Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Community Law Definition:

The law of the European Union as established by treaties and cases of the EU courts.

As described by the Court of Justice of the European Communities (EUECJ):

"Following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, the European Union now has legal personality and has acquired the competences previously conferred on the European Community. Community law has therefore become European Union law, which also includes all the provisions previously adopted under the Treaty on European Union as applicable before the Treaty of Lisbon.

"In its case-law (starting with Van Gend & Loos in 1963), the Court introduced the principle of the direct effect of Community law in the Member States, which now enables European citizens to rely directly on rules of European Union law before their national courts.The transport company Van Gend & Loos had imported goods from Germany to the Netherlands and had to pay customs duties which it considered to be incompatible with the rule in the EEC Treaty prohibiting increases in customs duties in trade between Member States. The action raised the question of the conflict between national legislation and the provisions of the EEC Treaty. The Court decided the question referred by a Netherlands court by stating the doctrine of direct effect, thus conferring on the transport company a direct guarantee of its rights under Community law before the national court.EU flag

"In 1964, the Costa judgment established the primacy of Community law over domestic law. In that case, an Italian court had asked the Court of Justice whether the Italian law on nationalisation of the production and distribution of electrical energy was compatible with certain rules in the EEC Treaty. The Court introduced the doctrine of the primacy of Community law, basing it on the specific nature of the Community legal order, which is to be uniformly applied in all the Member States.

"In 1991, in Francovich, Bonifaci and others v Italy, the Court developed another fundamental concept, the liability of a Member State to individuals for damage caused to them by a breach of Community law by that State. Since 1991, European citizens have therefore been able to bring an action for damages against a State which infringes a Community rule.

"Two Italian citizens who were owed pay by their insolvent employers had brought actions for a declaration that the Italian State had failed to transpose Community provisions protecting employees in the event of their employers' insolvency. On a reference from an Italian court, the Court stated that the directive in question was designed to confer on individuals rights which they had been denied as a result of the failure to act of the State which had not implemented the directive. The Court thus opened up the possibility of an action for damages against the State itself."

In the Costa v ENEL, the EUECJ wrote:

"The integration into the laws of each member state of provisions which derive from the community, and more generally the terms and the spirit of the treaty, make it impossible for the states, as a corollary, to accord precedence to a unilateral and subsequent measure over a legal system accepted by them on a basis of reciprocity . Such a measure cannot therefore be inconsistent with that legal system . The executive force of community law cannot vary from one state to another in deference to subsequent domestic laws, without jeopardizing the attainment of the objectives of the treaty…. The obligations undertaken under the treaty establishing the community would not be unconditional, but merely contingent, if they could be called in question by subsequent legislative acts of the signatories. Wherever the treaty grants the states the right to act unilaterally, it does this by clear and precise provisions .... The precedence of community law is confirmed by article 189, whereby a regulation ' shall be binding ' and ' directly applicable in all member states '. This provision, which is subject to no reservation, would be quite meaningless if a state could unilaterally nullify its effects by means of a legislative measure which could prevail over community 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 its 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.… "

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