Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



The dedication of an annual issue of the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, to the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Communities is an appropriate tribute to the significant contribution of the Community Court to the integration of the European Communities. The Court of Justice is perhaps the most remarkable and successful of the common institutions (Council, Commission, Parliament, and Court), which the process of European integration has produced thus far. The Communities--Common Market, Coal and Steel Community, and Euratom--have been beset by numerous political and economic problems; integration beyond the original Treaties, and sometimes within the original framework, has often been difficult and slow. Within its "federal" role, however, the Court has been uniquely successful in exercising the dual purpose of insuring the legality of Community law-making and of integrating the national judicial systems in the area of Community law.

Much literature has been devoted to the various aspects of the Court's jurisdiction and its extensive case law; therefore this introduction will focus only on the increasingly complex relationship between the Community Court and the national courts and on the successful accommodation of the two legal systems to one another. Although national courts initially resisted the role of the Community Court as the final arbiter in questions concerning the validity and interpretation of Community law, the growing use of the referral procedure under article 177 of the Treaty of Rome (discussed in Part I infra) indicates increasing coordination between the Community legal system and each national system. Accommodation has also been achieved with respect to the important constitutional problem of the authority of Community law over national law: national courts increasingly accept the Community Court's view of supremacy (see Part II infra). In one area, however, the process of accommodation by national courts to the Community legal system is reversed: national constitutional law guarantees certain basic rights to national citizens. These guarantees may be touched upon by Community law or legislation and the question arises (see Part III infra) to what extent national constitutional guarantees must yield to the Community's claim of supremacy for its law, or conversely, to what extent the Community, in this instance, must be mindful, even yield, to national concerns.

The increasing volume of Community law has naturally multiplied the legal relationships of private parties (both individuals and companies) that are governed or affected by Community law. The Community Treaties contain substantive law, much of which the Court has declared to be "directly applicable" in national law, as well as the conferral of power on Community institutions to make law." In the latter instance, the institutions make law that is itself directly applicable in the Member States, or they impose binding obligations on Member States to enact laws to achieve a specified effect. In cases when the Community institutions act, review of the legality of these acts may be obtained by Member States or by individual plaintiffs. The Court's case law, however, has severely restricted the access of private plaintiffs to the Court through the elaboration of very stringent requirements on standing. Except in cases in which the Community administration has acted directly with respect to a private plaintiff--for instance, by imposing a penalty under the antitrust laws"--the private party will usually be unable to satisfy the standing requirement. Thus, questions about the effect of directly applicable Treaty law, of "secondary" Community law resulting from Community law-making, or of national law enacted in response to a Community mandate often, indeed increasingly frequently, will arise in national courts.