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 effects, which cannot be changed even if all members of the European Parliament should unanimously desire such changes. An interpretation of the treaties by the Court can only be changed by a new treaty agreed by all 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 7,968 verdicts. The Court of First Instance has added 2,354. In total, the politically decided Acquis of Community law has been supplemented by 10,322 Court of Justice verdicts.

In establishing these verdicts, the Court has been assisted by 3,326 preliminary statements from its advocates-generals. 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 in 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 eight advocates-general, who prepare the cases. It is divided into chambers. 

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 secret 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 for example have been professors of law and politicians.



The Lisbon Treaty 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 Court to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is currently interpreted by the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. 

The Lisbon Treaty increased the competences of the EU Court and made it possible to establish new specialised courts with 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 and was consequently called the EU Court. 

The Melloni case from 2013 also gave primacy to the Charter over national constitutions.



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. Then, the Commission sends a secret opening letter in which the member state is asked to adapt its legislation to the Commissions interpretation of EU law. The country can then adapt, negotiate a settlement or risk a trial, in which the Commission accuses the country for violation of the treaties or a concrete piece of EU law. Such cases are often used to extend the acquis with more integration-friendly interpretations. 


Annulment. Citizens, businesses and institutions may also take legal action to claim that a particular 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 to accuse an institution for failing to live up to an obligation under the Treaties or any other legal rule. So there is nothing to cancel, but the Court may impose for eaxample the Council to adopt a decision. 


Damages. A company may, for example. institute proceedings before the Court for compensation for a loss that the company has received by a member state's failure to implement a directive. The Court has also made countries liable for failure to transpose directives on time. See Factortame


Preliminary references. A court of a member state may request the EU Court to interpret a particular provision or other EU rule for the decision of a national trial. National legal authorities are obliged to submit any doubt tabout 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 treaties. The Lisbon Treaty Article 344 TFEU prohibits member states to submit any conflict on EU law to other courts. 



It has a lower court, the Court of First Instance, to which cases concerning competition policy, are delegated. Staff disputes is settled by a specialised Staff Court.