Case Notes: Free movement and roadblocks: the right to protest in the Single Market

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Eugen Schmidberger brought proceedings against the Republic of Austria alleging that the (in)action of authorities in that state had frustrated the right of his haulage company from carrying out its business, that is to say moving goods between Germany and Italy.  Schmidberger lorries were kept stationary at the Austrian frontier for four consecutive days because of a combination of restrictions on heavy goods vehicle movements during weekends and bank holidays, and the activities of an environmental group, Transitforum Austria Tirol, which had organised a protest on the A13 motorway on the one working day between the relevant bank holiday and weekend.  Transitforum Austria Tirol, no doubt fully aware that the timing of its protest would result in the effective closure of the motorway for a period well beyond the actual duration of the demonstration, organised a mini-festival on the arterial route linking northern Italy with
southern Germany. Picnics, children’s parties, fun and games took the place of the usual traffic, the demonstration intended to make a statement about the need to reclaim the streets from vehicles.

The Austrian authorities considered that the demonstration satisfied the requirements of the relevant laws on assembly,1 and therefore upheld the rights of those individuals involved to participate in this protest. It seemed, however, that the authorities gave little thought to whether any point of Community law was raised by this action, or if they did consider it they concluded they still had to permit the closure of the road.

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