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The Court of Justice of the European Union: what is it for?

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The Court of Justice of the European Union: what is it for? - © Flickr/Katarina Dzurekova

The Court of Justice of the European Union is the judicial institution of the EU. It is located in Luxembourg and is structured into two courts. The Court of justice consists of one judge per each Member State, plus eleven advocates general who assist the Court in delivering reasoned opinions on pending cases. The General Court is made up of at least one judge per Member State (in 2018 there were 47, but that figure will be increased to 56 during 2019, i.e. two judges per country).

Each member is appointed to a renewable 6-year term by joint agreement of the State governments; their independence must be beyond doubt. The judges elect a President among them; he/she remains in office for 3 years. The Courts are multilingual institutions. All 24 EU official languages can be the language of the case, however, French is by custom the working language. At the same time, the judgments of both Courts are published in the European Court Reports in all the official languages.

Each Court is vested with well-determined competences and under certain conditions the Court of justice is the appeal court. The main aim of the judicial system is to guarantee EU law is homogeneously interpreted and appropriately applied in every EU country, ensuring countries and EU institutions comply with EU law. To achieve this, the Courts are in charge of reviewing the legality of the acts of the EU institutions, ensuring the EU takes action when its institutions fail to do so, enforcing EU law ensuring the compliance of Member State with all obligations, and finally interpreting EU law. The latter is the so-called preliminary ruling procedure and it can be activated whenever a case is pending in national courts of EU countries but the national judges are in doubt about the interpretation or validity of an EU legal act. In this event, they can ask the EU Court for clarification.

Individuals or companies that suffered damage by an EU institution action or inaction have at their disposal two remedies. If they are directly and personally affected by a decision, they can bring the case directly before the General Court.  Otherwise, they can take indirect action through national courts, which have the power to refer the case to the Court of Justice. Furthermore, individuals can submit an official complaint, if they believe any State authority has infringed EU law.


Alice Valdesalici EUreka! Eurac research blogs Alice Valdesalici is an award-winning senior researcher at the Institute for Comparative Federalism of Eurac Research. She got her PhD in Italian and Constitutional Law from the University of Verona in 2016. Her main research interests are comparative federalism, Italian regionalism, the special autonomy of Trentino-South Tyrol and institutional innovation.

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