Order of the Court (Fourth Chamber) of 12 November 1999. - Eugénio Branco Ldª v Commission of the European Communities. - Appeal - European Social Fund - Reduction in financial assistance - Certification by the Member State - Misappraisal of the facts - Legitimate expectations - Legal certainty - Proportionality. - Case C-453/98 P.
European Court reports 1999 Page I-08037
1 Appeals - Pleas in law - Mere repetition of the pleas in law and arguments submitted to the Court of First Instance - Plea alleging incorrect assessment of the facts - Inadmissible - Appeal must be dismissed
(EC Treaty, Art. 168a (now Art. 225 EC); EC Statute of the Court of Justice, Arts 49 and 51; Rules of Procedure of the Court of Justice, Art. 112(1)(c))
2 Social policy - European Social Fund - Financial assistance for vocational training - Accuracy of facts and accounts in final payment claims to be certified by the Member States - Scope
(Council Regulation No 2950/83; Council Decision 83/516; Commission Decision 83/673, Art. 6)
3 Social policy - European Social Fund - Financial assistance for vocational training - Accuracy of facts and accounts in final payment claims to be certified by the Member States - Scope and limits - Decision reducing assistance initially granted - Whether the beneficiaries have a legitimate expectation - Whether reduction of assistance is in breach of the principle of the protection of legitimate expectations - No such breach
(Council Regulation No 2950/83, Art. 6(1))
1 It follows from Article 168a of the Treaty (now Article 225 EC) and the first paragraph of Article 51 of the Statute of the Court of Justice and Article 112(1)(c) of the Rules of Procedure that an appeal must indicate precisely the contested elements of the judgment which the appellant seeks to have set aside, and also the legal arguments specifically advanced in support of the appeal.
That requirement is not satisfied by an appeal confined to reproducing the pleas in law and arguments previously submitted to the Court of First Instance, including those based on facts expressly rejected by that Court; in so far as such an appeal does not contain any arguments specifically contesting the judgment appealed against, it amounts in reality to no more than a request for re-examination of the application submitted to the Court of First Instance, which the Court of Justice does not have jurisdiction to undertake.
An appeal may be based only on grounds relating to the infringement of rules of law, to the exclusion of any appraisal of the facts. The Court of First Instance has exclusive jurisdiction, first, to establish the facts except where the substantive inaccuracy of its findings is apparent from the documents submitted to it and, second, to assess those facts. It does not lie within the jurisdiction of the Court to carry out a fresh appraisal of the facts. A plea in law which merely contests the appraisal of the facts at first instance is therefore inadmissible.
2 A Member State may still alter its assessment of a final payment claim in respect of funding from the European Social Fund after it has issued certification, pursuant to Article 5(4) of Regulation No 2950/83 on the implementation of Decision 83/516 on the tasks of the European Social Fund, that the facts and accounts in a final payment claim were accurate, if it considers that the claim contains irregularities which had not been previously detected; it may also have recourse to a professional auditing body in order to check the accuracy of those facts and accounts.
Article 6 of Decision 83/673 on the management of the European Social Fund provides that applications for final payment of ESF funding must reach the Commission within 10 months of the date of completion of the training operations and that no payment may be made in respect of aid for which the application is submitted after the expiry of that period. That being so, if checks to establish conformity can be made only before certification that the facts and accounts in a final payment claim are accurate, the Member State may not be in a position to submit that claim to the Commission within the above 10-month period, with the result that final payment of the aid could not be made. In some cases, certification of the accuracy of the facts and accounts in a final payment claim prior to a check to establish conformity or before its completion may be in the interest of the aid recipient.
3 The fact that a Member State has certified the accuracy of the facts and accounts in a claim for final payment of funding from the European Social Fund cannot give rise to a legitimate expectation on the beneficiary's part that the Commission will endorse that certification. First, under Article 6(1) of Regulation No 2950/83 on the implementation of Decision 83/516 on the tasks of the European Social Fund, it is the Commission which adopts the final decision and takes sole legal liability for such a decision as against the beneficiaries. Second, under the same provision, a decision to make final payment can be adopted only if the beneficiary has complied with the conditions governing the grant of financial assistance.