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Enforcement of European Union rights
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At Community level, rules have been put in place creating rights and obligations for citizens and businesses. EU Member States are primarily responsible for implementing these rules, properly applying them and ensuring that they are adequately enforced.

When attempting to enforce your Community law rights, you should consider the options available to you as follows:

Information Sources on Legal Rights

If I suspect that I have been adversely affected by a breach of European Community law but am unsure of my rights, where can I obtain information?

To obtain general information about your Community law rights, you can contact Europe Direct. Europe Direct provides direct and easy access to information and advice on the activities of the European Union. The service is free of charge.

You may also find the Your Europe website of assistance to you.  This website provides general information and advice on rights of citizens in the EU.  It also provides information and advice for businesses in the EU.

You may also contact the Your Europe Advice Service  in order to obtain practical and personalised advice and signposting in relation to your European Union legal rights. This service is also free of charge. The Your Europe Advice Service aims to provide a personalised response to your query within three working days. In Ireland, the European Commission Representation hosts a personalised Your Europe Advice  Service. If you have a query which relates to your rights in the EU, you can contact the Your Europe Adviser directly through the European Commission Representation at 01 6341111 or by email at eu-ie-info-request@ec.europa.eu.

If I encounter a problem resulting from misapplication of European Union law by a public administration how can this be resolved?

The European Commission established the SOLVIT network to deal with such situations. The SOLVIT network consists of representatives  in each Member State who will attempt to resolve problems of misapplication of European Union law without the need for legal action. The service is free of charge. SOLVIT can be contacted in Ireland through the following website: www.ec.europa.eu/solvit. The Irish SOLVIT Centre is located in the Department of Jobs Enterprise and Innovation, Kildare Street, Dublin 2.  Email: solvit@djei.ie

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Redress at National Level

If I am adversely affected by a breach of European Community law, how can I obtain redress at national level?

As Member States are responsible for applying Community law, the first thing to do if you, as a citizen or business, encounter a problem in exercising your Community law rights is to pursue the matter with the relevant national authorities and explore all available means of redress through internal procedures. Many problems can be solved quickly at the level of local, regional or national authorities with immediate effect on individual circumstances.

What options do I have if I cannot obtain the information I require from the national authorities?

In Ireland, there are a number of non-judicial procedures available to allow access to information and resolve disputes between the public and the administration.

Give examples of some of the non-judicial procedures referred to.

Examples include but are not limited to the following:

The Office of the Ombudsman

This office investigates complaints from members of the public who feel that they have been unfairly treated by government departments, local authorities, health boards and certain other public bodies.

Further details on the Office of the Ombudsman may be located at www.irlgov.ie/ombudsman/

The Office of the Information Commissioner

This office provides an independent avenue of appeal for members of the public who are not happy with decisions by public bodies in relation to requests under the Freedom of Information Act 1997.

The Freedom of Information Act 1997 establishes the following legal rights for members of the public:

  • Access official records held by government departments or other public bodies subject to the Act;

  • To have personal information held on them amended;

  • To be given reasons for decisions that particularly affect them.

Further details on the Office of the Information Commissioner may be located at http://www.oic.gov.ie/en/

The Equality Authority

If the matter is one of alleged discrimination on the grounds of gender, marital status, family status, age, disability, race, religious belief, membership of the traveller community or sexual orientation, you may consider contacting the Equality Authority.

Further details on the Equality Authority may be located at www.equality.ie

The Competition Authority

If the matter is one of an alleged breach of European Union or national competition law, you may consider contacting the Competition Authority.

Further details on the Competition Authority may be located at www.tca.ie

The Data Protection Commissioner

If the matter is one of an alleged breach of your data protection rights, you may consider contacting the Data Protection Commissioner.

Further details on the Data Protection Commissioner may be located at www.dataprotection.ie.

Financial Services Ombudsman

If the matter is one of an alleged breach of European Union or national law in the insurance, banking, credit union or financial services sector, you may consider contacting the Financial Services Ombudsman.

Further details on the Financial Services Ombudsman may be located at www.financialombudsman.ie.

Financial Services Regulatory Authority

If the matter is one of an alleged breach of European Community law by a financial services firm e.g. bank, you may consider contacting the Financial Regulator.

Further details on the Financial Services Regulatory Authority may be obtained from the Financial Regulator, P.O. Box 9138, College Green, Dublin 2. The telephone number is 01 410 4000. The website address is www.ifsra.ie

Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation

If the matter is one of an alleged breach of European Community law in the telecommunications, radio communications, broadcasting or postal services sectors, you may consider contacting Comreg.

