Case-law concerning the European Union


The European Union is not currently a Party to the European Convention on Human Rights. Accordingly, its acts cannot as such be the subject of applications to the European Court of Human Rights.


Nevertheless, issues relating to Community law have been raised regularly with the Court and the former European Commission of Human Rights.



  • Inadmissibility of applications against the European Communities


The Commission held that applications against the European Communities were to be declared inadmissible as being directed against a “person” not a Party to the Convention.


ECHR (décision), 10.07.1978 : C.F.D.T. v. the European Communities, alternatively: their Member States a) jointly and b) severally (no. 8030/77),



  • Possibility of bringing a case against a State for national measures giving effect to Community law


A French politician complained about the Law on the election of French representatives to the European Parliament.


The Commission stressed that, in principle, the State’s responsibility could be engaged, as it could not be accepted that by means of transfers of competence the States Parties to the Convention could at the same time exclude matters normally covered by the Convention from the guarantees enshrined therein.


It nevertheless declared the application inadmissible as manifestly ill-founded.


ECHR (decision) 09.12.1987 : Etienne Tête v. France (no. 11123/84)



  • Possibility in principle of bringing a case against a State for national measures giving effect to Community law


The applicant company complained of the fact that Germany had enforced a fine imposed on it by the European Commission.


The Commission noted that Germany’s responsibility could in principle be engaged by virtue of the action it had taken to give effect to Community law


However, it declared the application inadmissible on the ground that the legal system of the European Communities guaranteed protection of fundamental rights at a level equivalent to that provided by the Convention.


ECHR (decision), 09.01.1990 : M & Co. v. Federal Republic of Germany (no. 13258/87)



  • Possibility of bringing a case against a State for national measures giving effect to Community law


A supermarket manager contended that his conviction for unlawfully selling pharmaceutical products had not been foreseeable because the definition of a “medicinal product” was too imprecise in the French legislation, which was based almost word for word on a Community directive.


In the Court’s view, the last-mentioned fact did not remove the impugned provision from the ambit of Article 7 of the Convention (no punishment without law), because the respondent State had a wide margin of appreciation in applying Community law.


On the merits, the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been no violation of Article 7.


ECHR, 15.11.1996, Cantoni v. France (application no. 17862/91)



  • Responsibility of a State for the consequences of a treaty which it had been involved in adopting


A United Kingdom national resident in Gibraltar alleged a breach of her right to free elections on account of the fact that the UK had not organised elections to the European Parliament in Gibraltar.


The European Court of Human Rights noted first that when it had been decided to elect representatives to the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage, it had been specified that the UK would apply the relevant provisions within the UK only (hence not in Gibraltar).


But with the extension of the powers of the European Parliament under the Maastricht Treaty, the UK should have amended its legislation, so the Court held that there had been a breach of the right to free elections.


ECHR, 18.02.1999 : Matthews v. the United Kingdom (no. 24833/94)



  • The protection of fundamental rights provided by Community law held to be equivalent to that provided by the Convention system

The European Court of Human Rights stated that where a State transferred sovereign powers to an international organisation, “absolving Contracting States completely from their Convention responsibility in the areas covered by such a transfer would be incompatible with the purpose and object of the Convention; the guarantees of the Convention could be limited or excluded at will.


It also held that it was not necessary to examine whether the measure had been proportionate to the aims pursued, given that “the protection of fundamental rights by Community law [is] … “equivalent” … to that of the Convention system.”


Accordingly, “the presumption [arose] that Ireland did not depart from the requirements of the Convention when it implemented legal obligations flowing from its membership of the European Community”.


ECHR, 30.06.2005, “Bosphorus Airways” v. Ireland (no. 45036/98)