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Last update: 02-08-2007
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Legal order - Community law

Community law in your everyday life.

Community law is a legal system in its own right that generates rights and obligations for all of us in Europe.

In the internal market, trade between Member States is intensifying all the time. Europeans are travelling more and more to settle in another country, work, do business, have holidays, marry etc..

Situations involving people living in different countries are proliferating and with them the risks of conflicts of law and jurisdiction.

These cases are often trickier than others because a number of questions will arise even before the issues at stake are considered. For example: which country's courts will have jurisdiction to deal with the case, what law will the court apply, what system of legal aid will operate, how can a judgment given in one country be enforced in another, and so on?

To make life easier for individuals and to help the legal practitioners, the European Union has adopted, or is planning to adopt, a large number of rules to settle all these questions.

Since 1999, with the Amsterdam Treaty, it has been possible to adopt Community rules in the fields of civil and commercial law.

For example the European Union can adopt:

  • Regulations,
  • Directives,
  • Decisions.
These instruments, like the Treaties themselves, are sources of Community law.

Judicial cooperation in civil matters is part of the Community legal system.

This is a legal system in its own right as it is autonomous and different from the Member States' own systems, with its own sources of law.

Contrary to traditional international law, which is addressed primarily to States, Community law is addressed to individuals and firms.

Community law has two further specific features that distinguish it from international law:

  • Direct effect
Regulations are directly applicable in all Member States, with two chief consequences:
  • Anybody can rely directly on a Regulation in support of his argument, in the courts as elsewhere;
  • Regulations apply in the same way throughout the Union, which obviously makes it easier to settle conflicts between residents in different countries.
Directives, on the other hand, have to be “transposedâ€� , that is to say the Member States have to incorporate them into their national law. They enjoy some freedom to decide how to go about doing this.

Directives do not have the same direct effect as Regulations, since they do not themselves directly generate rights and obligations for individuals. But national legislation will have to be interpreted in the light of the principles of directives, even if it predates them.

  • The primacy of Community law
Community regulations and directives are part of the Member States' legal systems, and prevail over statutes and other national sources of law. In other words the courts must disapply a national statute if it is contrary to Community law.

Reference documents

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Last update: 02-08-2007

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