Brussels, 16 June 2011
EU law: Commission acts to ensure that European legislation is fully and properly implemented
Infringement package: overview of press releases
In its monthly package of infringement decisions, the European Commission is pursuing legal action against 27 Member States for failing to comply properly with their obligations under EU law. These decisions cover many sectors. They aim at ensuring proper application of EU law for the benefit of citizens and businesses. The Commission has taken today 311 decisions, including 4 decisions to refer Member States to the European Union's Court of Justice. In this package there are no decisions related to failure to respect a previous Court ruling.
Failure to respect deadlines for implementing Directives
The Commission has also adopted decisions to request Member States to adopt implementing measures for Directives where the deadline has already passed and warned Member States that if they fail to do so they may not only be referred to the Court but also that the Commission intends to request the Court to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the Commission may now request the Court, the first time the case is referred to the Court, to impose financial penalties in cases where Member States have failed to implement Directives within the deadline agreed by the EU's Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.
Formal complaints before the Court of Justice (Art 258)
In accordance with the provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the Commission has decided today to take several Member States to Court for failing to comply with their legal obligations under EU law. Before referring a Member State to the Court, the Commission first requests information from the Member State concerned and then, if necessary, formally requests the Member State to comply with EU law. Around 95% of infringement cases are resolved before they reach the Court.
Taxation (The Netherlands): The Commission has decided to refer The Netherlands to the EU's Court of Justice for failing to properly implement EU VAT rules for travel agents. The VAT Directive contains special rules (the so-called "special margin scheme") for travel agents when they sell travel packages to travellers. Given the fact that elements of the packages may be located in different countries and therefore may be subject to different VAT rules, the VAT Directive provides for a simplified application of VAT for travel agents. However, the scheme does not apply to travel agents who sell holiday packages to other companies, in particular to other travel agents for re-sale. However, The Netherlands has failed to properly implement this special scheme for travel agents and has applied it to sales between travel agents. This creates distortions of competition between travel agencies and leads to some agents carrying a heavier tax burden than others. See IP/11/716
Pension funds (Poland): The Commission has decided to refer Poland to the Court of Justice of the EU for failing to fully implement the Occupational Pensions Directive into national law. This Directive provides many benefits both for employers and employees by allowing pension funds to manage occupational pension schemes for companies which are established in another Member State and allowing a pan-European company to have only one pension fund for all its subsidiaries across Europe. See IP/11/721
Environment (Spain): The Commission is referring Spain to the EU Court of Justice for breaching two pieces of EU environment legislation. In the first case, Spain is failing to ensure that waste water from urban areas with more than 10,000 inhabitants that discharge into sensitive areas is properly treated. The lack of adequate treatment systems, which should have been in place since 1998, poses risks to human health, to inland waters and the marine environment. Slow progress by Spain has led the Commission to refer the case to the EU Court of Justice. In the second case, Spain has failed to submit its plans for managing river basins to the Commission. These plans, due to be adopted by December 2009 at the latest, are essential for achieving the EU's objective of 'good status' for European waters by 2015. So far only one plan has been adopted in Spain, and the Commission is therefore taking Spain to the EU Court of Justice. See IP/11/729
Background on legal process
Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFUE) gives the Commission the power to take legal action against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations under EU law.
The infringement procedure begins with a request for information (a "Letter of Formal Notice") to the Member State concerned, which must be answered within a specified period, usually two months.
If the Commission is not satisfied with the information and concludes that the Member State in question is failing to fulfil its obligations under EU law, the Commission may then send a formal request to comply with EU law (a "Reasoned Opinion"), calling on the Member State to inform the Commission of the measures taken to comply within a specified period, usually two months.
If a Member State fails to ensure compliance with EU law, the Commission may then decide to refer the Member State to the Court of Justice. However, in over 90% of infringement cases, Member States comply with their obligations under EU law before they are referred to the Court. If the Court rules against a Member State, the Member State must then take the necessary measures to comply with the judgment.
If, despite the ruling, a Member State still fails to act, the Commission may open a further infringement case under Article 260 of the TFEU, with only one written warning before referring the Member State back to Court. If the Commission does refer a Member State back to Court, it can propose that the Court imposes financial penalties on the Member State concerned based on the duration and severity of the infringement and the size of the Member State (both a lump sum depending on the time elapsed since the original Court ruling and a daily penalty payment for each day after a second Court ruling until the infringement ends).
In the specific case of Member States that have failed to implement Directives within the deadline agreed by the EU's Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, the Commission may request the Court to impose to impose a financial penalty on the Member State concerned the first time the Court rules on such a case, rather than when it is referred back for a second time. This possibility, introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, is laid down in Article 260 (3) of the TFEU.
For current statistics on infringements in general, see: