Application of EU law - European Commission

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Exercise your rights

EU law - which has equal force with national law - confers rights and obligations on the authorities in each Member State, as well as individuals and businesses. The authorities in each Member State are responsible for implementing EU legislation in national law and enforcing it correctly, and they must guarantee citizens’ rights under these laws. Anyone may lodge a complaint with the Commission against a Member State for any measure (law, regulation or administrative action) or practice attributable to a Member State which they consider incompatible with a provision or a principle of EU law.

You do not have to demonstrate a formal interest in bringing proceedings. Neither do you have to prove that you are principally and directly concerned by the infringement complained about. To be admissible, a complaint has to relate to an infringement of EU law by a Member State. It cannot therefore concern a private dispute.

The Commission will handle your complaint in line with the administrative measures defined in the Communication from the Commission on updating the handling of relations with the complainant in respect of the application of Union law [COM(2012) 154 final].

If you feel that in the handling of your complaint, the Commission has not followed these rules appropriately you may contact the European Ombudsman under Articles 24 and 228 of the TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).

1. Methods of submitting a complaint
2. Stages of infringement proceedings
3. National means of redress
4. Administrative guarantees
5. Protection of the complainant and personal data

1. Methods of submitting a complaint

Complaints must be submitted in writing, by letter, fax or e mail.

It is very important for the complaint papers to be complete and accurate, particularly as regards the facts complained of in relation to the Member State in question, any steps which you have already taken at any level and, as far as possible, the provisions of EU law which you consider to have been infringed and any involvement of an EU funding scheme.

Any correspondence denouncing measures or practices by a Member State which it considers incompatible with a provision or principle of Community law must be examined within a month regarding the decision to classify it as a complaint. The Secretariat-General of the Commission shall issue an initial acknowledgement of all correspondence within fifteen working days of receipt. Where there is any doubt as to the status of the correspondence, the Secretariat-General consults the department or departments concerned within fifteen calendar days of its arrival.

Correspondence likely to be investigated as a complaint will be recorded in a database managed by the Secretariat-General of the Commission.

The responsibility for the examination of the subject matter of any correspondence or complaint lies with the Commission departments.

Cases that pertain to the same infringement in the same Member State are merged and processed under the same reference. top of page

2. Stages of infringement proceedings

Your complaint might lead to the following actions:

2.1. Information gathering

In response to your complaint, it may be necessary to gather further information to determine the points of facts and of law concerning your case.

Should the Commission contact the authorities of the Member State against which you have made your complaint, it will not disclose your identity unless you have given it your express permission to do so.

If necessary, you will be asked to supply further information.

After examining the facts and in the light of the rules and priorities established by the Commission for opening and pursuing infringement proceedings, the Commission’s services will decide whether further action should be taken on your complaint.

2.2. Opening of an infringement procedure: formal contacts between the Commission and the Member State concerned

If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of EU law which warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "letter of formal notice" to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date.

The Member State has to adopt a position on the points of fact and of law on which the Commission bases its decision to open the infringement procedure.

In the light of the reply or absence of a reply from the Member State concerned, the Commission may decide to address a "reasoned opinion" to the Member State, clearly and definitively setting out the reasons why it considers there to have been an infringement of EU law and calling on the Member State to comply with EU law within a specified period (normally two months).

The purpose of those formal contacts is to determine whether there is indeed an infringement of EU law and, if so, to resolve the case at this stage without having to take it to the Court of Justice.

In the light of the reply, the Commission may also decide not to proceed with the infringement procedure, for example where the Member State provides credible assurances as to its intention to amend its legislation or administrative practice. Most cases can be resolved in this way.

2.3.Referral to the European Court of Justice

If the Member State fails to comply with the reasoned opinion, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the European Court of Justice.

On average, it takes about two years for the Court of Justice to rule on cases brought by the Commission.

Judgments of the Court of Justice differ from those of national courts.

At the close of the procedure, the Court of Justice delivers a judgment stating whether there has been an infringement.

The Court of Justice can neither annul a national provision which is incompatible with EU law, nor force a national administration to respond to the request of an individual, nor order the Member State to pay damages to an individual adversely affected by an infringement of EU law.

It is up to a Member State against which the Court of Justice has given judgment to take whatever measures are necessary to comply with it, particularly to resolve the dispute which gave rise to the procedure.

If the Member State does not comply, the Commission may again bring the matter before the Court of Justice seeking to have periodic penalty payments until such time as it puts an end to the infringement and/or a lump sum payment imposed on the Member State. top of page

3. National means of redress

It is national courts and administrative bodies that are primarily responsible for ensuring that the authorities of the Member States comply with EU law.

Therefore, if you consider a particular measure (law, regulation or administrative action) or administrative practice to be incompatible with EU law, you are invited, either prior to or in parallel with your complaint to the Commission, to seek redress from national administrative or judicial authorities (including national or regional ombudsmen) and/or through the arbitration and conciliation procedures available.

The Commission advises you to use those national means of redress because of the advantages they may offer for you.

By using the means of redress available at national level you should, as a rule, be able to assert your rights more directly and more personally than you could following infringement proceedings successfully brought by the Commission which may take some time.
Only national courts can issue orders to administrative bodies and annul a national decision.
It is also only national courts which have the power, where appropriate, to order a Member State to make good the loss sustained by individuals as a result of the infringement of Community law attributable to it. top of page

4. Administrative guarantees

The following administrative guarantees exist for your benefit:
(a) Following registration by the Commission's Secretariat-General, your complaint will be assigned an official reference number (as set out in the acknowledgment), which should be quoted in any correspondence.
However, the assignment of an official reference number does not necessarily mean that an infringement procedure will be opened against the Member State in question.

(b) Where the Commission's services make representations to the authorities of the Member State against which the complaint has been made, they will abide by the choice you have made regarding disclosure of your identity. Where you have not indicated your choice, the Commission's services will presume that you have opted for confidential treatment.

(c) The Commission will endeavour to take a decision on the substance (either to open infringement proceedings or to close the case) within twelve months of registration of the complaint with its Secretariat-General.

(d) Were the deadline to be exceeded, the service of the European Commission in charge of the file of infringement would inform you on your request, in writing. You are also informed beforehand by the service in charge, when it plans to propose at the Commission to decide the closure of the file with no further action. Moreover, the Commission's services will keep you informed of the course of any potential infringement procedure. top of page

5. Protection of the complainant and personal data

Disclosure of complainants' identities and information submitted by them to the Member State concerned is subject to their prior agreement and must comply, inter alia, with European Parliament and Council Regulation (EC) No 45/2001 of 18 December 2000 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data by the Community institutions and bodies and on the free movement of such data , and with European Parliament and Council Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents. top of page