EU States Don’t Have to Recognize License Renewals by Other Members

The European Court of Justice upheld Germany’s refusal to recognize Spain’s renewal of a driver’s license for a man arrested five times for driving while intoxicated.

A traffic sign indicating a speed limit of 120 kmh (75 mph) is pictured at the highway A59 close to Troisdorf, Germany. (Oliver Berg/dpa via AP, file)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — In a pair of rulings over driving license prohibitions, the European Union’s high court on Thursday sided with Germany in one case but against it in another.

The European Court of Justice combined two cases, one from a German man living in Spain who had his driving privileges in Germany revoked after repeated drunk driving offenses and another from an Austrian man who had his driving privileges in Germany revoked for driving while under the influence of cannabis. 

“It is clear … that allowing … the authorities of a member state to make the recognition of the validity of a driving license issued and renewed in another member state subject to certain conditions, on account of the commission of a road-traffic offence in their territory, is liable to reduce the risk of road-traffic accidents occurring and thus meets the objective consisting in improving road safety,” the Luxembourg-based court wrote in the case involving the German man, identified in court documents as F.

Between 1987 and 2008, F was arrested five times for driving while intoxicated in Germany, eventually having his permission to drive revoked in 2008. Spain, where F had lived since 1992, had issued his driving license and renewed it in 2009.

In 2014, F applied to have his Spanish license recognized in Germany, which was refused by German authorities, who said he would have to provide a medical report showing that he was fit to drive. He refused, arguing that Germany had no legal right to refuse to recognize his Spanish license, and brought a complaint before a German court which eventually referred the matter to the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice. 

The court sided with Germany, finding that renewing a license and obtaining a new license are not the same. EU law doesn’t require countries to check whether a driver is fit to drive during a renewal, but countries can require fitness checks if someone has had their license revoked. 

EU regulations “do not, in principle, preclude the authorities of a member state from refusing … to recognize the validity of a driving license in categories A and B merely renewed in another member state …the first member state thus being competent to lay down the conditions with which the holder of the driving license must comply in order to recover the right to drive in its territory,” the court’s Fifth Chamber wrote. 

The Court of Justice left it up to the national court to decide if the requirements that the German authorities imposed in order for F to get his driving license recognized in Germany were appropriate. 

In the second case, the German authorities wanted a note added to the license of the Austrian man, identified as AR, indicating that he was not permitted to drive on German territory. The five-judge panel rejected Germany’s argument, finding that since the man was Austrian and lived in Austria, Germany didn’t have the authority to make such a request.

“It is apparent from those rules, however, that both the issue and the subsequent alterations to a driving license and the entries appearing on it fall within the exclusive competence of the member state in which the holder of that license normally resides,” the court wrote.

However, the judges Germany can ban AR from driving in the country and enforce the ban if he’s caught driving on German territory. 

Driver’s licenses across the 27-member bloc have been standardized since 1980. All countries in the political and economic union were required to recognize licenses from other member states as well as exchange them when license holders move from one country to another. In 2006, the EU introduced a union-wide standard license, replacing the more than 100 varieties currently valid. 

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