The facts need not detain us long. The applicants in the main proceedings were exporters of cattle from the Netherlands. They wanted to export cattle to Morocco and received an export subsidy to do so under the applicable EU agricultural rules. But it transpired that the vessel used to ship the cattle had been overloaded contrary to other applicable EU rules. The Dutch agricultural agency that paid out the subsidy, the Porductschap, required repayment of the amounts already paid. The exporters complained in an administrative procedure and as a result the Productschap took decisions that reduced the amounts to be repaid to it. Still not satisfied, the exporters challenged those decisions of the Productschap before a Dutch court. During the course of those judicial proceedings, the Dutch court identified other arguments based on EU law that could influence the outcome of the dispute but had not been raised by the parties.
Thus, the question was referred to the Court of Justice whether a national court must, as a matter of EU law, raise pleas based on EU law of its own motion if to do so would result in placing the applicant in a less favorable position than if he had not brought the action.
The Court of Justice held that where national law contains a principle such as the prohibition of reformatio in pejus, EU law cannot oblige a national court to apply EU law and legislation where to do so would run counter to that principle.
The Court of Justice held that an obligation to raise EU law of its own motion in such circumstances would be contrary not only to the principles of respect for the rights of the defence, legal certainty and protection of legitimate expectations, which underlie the prohibition, but would expose an individual who brought an action against an act adversely affecting him to the risk that such an action would place him in a less favourable position than he would have been in, had he not brought that action.