Dutch and German judges have difficulties in applying EU law

Dutch and German judges have difficulties in applying EU law 20 March 2012

‘Brussels’ expects national judges to apply EU law consistently. They are willing, but not always able to meet this expectation.

European economic integration can only be achieved through a uniform application of EU law. National judges are, therefore, expected by Brussels to apply EU law in the cases they have to deal with, even in cases in which the parties themselves do not invoke it. Large parts of national law – trade law, competition law, consumer law – in fact contain rules that have been made in Brussels. EU law directly provides rights to EU citizens. Therefore, not only Brussels, but also parties may expect national courts to know when and how to apply EU law or national laws based on it. However, this expectation often does not coincide with practice. Especially judges that are not regularly confronted with EU law do not always recognize the relevance of EU law in their cases. As a result, national laws may be interpreted wrongly, rights of citizens may not be fully recognized in concrete cases, and a judgment may lead to long and costly appeal procedures.

This is the outcome of a HiiL research project titled ‘National Judges as European Union Judges’ that comprised extensive questionnaires and interviews among lower court judges in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and in the Netherlands. The researchers make a number of recommendations:

  • Short introductory and advanced educational courses in EU law for judges should be set up or improved;
  • Building and maintaining an online database for retrieving information on the practice of courts in similar cases in other states;
  • Coordinators as contact points for EU law that exist at Dutch courts should also be established at German courts.