Flaminio Costa v ENEL, European Court of Justice, Case 6/64, 1964, preliminary ruling

The EU? It’s electric!

Why is this ruling so important?
In this ground-breaking ruling, the European Court of Justice held that European Law is of a higher legal order than National Law. In case of contrary national legislation, the European rules therefore prevail.

What happened?
In the early sixties, the Italian government nationalized the electricity sector. Mister Flaminio Costa disagreed with this course of affairs, because he owned shares in a small private electricity company that was now being merged into a state owned company: ENEL. As reprisal, he refused to pay his electricity bills, with a total sum of almost 2000 Lire. In the Italian court, he argued that the nationalization was against European Law. The Italian government however, held that under no conditions, a domestic court could set aside national law.

What was decided?
The European Court of Justice ruled that in this case the nationalisation of the electricity sector was a matter the European Commission should deal with, since the commission was competent to review such acts against European Law.

Please note that In casu, mister Costa did not win the argument. However, the court was very clear on one thing: the Italian government was wrong in assuming that no domestic court could set aside domestic law.

Important quotes from the verdict
The obligations undertaken under the treaty establishing the community would not be unconditional, mut merely contingent, if they could be called in question by subsequent legislative acts of the signatories. Wherever the Ttreaty grants the states the rights unilaterally, it does this by clear and precise provisions.

It follows from all these observations that the law stemming from the treaty, and independent source of law, could not, because of its special and original nature, be overridden by domestic legal provisions, however framed, without being deprived of its character as community law and without the legal basis of the community itself being called into question.

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Art. 288 TFEU (ex Art. .249 TEC, in the original ruling a reference is made to the earlier Art. 189 of the EEC treaty).

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Bhasin v. Hrynew (2014) the Supreme Court of Canada

CanadianSupremeCourtWhy is this ruling so important?
In this ground-breaking ruling, the Canadian Supreme Court affirmed the existence of the principle of good faith in contract law. This is a wonderful example of the application of ius cogens, or general principles of law. Since the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled that lower courts may not overrule decisions of higher courts (the so called Stare Decisis doctrine), and the Supreme Court is the highest Canadian court, the principle of good faith in contract law applies fully in all Canadian States.

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Van Gend en Loos: ECJ, Case 26/62, 1963, preliminary ruling

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How tax and trucks proved to be a very effective combination.

Why is this ruling so important?
In this groundbreaking ruling, the European Court of Justice held that citizens could invoke particular European law in the national courts of EU Member States. Before, international law was considered to be an agreement between States only, and therefore only affecting the relation between State Parties, not the relation between a State Party and its citizens.

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