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Injustice by Generalization: Notes on the Test-Achats Decision of the European Court of Justice

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2019


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On 11 January 2013 the German quality newspaper “Süddeutsche Zeitung” reported about the effects of introducing the new unisex insurance tariffs mandated by a decision of the European Court of Justice on 1 March 2011. The result is summarized in the headline: “Für alle teurer” (“More expensive for all”). According to a study the leveling of gender specific risks led to largely insignificant benefits for the former disadvantaged sex but to partially dramatic rises of the premium of those who were formerly considered better risks. The insurance industry which has been operating a dual structure since 21 December 2012 is considered to be the winner of the legal change.

Copyright © 2013 by German Law Journal GbR 


1 Jalsovec, Andreas, Für alle teurer (Costly for all), 9 Süddeutsche Zeitung 19 (2013).Google Scholar

2 Case C-236/09, Association des Consommateurs Test-Achats ABSL, Yann van Vugt, Charles Basselier v. Conseil des ministres, 2011 E.CR. I-00773, available at: [hereinafter Test-Achats](last accessed: 1 February 2013).Google Scholar

3 Commission, European, Guidelines on the Application of Council Directive 2004/113/EC to insurance, in the light of the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Case C-239 (Test-Achats), COM (2011) 9497 final (Dec. 22, 2011), available at: [hereinafter European Commission, Guidelines](last accessed: 1 February 2013).Google Scholar

4 Id. at para. 5.Google Scholar

5 Id. at Annex 1–2.Google Scholar

6 At the time of writing, a comprehensive draft article on this matter appeared on the Internet: Ronen Avraham, Kyle Logue & Daniel Schwarcz, The Anatomy of Insurance Anti-Discrimination Laws (University of Michigan Law School Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series No. 289, August 2012), available at:; for the special case of pensions the US Supreme Court has declared unequal treatment of men and women concerning the contributions or benefits of pension plans as inconsistent with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, see City of Los Angeles, Department of Water and Power v. Manhart, 435 U.S. 702, 98 S.Ct. 1370 (1978) (contributions); Arizona Governing Committee for Tax Deferred Annuity and Deferred Compensation Plans v. Norris, 463 U.S. 1073, 103 S. Ct. 3492 (1983) (benefits); I am grateful to my colleague John H. Langbein, Yale Law School, for directing my attention to these cases.Google Scholar

7 Avraham, , Logue & Schwarcz, supra note 6. The authors point out that the distinction by gender in life insurance is prohibited in North Carolina, id. at 33, 37. They base their finding on 11 North Carolina Administrative Code 12.0304 which relates to discrimination in the insurance application process for health and life insurance, Correspondence between Kyle Logue and Erich Schanze (Oct. 5, 2012) (on file with author).Google Scholar

8 H.B. 283, 62nd Leg., Reg. Sess. (Mont. 2011), available at: (vetoed by Governor Brian Schweitzer on 6 May 2011, last accessed: 1 February 2013).Google Scholar

9 Sherlock, Rich, Unisex Insurance the Right Choice for Montana The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, June 4, 2012 (obviously my personal favorite newspaper), available at: Scholar

10 See Out-Law.Com, UK will obey barmy Euro unisex-insurance rules from 2013, The Register (July 5, 2012), Scholar

11 See e.g., Watson, Philippa, Equality, Fundamental Rights and the Limits of Legislative Discretion: Comment on Test-Achats, 36 (6)European Law Review 896, (2011) (She seems to endorse the general policy line but then obviously feels at the end of the paper that not every different treatment is discriminatory); In a similar vein see Eugenia Caracciolo di Torella, Gender equality after Test Achats, 13(1) ERA Forum 59; for a current account of the literature see the internet publication of Test-Achats, supra note 2.Google Scholar

12 E.g. Temming, Felipe, Case Note - Judgment of the European Court of Justice (Grand Chamber) of 1 March 2010: ECJ finally paves the way for unisex premiums and benefits in insurance and related financial contracts, 13 Germ. L.J. 105 (2012), available at Scholar

