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Subject: European Union Basics (FAQ), Part6/8
This article was archived around: 22 May 2006 04:35:55 GMT
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EU Basics FAQ: Other EU institutions
What is the European Court of Justice?
The following text was kindly provided by Frangois Thunus.
+The European Court of Justice can be compared to the supreme court
of the European Union. It has the task of interpreting the Treaties
or secondary EU legislation when disputes arise. [ Note: This is a
very important task, since final compromises reached within the Coun
cil are often deliberately fuzzy to reach any agreement at all.] Its
rulings are binding for all Courts of the Member States, which have t
o set aside national law if it does conflict with European law 
The case law of the Court can also be relied upon in National Court
. If a Member State hasn't applied correctly the Treaty, it may
be liable for damages.  Since the Maastricht Treaty, the Court
also has the possibility to impose fines on Member States that don't
comply with its ruling.
The European Court of Justice consists of fifteen Judges (one from
each Member State) and nine Advocates-General who assist the Court by
making an independent preliminary assessment of the case. The Court
may or may not follow them. The Court's rulings are directly applicab
le in all Member States.
The judges and the advocate General are appointed by the Council fo
r 6 years. This term can be renewed. According to the Treaty, Judges
are choosen amongst people that could exercise the highest juridical
functions in their home countries. There is no provision in the Treat
y as to the nationality of the said judges, so technically, the Court
could be composed of 15 Scots, or 15 Danes. In practice however, [no
te: for some reason], there is one judge for each country. The judges
then elect the President amongst themselves.
COURT OF FIRST INSTANCE
Since 1988, the Court has become a two-headed jurisdiction. The bur
den of cases was too heavy for the Court alone, and a decision of the
Council created the Court of First Instance. The CFI started working
in 1989. The Court of First Instance, as the name doesn't suggest at
all, isn't a first degree of jurisdiction. It has a different jurisd
iction: it is concerned with European staff cases, competition cases,
conflicts arising from the application of the ECSC Treaty, etc. Afte
r the IGC of 1996, it is most likely that all the competences of the
Court will be transferred to the CFI, exception made for one: prelimi
nary rulings (art 177).
The CFI has 15 judges as well, but there is no Advocate-General. Th
e CFI may however decide to appoint one on an ad hoc basis, if it bel
ieves the case requires it: it will then be one of the judges not app
ointed to the case. For the rest, the rules of procedures are broadly
the same as for the Court. For the purpose of this document, anythin
g said about the Court means both the Court and the CFI. There is a v
ery limited possibility to +appeal; against a ruling of the CFI to th
e Court. +Appeal; is quoted because it is not an +appeal; properly s
peaking. The possibility is as I said very limited, to points of law
and to very specific instances. It is closer to the French concept of
+Cassation;: findings of facts will not be rediscussed. It is not us
ed widely, and when used, the Court has usually confirmed the judgeme
nt of the CFI.
The procedure of a case is more or less the following:
The complaint is lodged at the registry by A, parties are notified
(parties are: the Institutions, the Member States, and the actual parties
to the case, here let's say B);
The defence (from B) comes in, as well as any comment by the institution
or member states;
A has then a right to reply to the defence;
B adds anything to what was said above (end of the written procedure);
The judge-rapporteur makes a report for the hearing, which sums up the
facts of the case and the legal arguments. The report is sent to the
parties as well;
Oral hearing: the parties present their case briefly (most was said in
writing) and answer all questions of the Court;
At a later stage, the advocate general assigned to the case delivers his
opinion in a public hearing (if there is any, in the case of CFI);
The judge rapporteur then makes a preliminary draft of the judgment which
is then discussed by the court in deliberation;
Judgement is given in a oral hearing and sent to the parties.
LENGHT OF PROCEEDINGS
The average lenght of proceedings is about 18 months. The Court how
ever is not responsible for this. There are several factors that expl
ain the length of procedure: when a reference is received, it has to
be translated in all official languages before it can be sent to each
government. Then the Institutions and Governments have, as per the T
reaties, a certain amount of time to present their observations. The
Court may not continue the proceedings until it has received the said
observations and the official delay is passed by.
