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   European Court
  European Court
  Introduction   Community free movements
  ECJ responsibilities   Member state liability
  Community law   European community freedoms
  Rights of individuals  

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As an institution of the European Union the European Court of Justice (ECJ) was set up at the very beginning of European integration when the European Coal and Steel Community was established in 1951. The ECJ must ensure European law is interpreted in the same way across the European Union having jurisdiction in disputes involving member states, community institutions, businesses and individuals. Sitting in Luxembourg, the ECJ consists of sixteen judges appointed by the member states by mutual agreement and supported by six advocates general. Since 1989, the court of first instance assists with cases and appeals to the European Court of Justice.

ECJ responsibilities
The Court will reside over proceedings brought against or by the European Commission or the Council of the European Union or by any member state or by individual persons. The European Court of Justice is responsible for maintaining a balance between the powers of separate Community institutions and the powers retained by member states and those powers transferred to the community. In this respect the ECJ is pivotal in settling disputes of constitutional or economic importance.

The Court has certain primary judicial responsibilities being; the interpretation of the treaties for establishing the European Community; to determine if any act or omission by the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, or any member state constitutes a breach of community law; and to decide on the validity and meaning of community legislation.

Community law
For European citizens community law is now a reality and the European Court of Justice has achieved this by establishing two essential principles that determine the European Community as a community governed by the rule of law of which there are two rules; the direct effect of community law in the member states; and the primacy of community law over national law.

The most significant case law being the van Gend en loss (1963), Costa v ENEL (1964) and Simmenthal (1978) judgments that established European Community regulations in proceedings as being before that of national courts. To this extent it is possible for national law to be overruled if it contrary to European law.

Member state liability
The principle of state liability was established in the case Francovich (1991) where the member state breached Community law resulting in damages caused to individuals and the ruling that the member state was obligated to make compensation for damages. Also, in the case of Hedley Lomas (1996) the ECJ held that due to the member state restricting the trading activities of an exporter of live animals, compensation was due.

A further example of state liability in the Dillenkofer (1996) judgment where failure of a member state to implement a European Community directive, this in itself being a serious breach in Community law, resulted in the consumers of purchasing package travel in this case suffering injury and the member state was obligated to pay compensation.

Rights of individuals
The European Court of Justice is concerned with protecting the fundamental rights of individuals that apply to the European Community. Associated with this, the Court has made rulings on the issue of equal pay for men and women. This principle originated under article 119 of the Treaty of Rome and the ECJ held in the case of Defrenne (1971) that all courts of member states should apply a direct effect of this principle so all European citizens can benefit.

In the case of Barber v Guardian Royal Exchange (1990) the Court held that article 119 would also apply to occupational pension schemes so that the scheme will not have a difference between the retirement age of men and women, especially where there is compulsory redundancy. However this does not apply to the state basic pension but will apply to scheme members contracting out such as in the case of a state earnings related pension scheme (SERPS). In the UK this Court ruling has resulted in changes to existing law as European law has primacy over national law.

Amendments were made to the Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discrimination Act and the Pensions Act 1995. In 1999 the Amsterdam Treaty further broadened article 119 from that of 'equal pay' to article 141 being 'equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or for work of equal value'.

European Community freedoms
A fundamental element in the European Community is the freedom of movement of persons. In particular the rights and benefits of the European worker that is domiciled in one member state but resides in another. These migrant workers have the same rights to employment conditions and terms as the national worker.

The European Court of Justice has held that social benefits and old-age allowances must also be available to European migrant workers as national workers. Furthermore the freedom of movement rights must also extend to the spouse and children of the migrant worker. The children must have the same opportunities to education, interest-free loans, scholarships, training and rehabilitation of the handicapped. In the Gravier (1985) judgment it was held that a French student could study on Belgium and would not have to pay a higher fee than the Belgium students.

The ECJ has had to apply the rule of direct effect in circumstances where national restrictions had not been removed by member states. Hence for the freedom to provide services and freedom of establishment in the case of van Binsbergen and Reyners (1974) resulted in the regulations of the Treaty of Rome being relied upon in national courts. For the freedom of competition the ECJ ruled in the case of Nouvelle Frontieres (1986) that the regulations of the Treaty of Rome would apply to the deregulation of the air transport industry.

Community free movements
The ECJ has clarified the obligations of member states with regard to the free movement of goods. This is essential to create a common market with no barriers to trade. In the case of Cassis de Dijon (1979) judgment it was held that European consumers could purchase any food products in their own country, irrespective of its origins in the community so long as its production, importation and marketing is lawful.

Also, regarding the free movement of goods, the European Court of Justice held against the French Republic (1997) during a dispute involving French farmers that obstructed the movement of agricultural products of member states within France. It was ruled that the authorities did not take the appropriate measures to prevent this from happening. Concerning the free movement of capital, the Court held that in the Bordessa (1995) judgment that European citizens could export without prior authorization coins, bank notes and cheques from one member state to another.

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