September 2014, the applicants submitted observations on the objection of inadmissibility raised by the Commission.

10

Upon hearing the report of the Judge-Rapporteur, the Court (Second Chamber) decided to open the oral procedure for the purposes of ruling on the objection of inadmissibility raised by the Commission.

11

By means of a measure of organisation of procedure, the parties were invited to take a view at the hearing on a number of issues, in particular on whether it could be considered that the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU, according to which any natural or legal person may institute proceedings against ‘a regulatory act which is of direct concern to them and does not entail implementing measures’, should only apply, having regard to both the objective of that provision and the fact that the framers of the Treaty appended an additional condition relating to the absence of implementing measures to the condition of direct concern, to challenges to acts that, in themselves, in other words irrespective of any implementing measures, alter the legal situation of the person concerned.

12

At the hearing on 6 February 2014, the parties presented oral arguments and answered the questions put to them by the Court.

13

The applicants claim that the Court should:

annul the contested decision, ‘specifically [actions] 13, 15, 16 and 17 of the action plan’ appended to that decision;

order the Commission to pay the costs.

14

The Commission contends that the Court should:

dismiss the action as inadmissible;

order the applicants to pay the costs.

15

At the hearing, the applicants stated that the application only sought the annulment of actions 13, 15, 16 and 17 of the action plan appended to the contested decision, formal note of which was taken in the minutes of the hearing.

Law

16

The Commission argues that the present application is inadmissible because, in particular, the applicants, who are not the addressees of the contested decision, have not shown that they have standing to bring proceedings against that decision. It submits that the applicants do not have standing to bring proceedings under the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU, according to which any natural or legal person may institute proceedings against ‘a regulatory act which is of direct concern to them and does not entail implementing measures’. In this connection, the Commission points out that the contested decision entails implementing measures. It also notes that the contested decision does not produce any direct effects, since the action plan can only affect the legal situation of the applicants through the national measures required for its implementation. Lastly, the Commission claims that the contested decision is not of individual concern to the applicants.

17

As a preliminary point, it must be noted that the applicants are associations which bring together persons pursuing business activities, particularly in the fisheries sector, and which represent the interests of those persons.

18

It should be recalled that the admissibility of an action for annulment brought by an association set up to promote the collective interests of a class of persons depends, without prejudice to its own interest in bringing proceedings, on the question whether its members could have brought that action individually (see order of 10 December 2004 in EFfCI v Parliament and Council, T‑196/03, ECR, EU:T:2004:355, paragraphs 41 to 43 and the case-law cited).

19

In the present case, the applicants rely on the locus standi of their members, who pursue business activities in the Italian fisheries sector, in particular fishermen authorised by the Italian authorities to fish for swordfish. They do not claim to have any other standing of their own to bring the action and no such standing is apparent from the documents in the case.

20

Consequently, it is in the light of the locus standi of the applicants’ members, as mentioned in paragraph 19 above, that the locus standi of the applicants will be examined.

21

Furthermore, it is not in dispute that the contested decision is addressed to the Italian Republic and that the applicants are not the addressees thereof.

22

First of all, it is necessary to determine whether the applicants are justified in invoking the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU, the applicability of which must be examined in cases where the disputed act does not, in itself, alter the legal situation of the applicant.

Applicability of the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU in the absence of an act that, in itself, alters the applicant’s legal situation

23

The fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU provides that ‘[a]ny natural or legal person may, under the conditions laid down in the first and second paragraphs, institute proceedings against an act addressed to that person or which is of direct and individual concern to them, and against a regulatory act which is of direct concern to them and does not entail implementing measures’.

24

The first two limbs of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU correspond with those which were laid down, before the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, in the fourth paragraph of Article 230 EC. The first limb enables the addressee of an act to challenge it and the second limb specifies that if the natural or legal person who brings the action for annulment is not an addressee of the act under challenge, the admissibility of the action is subject to the condition that the act is of both direct and individual concern to that person (see, to that effect, judgment of 3 October 2013 in Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Others v Parliament and Council, C‑583/11 P, ECR, EU:C:2013:625, paragraphs 55 and 56).

