Do I have to register my motor vehicle in another EU country?

In a recent judgment, [Criminal proceedings against U (C-420/15)], the European Court of Justice ruled that a worker residing in a Member State is not required to register a motor vehicle which he owns and which is already registered in another Member State, where the vehicle is intended essentially for use in the latter Member State.

The case at issue concerns Mr U, an Italian national, having his principal place of residence in Belgium, object to a police check in Brussels while driving his vehicle registered in Italy and later fined by a judgment of the Local Criminal Court for having put into circulation a motor vehicle not registered in Belgium.

Article 3(1) Royal Decree of 20/07/2001 provides that persons entered in the population register, “shall register the vehicles that they intend to put into circulation in Belgium”.

The question referred to the ECJ by the Brussels Court of First Instance is whether “even if only in order to pass through the country vehicles belonging to a resident of a Member State of the European Union other than [the Kingdom of] Belgium and registered in that other State must be registered in [the Kingdom of] Belgium, if that person is also a Belgian resident?

It must be recalled that in joined cases C-151/04 and C-152/04, the ECJ held that requiring a self-employed worker residing in one Member State “to register there a company vehicle made available to him by the company for which he works, established in another Member State, when it is not intended that that vehicle should be used essentially in the first Member State on a permanent basis and it is not, in fact, used in that manner”, represent a breach of the provisions of the TFEU Treaty on the free movement of persons.

In Criminal proceedings against U, the ECJ held on the one hand that the fine imposed by virtue of the national legislation  “prevents a Union national resident in Belgium who has left his home Member State and exercised his right to freedom of movement as a worker, from making use, even marginally, of the Belgian road network with a motor vehicle belonging to him which is registered in another Member State”, and on the other hand that the national legislation could be accepted only as a derogation justified on grounds of public policy or public security [Article 45(3) TFEU], “or  if it pursued a legitimate aim compatible with the Treaty and justified by overriding reasons relating to the public interest”. In context, the ECJ underlined that the application of the national legislation must comply with the principle of proportionality. With simple words, you should not use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, which is apparently the case in the main proceedings.

It must be observed that Mr U, mainly residing in Belgium, went to Italy every week for professional and personal reasons and owned two motor vehicles, one registered in Belgium and the other one in in Italy, “the latter being intended to be used mainly in that second Member State”.

Where the intention can be defined as an aim or a plan and where the national law does not provide for quantifiable criteria to distinguish between essential and marginal use, any “similar” case will be ruled by the national courts, considering effective ties to the Member State where the motor vehicle is registered (such as but not limited to a second motor vehicle owned or made available in the Member State of main residence, effective residence and frequent visits for professional and/or private reasons to the Member State where the motor vehicle is registered).

However, as a general rule, failure to register the motor vehicle would be in breach of the national law.

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