Court of Justice/EU Court

Court of Justice (Photo: Court of Justice)

Court of Justice/EU Court 


The European Court is not a normal court deciding on verdicts based on laws from a parliament. The EU-Court also develops the law. The Court has established EU law as a constitutional system, which has primacy over national laws. 

A verdict from the Court may have legal effects which cannot be changed even if all members of the European Parliament should unanimously desire such a change. An interpretation of the treaties by the Court can only be changed by a new treaty agreed by all the EU governments and then ratified with the support of all national parliaments or by referendums in some countries. 



New figures are always updated under Number of EU laws.

Up to May 2009, the Court of Justice had given 7968 verdicts. The Court of First Instance has added 2354. In total, the politically decided Acquis of Community law has been supplemented by 10,322 Court of Justice verdicts.

In deciding on these verdicts, the Court has been assisted by 3326 preliminary statements from its advocates-general. These normally conform to what the Court later decides, but not necessarily so.  

The EU Court is based in Luxembourg. The Court adjudicates on cases under the EU treaties. It is the final interpreter of EU legal disputes under the treaties and its decisions cannot be appealed against. It is therefore the supreme court of the European Union.  

It adjudicates on cases brought before it by citizens or associations, by member states against one another, by member states against the EU institutions and vice versa, and by EU institutions against one another. 

The Court consists of one judge from each member state and nine advocates-general, who prepare the cases. It is divided into chambers. From 2019 the Court will have two judges from each member state and the special Court for staff questions will be cancelled.

The Court has been a major influence in interpreting the treaties in ways that have effectively extended EU competence to the widest possible extent. In 1964 in the Costa vs. Enel case it decided that EU law must have primacy over national law. 

In 1970 in the Internationale Handelsgesellschaft and Simmenthal cases it decided that EU law also might over-ride national constitutions.  

The language of the Court is French. Its deliberations are in private and the Court does not publish dissenting votes.  

One does not need to be a judge to be a member of the Court. Among its judges have been professors of law and politicians for example.



The Lisbon Treaty Art. 6 TEU has made the Charter of Fundamental Rights legally binding. Therefore the EU Court has the potential of becoming a rival to the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg -  both being courts which will be dealing with human rights issues.

It also provides for the EU to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is currently interpreted by the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The first proposal for EU membership in the Human Rights Court was rejected by the EU Court because they did not want a competitor for the interpretation of EU law.

The Lisbon Treaty increased the competences of the EU Court and made it possible to establish new specialised courts by qualified majority.  

Before 2009 the Court was only responsible for first pillar issues, where supranational Community law applied, and it was therefore officially called the European Community Court. 

Under the Treaty of Nice, the Court gained competence in some Justice and Home affairs issues and was consequently called the EU Court. 

The Melloni case from 2013 also gave primacy to the Charter over national constitutions. when member states implements EU law.



Citizens, businesses, Member States and EU institutions can bring cases before the European Court of Justice if they have a particular right to go to the Court. A distinction is made between different types of lawsuits: 


Infringement. The Commission is often called the guardian of the treaties and can threaten a member state with a court case if it thinks that country is in breach of EU law. In such cases the Commission sends a private opening letter in which the member state is asked to adapt its legislation to the Commission's interpretation of EU law. The country can then either adapt its own law to bring it in line with the Commisisonøs view, negotiate a settlement or risk a  court trial in which the Commission accuses the country in question of violation of the treaties or of a concrete piece of EU law. Such cases are often used to extend the EU acquis with more integration-friendly interpretations. 


Annulment. Citizens, businesses and institutions may also take legal action to claim that a particular EU act must be declared void because it lacks a legal basis in the Treaties or in a specific EU rule. 


Passivity. A case may also be taken  that accuses an institution of failing to live up to an obligation under the Treaties or some other EU  legal rule. In such cases there is nothing for the Court to cancel, or reject but the Court may impose, for example  an obligation on the Council to adopt a particular decision. 


Damages. A company may, for example, institute proceedings before the Court for compensation for a loss that the company has suffered as a resulk of a member state's failure to implement a  particular directive. See the Factortame and Frankovich cases from 1989 and 1990. The first gave direct effect to directives, also where member states had not implemented them. The second made the member states liable for failure to transpose directives in time. 


Preliminary references.  The supreme court or constitutional court of a member state may request the EU Court to interpret a particular provision or other EU rule for purposes of deciding a national court case. National legal authorities are obliged to submit any doubt they may have regarding interpretation of EU law to the European Court of Justice to ensure uniform application of EU law in all member states. The ECJ has the exclusive right to interpret the EU treaties. The Lisbon Treaty Article 344 TFEU prohibits member states from submitting any issue involving the inrerpretation of EU law to any other court.  



It has a lower court, the Court of First Instance, to which cases concerning competition policy are delegated. Staff disputes are settled by a specialised Staff Court which will be amalgamated with the EU Court from 2019.