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EU Court Faults France on Blockade

December 9, 1997

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ A landmark ruling by the European Union’s high court may spell the end of the border blockade _ a popular tactic of protesting farmers and fishermen.

The European Court of Justice upheld a complaint by the EU’s executive agency, claiming the French government had not done enough to break up farmers’ blockades, which were erected to keep out foreign produce.

The Luxembourg-based court said Tuesday that France ``failed to fulfill its obligations″ to guarantee open trade among the EU’s 15 member nations.

Under the ruling, victims of blockades can now go to national courts to seek compensation. ``This is an extra element of pressure in the national courts,″ said Betty Olivi, a spokeswoman for the EU executive Commission.

Although the court decision related only to French farmers’ action over the past decade, the Commission said it sent a warning to other more recent protests.

In recent weeks, British farmers have blockaded ports in a confrontation over beef imports from Ireland and France. French truck drivers backed calls for higher wages by blocking foreign trucks from crossing France.

``The court has clarified without ambiguity that member states must implement the measures necessary to safeguard the free movement of goods,″ said Olivi.

The Commission had complained France has repeatedly failed to act against protests by farmers to keep out cheap imports.

``The French government has manifestly and persistently abstained from adopting appropriate and adequate measures to put an end to the acts of vandalism,″ the ruling said. The legal challenge took six years.

The Commission said it had received complaints for over a decade that French authorities stood by passively in the face of violence committed by farmers trying to keep competing goods out.

Trucks were stopped and their goods _ strawberries from Spain or tomatoes from Belgium _ destroyed by protesters.

The court said violence and damage were ``such as to create a climate of insecurity which has a deterrent effect on the trade flow as a whole.″

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