Bratislava did not infringe EU law, says advocate-general
By Manon Malhère | Tuesday 06 March 2012
Slovakia’s decision to ban a visit by the former President of Hungary, László Sólyom, in 2009 was not an infringement of EU law, states Yves Bot, advocate-general at the EU Court of Justice, in an opinion published on 6 March. Visits like the one in question fall within the sphere of diplomatic relations, which remains within the purview of member states. The advocate-general issued the opinion in an action for failure to fulfil obligations brought by Budapest in July 2010 against Bratislava for infringement of Directive 2004/38/EC on the rights of EU citizens and members of their family to move and reside freely in the territory of member states (case C-364/10).
The case began on 29 August 2009, when Slovak authorities refused to allow Sólyom to enter Slovak territory to take part in the inauguration of the statue of Saint Stephen (the founder and first king of Hungary) for security reasons. He had been invited by an association based in Slovakia. The Slovak authorities considered the visit inappropriate because the Hungarian president had not expressed any desire to meet Slovak dignitaries, but also because the visit coincided with the 41st anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops (which included Hungarian troops).
Hungary first asked the European Commission to bring infringement proceedings against Slovakia. The executive refused, arguing that EU law does not apply to visits by a head of state to another state. Budapest then took the initiative of bringing its own action for failure to fulfil obligations before the Court of Justice, a proceeding used only on rare occasions (the sixth such action to date).
The advocate-general’s opinion notes first that the president of Hungary was to visit Slovakia in the framework of performance of his duties and not as an EU citizen, since he was set to deliver a speech to celebrate the inauguration of a Hungarian monument.
Although the free movement of EU citizens between member states is governed by EU law, there is no legislation governing visits by heads of state to other member states, it continues. Based on Article 5(2) of the EU Treaty, which states that «competences not conferred upon the Union in the treaties remain with the member states,» Bot concludes that such visits remain the competence of member states. As a result, they cannot be understood in terms offreedom of movement.
Visits like the one in question fall within the sphere of diplomatic relations, which remains within the purview of member states.