Direct effect

From Academic Kids

Direct effect is a principle of European Union Law stating that European regulations have a direct effect on EU citizens and on the laws of the member states.

The concept was defined by the European Court of Justice in its ruling in Case 26/62 Van Gend en Loos v. Nederlanse Administratie der Belastingen ([1963] ECR 1), which stated that European Community regulations could (and should) be tried before national courts, since the regulations have a direct effect on individuals' rights and responsibilities similar to that of national laws.

Direct effect on substantive law

By the concept of direct effect, EU member states are bound to comply with Community law in their own internal laws. In Case 128/78 Commission v. UK ([1979] ECR 419), the Court of Justice ruled that EU regulations are binding "in their entirety," and that a member state cannot choose to implement them piecemeal. The ECJ can order a member state to change its laws if a severe noncompliance is found (see Case C-246/89R Commission v. UK, [1989] ECR 3125).

Although EU member states and their citizens can be sued in state courts for violating EU regulations, the European Commission cannot be sued for failure to enforce a directive (see Case 247/87 Star Fruit Co. v. Commission, [1989] ECR 291).

Direct effect on procedural law

In Case 45/76 Comet v. Produktschap ([1976] ECR 2043), the Court of Justice established that the procedural rules of each member state generally apply to cases of EU law. However, two basic principles must be adhered to: equivalence (the procedure for EU cases must be equivalent to the procedure for domestic cases) and effectiveness (the procedure cannot render the law functionally ineffective).

Since then, the ECJ has ruled that national courts have general authority to interpret their own procedural laws, since they tend to be more familiar with local procedure than the European court. However, member state courts have to follow the basic principles of equivalence and effectiveness when interpreting the validity of their procedural law.

Direct Effect & Directives

Directives can be subject to direct effect, but there are certain limitations imposed on the extent of the doctrine. A key requirement is that the directive is capable of being relied upon by a claimant - the text of the directive must not be vague nor be ambiguous. While directives are by their very nature often seen as 'vague', being as they are merely a guide towards implementation, in reality they are usually as detailed as regulations. However, unlike regulations they are subject to an implementation period. Until this implementation period expires, they cannot be directly effective. The reasoning behind this is simple - directives are not intended to take legal effect until they are implemented. If however, a member state fails to implement the directive, then the 'equity argument' states that they cannot rely on their failure to prevent a directive taking effect. Therefore, a directive, if it meets the conditions, can be directly effective.

However, in practice, direct effect in relation to directives is less important than the related concept of indirect effect.


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