Commission v Ireland [Court of Justice of the European Communities (Grand Chamber)]

JurisdictionEuropean Union
JudgeCunha Rodrigues,Levits,Colneric,Timmermans,Lõhmus,KlučKa,Jann,Skouris,Schintgen,Poiares Maduro,Ilešič,Malenovský,Von Bahr,Puissochet
CourtEuropean Court of Justice
Date30 May 2006
Docket Number(Case C-459/03)

Court of Justice of the European Communities (Grand Chamber)

(Skouris, President; Jann, Timmermans (Rapporteur) and Malenovský, Presidents of Chambers; Puissochet, Schintgen, Colneric, Von Bahr, Cunha Rodrigues, Ilešič, KlučKa, Lõhmus and Levits, Judges; Poiares Maduro, Advocate General)

(Case C-459/03)

Commission of the European Communities
and
Ireland1

Treaties — EC Treaty — Euratom Treaty — Application and interpretation — Court of Justice of the European Communities — Jurisdiction — Scope — Member States of European Community — Obligations on Member States under EC and Euratom Treaties — Member State instituting dispute-settlement proceedings against another Member State under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 — Whether dispute concerning Community law — Whether Ireland failing to respect exclusive jurisdiction vested in Court — Whether dispute requiring interpretation and application of Community law measures — Whether Ireland failing to comply with duty of cooperation — Whether Ireland failing to fulfil its obligations under Articles 10 and 292 of EC Treaty and Articles 192 and 193 of Euratom Treaty

International tribunals — Arbitral Tribunal established under Annex VII of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 — Jurisdiction — EC Member State submitting dispute with other EC Member State to Arbitral Tribunal — Whether dispute concerning Community law — Whether EC Member State thereby failing to fulfil its obligations under EC and Euratom Treaties — Whether system for resolution of disputes in EC Treaty or Part XV of UNCLOS having precedence

Treaties — United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 — UNCLOS concluded by European Community and all its Member States — Mixed agreement — Status of UNCLOS in Community legal order — EC Member State relying on UNCLOS provisions in submitting dispute to Arbitral Tribunal — Whether UNCLOS provisions in issue within scope of Community competence — Whether forming integral part of Community legal order — Whether dispute concerning interpretation or application of EC or Euratom Treaties — Effect of UNCLOS on allocation of responsibilities in Treaties — Effect of UNCLOS on autonomy of Community legal system

Relationship of international and municipal law — Treaties — United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 — Arbitral Tribunal established under Annex VII of UNCLOS — European Community — EC and Euratom Treaties — Obligations of Member States of European Community under EC and Euratom Treaties — Exclusive jurisdiction of Court of Justice of the European Communities — Autonomy of Community legal order — Whether EC Member States having conflicting legal obligations under public international law — Whether UNCLOS part of Community legal order — Court's jurisdiction over mixed agreements such as UNCLOS—Scope—Whether UNCLOS provisions in issue within Community competence — Whether part of Community law — Whether subject to Court's jurisdiction — Whether system for resolution of disputes in EC Treaty or Part XV of UNCLOS having precedence

International organizations — European Community — Autonomy of Community legal system — Whether international agreement affecting allocation of responsibilities defined in EC and Euratom Treaties — Obligations of EC Member States — EC Member State instituting dispute-settlement proceedings against another EC Member State under United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 — Whether Member State failing to fulfil its obligations under EC and Euratom Treaties — Whether Court of Justice having exclusive jurisdiction over dispute between EC Member States

Sea — Environmental protection—United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 — Protection of marine environment — UNCLOS provisions invoked in dispute relating to protection of marine environment — Whether within scope of European Community competence — Whether subject to jurisdiction of Court of Justice of the European Communities — The law of the European Communities

Summary:2The facts:—On 30 October 2003, the Commission of the European Communities (‘the Commission’) brought an action against Ireland for failure to fulfil its obligations under Articles 10 and 292 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, 1957 (‘EC Treaty’) and Articles 192 and 193 of the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, 1957 (‘Euratom Treaty’).3 Ireland had instituted dispute-settlement proceedings against the United Kingdom under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 (‘UNCLOS’)4 in relation to the United Kingdom's authorization of the operation of the MOX plant, a reprocessing plant for mixed oxide fuel (‘MOX’) in north-west England on the coast of the Irish Sea.5 For the background to this case, see the introductory note in 126 ILR 257 and the related proceedings in 126 ILR 259, 126 ILR 310 and 126 ILR 334.

