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The Court of Justice

INTRODUCTION

Conferring greater democratic legitimacy on the European institutions is one of the chief aims of the reform of the European Union. The role of the Court of Justice is important in this context since it has the task of ensuring that the law is observed in the interpretation and application of the Treaties, an essential requirement if the European Union is to work along democratic lines.

The Court's powers have been widened by the Treaty of Amsterdam. It now has jurisdiction in areas that previously lay outside its field of competence, but where there is an urgent need to protect individual rights:

  • fundamental rights;
  • asylum, immigration, free movement of persons and judicial cooperation in civil matters;
  • police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS

Article 46 (ex Article L) of the EU Treaty has been amended to extend the powers of the Court of Justice to cover Article 6(2) (ex Article F.2) of the Treaty, as far as action by the European institutions is concerned.

Article 6 requires the Union to respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. The amendment is important since it formally gives the Court the power to rule on how the Convention is being applied by the Community institutions. This should spur the Court to greater vigilance.

ASYLUM, IMMIGRATION, FREE MOVEMENT OF PERSONS AND JUDICIAL COOPERATION IN CIVIL MATTERS

A new Title ("Visas, asylum, immigration and other policies related to free movement of persons") has been inserted in the EC Treaty. The Treaty already contained provisions relating to visas (ex Article 100c, which has been repealed). The main changes therefore relate to the new Community framework for questions regarding asylum, immigration, free movement of persons, and judicial cooperation in civil matters.

Under Article 68 the Court now has jurisdiction in the following cases:

  • a national court against whose decisions there is no judicial remedy under national law may ask the Court of Justice to give a ruling on a question concerning the interpretation of the new Title or the validity or interpretation of Community acts based on it, if a ruling by the Court is necessary so that the national court can give judgment;
  • the Council, the Commission or a Member State may request the Court of Justice to give a ruling on a question of interpretation of the Title or Community acts based on it.

POLICE AND JUDICIAL COOPERATION IN CRIMINAL MATTERS

Title VI of the EU Treaty has been renamed "Provisions on police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters".

Article 35 (ex Article K.7) lays down two restrictions on the Court's powers to rule on matters covered by Title VI:

  • preliminary rulings apply only to those Member States which have made a declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the Court (paragraph 2);
  • actions for annulment may be brought only by Member States or the Commission (paragraph 6).

The Court also has jurisdiction to rule on any dispute between Member States over the interpretation or application of the measures adopted and on any dispute between Member States and the Commission about the interpretation or application of conventions established under the third pillar.

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