25

Before the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, where an act directly affected the legal situation of a natural or legal person without requiring implementing measures, that person risked being denied effective judicial protection if he was not individually affected by that act. He was thus able to obtain a judicial review of that act only after having infringed its provisions, by pleading that those provisions were unlawful in proceedings initiated against them before the national courts (judgment of 19 December 2013 in Telefónica v Commission, C‑274/12 P, ECR, EU:C:2013:852, paragraph 27).

26

In order to mitigate this risk, as regards regulatory acts, the Treaty of Lisbon added a third limb to the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU, which relaxes the conditions of admissibility of actions for annulment brought by natural and legal persons. Since the effect of that limb is that the admissibility of actions for annulment brought by those persons is not subject to the condition of individual concern, it renders possible such legal actions against regulatory acts which do not entail implementing measures and are of direct concern to the applicant (judgment in Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Others v Parliament and Council, cited in paragraph 24 above, EU:C:2013:625, paragraph 57).

27

The concept of ‘regulatory act which is of direct concern to [any natural or legal person] and does not entail implementing measures’, within the meaning of the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU, is to be interpreted in the light of that provision’s objective, which, as is clear from its origin, consists in preventing an individual whose legal situation is nevertheless directly altered by an act from being denied effective judicial protection with regard to that act (judgment in Telefónica v Commission, cited in paragraph 25 above, EU:C:2013:852, paragraphs 27 and 28).

28

In the light of that objective, it appears that the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU is designed to apply only when the disputed act, in itself, in other words irrespective of any implementing measures, alters the legal situation of the applicant.

29

Thus, when an act does not, in itself, alter the applicant’s legal situation, that situation is only altered if measures to implement the act are taken in respect of the applicant. The applicant can then challenge those measures and, in the context of that challenge, plead that the act implemented by them is unlawful, so that he cannot be regarded as having been denied effective judicial protection.

30

The possibility of challenging the measures in question is guaranteed, when those measures are taken by a Member State, by the Treaty provisions as well as the case-law of the Court. The second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU provides that Member States are to provide remedies sufficient to ensure effective legal protection in the fields covered by EU law. Similarly, the Court has already held that national courts are required, so far as possible, to interpret and apply national procedural rules governing the exercise of rights of action in a way that enables natural and legal persons to challenge before the courts the legality of any decision or other national measure relative to the application to them of a Union act of general application, by pleading the invalidity of such an act (judgment of 25 July 2002 in Unión de Pequeños Agricultores v Council, C‑50/00 P, ECR, EU:C:2002:462, paragraph 42).

31

The interpretation set out in paragraph 28 above of the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU, which is based on the objective of that provision, is confirmed by the fact that the framers of the Treaty, in the context of that provision, appended an additional condition relating to the absence of implementing measures to the condition of direct concern.

32

Before examining the combined effects of these two cumulative conditions, it should be recalled, as regards, first of all, the condition of direct concern, that there is no reason for interpreting this condition in the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU any differently than in the second limb of that provision (opinions of Advocate General Kokott in Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Others v Parliament and Council, C‑583/11 P, ECR, EU:C:2013:21, paragraph 69, and Telefónica v Commission, C‑274/12 P, ECR, EU:C:2013:204, paragraph 59). In any event, the concept of direct concern, as recently introduced in that provision, cannot be subject to a more restrictive interpretation than the notion of direct concern as it appeared in the fourth paragraph of Article 230 EC (judgment of 25 October 2011 in Microban International and Microban (Europe) v Commission, T‑262/10, ECR, EU:T:2011:623, paragraph 32).

33

According to the case-law, the condition that the decision forming the subject-matter of the proceedings must be of direct concern to a natural or legal person requires the disputed act to affect directly the applicant’s legal situation and leave no discretion to its addressees, who are entrusted with the task of implementing it (judgment of 22 March 2007 in Regione Siciliana v Commission, C‑15/06 P, ECR, EU:C:2007:183, paragraph 31).

34

In actual fact, this condition covers two different situations, depending on whether or not the disputed act in itself, in other words irrespective of any implementing measures, alters the applicant’s legal situation.

