50 years since the Van Gend & Loos judgement

In 1963 the European Court of Justice delivered an historic judgement for European jurisprudence. The ruling established one of the fundamental legal principles of the European Union: the principle of direct effect.

The case related to a request for a preliminary ruling from a national Dutch court regarding litigation brought by the transport company Van Gend & Loos.

The action was brought in respect of an increase in customs tariffs which the company was obliged to pay on the import of goods from Germany to Holland.

The Dutch company, basing its action on Article 12 of the Treaty of Rome which prohibits any increase on customs duties, asked the Court if the rule could have direct effect in domestic law. The intention was for individual citizens of member states to be able to directly invoke such rights before a national court.

Going against the opinion of the Advocate General, the ECJ argued that “The Community constitutes a new legal order of international law”. The Sovereign Rights of the Member States had been limited and this could be relied upon by both member states and their nationals.

This established the principle of direct effect, which for the last 50 years has meant that EU law creates rights and obligations for all citizens of the member states, which they can rely on directly before a national court, without the need for the EU Law to be brought into domestic lawThe principle of direct effect is not the same as direct applicability, which relates to European Directives.

Direct effect comes about with the EU’s singular, independent legal system directly becoming part of each state’s domestic law, which it alters, affecting basic individual rights.

The ruling in Van Gend & Loos changed international law, with the recognition of a new legal order that is now a part of the law of the Member States and which is required to be recognised by their Courts.