EU Court of First Instance - Special Dossier
Twenty years marks a turning point
By Sophie Mosca | Thursday 03 September 2009
The Court of First Instance (CFI) of the European Union is to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. It is one of three jurisdictions in the European jurisdictional system, which also includes the Court of Justice and the Civil Service Tribunal. In the stately palace in which it is housed, designed by the French architect Dominique Perrault, preparations are underway for this grand event.
Created to establish and improve the jurisdictional system by instituting another level of jurisdiction and discharging the court, the CFI originally handled cases concerning competition, brands and public service. However, as a result of the reforms of the Treaties, it became the general judge for direct appeals. This extension of its area of competence, as well as successive enlargements, resulted in an increase in cases brought before the CFI and a change in its organisation. An in-depth review of its operation was required so that the duration of proceedings and the quality of judgements would not suffer. However, only structural measures would make it possible to face this continuous growth in litigation, underlined Marc Jaeger, its president. Jaeger also sounded the alarm bell: "In the medium term, we need more judges".
In twenty years, the Court of Justice has also changed significantly and Jean-Claude Bonichot, the French judge who carried out other duties there at the end of the 1980s, acknowledges that it took time for him to find his place. More than the impact of the enlargements, it is the domains of intervention and the technical nature required that have a significant incidence on the work of judges. Added to these two jurisdictions in 2004 was a third, that of the Civil Service Tribunal, tasked with litigation between the Community and its agents.
In 20 years, 15,000 decisions have been issued by this unassuming institution, which is 'small' in size (2,000 persons), but large in terms of its power. It was in 1952 with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) that the Court of Justice was instituted, whose essential mission consisted of examining the lawfulness of Community acts and ensuring the interpretation and uniform application of Community law. This institution has seen a considerable increase in its areas of competence, number of judges and number of languages of proceedings. Its linguistic regime is unequalled in any other jurisdiction in the world, since each of the 23 official languages of the Union may be a language of the proceedings. This multilingualism is a burden on the duration of proceedings but it cannot be ignored. It is before the Court of Justice that disputes between member states and the institutions or differences between institutions are settled. It is also before the court that individuals or businesses contest the decisions of the institutions. It is questioned by national jurisdictions on the most diverse subjects of everyday life: social aspects, citizenship, environment, security or food, and the judgements it issues are imposed on all member states. For example, the court can be credited with measures in favour of the protection of pregnant women, the fact that health care provided in another country may be reimbursed, recognition of annual leave as a social right conferred by Community law to all European employees and recognition of certain controlled appellations, among others.
Certain decisions have been subject to heated debates, such as a 2005 ruling by the court, which recognised the possibility for the European Commission to anticipate penal sanctions in order for Community legislation in the field of the environment to be respected. Member states competent in penal matters did not appreciate this and criticised the tendency of European judges to interfere in areas outside of Community law, regardless of the respect of member states' competences. Similar criticism accompanied a 2006 ruling, which allowed the reimbursement of cross-border medical costs.