35

In the first situation, the disputed act, in itself, alters the applicant’s legal situation. That is the case, in particular, when an act replaces national measures governing the applicant’s situation. It therefore concerns the applicant as directly as the national measures and is considered to ‘come into force immediately’ and be ‘directly applicable’ to that person (judgment of 1 July 1965 in Toepfer and Getreide-Import Gesellschaft v Commission, 106/63 and 107/63, ECR, EU:C:1965:65, p. 411).

36

This first situation also covers regulations which apply directly, without intervention by the national authorities, and which affect, in a manner which is both definite and immediate, the legal position of individuals, by restricting their rights or by imposing obligations on them (see, to that effect, judgment of 1 April 2004 in Commission v Jégo-Quéré, C‑263/02 P, ECR, EU:C:2004:210, paragraphs 35 and 37) and decisions in so far as they prohibit the marketing of a substance (judgment in Microban International and Microban (Europe) v Commission, cited in paragraph 32 above, EU:T:2011:623, paragraphs 24, 28 and 34).

37

In the first situation, the condition of direct concern is deemed to be satisfied and it is not necessary to continue the analysis in this respect.

38

In the second situation, the disputed act necessarily requires the adoption of implementing measures if it is to affect the legal situation of individuals. The condition of direct concern is nevertheless considered to be satisfied if the act imposes obligations on the addressee thereof for its implementation and if the addressee is automatically required to take measures that alter the applicant’s legal situation (judgments of 13 May 1971 in International Fruit Company and Others v Commission, 41/70 to 44/70, ECR, EU:C:1971:53, paragraphs 23 to 28; 19 October 2000 in Italy and Sardegna Lines v Commission, C‑15/98 and C‑105/99, ECR, EU:C:2000:570, paragraph 36; and 26 September 2000 in Starway v Council, T‑80/97, ECR, EU:T:2000:216, paragraphs 61 and 62).

39

It should be noted that, in the second situation, in order for the condition of direct concern to be satisfied, the disputed act must necessarily entail implementing measures in respect of the applicant.

40

Thus, the fact that, as regards the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU, the framers of the Treaty appended an additional condition relating to the absence of implementing measures to the condition of direct concern inevitably results in the second situation being excluded from the scope of this third limb.

41

It should be added that the question of whether or not the addressee of the contested decision has discretion in implementing the disputed act has no bearing on the assessment of the condition relating to the existence of implementing measures, such existence being sufficient to render the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU inapplicable (see, to that effect, judgment in Telefónica v Commission, cited in paragraph 25 above, EU:C:2013:852, paragraph 35, and order of 9 September 2013 in Altadis v Commission, T‑400/11, ECR, EU:T:2013:490, paragraph 47). Moreover, if the concept of implementing measures, within the meaning of the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU, only covered implementing measures entailing the exercise of a discretion, it would, paradoxically, be far easier for an individual to bring an action against regulatory acts, which are the only acts referred to in that provision, than against measures of individual application in respect of which the condition of individual concern has been retained. That interpretation does not seem to be consistent with the intention of the framers of the Treaty.

42

It follows from the foregoing that the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU can only apply, in the light of both the objective of that provision and the fact that the framers of the Treaty appended an additional condition relating to the absence of implementing measures to the condition of direct concern, to challenges to acts covered by the first of the two situations which includes the condition of direct concern (see paragraph 34 above), being that relating to acts which, in themselves, in other words irrespective of any implementing measures, alter the applicant’s legal situation.

43

Accordingly, a finding that the disputed act does not, in itself, alter the applicant’s legal situation is sufficient to conclude that the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU is inapplicable, without it being necessary, in those circumstances, to determine whether the act entails implementing measures in respect of the applicant.

44

It is in the light of the foregoing considerations that the situation at issue in the present case must be examined.

45

It should be noted that the contested decision was adopted on the basis of Article 102(4) of Regulation No 1224/2009, which provides that the Commission may draw up an action plan with the Member State in question designed to remedy the shortcomings identified in the control system established by that Member State concerning the common fisheries policy and requires that Member State to take all necessary measures to implement the action plan affecting it.

46

By this provision, the Council simply empowered the Commission to draw up, together with the competent national authorities, an action plan comprising a set of measures taken at national level by these authorities, and then to make the plan binding on them.

47

Therefore, it does not follow from Article 102(4) of Regulation No 1224/2009 that the Commission has the power to adopt unilateral acts that are directly applicable to persons pursuing business activities in the fisheries sector of a Member State.

