ECJ Ruling: Member States given no say on wildlife protection in trade


ECJ Ruling: Member States given no say on wildlife protection in trade

16 May 2017
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled today that provisions on sustainable development are now an integral part of the common commercial policy of the EU and so are within the EU’s exclusive competence.

This means that member states have no say over the issue and European citizens are being excluded from the democratic process on a topic that is close to their hearts. Sustainable development chapters include provisions on environmental protection and often deal with biodiversity, wildlife and wildlife trafficking. Although citizens have shown overwhelming support for using trade policy to improve the lives of animals in a recent Eurobarometer survey, this ruling means that national and regional parliaments will not need to be involved in these issues in free trade agreement ratification.

Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals says: ‘‘It is unfortunate that the ECJ has ruled today that member states do not have any say on this issue. The regional parliament of Wallonia proved to us during the ratification of CETA just how important EU member states are in ensuring a fair and democratic process. Now, the ECJ has made it impossible for member states to influence the quality of wildlife protection in the sustainable development chapters. We will continue to work closely with the Commission to promote the effective protection of wildlife in FTAs, particularly now that the ECJ considers sustainable development an integral part of the common commercial policy.’’

However, there is a potential upside. The ruling goes some way to entrench sustainable development in the EU’s trade deals. This result may end up being positive for wildlife protection in the long run as the EU is obliged to address issues of sustainable development.

The question of division of competence between the Commission and EU member states has been particularly thorny since the near-collapse of the EU-Canada Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) due to the opposition of Wallonia. Unfortunately, the ruling today does not give hope to animal welfare groups who would like to see member states have the right to ratify the sustainable development provisions in the EU-Singapore trade deal and all future EU trade deals.


Iyan Offor, International Trade Project Officer Tel: + 32 (0) 27400895 | Email:
Lucy Mathieson, Communications Officer: Tel: +32 (0) 27400825 | Email:

Further information:  

ECJ press release
Blog post by Dr Andres Delgado Casteleiro, Senior Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute Luxembourg for International, European and Regulatory Procedural Law
Eurogroup for Animals article: ECJ Advocate General requires that national parliaments must approve EU trade deals
Advocate General’s Opinion (PR)