The Commission sought a declaration that, by instituting dispute-settlement proceedings against the United Kingdom under UNCLOS (invoking the provisions of UNCLOS relating to the protection of the marine environment), Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under the EC and Euratom Treaties. First, the Commission claimed that Ireland had failed to respect the exclusive jurisdiction vested in the Court of Justice of the European Communities (‘the Court’) by Article 292 of the EC Treaty to rule on any dispute concerning the interpretation and application of Community law. Second, it argued that Ireland had breached Article 292 of the EC Treaty and Article 193 of the Euratom Treaty by referring to the Arbitral Tribunal a dispute which required for its resolution the interpretation and application of measures of Community law.6 Third, the Commission maintained that Ireland had failed to comply with its duty of cooperation under Article 10 of the EC Treaty by exercising a competence which belonged to the Community and that it had failed in that duty under Article 10 of the EC Treaty and Article 192 of

the Euratom Treaty by failing first to inform or consult with the competent Community institutions. Ireland maintained that none of the issues in dispute fell within the Court's jurisdiction.

Opinion of the Advocate General

Held:—(1) The Court's exclusive jurisdiction in disputes between Member States concerning Community law was a means of preserving the autonomy of the Community legal order. It sought to ensure that Member States incurred no conflicting legal obligations under public international law (paras. 8–10).

(2) The essential question was whether the dispute concerned Community law. If at least part of the subject matter of the dispute was governed by Community law, there was a breach of Article 292 of the EC Treaty or Article 193 of the Euratom Treaty. Whenever Community law was concerned, Member States had to settle their differences within the Community (paras. 11–15).

(3) The Court should declare that, by instituting dispute-settlement proceedings against the United Kingdom concerning the MOX plant, Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 292 of the EC Treaty and Article 193 of the Euratom Treaty.

(a) By submitting the dispute to an Arbitral Tribunal established under Annex VII of UNCLOS, Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 292 of the EC Treaty. The Court had jurisdiction in respect of mixed agreements such as UNCLOS, to which both the Community and Member States were party, in so far as the provisions fell within the scope of Community competence. With respect to the UNCLOS provisions relating to the protection of the marine environment, the Community exercised both its exclusive and non-exclusive external competence in the area of environmental protection when it acceded to UNCLOS. The UNCLOS provisions invoked by Ireland had thus become part of Community law and so were subject to the Court's jurisdiction. No transfer of jurisdiction to UNCLOS had been effected by its conclusion (paras. 17–43 and 61).

(b) By relying on Community law before a non-Community tribunal, Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 292 of the EC Treaty and Article 193 of the Euratom Treaty. Ireland had claimed that the United Kingdom had violated Community law obligations. In any event, Ireland had invited the Arbitral Tribunal to interpret United Kingdom obligations under EC and Euratom law (paras. 44–52 and 61).

(4) The Court should declare that, by instituting proceedings without previously consulting the Commission, Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 10 of the EC Treaty and Article 192 of the Euratom Treaty. The duty of cooperation was particularly important in the area of external relations. Ireland was obliged to consult with the Commission to avoid the risk of infringing Community rules or obstructing Community policies (paras. 53–9 and 61).

Judgment of the Court of Justice

Held:—Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under Articles 10 and 292 of the EC Treaty and under Articles 192 and 193 of the Euratom Treaty.

(1) Ireland had failed to respect the exclusive jurisdiction vested in the Court by Article 292 of the EC Treaty to rule on any dispute concerning the interpretation and application of Community law. Articles 220 and 292 of the EC Treaty precluded Ireland from initiating proceedings before the Arbitral Tribunal with a view to resolving the MOX plant dispute.

(a) According to settled case law, the provisions of UNCLOS formed an integral part of the Community legal order. UNCLOS had been signed by the Community and subsequently approved by Decision 98/392 (paras. 80–2).

(b) Although a mixed agreement, concluded by the Community and all of its Member States on the basis of shared competence, UNCLOS had the same status in the Community legal order as a purely Community agreement. The UNCLOS provisions on the prevention of marine pollution relied on by Ireland, which covered a significant part...

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