13 E.g. Binon, Jean-Marc, 21 décembre 2012: ‘L'Apocalypse maya’ pour le sexe en assurance?, 118 (3) Revue de droit commercial belge 22 (2012).Google Scholar

14 See Commission, EU, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, The Council, The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Smart Regulation in the European Union, COM (2010) 543 final (Oct 8, 2010); EU Commission, Impact Assessment Board Report for 2011, SEC (2012) 101 final (Feb. 1, 2012).Google Scholar

15 Calabresi, Guido, Some Thoughts on Risk Distribution and the Law of Torts, 70 Yale L.J. 499 (1961); Guido Calabresi, The Decision for Accidents: An Approach to Nonfault Allocation of Cost, 78 Harvard L.J. 713, 716 (1965). The second article inspired me to enter into law and economics in 1968/9. Later, I translated it into German: Heinz-Dieter Assmann, Christian Kirchner & Erich Schanze, Ökonomische Analyse des Rechts (2nd ed. 1993).Google Scholar

16 Guido Calabresi, The Costs of Accidents: A Legal and Economic Analysis (1970). Google Scholar

17 Coase, R.H., The Problem of Social Cost, 3 Journal of Law & Economics 1 (1960). This paper is considered the most cited paper in economics, and it is specifically cited as one of the two papers for awarding the Nobel Memorial Prize to R.H. Coase in 1991.Google Scholar

18 Schanze, Erich, Ökonomische Analyse des Rechts in den U.S.A. - Verbindungslinien zur realistischen Tradition, in Ökonomische Analyse des Rechts, supra note 15 at 2, 2–3.Google Scholar

19 Gabriele Britz, Einzelfallgerechtigkeit versus Generalisierung 15 et seq. (2008); Pärli, Kurt, Verbot geschlechtsspezifischer Prämien bei Versicherungsverträgen, 1(2) Haftung und Versicherung (HAVE) / Responsabilité et Assurances (REAS) 153, 158 (2011) [hereinafter Britz, Einzelfallgerechtigkeit]. Gabriele Britz is a judge at the German Constitutional Court.Google Scholar

20 On the methodology of legal impact assessment and its problems, see Erich Schanze, Assessing the Impact of Economic Law, in Economic law as an Economic Good: Its Rule Function and its Tool Function in the Competition of Systems 65 (Karl M. Meessen ed., 2009).Google Scholar

21 Oxera, , Gender and Insurance: Unintended Consequences for Unisex Insurance Pricing, Oxera Agenda (March 2011),—Gender-and-insurance-(post-ruling)1.pdf?ext=.pdf [hereinafter Oxera, Gender and Insurance]; Oxera, The use of gender in insurance pricing: analyzing the impact of a potential ban on the use of gender as a rating factor (Association of British Insurers, Paper No. 24, 2010), available at (This study is a short sequel of the broader analysis of Oxera's study for the Association of British Insurers). Both sources are industry related economic analyses, but, in my view, there is no doubt in the seriousness of both studies. See also Hato Schmeiser, Tina Störmer, & Joel Wagner, Unisex Insurance Pricing: Consumers’ Perception and Market Implications 23 (University of St. Gallen, Working Papers on Risk Management and Insurance No. 112, 2012), available at: [hereinafter Schmeiser et al., Unisex Insurance Pricing].Google Scholar

22 Oxera, , Gender and insurance, supra note 21 at 2 with statistical data.Google Scholar

23 Oxera, , Gender and insurance, supra note 21 at 3.Google Scholar

24 On this see Erich Schanze, Hare and Hedgehog Revisited: The Regulation of Markets That Have Left Regulated Markets, 151 Journal of Institutionaland Theoretical Economics 162 (1995).Google Scholar