Further details on Comreg may be located at www.comreg.ie.

Commission for Aviation Regulation

If the matter is one of an alleged breach of European Community law in the aviation sector, you may consider contacting the Commission for Aviation Regulation.

Further details on the Commission for Aviation Regulation may be located at www.aviationreg.ie

Commission for Energy Regulation

If the matter is one of an alleged breach of European Community law in the energy sector, you may consider contacting the Commission for Energy Regulation.

Further details on energy regulation may be located at www.cer.ie.

Consumer Disputes

If the matter is one of an alleged breach of European Community consumer law e.g. misleading advertising or unfair contract terms or a dispute in connection with purchasing goods, obtaining a loan or taking out an insurance policy, assistance may be obtained from a number of sources.

If you have an unresolved dispute with a trader, you can seek assistance from the following:

  • the National Consumer Agency which aims to defend consumer interests and to embed a robust consumer culture in Ireland.  Further information on the National Consumer Agency may be obtained at  www.consumerconnect.ie;

  • the Consumers' Association of Ireland which aims to maintain and improve the standard of goods and services rendered to the public and to promote and advance knowledge of consumer matters in Ireland. Further information on the Consumers' Association of Ireland can be located at www.consumerassociation.ie.

  • the network of European Consumer Centres which was established to assist consumers with cross border disputes. The centres give information and advice on problems with shopping across borders and intervene where problems arise. In Ireland the European Consumer Centre is based at 13A Upper O'Connell Street, Dublin 1. The telephone number is 01 809 0600. The website address is: www.eccdublin.ie.

  • the network for settling cross border financial disputes out of court - FIN-NET. FIN-NET aims to facilitate out-of-court resolution of disputes when the consumer and the financial services provider (bank, insurance company, etc.) come from different EU member states. It provides the consumer with an alternative way to solve disputes quickly, cheaply and easily and may reduce your need to go to court. Further information on FIN-NET is available at http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/finservices-retail/finnet/index_en.htm.

National Courts

If I do not obtain redress through the above non-judicial procedures, are there any further alternatives open to me to enforce my Community law rights?

If, despite the measures you have taken, you believe that your single market rights have not been respected, you could consult with a solicitor and commence proceedings in the national courts. Although national authorities are responsible in the first instance for applying Community law properly, the national courts ensure that they actually do.

What is the advantage for me of taking a case before the national courts?

The advantage of taking a case before the national courts is that they can reverse a decision taken by a national authority which concerns you. You may also be able to obtain an injunction to ensure the immediate suspension of the offending action. In addition, if you have suffered loss from the failure of the national authorities to implement Community law correctly, you may be able to seek financial compensation by pursuing the action before the national courts.

What if I cannot afford a solicitor?

Advice may be obtained from one of the Free Legal Advice Centres or from one of the Citizens Information Centres located around the country. Legal aid may be available from your local law centre. Contact details for these centres can be found in your local telephone directory.

How will the national court decide a case involving European Community law?

Before deciding a case involving Community law, the national courts may, and in some cases must, refer the matter to the European Court of Justice if clarification on an issue of Community law is required. A system of preliminary rulings has been established to ensure that Community law is interpreted and applied uniformly throughout the European Union. You may bring to the national court's attention the possibility of referring an issue to the European Court of Justice.

On referral of an issue, the European Court of Justice states what the relevant Community law is but it cannot decide the outcome of a particular case. The final decision on the dispute is always taken by the national courts which must respect Community law as interpreted by the ECJ. A ruling on interpretation given by the European Court of Justice also serves as a precedent for other national courts dealing with a substantially similar problem.

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Redress at European Community Level

Action by the European Commission

The European Commission is responsible for ensuring that Community law is applied properly in the Member States. If necessary, the Commission reminds Member States of their responsibilities for implementing Community law and for enforcing it properly. In some cases, if a Member State fails to fulfil these obligations, the Commission may initiate proceedings before the European Court of Justice which decides whether or not European Community law has been infringed.

How does the Commission become aware of possible infringements of European Community law?

The Commission becomes aware of possible infringements of Community law by Member States either through its own monitoring of the application of Community law or through complaints.

Who may lodge complaints with the European Commission?

Any person or business may lodge a complaint with the Commission about an alleged violation of Community law by a Member State. Complaints are made free of charge. All relevant information and documentation should be included with the complaint.

