Roots of primacy of the EU law over the laws of Member States

Adrianna Brzozowska

Many people may wonder on what ground and when exactly the EU legislation outcomes have become more important than domestic law of particular countries. Here I am going to remind you of the case that changed so much the functioning of European Community.

Flaminio Costa v ENEL (Ente Nazionale Energia Elettrica C – 6/64)- summary

This case from 1964 led to the establishment the primacy of the EU law over the laws of Member States.

Mr. Flaminio Costa was an Italian citizen who owned some shares of the electricity company. In 1962 Italy had nationalized the production and distribution of electric energy and created the Ente Nazionale per l’Energia Elettrica ( ENEL, National Electricity Board). Mr. Costa was opposed to the nationalization and as the protest, he decided not pay the bill of a symbolic amount: 1,925 lire (€0.99). The electricity organization sued Mr. Costa for nonpayment. He prepared a written statement of case, where he ‘asked’ the Court for an interpretation of the EEC Treaty provisions, as he believed that nationalization was contrary to the Community’s law (the EU Law).

The Italian Government stated that the national law, under which they had nationalized mentioned electricity company, was enacted after the incorporation of the EEC Treaty, so that it is the Italian law that should have the priority over it. According to the opinion, given by the Italian Government, application for a preliminary ruling was ‚absolutely inadmissible’ and there were no grounds for raising questions concerning the Treaty.

Judgement of the European Court of Justice

Admissibility: ‘As a subsequent unilateral measure cannot take precedence over Community law, the questions put by the Giudice Conciliatore, Milan, are admissible in so far as they relate in this case to the interpretation of provisions of the EEC Treaty’.

MML736_EUHUB_Legal_ICON

The Court decided that it cannot solve the dispute between Mr. Flaminio Costa and ENEL at the national level, but it can only deal with the questions concerning interpretation of the provisions stated in the EEC Treaty (the Treaty of Rome).

Moreover, it ruled that the EEC Treaty is not an usual agreement between the Member States, and that the Community (the EU) has its own legal system that they have to follow, which is the consequence of the fact that they gave to ‘it’ a part of their own sovereignty. So that, the Community Law (the EU Law) should also be exercised by the national courts of Member States. Provisions stated in the Treaty cannot be changed by any national law, because every State has to follow exactly the same provisions. If the Member States have the opportunity to change implemented law by releasing new and quite different legislative acts, the European Union’s Law would be different in the various Member States. That could be contrary to some general principles of the Community Law (the EU Law).

It follows from all these observations that the law stemming from the Treaty, an independent source of law, could not, because of its special and original nature, be overridden by domestic legal provisions, however framed, without being deprived of it’s character as Community law and without the legal basis of the Community itself being called into question. The transfer by the States from their domestic legal system to the Community legal system of the rights and obligations arising under the Treaty carries with it a permanent limitation of their sovereign rights, against which a subsequent unilateral act incompatible with the concept of the Community cannot prevail’.

That is why the Court ruled that the Treaty has the primacy over national laws which is also confirmed by the provision that it (regulation) should be binding as a whole and be directly applied in all the Member States. The national law of the Member States, that came into force later – should not be contrary to the Community Law (the European Union’s Law).

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10 thoughts on “Roots of primacy of the EU law over the laws of Member States

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