Stages of an infringement procedure
The Commission identifies possible infringements of EU law on the basis of its own investigations or following complaints from citizens, businesses or other stakeholders.
The Commission first tries to solve the problem informally with the EU country concerned. The EU country (legally referred to as a Member State) can provide factual and/or legal information on the potential violation of EU law. The goal is to find a quick solution in compliance with EU law and avoid the need for a formal infringement procedure.
If the EU country concerned fails to communicate measures that fully transpose the provisions of directives, does not agree with the Commission, or doesn’t rectify the suspected violation of EU law, the Commission may launch a formal infringement procedure. The procedure follows a number of steps laid out in the EU treaties, each ending with a formal decision:
- The Commission sends a letter of formal notice requesting further information to the country concerned, which must send a detailed reply within a specified period, usually 2 months.
- If the Commission concludes that the country is failing to fulfil its obligations under EU law, it may send a reasoned opinion: a formal request to comply with EU law. It explains why the Commission considers that the country is breaching EU law. It also requests that the EU country inform the Commission of the measures taken, within a specified period, usually 2 months.
- If the EU country still doesn't comply, the Commission may decide to refer the matter to the Court of Justice. Most cases are settled before being referred to the Court.
- If an EU county fails to communicate measures that implement the provisions of a directive in time, the Commission may ask the Court to impose penalties.
- If the Court finds that a country has breached EU law, the national authorities must take action to comply with the Court judgment.
Non-compliance with a Court decision
If, despite the Court's judgment, the EU country still doesn't rectify the situation, the Commission may refer the country back to the Court.
When referring an EU country to the Court for the second time, the Commission proposes that the Court impose financial penalties, which can be either a lump sum and/or a daily payment.
These penalties are calculated taking into account:
- the importance of the rules breached and the impact of the infringement on general and particular interests
- the period the EU law has not been applied
- the country's ability to pay, ensuring that the fines have a deterrent effect
The amount proposed by the Commission can be changed by the Court in its ruling.
Publication of infringement decisions
Commission decisions on infringements are published in an online database. You can search a decision by EU country, policy area or date.
The Commission also publishes an annual report reviewing key aspects of the application of EU law and presenting infringement cases by policy area and country.