25 Oxera, , Gender and insurance, supra note 21 at 3–4.Google Scholar

26 Oxera, , Gender and insurance, supra note 21 at 4.Google Scholar

27 Schmeiser, et al., Unisex Insurance Pricing, supra note 21‥Google Scholar

28 Schmeiser, et al., Unisex Insurance Pricing, supra note 21 at 18. Candidates for legal arbitrage are Switzerland, and the EAA States Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The EEA States are not legally obliged to follow post-signing EU law, including its interpretation by the European Court of Justice, see Agreement of the European Economic Area article 6, Jan. 1, 1994, 1801 U.N.T.S.3.Google Scholar

29 This seems to be an implicit assumption in most legal commentaries of Test-Achats: see supra notes 11–13.Google Scholar

30 Edgar Bodenheimer, Jurisprudence - The Philosophy and Method of the Law 229 (rev. ed. 1974).Google Scholar

31 Test-Achats, supra note 2 at para. 19.Google Scholar

32 Test-Achats, supra note 2 at para. 20 (“In the progressive achievement of that equality…”; for a detailed and (in this part illuminating) discussion of this problem see Jürgen Habermas, Faktizität und Geltung - Beiträge zur Diskurstheorie des Rechts und des demokratischen Rechtsstaats 499–515 (1992) (includes ample references to the excellent treatment by Deborah L. Rhode, Justice and Gender - Sex Discrimination and the law (1989) : “…die Verwirklichung von Grundrechten [ist] ein Prozeß, der die private Autonomie gleichberechtigter Bürger nur im Gleichschritt mit der Aktivierung ihrer staatsbürgerlichen Autonomie sichert,” Id. at 515). In my view autonomy alone does not capture core problem, but it is rather our conception of the essentials of a dignified life (in his Frankfurt lecture on Kant, Max Horkheimer used the term: “anständiges Leben”), which allows a judgment on when a discriminatory criterion turns wrong.Google Scholar

33 Test-Achats, supra note 2 at para. 23.Google Scholar

34 See Britz, , Einzelfallgerechtigkeit, supra note 19 at 110–113.Google Scholar

35 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978); The five opinions in the 5 to 4 split court in Bakke demonstrate a concern about matters of equality which does not find any intellectual counterpart in the reasoning within the proceedings of Test-Achats. One could argue that race is not gender, and that Test-Achats is not formally an affirmative action case. That misses the point because, as a matter of fact, Test-Achats concerns, if at all, a sort of reverse discrimination. See also Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244; Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003).Google Scholar

36 Test-Achats, supra note 2.Google Scholar

37 In the light of the subsidiarity principle the naïve observer wonders why the European legislation is tackling these issues so prominently.Google Scholar

38 For detail see Britz, Einzelfallgerechtigkeit, supra note 19 at 140–207.Google Scholar

39 Schmeiser, et al., Unisex Insurance Pricing, supra note 21; Avraham et al., supra note 6.Google Scholar

40 Lov om forsikringsselskaper, pensjonsforetak og deres virksomhet mv [Law on Insurance Companies, Pension Funds, and their Activities]., § 9–3a “Kj⊘nn som faktor ved bergning av risiko” [Gender as a factor in calculating risk], as amended by statute of 4 June 2010 (source: IKR. 4 June 2010 iflg. Res 4 June 2010, 771) (Nor.). In the materials there is an extensive discussion of the law in the light of one complaint in Norway, and the EU regulation. In the requisite procedure Norway has implemented the original Directive as part of the EEA Agreement. In the enactments and considerations Norway has avoided the flawed wording of the Directive but has rather taken a pragmatic attitude for implementing the insurance issue in its proper close legislative context. The associated move to equal treatment of contributions for and benefits of pensions (for the US, see sources cited supra note 6) does not produce a convincing additional argument for “symmetrical equality” in the sense of Test-Achats. It underlines the necessity of both a case-by-case approach and of a better understanding what discrimination is about. It is up to the Norwegian legislature and eventual relevant litigation before the EFTA Court whether Norway or one of the other EEA States will follow the “overshooting” ruling of Test-Achats. I am grateful to my colleagues Karl Harald S⊘vig and Sigrid Eskeland Schütz, University of Bergen, for providing me with the relevant texts, translation and materials, and discussion; of course, all misunderstandings remain mine.Google Scholar

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