Entrepreneurs may freely choose the language in which invoices are issued

The case in which the EU Court of Justice expressed its opinion concerned a dispute about unpaid invoices between an Italian and Belgian entrepreneur. During the trial, the Italian entrepreneur noted that invoices issued by the contracting party were not valid because they had been made out contrary to the regulations applicable in Belgium concerning the language to be used.

However, the EUCJ ruled that the regulations of the Belgian law requiring every entrepreneur operating in the territory of the Flemish community of the Kingdom of Belgium to edit all data in invoices concerning cross-border transactions exclusively in the official language on pain of invalidity of these invoices pronounced by a court ex officio were at variance with article 35 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Because the regulation constitutes an inadmissible limitation on the free flow of goods.

The Court recalled that in accordance with the adopted judicature a national measure that limits the use of the guaranteed basic freedoms is admissible only on condition that it serves the purpose connected with the public interest, it is adequate to ensure achievement of that purpose and does not go beyond what is necessary for achievement thereof.

The Belgian government pointed out that the regulation could not be regarded as a limitation on the free flow of goods because invoices which are the only subject of the said regulations confirm solely a debt under the agreement concluded by interested parties. And the parties are still free to draw up the agreement in the language chosen by them, therefore they do violate declarations of will they have exchanged between themselves. In justification of validity of the regulation, also such purposes were cited as stimulation of the use of the official language of a given region as well as  a guarantee of effectiveness of inspection by relevant services in respect of VAT.

The EUCJ did not share this opinion stating also that the regulations requiring the use of a specific language on pain of an invoice being invalid produce the result limiting trade exchange which could discourage companies from establishing or continuing relations with a company having its registered office in the region of the Kingdom of Belgium where Dutch is in use.

In spite of the fact that the purpose assuming promotion and stimulation of the use of one of official languages of a given Member State is a lawful purpose allowing in principle to justify limitation of obligations imposed by the EU law, then in this case it was not proportional to the negative effects on exchange of goods within the EU.


  • Judgment of the EU Court of Justice of 21st June 2016, case C-15/15