48

In this connection, it should be pointed out that Article 102 of Regulation No 1224/2009, headed ‘Follow-up of verification, autonomous inspection and audit reports’, appears in Title X of that regulation, entitled ‘Evaluation and control by the Commission’.

49

The purpose of the measures set out in that title, as provided for in the first article of Title X of Regulation No 1224/2009, namely Article 96 headed ‘General principles’, is to control and evaluate the application of the rules of the common fisheries policy by the Member States.

50

A decision adopted under Article 102(4) of Regulation No 1224/2009, that is to say the last paragraph of the last article of Title X of that regulation, is therefore the outcome of monitoring the measures of control and evaluation of the Member States’ application of the rules of the common fisheries policy and takes the form only of a set of measures that the Member State concerned is required to implement, when it has not complied with those rules. As is apparent from the Communication of 14 November 2008 from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the proposal for a Council Regulation establishing a Community control system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy, the adoption of an action plan seeks to afford the Member State concerned the opportunity to remedy the shortcomings identified and to remove irregularities.

51

A decision taken under Article 102(4) of Regulation No 1224/2009 must therefore be distinguished from the measures of individual or general application that the Commission may take under the provisions of Title XI thereof, entitled ‘Measures to ensure compliance by Member States with common fisheries policy objectives’. On the basis of the provisions contained in this title, the Commission may, in particular, provisionally close fisheries affected by shortcomings (Article 104), operate deductions from future quotas of a Member State (Article 105), operate deductions from the future fishing effort of a Member State (Article 106), and even, in cases of emergency, provisionally suspend the fishing activities of vessels flying the flag of a Member State (Article 108).

52

It follows from the foregoing that a decision taken under Article 102(4) of Regulation No 1224/2009 does not, in itself, in other words irrespective of any implementing measures, alter the legal situation of any natural or legal person other than the Member State to which it refers. Accordingly, it does not in itself alter, in particular, the legal situation of persons pursuing business activities in the fisheries sector.

53

The absence of any alteration to the legal situation of individuals is confirmed, in the present case, by the publication measures to which the contested decision was subject. This decision was not published in the Official Journal of the European Union; it was addressed only to the Italian Republic. In addition, the decision was classified as ‘Restreint UE’ until 17 March 2014, providing further evidence that it was not capable of operating against individuals.

54

Furthermore, each of the actions contained in the action plan appended to the contested decision involve the adoption of a measure by the competent national authorities. In particular, actions 13 and 15 provide for the adoption of a ministerial decree and actions 16 and 17 provide for the adoption of a proposal to amend the national legislation in force. This confirms that the contested decision is not capable, in itself, in other words irrespective of any implementing measures, of altering the legal situation of individuals.

55

Accordingly, based on the above considerations and, in particular, those set out in paragraphs 42 and 43 of this judgment, it must be held that the applicants are not justified in invoking the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU for the purpose of having their action declared admissible.

56

This finding is made without it being necessary to determine whether the contested decision is a ‘regulatory act’ within the meaning of the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU. Nor is it necessary to examine whether this decision entails implementing measures in respect of the applicants or their members, an examination which would require the Court to consider the position of the person pleading the right to bring proceedings under that provision and not the position of other persons (judgment in Telefónica v Commission, cited in paragraph 25 above, EU:C:2013:852, paragraph 30).

57

In addition, even if the Italian Republic did not take the measures provided for in the action plan appended to the contested decision, which the parties seemed to admit at the hearing, the legal situation of the applicants or their members would not be affected in any way and, therefore, in contrast to the applicants’ arguments, they cannot be regarded as having been denied effective judicial protection.

58

It should be added that since the Commission is only empowered, under Article 102(4) of Regulation No 1224/2009, to draw up, together with the competent national authorities, an action plan comprising a set of measures taken at national level by these authorities, and then to make the plan binding on them (see paragraph 46 above), the applicants are wrong to claim that the Italian administrative authorities or the Italian courts could apply the contested decision directly or using the technique of consistent interpretation.