Is there a standard complaint form?

Standard complaint forms are available at http://ec.europa.eu/community_law/complaints/form/index_en.htm .

How will the complaint made to the Commission be dealt with by the Commission?

Unless the complaint is clearly without foundation, the Commission services will open an investigation to determine the facts and points of law relevant to the case. Following this examination, the Commission will decide whether or not to follow up the complaint. In principle, the decision will be taken within one year from the date of registration of the complaint.

If the Commission considers that there may be a violation of Community law, the Member State concerned will be invited to comment on the Commission's findings after having been formally informed of the infringement. On the basis of the Member State's reply or in the absence of a reply and if the Commission continues to consider that there is an infringement of Community law, the Commission will forward a 'Reasoned Opinion' calling on the Member State to comply with Community law within a prescribed deadline.

What will happen if the Member State does not comply with the directions of the Commission?

If the Member State concerned does not comply with the reasoned opinion, the Commission may bring the matter before the European Court of Justice under the Article 258 TFEU procedure.

What are the penalties for the Member State, if found in breach of Community law?

If the Court of Justice finds that a Member State is in breach of Community law, the Member State concerned will be required to take all the necessary measures to put an end to the infringement. If the Member States do not do so, the Commission may once more refer the matter to the European Court of Justice asking it to impose a fine on the Member State until the infringement has ended.

The European Parliament


Is it possible to petition the European Parliament?

Citizens may petition the European Parliament on matters related to the Community's fields of activity and which affect them directly. Petitions must therefore relate to Community law, its implementation by Member States or to an actual or supposed case of improper action by a national authority.

Who deals with petitions in the European Parliament?

The petition will be dealt with by the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament. The Committee replies to all petitions.

What are the advantages of petitioning the European Parliament?

Petitions can be an invaluable means of putting pressure on those concerned. They can raise the profile of your problem particularly through the contacts that the Committee may make with other EU institutions and with national authorities. While the committee's recommendations do not create direct legal obligations on the parties involved, the Committee does uncover infringements of Community law. It can recommend that infringement proceedings should be brought against a Member State by the European Commission for failing to implement Community law or for improperly applying it and may cause changes in national legislation.

Is there a standard petition form?

There is no specific form to be filled. Petitions can be written in one of the twenty-three official languages of the EU. The petition should contain the following details: name, nationality, address and occupation, a clear description of the facts with reference to the relevant field of activity of the European Union, the grounds for the petition, if possible, relevant documentation and signature.

Where should I send the petition?

The petition should be forwarded directly to the President of the European Parliament, L2929 Luxembourg.

The European Ombudsman


What is the function of the European Ombudsman?

The European Ombudsman is empowered to inquire into the Community administration and its relations with citizens and businesses. He can deal with complaints concerning mal-administration on the part of the EU institutions with the exception of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance acting in their judicial role.

What constitutes mal-administration?

Mal-administration can include unfairness, failure to act in accordance with the law, administrative irregularities or unnecessary delays. You do not need to be individually affected by the alleged mal-administration.

Is there a time limit within which to lodge a complaint with the European Ombudsman?

You have two years to make a complaint from the date on which the facts on which you base your complaint came to your attention. Your complaint must be preceded by prior contact e.g. a letter to the institution or body concerned.

Can the European Ombudsman deal with complaints concerning national administrations in a Member State?

The Ombudsman has no power to deal with complaints concerning national, regional or local administrations of the Member States. Such complaints may be addressed instead at national level to the appropriate ombudsman or similar body in the Member States concerned.

If mal-administration is confirmed by the Ombudsman, what sanctions will he impose?

Where the Ombudsman finds maladministration by an EU institution, he tries, if possible to find a mutually acceptable solution. If he considers it necessary, he can make recommendations to the institution concerned on how to solve the case. Unless the institution implements his recommendations within three months or finds another satisfactory solution to put an end to the maladministration, the Ombudsman makes a special report to the European Parliament.

If I make a complaint to the Ombudsman, will I be informed of the progress on my complaint?

You will be informed by the Ombudsman of the outcome of his inquiries, of the opinion expressed by the institution concerned and of any recommendations made by the Ombudsman.

Is there a standard complaint form?

You can use a standard form to assist you in drafting your complaint. This is available from the Ombudsman's office and from the national ombudsmen's offices in the Member States.

Where can I obtain further information on the European Ombudsman?

The website address for the European Ombudsman is www.euro-ombudsman.eu.int

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Last update: 20/07/2012  |Top