This summary delves into the landmark EU case of Van Binsbergen v Bestuur der Bedrijfvereniging voor de Metaalnijverheid (1974), which established the principle of mutual recognition of qualifications across EU states. This is crucial for law students studying EU market freedoms.

Legal Principles and Points in Case 33/74 Van Binsbergen [1974]

  • If a national law impinges upon the free movement of services, it may still be able to be compatible with Article 56 TFEU, so long as they are pursuing an objective justification.
  • The objective justification in this case was the overriding interest of public interest, which was that the law was preventing persons from escaping professional conduct rules by moving out of their ordinary state of residence.

Facts of the Case

  • A lawyer transferred his state of residency from the Netherlands to Belgium.
  • Ordinarily under Dutch law, he would not be able to act as a legal representative in court, on the basis that only lawyers established in the Netherlands could do so.
  • Consequently, under Dutch law, the lawyer could not argue before the courts in the Netherlands, as he was not established there.


  • The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) was asked to determine the compatibility of the Dutch law requiring that legal representatives must be established in the Netherlands to argue in court with Article 56 TFEU.

Held by the CJEU

  • It was held that the law was compatible with Article 56, insofar that the law ensures that individuals are not able to subvert rules regarding professional conduct through relocation.
  • This is especially important with regard to legal professionals, where significant issues concerning justice and ethics are paramount.

The CJEU Stated Specifically

  • “Article 56 must be interpreted as meaning that the national law of a Member State cannot, by imposing a requirement as to habitual residence within that state, deny persons established in another Member State the right to provide services, where the provision of services is not subject to any special condition under the national law applicable” [I-1312]


  • “The requirement that persons whose functions are to assist the administration of justice must be permanently established for professional purposes within the jurisdiction of certain courts or tribunals cannot be considered incompatible with the provisions of Article 56, where such requirement is objectively justified by the need to ensure observance of professional rules of conduct connected, in particular, with the administration of justice and with respect for professional ethics” [I-1310]

Significance of Van Binsbergen on the Development of the Law

The Van Binsbergen case is a cornerstone in the development of European Union law, specifically in the context of the free movement of services and the principle of non-discrimination based on nationality. This case has had a lasting impact on EU jurisprudence and legislative evolution in several key ways:

Establishing the Principle of Free Movement of Services: The Van Binsbergen case marked a significant development in EU law by affirming that restrictions on the freedom to provide services across EU borders are unjustifiable unless necessitated by an overriding public interest. This precedent has been foundational in numerous subsequent rulings:

Expanding the Scope of Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications: Van Binsbergen significantly influenced EU policy on professional mobility, fostering a more integrated internal market by advocating for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications:

Influencing EU Policy and Legislation on Service Provision: The principles set forth in Van Binsbergen have had a lasting impact on EU legislative actions concerning the service sector, ensuring fewer barriers and greater harmonization:

  • Services Directive (2006/123/EC) was inspired by the need to eliminate legal and administrative obstacles, echoing Van Binsbergen’s promotion of service freedom.
  • Directive 2013/55/EU, which amended Directive 2005/36/EC, reflects an evolved understanding of service provision, reinforcing the principles of free movement and qualification recognition initially advocated by Van Binsbergen.

Exam Questions and Answers

Below you will find answers to questions that are most commonly asked based on this case.

What specific legal defences did the Bestuur der Bedrijfvereniging voor de Metaalnijverheid present against Van Binsbergen’s claims?

The Bestuur der Bedrijfvereniging voor de Metaalnijverheid defended its position by arguing that the restrictions were necessary to ensure proper supervision of the profession and to maintain public order and standard compliance. They posited that only residents within the jurisdiction could be effectively monitored and regulated. This argument hinges on the idea that proximity is crucial for effective regulation—an assertion scrutinized under EU law favouring market integration. In the Lawrie-Blum v Land Baden-Württemberg (1986), the European Court of Justice ruled that restrictions on free movement for employment must be justified by imperative requirements. Similarly, the UK’s implementation of Directive 2006/123/EC on services reflects these principles, ensuring that regulations on service provision are non-discriminatory and necessary for public safety.

How did the European Court of Justice reconcile the principles of free movement with the need for regulation of professional services?

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Van Binsbergen reconciled these principles by setting a precedent that restrictions on free movement must be justified by overriding reasons of public interest, such as public health or consumer protection, and must be proportional to those aims. This decision emphasized the necessity for restrictions to be directly related to the objective they intend to achieve without being excessive. The case of Commission v Luxembourg (2008) further built on this by examining whether national measures restricting cross-border services were justifiable and proportionate. Additionally, the UK Equality Act 2010 integrates EU directives, ensuring that any restriction on service provision within the UK also aligns with these established EU principles of proportionality and non-discrimination.

What subsequent legal or legislative changes were directly influenced by the Van Binsbergen ruling?

The Van Binsbergen ruling had a profound impact on subsequent EU legislation, particularly influencing the development of the Services Directive (2006/123/EC), which aims to enhance the internal market by removing barriers to the free movement of services. This directive explicitly prohibits restrictions on service providers based on nationality or residence, echoing Van Binsbergen’s principles. Additionally, the ECJ’s decision in Commission v Italy (1989), which involved the recognition of diplomas for service providers, reflected Van Binsbergen’s influence by emphasizing the need for mutual recognition of professional qualifications across member states. In the UK, the implementation of the Professional Qualifications Directive 2005/36/EC, as adapted into national law, facilitates the recognition of EU qualifications, promoting a more integrated approach to service provision across the EU.