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The action for damages

The action for damages is one of the actions which may be brought before the Court of Justice of the European Union. It enables individuals or Member States who have suffered damage to obtain compensation on behalf of the institution that caused it.

The action for damages is an action brought before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). It may be brought by Member States or individuals.

The action for damages enables compensation to be obtained for damage for which the Union is responsible. There are two types of action:

  • actions implicating the contractual liability of the Union where the latter is party to a contract;
  • actions implicating the non-contractual liability of the Union due to damage caused by Union bodies or servants in the performance of their duties.

Contractual liability of the Union

Union bodies and agents are able to conclude contracts which give rise to liability on the part of the Union. However, the CJEU does not always have jurisdiction in disputes arising from these contracts.

An action for damages can be brought before the CJEU only if an arbitration clause so provides. In other words, the contract to which the Union is party must contain a clause providing for the jurisdiction of the CJEU in the event of a dispute. In the absence of such a clause, the national courts will have jurisdiction in disputes arising from the contract.

Non-contractual liability of the Union

The Union must compensate for damage for which it is responsible. Such damage may, for example, be caused by a servant of the EU in the performance of their duties. It may also result from the legislative activities of the European institutions, such as the adoption of a regulation.

The non-contractual liability of the Union complies with uniform rules which have been developed by the case-law of the CJEU. Actions may be brought by individuals or Member States who have suffered damage and wish to obtain compensation. The deadline for acting is five years from the date on which the damage occurred.

The Court of Justice shall recognise the liability of the Union when three conditions are met:

  • the claimant has suffered damage;
  • the European institutions or their agents have acted illegally under European law;
  • there is a direct causal link between the damage suffered by the claimant and the illegal act of the European institutions or their agents.

An action for damages before the Court of Justice of the EU may be brought only where the liability of the Union is implicated. Individuals may also render Member States liable in the case of damage caused by European law being poorly applied. However, actions taken against Member States must be brought before the national courts.

Division of powers between the Court of Justice and the General Court

The General Court shall have jurisdiction to hear and determine at first instance actions brought by individuals.

The Court of Justice shall have jurisdiction to hear and determine actions brought by the Member States. It may also hear appeals brought against judgments given by the General Court at first instance. In the latter case, the Court of Justice shall rule only on questions of law and shall not re-examine the facts.

The Court of Justice and the General Court may also rule on actions implicating the contractual liability of the Union. These actions are brought in accordance with the conditions provided for by the contracts to which the Union is party.

This summary is for information only. It is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document, which remains the only binding legal text.

Last updated: 26.11.2010

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