General Principles

AuthorDirectorate-General for Environment (European Commission)
PART I - General Principles
Rule of Law
The European Union is founded on the rule of law which is one of the values stated under Article 2
of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU). As described in 2019 Commission Communication on
strengthening the rule of law in the Union22 , under the rule of law, all public powers always act
within the constraints set out by law in accordance with the values of democracy and fundamental
rights, and under the life of every citizen.
Proper implementation of the EU law is essential to deliver the EU policy as defined in the Treaties
and secondary legislation. According to Article 4(3) TEU, Member States must implement the
Treaty obligations and those arising from secondary measures adopted at EU level. The role of the
Commission, as guardian of the treaties, is to ensure the correct application of those obligations
(Article 17(1) TEU).
The EU Directives lay down certain end results that must be achieved in every Member State, be it
technical or procedural. National authorities have to adapt their laws to meet these goals, but are
free to decide how to do so. Each directive specifies the date by which the national laws must be
adapted - giving national authorities the room for manoeuvre within the deadlines necessary to take
account of differing national situations. Directives are used to bring different national laws into line
with each other, and are particularly common in matters that affect the operation of the single
market (e.g. product safety standards) or the protection of the environment. Both the EIA and the
SEA Directive are founded on the fundamental treaties’ provision concerning environmental actions
to be taken by the European Union (Article 192(1) TFEU) in order to achieve the objectives of the
Union’s policy on the environment (Article 191 TFEU)23.
According to the case-law of the Court:
Transposition of a directive
The transposition of a directive into domestic law does not necessarily require the provisions of the
directive to be enacted in precisely the same words in a specific, express provision of national law
and a general legal context may be sufficient if it actually ensures the full application of the
directive in a sufficiently clear and precise manner.
The provisions of a directive must be implemented with unquestionable binding force and with the
specificity, precision and clarity required in order to satisfy the need for legal certainty, which
22 COM (2019) 343 17.7.2019.
requires that, in the case of a directive intended to confer rights on individuals, the persons
concerned must be enabled to ascertain the full extent of their rights.
(Commission v. Spain, C-332/04, ECLI:EU:C:2006:180, paragraph 38; Commission v Ireland, C-427/07,
EU:C:2009:457, paragraphs 54-55, Commission v. UK, C-530/11, EU:C:2014:67, paragraphs 33-34)
The judgment of the Supreme Court in O’Connell v Environmental Protection Agency gives,
admittedly, in the passage upon which Ireland relies, an interpretation of the provisions of domestic
law consistent with Directive 85/337. However, according to the Court’s settled case-law, such a
consistent interpretation of the provisions of domestic law cannot in itself achieve the clarity
and precision needed to meet the requirement of legal certainty (see, in particular, Case C-508/04
Commission v Austria [2007] ECR I-3787, paragraph 79 and the case-law cited). The passage in the
judgment of the same court in Martin v An Bord Pleanála, to which Ireland also refers, concerns the
question of whether all the factors referred to in Article 3 of Directive 85/337 are mentioned in the
consent procedures put in place by the Irish legislation. By contrast, it has no bearing on the
question, which is decisive for the purposes of determining the first complaint, of what the
examination of those factors by the competent national authorities should comprise.
(Commission v. Ireland, C-50/09, ECLI:EU:C:2011:109, paragraph 47)
In that situation, the national court is under an obligation to interpret national law, so far as
possible, in order to achieve the result sought by the untransposed provisions of a directive,
[as pointed out in paragraph 35 above]. The immediate applicability of a new rule stemming from
a directive to the future effects of existing situations, as from the expiry of the time limit for
transposing that directive, forms part of that result, unless the directive concerned has provided
Consequently, national courts are required to interpret national law, as soon as the time limit
for transposing an untransposed directive expires, so as to render the future effects of
situations which arose under the old rule immediately compatible with the provisions of that
(Klohn, C-167/17, ECLI:EU:C:2018:833, paragraphs 44-45)
[…] The provisions of a directive must be implemented with unquestionable binding force and with
the specificity, precision and clarity necessary to satisfy the requirement of legal certainty, and that
the Member States cannot rely on domestic circumstances or practical difficulties to justify non-
transposition of a directive within the period prescribed by the EU legislature. It is therefore
incumbent on each Member State to take into account the stage necessary for the adoption of the
required legislation that arise in its domestic legal system in order to ensure that transposition can
be achieved within the period prescribed.
(European Commission v Kingdom of Belgium, Case C-543/17, ECLI:EU:C:2019:573, paragraph 16)
Obligation to notify measures transposing a Directive Article 260(3) TFEU
[…] It must be recalled that the first subparagraph of Article 260(3) TFEU provides that, where the
Commission brings before the Court an action pursuant to Article 258 TFEU, on the grounds that a
Member State has failed to fulfil its obligation to notify the measures transposing a directive
adopted through a legislative procedure, the Commission may, when it deems appropriate, specify

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