Court of Justice of the European Union on the tax enforcement regarding the recovery of the restitution for export

The Court of Justice of the European Union has published the decision of 17th September 2014, in Case C-341/13, Cruz & Companhia Lda, having as subject the request of preliminary decision drafted by Supremo Tribunal Administrativo (Portugal) regarding the interpretation of the articles 3 to 5 from the Regulation no. 2988/95 on the protection of the financial interests of the European Communities, in a litigation between the Cruz & Companhia company and the national administration, regarding a tax enforcement aiming the recovery of the restitutions for wine export received unjustifiably by Cruz & Companhia during the 1995 campaign.

In this case, the national administration has initiated a court procedure for recovering the claims against the Cruz & Companhia company in 2005. The claimant company has contested that recovery procedure, putting forward the applicability of the limitation period for four years provided by article 3 of the Regulation no. 2988/95 for pursuing and sanctioning the infringements from the Union’s law, and not of the 20-year limitation period provided by the Civil Code of Portugal.

The Court has replied in the sense that article 3 of the Regulation no.  2988/95 of the Council must be interpreted in the sense that it is applied to the prosecution initiated by the national authorities against the beneficiaries of the Union’s aid as result of the infringements detected by the national body, which is responsible for the payment of the restitutions for export within the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund.

The limitation period provided at article 3 paragraph (1) first paragraph of the Regulation no. 2988/95 is applicable not only in the case of prosecution of certain infringements that lead to the application of administrative sanctions in the sense of article 5 of this regulation, but also in the case of prosecution which establishes the adoption of administrative measures in the sense of article 4 of the mentioned regulation. Although article 3 paragraph (3) of the same regulation allows the Member States to apply the limitation periods longer than those four or three years provided at paragraph (1) the first paragraph of this article, which results from provisions of common law previous to the date of adopting the mentioned regulation, the application of a limitation period of 20 years which exceeds what is necessary for attaining the objective of protecting the financial interests of the Union.

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