Almost exactly four years ago, the European Parliament passed Regulation (EC) No 1007/2009 restricting the marketing of products made from seals to:
only where the seal products result from hunts traditionally conducted by Inuit and other indigenous communities and contribute to their subsistence.
the placing on the market of seal products shall also be allowed where the seal products result from by-products of hunting that is regulated by national law and conducted for the sole purpose of the sustainable management of marine resources. Such placing on the market shall be allowed only on a non-profit basis. The nature and quantity of the seal products shall not be such as to indicate that they are being placed on the market for commercial reasons.
(See also Commission Regulation (EU) No 737/2010, the implementing regulation for the above, laying down detailed requirements.)
Canada's Inuit, among others, are concerned that these restrictions effectively destroy any market that might otherwise exist in Europe for seal products, making the saving provision about traditional hunting insufficiently helpful to them. As a consequence, a number of Inuit organizations, together with aboriginal groups in Norway and Greenland, began a process of contesting the regulation in the European Court of Justice.
Last week, in Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami et al. v. European Parliament and Council Case C‑583/11 P, the plaintiffs lost another round in their lawsuit. The Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice dismissed their appeal against a negative lower court ruling, agreeing, crucially, that the plaintiffs lack the locus standi to challenge a legislative act. Much of what has been at stake throughout the litigation process has to do with the ability of individuals, as opposed to states, to bring suit to challenge legislation. As I understand it, it is now decided that individuals cannot challenge legislation from Parliament; however, it may be open to them to challenge implementing regulations made by the Commission. This, however, would be tested in a further action.
This decision and earlier rulings are most helpfully discussed by Laurens Ankersmit in the European Law Blog.
It would seem that the Inuit are carrying not only the burden of re-opening trade in seal products but also of developing some pretty fundamental law for the European Union.