Court of Justice of the European Union

Judgment of 17 September 2014

Case C-341/13

Limitation period – Recovery of export refunds wrongly received - EAGGF

In this judgment, delivered in the scope of a reference for a preliminary ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“TJUE”) ruled on the limitation period applicable to the refund of European Union aids by its recipients, following irregularities found by the national entity responsible for paying the aid.

The case concerned European Union aid referred to as “export refunds”, paid by Instituto Nacional de Garantia Agrícola (“INGA”) in 1995, which the operator was being ordered to repay, following alleged irregular conducts.

In this connection, the TJUE concluded that Article 3 of Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 2988/95, of 18 December 1995, relating to the protection of European Communities financial interests, which provides for a limitation period of four or three years, must be interpreted as applying to procedures brought by the national authorities against recipients of European Union aid following irregularities found by the national entity responsible for paying export refund under  the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF).

The TJUE further considered that, although Article 3(3) of the said Regulation permits Member States to apply limitation periods longer than the four or three years provided for in number 1, first paragraph of the same Article, resulting from general provisions of law predating  the adoption of that Regulation, a twenty-year limitation period goes beyond what is necessary to achieve the goal of protecting the European  Union’s financial interests.

Accordingly, the TJUE declared the application of a twenty-year limitation period, implemented by national courts to the obligation to repay sums of European Union funds wrongly received, to be incompatible with European Law.