They have 2 months to react to the first complaint, starting on the day
they have received the translation;
2 months to react to the defence, starting on the day they have received
2 months to react to the reply, starting on the day they have received
2 months to react to the rejoinder, starting on the day they have
received the translation.
All together you already have 8 months here, not to mention transla
tion delays, etc.
The Court maintains its own staff of legal translators and interpretors,
but it receives also about 450 cases/year... Proceedings are usually a
bit faster in the CFI, but staff cases help maintain the average low: the
staff of the Court (including CFI) is currently around 1000 permanent
Anybody can come directly before the Court, but the easiest way is
usually to use the art. 177 procedure (preliminary ruling), whereby the
case is presented in a local Court which then refers the case to the
The European Court of Justice, based in Luxembourg, is not to be confused
with the European Court of Human Rights based in Strasbourg, which is
only competent for issues arising from the European Convention for the
Protection of Human Rights and Personal Freedoms, and is recognised by
all member states of the Council of Europe.
See Costa/ENEL [case 6/64, ECR 64 p 1141], and more recently Simmenthal
[case 106/77, ECR 78 p. 629] or Factortame [c-221/89, ECR 1990 p.I-2433]
See case Van Gend en Loos, 26/62, ECR 63 p. 1
Case Francovitch [joint cases C-6/90 and C-9/90, ECR 91 p.I-5357].;
What is the Court of Auditors?
The Court of Auditors checks whether the accounts of all EU institutions are
in accordance with legislation and jurisdiction, and it can comment on EU
institutions' financial management. It is intended as a safeguard against
abuse of the financial arrangements involved in EU policies, including
questions of improper expenditure, fraud, as well as waste and value for
money. It has fifteen members (one from each member state), supported by a
permanent professional staff of some 335. Its resources are generally
considered inadequate to carry out its important functions.
What is the Economic and Social Committee?
The Economic and Social Committee consists of representatives of the major
interest groups from different sectors of economic and social life, notably
of industry, trade unions, farmers, transporters and other sectors affected
directly by the EU's economic and social policies. They must be consulted
for policies in several areas defined in the treaties; they can be consulted
by the Council or the Commission in other areas as well. There is little
evidence of the ESC playing a significant role in the policy process.
The ESC comprises 222 members (MESCs):
24 each from Germany, France, Italy and the UK
21 MESCs from Spain
12 each from Austria, Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal and
9 each from Denmark, Finland and the Republic of Ireland
6 from Luxembourg
What is the Committee of Regions?
The Committee of Regions is a new advisory body established by the
Maastricht Treaty, to take into account the views of regional and local
government in European decision making. The advisory Committee of Regions is
a compromise between the aspirations of powerful regions in federally
organised member states (such as Germany, Spain and Belgium), which have
long asked for direct influence on EU decision making, and the views of much
more centralised member states (such as the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands)
whose regional governments have only derived powers from a strong central
The CoR has the same numeric composition as the ESC: totalling 222 members
(MCoRs). It is important to note that the MCoRs are appointed by their
national governments, not directly by any regional authority.
What is the European Monetary Institute?
The Maastricht Treaty inlcudes provisions for the establishment of a
Economic and Monetary Union by the end of this century. This was not the
first try: attempts (to codify the objective) failed in 1962, 1970 and 1978.
The European Monetary Institute (based in Frankfurt) has the task of
co-ordinating monetary policy of the central banks of the member states
within the European System of Central Banks (ESCB), and to prepare the
so-called third stage of Economic and Monetary Union, in which a single
European currency will be introduced. This stage is intended to start in
1999. At the start of the third stage, the EMI will be renamed to European
Central Bank (ECB). The director of the EMI is Mr Alexandre Lamfalussy
(Belgium), who will be succeeded by the President of the Dutch Central Bank,
Mr Wim Duisenberg, at the end of 1996.
Edited by Roland Siebelink & Bart Schelfhout
corrections and suggestions welcome.
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