The Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) has issued a new ruling on the international scope of the Commercial Agency Directive (86/653/EEC of 18 December 1986). The new decision is in line with the rulings of
- the CJEU in the Ingmar case (decision of 9 November 2000, C-381/98, goodwill indemnity mandatory where the agent acts within the EU) and Unamar (decision of 17 October 2013, C-184/12, as to whether national agency law is mandatory where exceeding the Commercial Agency Directive’s minimum protection) and
- the German Federal Supreme Court of 5 September 2012 (German agency law as mandatory law vis-à-vis suppliers in third countries with choice-of-court clause).
The question: Now, the CJEU had to decide whether a commercial agent acting in Turkey for a supplier based in Belgium could claim goodwill indemnity on the basis of the Commercial Agency Directive. More specifically, the question was whether the territorial scope of the Commercial Agency Directive was given where the commercial agent acts in a third country and the supplier within the EU – hence opposite to the Ingmar case.
The facts: According to the agency contract, Belgian law applied and the courts in Gent (Belgium) should be competent. Belgian law, transposing the Commercial Agency Directive, provides for a goodwill indemnity claim at termination of the contract (and, additionally, compensation for damages). However, the referring court considered that the Belgian Law on Commercial Agents of 1995 was self-restraining and would apply, in accordance with its Art. 27, only if the commercial agent acted in Belgium. Otherwise, general Belgian law would apply.
The decision: The CJEU decided that the parties may derogate from the Commercial Agency Directive if the agent acts in a third country (i.e. outside the EU). This has here been the case since the agent acted in Turkey.
The decision is particularly noteworthy because it – rather by the way – continues the CJEU’s Ingmar ruling under the Rome I Regulation (I.). In addition, it indirectly confirms sec. 92c of the German Commercial Code (II.) – which allows the parties to a commercial agent agreement governed by German law to deviate from the generally mandatory agency law if the commercial agent is acting outside the European Economic Area (“EEA”). Finally, it provides legal certainty for distribution outside the EEA and illustrates what may change after a Brexit as regards commercial agents acting in the United Kingdom (III.) – if the EU and the United Kingdom do not set up intertemporal arrangements for transition.
For details, please see the article by Benedikt Rohrßen, Zeitschrift für Vertriebsrecht 2017, 186 et seq. (“Ingmar reloaded – Handelsvertreter-Ausgleich bei umgekehrter Ingmar-Konstellation nicht international zwingend”).