Belgian dentists smiling as advertising ban ruled unlawful by EU court

A Belgian law that outright bans advertising dental services is incompatible with EU law. [Ray Larable/ Flickr]

Belgian dentists should not be banned from advertising their services, according to the European Court of Justice, which ruled that a national moratorium contradicts EU law.

The ECJ has decided that Belgian legislation that explicitly prohibits any advertising related to oral and dental care services is incompatible with European rules.

The case involved Belgian dentist Luc Vanderborght, who in the early 2000s commissioned a sign that advertised his services and placed advertisements in local newspapers.

A Belgian dentists association complained about his activities and criminal proceedings were launched against him. A Brussels court heard the case and decided to refer the matter up to the ECJ, as Vanderborght’s defence claimed that his rights under EU law had been infringed.

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In its judgement today (4 May), the Luxembourg-based court ruled that Belgian law does indeed contradict the EU’s e-commerce directive and that freedom of services precludes any national legislation that may impose a complete ban on advertising dental services.

While the court acknowledged that the content of the advertising may be subject to professional rules, so as to protect the dignity of the dental profession, it concluded that an outright ban exceeds what is necessary.

It also highlighted that totally outlawing advertising of this nature means dentists and oral care providers may struggle to make the public aware of the services on offer.

The ECJ admitted that the rationale of the legislation in question, i.e. to prevent aggressive marketing campaigns, to reduce the chances of the public being misled and to prevent damage being done to the dental profession, is legitimate but that “less restrictive measures” should be used.

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