1. This reference for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Articles 20 and 57(2)(a) of the Convention of 27 September 1968 on Jurisdiction and the Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters (OJ 1978 L 304, p. 36, the Brussels Convention'), as amended by the Convention of 9 October 1978 on the Accession of the Kingdom of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (OJ 1978 L 304, p. 1, and - amended version - p. 77), by the Convention of 25 October 1982 on the Accession of the Hellenic Republic (OJ 1982 L 388, p. 1), by the Convention of 26 May 1989 on the Accession of the Kingdom of Spain and the Portuguese Republic (OJ 1989 L 285, p. 1) and by the Convention of 29 November 1996 on the Accession of the Republic of Austria, the Republic of Finland and the Kingdom of Sweden (OJ 1997 C 15, p. 1).
2. The reference was made in the course of a dispute between Nürnberger Allgemeine Versicherungs AG (Nürnberger') and Portbridge Transport International BV (Portbridge') concerning a claim for compensation for the harm sustained by Nürnberger as a result of the loss of goods which were to have been transported by Portbridge to the United Kingdom.
3. Under Article 57(1) and (2)(a) of the Brussels Convention:
This Convention shall not affect any conventions to which the Contracting States are or will be parties and which, in relation to particular matters, govern jurisdiction or the recognition or enforcement of judgments.
2. With a view to its uniform interpretation, paragraph 1 shall be applied in the following manner:
(a) this convention shall not prevent a court of a Contracting State which is a party to a convention on a particular matter from assuming jurisdiction in accordance with that Convention, even where the defendant is domiciled in another Contracting State which is not a party to that Convention. The court hearing the action shall, in any event, apply Article 20 of this Convention.'
4. The first paragraph of Article 20 of the Brussels Convention provides:
Where a defendant domiciled in one Contracting State is sued in a court of another Contracting State and does not enter an appearance, the court shall declare of its own motion that it has no jurisdiction unless its jurisdiction is derived from the provisions of the Convention.'
5. The Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR'), signed in Geneva on 19 May 1956, applies, in accordance with Article 1 to every contract for the carriage of goods by road in vehicles for reward, when the place of taking over of the goods and the place designated for delivery, as specified in the contract, are situated in two different countries, of which at least one is a contracting country, ... irrespective of the place of residence and the nationality of the parties'.
6. Under Article 31(1) of the CMR:
In legal proceedings arising out of carriage under this Convention, the plaintiff may bring an action in any court or tribunal of a contracting country designated by agreement between the parties and, in addition, in the courts or tribunals of a country within whose territory:
(a) the defendant is ordinarily resident, or has his principal place of business, or the branch or agency through which the contract of carriage was made, or
(b) the place where the goods were taken over by the carrier or the place designated for delivery is situated.'
7. Both the Federal Republic of Germany and the Kingdom of the Netherlands are parties to the CMR.
The dispute in the main proceedings and the question referred for a preliminary ruling
8. Nürnberger is a transportinsurance company incorporated under German law. It is claiming from Portbridge, a company incorporated under Netherlands law, compensation for the loss, in June 2000, of goods taken over by the latter in Vöhringen (Germany) which were to have been transported to the United Kingdom.
9. The carriage of goods at issue in the main proceedings is subject to the provisions of the CMR. In accordance with Article 31(1)(b) of that convention, the court seised, namely the Landgericht Memmingen (Germany), has jurisdiction since the place where the goods to be transported were taken over is situated within its jurisdiction. Portbridge nevertheless contested the jurisdiction of that court and did not submit any pleas on the merits.
10. In an interlocutory judgment, the Landgericht Memmingen declined jurisdiction and dismissed Nürnberger's action on the ground that it was inadmissible. It considered that, notwithstanding the rules on jurisdiction laid down in Article 31 of the CMR, pursuant to the second sentence of Article 57(2)(a) of the Brussels Convention Article 20 of that convention must be applied where a defendant does not enter an appearance or refuses to submit any pleas on the merits of the case. In such circumstances that provision requires the court seised to declare of its own motion that it has no jurisdiction unless its jurisdiction is derived from the provisions of the Convention.
11. Nürnberger appealed against that judgment to the Oberlandesgericht München, arguing that the provisions on jurisdiction laid down in Article 31(1) of the CMR override the general provisions on jurisdiction of the Brussels Convention even where the defendant has submitted no pleas on the merits, but has merely contested the jurisdiction of the court seised.
12. It was in those circumstances that the national court decided to stay the proceedings and refer the following question to the Court for a preliminary ruling:
Do the provisions on jurisdiction contained in other conventions take precedence over the general provisions on jurisdiction in the Brussels Convention even where a defendant domiciled in the territory of a State which is a party to the Brussels Convention and against whom an action has been brought before a court of another State which is a party to that Convention fails to submit pleas as to the merits of the case in the proceedings before that court?'
The question referred for a preliminary ruling
13. By that question the national court asks, essentially, whether Article 57(2)(a) of the Brussels Convention must be interpreted as meaning that a court of a Contracting State in which a defendant domiciled in another Contracting State is sued may base its jurisdiction on a specialised convention, to which the first State is also a party and which contains specific rules on jurisdiction excluding the application of the Brussels Convention, even where, in the course of the proceedings in question, the defendant does not submit pleas on the merits.
14. In that regard it must be noted that Article 57 introduces an exception to the general rule that the Brussels Convention takes precedence over other conventions signed by the Contracting States on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments. The purpose of that exception is to ensure compliance with the rules of jurisdiction laid down by specialised conventions, since when those rules were enacted account was taken of the specific features of the matters to which they relate (see Case C-406/92 Tatry, unalex EU-128, paragraph 24).
15. Portbridge maintains, nevertheless, that the rules of jurisdiction set out in Article 31(1) of the CMR should be disregarded and must make way for the application of the Brussels Convention under the second sentence of Article 57(2)(a), according to which the court hearing the action shall, in any event, apply Article 20 of this convention'.
16. Article 20, it will be recalled, provides that, where a defendant is sued in a court of another Contracting State and does not enter an appearance, the court is to declare of its own motion that it has no jurisdiction unless its jurisdiction is derived from the provisions of the Brussels Convention.
17. In this case, the jurisdiction of the court must be regarded as derived from the Brussels Convention, because Article 57 specifically states that the rules of jurisdiction laid down by specialised conventions are not affected by the Brussels Convention.
18. In those circumstances, when verifying of its own motion whether it has jurisdiction with respect to that convention, the court of a Contracting State in which a defendant domiciled in another Contracting State is sued and fails to enter an appearance must take account of the rules of jurisdiction laid down by specialised conventions to which the first Contracting State is also a party.
19. The same is true where, as in this case, the defendant, while submitting no pleas on the merits, formally contests the jurisdiction of the national court seised of the case.
20. Having regard to the foregoing, the answer to the question must be that Article 57(2)(a) of the Brussels Convention should be interpreted as meaning that the court of a Contracting State in which a defendant domiciled in another Contracting State is sued may derive its jurisdiction from a specialised convention to which the first State is a party as well and which contains specific rules on jurisdiction, even where the defendant, in the course of the proceedings in question submits no pleas on the merits.