Rethinking Keck and market access test once again. A vicious circle?

dr. Agne Limante 

MA candidate in EU Law, King’s College London; PhD in EU law, Vilnius University; Post-Graduate Diploma in EU Law, King’s College London


When in November 1993 the CJEU presented its ruling in Keck case[i], seeking, inter alia, ‘to clarify the law’, academic society reacted to it with a plethora of studies on how to ‘clarify the clarification’[ii]. In that ruling the Court held that French rules prohibiting reselling at loss were not caught by Article 34 TFEU since they related merely to indistinctly applicable ‘selling arrangements’ having no adequate effect on intra-EU trade.

It was clear that the judgement signalled contradiction in the scope of application of EU rules on free movement of goods. As noted by prof. Weatherill, Keck was doubtless intended to empower national courts to dismiss far-fetched attempts to deploy internal market law which was clogging up the EU judicial system with the minutiae of purely local affairs[iii]. However, the borders of such limitation and its content remain blurred until today.

The analysis below will re-think Keck from the position of market access test. It firstly shortly examine the nature of ‘selling arrangements’ introduced by Keck, and later will turn to the discussion on the market access test as an alternative approach to Keck.

Restrictive measures falling under Keck

According to the settled case-law, all trading rules enacted by the Member States which are capable of hindering, directly or indirectly, actually or potentially, trade within the EU are to be considered as measures having an effect equivalent to quantitative restrictions and are, on that basis, prohibited by Article 34 TFEU[iv]. However, according to Keck, the application to products from other Member States of national provisions restricting or prohibiting certain selling arrangements, within the Member State of importation, is not such as to hinder trade between Member States so long as, first, those provisions apply to all relevant traders operating within the national territory and, secondly, they affect in the same manner, in law and in fact, the marketing of domestic products and those from other Member States.

Following the above, while retaining the prohibition of hindrance to market access set in Dassonville and the general non-discrimination requirement, Keck made a distinction between:

(i)    ‘rules that lay down requirements to be met by goods’, related to inherent characteristics of products, and per se are considered to fall under Article 34 TFEU;

(ii)  ‘selling arrangements’, regulating questions extrinsic to goods. They are covered by Article 34 TFEU only if they discriminate against imports;

(iii) ‘residual rules’, as a separate group named in subsequent case-law and doctrine. They fall under Dassonville as affecting intra-EU trade.

Identifying selling arrangements, however, appeared to be a puzzle. Although they seem to cover restrictions on when[v], where and by whom[vi] the goods may be sold, as well as advertising restrictions[vii] and price controls[viii], these general elements hardly allow predicting outcomes in individual cases.

It should also be noted that during last decades the Court increasingly adopted a broad interpretation of indirect discrimination bringing the rules on marketing within the scope of Article 34 TFEU. Indeed, as stated by prof. Spaventa, aside from Sunday-trading type of rules, during the period of 1997-2008, there were only two cases – Burmanjer and A-Punkt – where selling arrangements were found to be non-discriminatory and thus fell outside the scope of Article 34 TFEU[ix].

Market access test as an alternative to Keck

Since Keck received a lot of criticism, there were considerable attemps to reformulate it and to suggest alternatives. The majority suggested market access test to be the panacea.

As  Oliver and Enchelmaier[x] note the most authoritative assault ever mounted against the reasoning in Keck was that of AG Jacobs in Leclerc-Siplec[xi]. He considered that it was inappropriate to make such a rigid distinction between “rules that lay down requirements to be met by goods” and ‘selling arrangements’, and that the test of equality is not in line with the objectives of the Treaty[xii], namely, the establishment of a single market. At the same time AG Jacobs suggested a test aimed at checking whether a measure exerts a substantial restriction on the market access[xiii]. Since Leclerc-Siplec related to partial ban on advertisement (TV advertising), he came to a conclusion that this did not amount to substantial restriction of the market access. However, he also offered an example of direct TV marketing: here prohibition of TV advertising would mean substantial restriction. Comparably, in his opinion in Alpine Investments[xiv] dealing with restriction on ‘cold calling’ potential clients offering financial services, AG Jacobs argued that a question whether a national rule restricts freedom to provide services “should be determined by reference to a functional criterion, that is to say, whether it substantially impedes the ability <…> to provide services”.

