Joseph Muscat, an economist and Labour candidate for the European Parliament election, has asked the European Commission to look into the Maltese government's decision to continue to impose a licence fee on satellite dish receivers.
In a letter to the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Frits Bolkestein, Mr Muscat pointed out that on July 2, 2001, the European Com-mission adopted a Communication (Commission Communication on the Application of the General Principles of Free Movement of Goods and Services - Articles 28 and 49 EC - Concerning the Use of Satellite Dishes) which stated that private individuals should be free to use satellite dishes without undue technical, administrative, urban planning or tax obstacles. The right to do so flows from the free movement of goods and services, which are both fundamental Internal Market freedoms.
In the Communication, the Commission clearly reiterated its opposition to taxes specifically targeted at satellite dishes. The Commission had already expressed its opposition as part of infringement procedures for violation of Article 49 of the Treaty on the free movement of services. It also recalled the caselaw of the Court of Justice, which has upheld private individuals' right to obtain reimbursement of such taxes from their national courts, subject to the formal and substantive requirements of national law.
Moreover, independent of the right to lodge a complaint or obtain a refund, a tax collected in violation of a fundamental freedom under Community law may cause the member state in question to become liable.
Furthermore, the European Court of Justice has ruled that "entitlement to the repayment of charges levied by a member State in breach of Community law is a consequence of, and an adjunct to, the rights conferred on individuals by the Community provisions prohibiting such charges. The member state is therefore in principle required to repay charges levied in breach of Community law (Comateb judgment, Joined cases C-192/95 to C-218/95).
Moreover, on March 9, 2000, the Commission sent a letter to Belgium urging the Government to respect Community law by ensuring the immediate and definitive repeal throughout the country of all taxes levied on satellite dishes and the refund of any taxes already paid.
In his letter, Mr Muscat pointed out that the government of Malta is still imposing an annual Lm25 (about €58) fee on satellite dishes/receivers. He thus asked the Commission to clarify whether Government is in breach of Community Law. If so, he asked whether licence payers are entitled to a refund of fees paid as from May 1, 2004.
The letter was also copied to Alexander Schaub, director-general, D-G Internal Market, and to the head of the European Commission's Delegation to Malta, Ronald Gallimore.