59

Furthermore, a decision such as the contested decision, which does not, in itself, in other words irrespective of any implementing measures, alter the legal situation of any natural or legal person other than the Member State to which it refers, cannot impose obligations on an individual and may therefore not be relied upon as such against an individual (see, by analogy, order of 7 July 2014 in Industrie Cartarie Tronchetti Ibérica v Commission, T‑244/13, EU:T:2014:644, paragraphs 30 and 39).

60

Lastly, the applicants’ argument that the Italian courts could apply the technique of consistent interpretation cannot be upheld. The principle of interpreting national law in conformity with EU law has certain limits. Thus, the obligation on a national court to refer to the content of a directive when interpreting and applying the relevant rules of domestic law is limited by general principles of law and it cannot serve as the basis for an interpretation of national law contra legem (judgment of 15 January 2014 in Association de médiation sociale, C‑176/12, ECR, EU:C:2014:2, paragraph 39). Accordingly, either the Italian national provisions already contain the obligations laid down in the contested decision, in which case the contested decision does not alter the legal situation of the applicants or their members, or the national provisions do not contain those obligations, in which case the Italian courts cannot interpret national law in conformity with EU law.

Individual concern of the applicants

61

It should be recalled that the applicants are not the addressees of the contested decision and, as just mentioned (see paragraph 55 of this judgment), they are not justified in invoking the third limb of the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU.

62

Accordingly, they are only entitled to bring an action under the fourth paragraph of Article 263 TFEU if the contested decision is of direct and individual concern to them.

63

As regards the second of these conditions, the Court has consistently held that persons other than those to whom a decision is addressed may only claim to be individually concerned if the decision affects them by reason of certain attributes which are peculiar to them or by reason of circumstances in which they are differentiated from all other persons and by virtue of these factors distinguishes them individually just as in the case of the person addressed (judgments of 15 July 1963 in Plaumann v Commission, 25/62, ECR, EU:C:1963:17, p. 107; 9 June 2011 in ComitatoVenezia vuole vivereand Others v Commission, C‑71/09 P, C‑73/09 P and C‑76/09 P, ECR, EU:C:2011:368, paragraph 52; and Telefónica v Commission, cited in paragraph 25 above, EU:C:2013:852, paragraph 46).

64

It is also clear from settled case-law that the possibility of determining more or less precisely the number, or even the identity, of the persons to whom a measure applies by no means implies that it must be regarded as being of individual concern to them as long as that measure is applied by virtue of an objective legal or factual situation defined by it (judgment in Telefónica v Commission, cited in paragraph 25 above, EU:C:2013:852, paragraph 47).

65

It should also be noted that the contested decision applies to objectively determined situations and produces legal effects for categories of persons regarded generally and in the abstract.

66

In the first place, the contested decision, in particular actions 13, 15, 16 and 17 contained in the action plan appended thereto, are of concern to the applicants’ members only in their objective capacity as fishermen, in particular swordfish fishermen using certain fishing techniques, in the same way as any other economic operator actually or potentially in the same situation (see, as regards provisions imposing comparable obligations to those laid down in the contested decision, judgment in Commission v Jégo-Quéré, cited in paragraph 36 above, EU:C:2004:210, paragraph 46, and order of 14 February 2012 in Federcoopesca and Others v Commission, T‑366/08, EU:T:2012:74, paragraph 28).

67

Moreover, it was not denied at the hearing that the current list of vessels flying the Italian flag with authorisation to fish for swordfish includes more than 7300 vessels, providing further evidence that the contested decision cannot affect the applicants or their members individually.

68

In the second place, no provision of EU law required the Commission, when adopting the contested decision, to follow a procedure under which the applicants or their members would be able to claim rights that might be available to them. EU law has accordingly not conferred any particular legal status on operators such as the applicants or their members with regard to the adoption of the contested decision (judgment in Commission v Jégo-Quéré, cited in paragraph 66 above, EU:C:2004:210, paragraph 47).

69

It follows from the foregoing that the contested decision does not apply to a closed circle of persons who were known at the time of its adoption and whose rights the Commission intended to regulate (judgment of 21 May 1987 in Union Deutsche Lebensmittelwerke and Others v Commission, 97/85, ECR, EU:C:1987:243, paragraph 11).