Prof. Weatherill[xv] chose another direction stating that prohibition to resale at loss in Keck escaped Article 34 TFEU not because these were rules affecting selling arrangements applied equally in law and in fact, but because they were measures applying equally in law and in fact and exercising no direct impediment to access to market of a Member State. There was no obstruction to the realization of economies of scale and wider consumer choice. Going further, prof. Weatherill also sugests refining Keck test along the following wording: measures introduced by a Member State which apply equally in law and in fact to all goods or services without reference to origin and which impose no direct or substantial hidrance to the access of imported goods or services to the market of that Member State escape the scope of application of Articles 34 and 66 TFEU. Following such suggestion, complete bans on sale of goods or services (as in Schindler[xvi]), even if equally applied, would still have to be justified for having direct and substantial hidrance to market access.

AG Maduro in Alfa Vita[xvii] also stressed market access. He brought to the attention three criteria to be used when deciding on application of Article 34 TFEU. First, discrimination based on nationality must be prohibited. Second, the imposition of supplementary costs on cross-border activity has to be justified. Lastly, the measure will be a hidrance to market access if it impedes to a greater extent access to the market and putting into circulation of products from other Member States than trade on national market.

However, other authors do not see much use in notions such as ‘substantial barrier’ or in introducing other types of treshold. They claim that this would introduce an unwanted de minimis test, while ‘barrier to market access’ criterion is inherently nebulous[xviii]. Even if it is possible to distinguish restrictive rules that have minor effects on intra-EU trade, such as ‘modest effect on sales’,‘purely hypothetical and totally uncertain and indirect effect on market access’[xix], a large grey area is left between ‘minor’ and ‘substantial’.

Use restrictions, Keck and market access

Following Moped trailers[xx] and Mickelsson & Roos[xxi], the contours of Keck seem even more blurred and, again, subject to various interpretations. Both cases were related to the limits of market access and restriction of use – prohibition of towing the motor trailers and prohibition on use of personal watercrafts respectively.

These cases reveal the complexity of the question. AG Bot in Moped trailers case argued that the extension of Keck to measures regulating the use of goods would run against the aims of the internal market. AG Kokot, on the opposite, in Mickelsson & Roos suggested to extend Keck criteria to the use arrangements due to comparable characteristics.

In Moped trailers CJEU re-defined the notion of barriers to intra-EU trade underlining the market access. It stated that “any other measure which hinders access of products originating in other Member States to the market of a Member State is also covered by the [measures having equivalent effect] concept“. The Court reaffirmed this market access formula in Mickelsson & Roos.

Some authors guessed that with this case law the Keck selling arrangements doctrine might have been consigned to history books: though the Court did not openly overrule Keck, the market access formula might suggest, in fact if not in law, the end of the Keck dichotomy[xxii]. The Court made clear that any measure which may impede access to the market falls under Article 34 TFEU. Although distinguishing product-related rules remains necessary, delimitation of selling arrangements looses significance.

It is, however, a bit suprising that the suggested test established no type of threshold or qualifiers to be met by national measure. On the other hand, as noted by prof. Snell, the CJEU seems to focus on the significance of the impact of the measure with all the uncertainties this approach entails, though at the same time refusing to clearly state that rules with insignificant effect fall outside the Treaty[xxiii].

Concluding remarks

Looking from the other side, confronting Keck and market access test, we might be looking for opposition where it does not exist. Keck is about market access. As stated by Wenneras & Boe[xxiv], the CJEU in Moped trailers and Mickelsson & Roos has just consolidated and clarified what was implicit in Keck, namely that Article 34 TFEU prohibits measures that discriminatorily, in law or in fact, restrict market acess for imported products or which prevent/hinder market access.

