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Order and Authority of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)

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  • 0:02 CJEU
  • 0:35 History
  • 1:18 Organization
  • 2:48 Scope
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the Court of Justice of the European Union, a court that has existed since Western Europe began international cooperation in the 1950s.

Court of Justice of the European Union

If you had brothers and sisters when you were growing up, you likely got in a few altercations with them, whether it was over toys, places in line, or just making silly faces. In many of those disputes, your parents likely adjudicated the matter - acting as judge and jury and hearing both sides before rendering a ruling. Like parents dealing with household problems, the Court of Justice of the European Union is in charge of dealing with issues that arise between EU member states and organizations in addition to safeguarding the rights of EU citizens against infringement.

History

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has existed since Western European states began integrating their economies and governments after World War II. The first of these organizations, the European Coal and Steel Community, was created in 1951, and the Court was established the following year. The Court originally had seven members - one for each of the six original member states and a seventh appointed in order to break ties.

As the EU has expanded and various partner organizations have been created, the CJEU has remained as the highest arbiter for interdepartmental and international disputes within the EU. As the EU itself has added new member states over the past half-century, new judges from each member state have been added to the Court.

Organization

As such, the current Court is made up of 28 judges - one from each current member state. Each judge is appointed to a six-year term and can serve multiple terms. In addition to the judges, there are nine advocates-general in the Court that are in charge with presenting the opinions of each case to the judges.

Since there are only nine, the advocates-general are appointed after negotiations between all EU member states. This highest of all EU courts deals only with the most important cases. All other minor cases, including those brought by individual citizens, are decided by the lower, General Court, which is also considered part of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

When cases are brought before the CJEU, they are first assigned to one judge and one advocate-general. The judge issues the case, then accepts written statements from all the aggrieved or offending parties in the case. After collection, the judge reviews each statement and prepares a summation for the rest of the court to read.

After this, the Court then decides how many judges should hear the oral arguments. Depending on the case's complexity and importance, a panel of three, five, 13, or the entire 28-judge Court listen to oral arguments from each party. The advocate-general responsible for the case then gives their opinion on the case if they believe the legal points in question could create new EU law or significantly change existing law. After a period of discussion between the EU judges themselves, the CJEU then makes a ruling, which has to be agreed to by a majority of the Court.

Scope

The CJEU is largely responsible for arbitrating disputes between EU member nations. However, there are also several types of cases regarding interpretations of EU law that can be brought before it or the lower General Court. For example, if a national court runs into a problem or vagary in EU legal language, that national court can ask for further interpretation and clarification.

These requests for clarification are sometimes forced upon the national court if the national court feels a certain EU law should be interpreted differently than it has been before or by other countries' national courts. This procedure is called a preliminary ruling, and if the national court is still unsatisfied with the EU's interpretation, they can challenge it further in the CJEU.

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