About the Legal Service
Activities of the Legal Service
- The Commission’s legal adviser
- The Commission’s legal representative
- Helping to improve the quality of drafting of EU legislation
The Commission’s legal representative
The Legal Service alone is empowered to represent the Commission in the Courts of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the EFTA Court, before the WTO (more) and other arbitration tribunals, as well as in any other court such as a national court. This represents more than 1000 cases every year.
Apart from its own agents, the Legal Service calls on the services of outside lawyers where specific expertise or legal knowledge is considered necessary to represent the Commission in the Community context or in cases in the national courts. In 2016, the Legal Service signed 213 contracts for legal assistance with an average cost of EUR 7 700. The expenditure resulting from the use of external lawyers was approximately EUR 1.6 million (list of contracts ).
The Rules of Procedure of the Court of Justice require the Commission’s agents to present their written and oral statements in the language of the case. To meet this requirement, the Legal Service has lawyers from all the Member States. In this way it pools knowledge of all the Community legal systems and all the official languages.
The Commission may:
- act as plaintiff, as in the case of an infringement of EU law by a Member State;
- act as defendant, as in the case of an action for annulment of one of its decisions; or
- intervene in actions brought against another institution.
Representing the Commission as guardian of the Treaties, the Legal Service routinely intervenes as amicus curiae (friend of the court – similar to an expert witness giving a court the benefit of his advice) in preliminary ruling cases.
When a national court is required to apply EU law in a case, it can ask the Court of Justice if a Community instrument is valid and/or how an instrument or a Treaty provision is to be interpreted in a given case. The Court of Justice rules on the interpretation of Community law and checks the validity of Community legislation. But it has no jurisdiction to interpret national law or to rule on its conformity with Community law.
The preliminary ruling procedure also plays a major role in protecting individual rights since individuals can challenge measures taken in their country in breach of Community legislation and can have Community law applied by the national courts.
In one case, for instance, the Court of Justice held that Community law precluded a social security body in a Member State from refusing to pay an insured person the flat rate for a pair of spectacles with correction lenses purchased from an optician established in another Member State (Judgment of the Court of Justice of 28 April 1998 in Case C-120/95 Nicolas Decker v Caisse de maladie des employés privés).
For further information on the preliminary ruling procedure, consult ABC of European Union law, pages 107-110, and the Court's Recommendations to national courts and tribunals, in relation to the initiation of preliminary ruling proceedings.
Last updated on 27.6.2017