Benelux Court of Justice

by Mehdi Belkahla

MPILux Working Paper 2 (2017)

Establishment and background: The Benelux Court of Justice (‘BCJ’) is – after the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice (‘ECJ’)––one of the oldest international courts still in existence. Indeed, the Treaty establishing it (Treaty concerning the Establishment and the Statute of a Benelux Court of Justice [‘Treaty 1965’]) came about as early as 31 March 1965 and entered into force between its three States Parties––the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg––on 1 January 1974. Since then, the Court has produced a fairly significant amount of case law and a number of additional and modifying protocols have come to extend its jurisdiction, which makes it a particularly dynamic court.

While the establishment of the Court has to be understood in connection with the Benelux (Economic) Union, it only explicitly became one of its institutions by means of the Organization’s revised treaty adopted in 2008 (Traité portant révision du traité instituant l’Union économique Benelux [‘BU Treaty 2008’]). The Court is therefore the Benelux Union’s main judicial body. It is mostly in relation to the aims of the Benelux Economic Union of adopting common legislation for all three States that one finds the Court’s raison d’être. The Explanatory Memorandum attached to the Treaty 1965 (Exposé des motifs to the Treaty 1965 [‘Explanatory Memorandum 1965’]) makes explicit the Court’s primary purpose: guaranteeing unity in the application of said legislation (para 2). In this respect, the Court’s main jurisdiction consists in issuing preliminary rulings on the interpretation of Benelux law, upon referral from national courts and tribunals. Simultaneously, a jurisdiction similar to that of international administrative tribunals (Administrative Boards, Commissions and Tribunals in International Organizations) was conferred upon the Court: it is competent to hear certain Benelux Union’s staff complaints. Interestingly, the Court is still evolving since a modifying protocol was adopted on 12 October 2012 (Protocole de 2012 modifiant le Traité du 31 mars 1965 relatif à l’institution et au statut d’une Cour de Justice Benelux [‘Protocol 2012’]) with a view to extending its jurisdiction. Once in force, the Court will be competent to directly settle disputes relating to the application of Benelux legislation; mainly in trademark-related matters and, in the near or more distant future, in other Benelux- regulated issues. This broadened jurisdiction will also require some changes in the organization and composition of the Court.