TALLINN - The government's aim to win monetary claims against Estonian companies for excessive sugar stocks accrued prior to EU-accession will be postponed indefinitely after a Tallinn court appealed to Brussels for assistance.
The Tallinn Administrative Court has sent a request for assistance to the European Court of Justice on how to interpret the law, the Postimees daily has reported.
The case stems from the government's attempts to claim some 400 million kroons (256 million euros) from numerous companies that, in violation of EU law, imported large amounts of cheap sugar before Estonia acceded to the union in May 2004.
Some 20 companies have protested the penalties, and these appeals are stuck in Estonia's judicial system, on several levels.
The Tallinn court, which is reviewing a case of ice cream maker Balbiino vs. the state of Estonia, wants a preliminary assessment about how Estonian law should be interpreted in regards to penalty collection.
The court's decision to appeal to Brussels will likely delay a resolution on all similar cases in the industry.
EU law forbids countries acceding to the union from importing cheap foodstuffs in the run-up to membership so that the product cannot then be dumped on the EU market at a significantly higher price.
In all, the amount the European Commission demanded that Estonia pay for a total 91,464 tons of excess sugar stocks is 45.7 million euros.
The government has begun paying the penalty but in turn is hoping to force the private sector companies that actually imported the sugar to foot the bill. Nearly all are turning to the courts in order not to pay.
The largest penalty of 135.6 million kroons was imposed on Kalev, Estonia's largest confectionery. Kalev is fighting the claim, maintaining that it correctly declared its sugar stocks and was in agreement with provisions of the excess sugar regulations.