Nevertheless, it is often hard to identify, which of the elements plays the decisive role in CJEU judgements – market access, discrimination and protectionism, economic freedom. One can have an impression that those tests remain elusive and are often used in an intuitive way, after firstly looking whether discrimination could be established, having in mind the possible justification in certain case and combining this intuition with the general feeling of what is reasonable and logical.


[i] Joined Cases C-267/91 and C-268/91 Keck and Mithouard [1993] ECR I‑6097.

[ii] Weatherill. After Keck: Some thoughts on how to clarify the clarification. (1996) 33 CMLRev, p. 885-906.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Case 8/74 Dassonville [1974] ECR 837.

[v] Case C-401/92 and C-402/92 Tankstation ’t Heukskeand Boermans [1994] ECR I-2199, Case C-69/93 and C-258/93 Punto Casa and PPV [1994] ECR I‑2355.

[vi] Case C-391/92 Commission v Greece [1995] ECR I‑1621, Case C-387/93 Banchero [1993] ECR I-1085. It is worth noting, that restrictions related to where the product might be sold are captured by selling arrangements if they relate to restrictions on physical location of selling place (pharmacy-shop-district). Selling by internet is given a different treatment. In DocMorris (C-322/01, [2003] ECR I-14887), case concerning prohibition of selling medicines by virtual pharmacies, the CJEU hold the restriction to be de facto discrimination against imports. Internet provided a “more significant way” to market access for sellers established in other Member States.

[vii] Case C-292/92 Hünermund and Others [1993] ECR I-6787; Case C-412/93 Leclerc-Siplec [1995] ECR I-179; Cases C-34/95 to C-36/95 De Agostini [1997] ECR I-3843, Case C-405/98 Gourmet [2001] ECR I-1795. However, often advertising restrictions might have discriminatory aspect. As AG Jacobs insisted in Leclerc-Siplec, “measures that prohibit or severely restrict advertising tend inevitably to protect domestic manufacturers and to disadvantage manufacturers located in other Member States“.

[viii] Case C-63/94 Belgapom [1995] ECR I-2467.

[ix] Spaventa. Leaving Keck behind? The free movement of goods after the rulings in Commission v. Italy and. Mickelsson and Roos. (2009) 34 ELRev. 914-932.

[x] Oliver & Enchelmaier. Free Movement of Goods: Recent Developments in the Case Law. (2007) 44 CMLRev. 649–704.

[xi] Case C-412/93 Leclerc-Siplec [1995] ECR I-179.

[xii] In AG Jacobs words: “If an obstacle to inter-State trade exists, it cannot cease to exist simply because an identical obstacle affects domestic trade”.

[xiii] It is interesting to note, that AG Jacobs in general tends to analyse measures in the light of the scope of their effect. Criticizing locus standi in annulment actions (UPA case), he also suggested a test of “substantial negative effect” for interpretation of individual concern.

[xiv] Case C-384/93 Alpine Investments [1995] ECR I-1141.

[xv] Weatherill. After Keck: Some thoughts on how to clarify the clarification. (1996) 33 CMLRev, p. 885-906.

[xvi] Case C-275/92 Schindler [1994] ECR I‑1039.

[xvii] Joined Cases C-158/04 and C-159/04 Alfa Vita [2006] ECR I‑8135.

[xviii] Oliver & Enchelmaier. Free Movement of Goods: Recent Developments in the Case Law. (2007) 44 CMLRev. 649–704.

[xix] Joined Cases C-418/93, etc Semeraro Casa Uno [1996] ECR I‑2975.

[xx] Case C‑110/05 Commission v Italy [2009] ECR I‑519.

[xxi] Case C‑142/05 Mickelsson and Roos [2009] ECR I‑4273.

[xxii] Spaventa. Leaving Keck behind? The free movement of goods after the rulings in Commission v. Italy and. Mickelsson and Roos. (2009) 34 ELRev. 914-932.

[xxiii] Snell, The Notion of Market Access: A Concept or a Slogan? (2010) 47 CMLRev, p. 437-472.

[xxiv] Wenneras & Boe Moen. Selling arrangements, Keeping Keck. (2010) 35 ELRev. 387 -400.