70

Even if the contested decision could be regarded as affecting the applicants or their members as a group of persons who were identified or identifiable when that measure was adopted by reason of criteria specific to the members of the group, which has not been proven, the documents in the case do not, in any event, show that the applicants or their members could be regarded as enjoying an acquired right capable of being affected by the contested decision.

71

When the contested decision affects a group of persons who were identified or identifiable when that measure was adopted by reason of criteria specific to the members of the group, those persons might be individually concerned by that measure inasmuch as they form part of a limited class of economic operators. That is the case particularly when the decision alters rights acquired by such persons prior to its adoption (judgments of 13 March 2008 in Commission v Infront WM, C‑125/06 P, ECR, EU:C:2008:159, paragraphs 71 and 72, and 27 February 2014 in Stichting Woonlinie and Others v Commission, C‑133/12 P, ECR, EU:C:2014:105, paragraph 46).

72

In the present case, it should be observed that the objective of the common fisheries policy is to ensure exploitation of living aquatic resources that provides sustainable economic, environmental and social conditions (recital 1 in the preamble to Regulation No 1224/2009). The success of that policy involves implementing an effective system of control (recital 2 of Regulation No 1224/2009).

73

This system of control is based, in particular, on the authorisation system laid down in Title III of Regulation No 1224/2009, headed ‘General conditions for access to waters and resources’. Thus, under Article 6 of that regulation, an EU fishing vessel may be used for commercial exploitation of living aquatic resources only if it has a valid fishing licence. Similarly, Article 7 of the regulation provides that an EU fishing vessel operating in EU waters is authorised to carry out specific fishing activities only in so far as they are indicated in a valid fishing authorisation.

74

A fishing licence may be temporarily suspended or permanently withdrawn. In this connection, Article 92 of Regulation No 1224/2009 establishes a points system. Under this system, points are assigned to the holder of a licence when a serious infringement of the rules of the common fisheries policy has been committed. When the total number of points thereby assigned reaches a specific threshold, the licence is automatically suspended or withdrawn. As regards fishing authorisation, Article 7 of the regulation provides that such authorisation is not to be issued if the vessel concerned does not have a licence or if its licence has been suspended or withdrawn and is to be suspended where the fishing licence has been suspended temporarily.

75

Furthermore, Article 108 of Regulation No 1224/2009 enables the Commission, when certain conditions have been met, to take emergency measures including, in particular, temporary suspension of the fishing activities of vessels flying the flag of a Member State.

76

Accordingly, as regards access to resources, EU fishing vessels are subject to an authorisation system characterised by a degree of insecurity.

77

The Court has already held that being a holder of a right to fish and of a quota allocated by the competent Member State for a fishing season cannot give the party concerned the right to be able, in all circumstances, to exhaust that quota (judgment of 14 October 2014 in Giordano v Commission, C‑611/12 P, ECR, EU:C:2014:2282, paragraph 48).

78

Therefore, the grant of a fishing licence and a fishing authorisation, on which the applicants rely, does not mean that the holder thereof can be regarded as enjoying an acquired right within the meaning of the case-law cited in paragraph 71 above.

79

The applicants are therefore wrong to claim that the contested decision distinguishes them or their members individually.

80

It follows from all of the foregoing that the applicants do not have standing to bring proceedings against the contested decision.

81

Consequently, without it being necessary to determine whether the applicants are entitled to seek the partial annulment of the contested decision, this action must, in any event, be dismissed as inadmissible.

Costs

82

Under Article 134(1) of the Rules of Procedure of the General Court, the unsuccessful party is to be ordered to pay the costs if they have been applied for in the successful party’s pleadings. As the applicants have been unsuccessful, they must be ordered to pay the costs, in accordance with the form of order sought by the Commission.

 

On those grounds,

THE GENERAL COURT (Second Chamber)

hereby:

 

1.

Dismisses the action;

 

2.

Orders Federazione nazionale delle cooperative della pesca (Federcoopesca), Associazione Lega Pesca and Associazione generale cooperative italiane settore agro ittico alimentare (AGCI AGR IT AL) to pay the costs.

 

Martins Ribeiro

Gervasoni

Madise

Delivered in open court in Luxembourg on 7 July 2015.

[Signatures]


( *1 ) Language of the case: Italian.

Top