In its judgment of July 10, 20141, the EU Court of Justice reaffirmed the consequences of the complete harmonization of the laws of the EU Member States resulting from EU Directive 2005/29/EC concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market2 (the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive or UCPD).
The UCPD indeed fully harmonizes the rules relating to unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the EU. Accordingly, Member States may not maintain or adopt stricter rules than those laid down in the directive, even where such measures are designed to ensure a higher level of consumer protection.
In the case at hand, the national legislation of Belgium imposed the following restrictions upon retailers announcing price reductions: (i) any announcement of a price reduction must refer to the lowest price applied throughout the month prior to the announcement of the price reduction; (ii) the price may not be announced as a reduced price for more than a month; and (iii) announcements of price reductions may not last for less than a day.3
This national legislation had the effect of prohibiting the announcement of price reductions whenever the strict conditions contained in that legislation were not met, even where such practices would not, when examined individually, be considered misleading or unfair within the meaning of Directive 2005/29.4
However, the UCPD establishes, in its Annex I, an exhaustive list of 31 commercial practices which are regarded as unfair ‘in all circumstances.’ Consequently, only these commercial practices can be deemed to be unfair without proceeding to an assessment of their actual impact on consumers.