Experiencing European Union Law with real-life cases

by Maria-Antonia Toggenburg

How did the European Court of Justice (ECJ) contribute to the evolution of European Union law, especially with regard to Internal Market law? What roles does the Commission undertake in the processes of negative and positive integration within the European Union? What is the procedural pathway through which cases are brought before the Court of Justice of the European Union? Who is eligible to access judicial protection in the EU legal system? Which national rules could constitute a deterrent for the free movement of goods within the EU? 

Those are only some of the questions raised in the course titled "European Union Law – The Court of Justice of the EU and the Internal Market," by Professor Dr. Bernhard Schima. The course, conducted at the Sommerhochschule of the University of Vienna in Strobl, afforded participants the opportunity to immerse themselves in various roles, including that of a judge at the European Court of Justice, a member of the legal team representing the Commission, a representative of a retail company seeking to import liquor from France to Germany, a manufacturer of trailers facing trade barriers in Italy, or a transport company impeded by a demonstration when attempting to engage in cross-border trade. Through the interactive and collective case study of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), particularly in the context of Internal Market law, students could in a very lively manner experience how the CJEU has contributed to the development of Union law. Moreover, the course provided a comprehensive introduction to the enforcement of Union law, considering both formal and material aspects of Union law.

Students of the course “European Union Law” during a group work discussion

In the first week, the initial focus of the course centred on explaining the fundamental structure and jurisdictional scope of the Court of Justice and the General Court, as delineated in Articles 19 TEU and 251 TFEU. The course emphasized the dual system of protection, whereby Union law enforcement is a collaborative effort between EU organs and Member State courts (and administrative authorities). This decentralized enforcement mechanism comprises two main categories: indirect actions, primarily the preliminary ruling procedure outlined in Article 267 TFEU, and direct actions, encompassing the infringement procedure detailed in Article 258 TFEU and the action for annulment as prescribed by Article 263 TFEU.

Significant emphasis was placed on an in-depth exploration of the infringement procedure and the preliminary ruling procedure, both of which play distinctive roles in ensuring the consistent application of Union law across the Member States. The infringement procedure serves as a mechanism to ascertain whether a Member State has violated EU law, typically encompassing scenarios involving the non-communication or improper transposition of Directive-related measures or non-compliance with judgments handed down by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), among other instances. In the execution of this procedure, the Commission, in its capacity as the guardian of the treaties, exercises discretion to initiate the preliminary administrative phase (prior to ECJ involvement). In the case of non-implementation of judgments, penalty payments and/or lump sums may follow according to Art. 260 TFEU.

Conversely, the preliminary ruling procedure can be construed as a dialogue between national courts within Member States and the ECJ. In this context, national courts seek clarification on the correct interpretation of specific EU law provisions when faced with uncertainties, with the ultimate interpretation being determinative of the case's outcome. It is noteworthy that the judgments rendered by the ECJ hold erga omnes significance, extending their applicability to all Member States. It is essential to underscore that the Court of Justice occupies a unique position that is often characterized as a "jurisdictional monopoly" as it is granted exclusive authority to scrutinize the interpretation, application, and validity of legal acts, in strict accordance with Article 267 TFEU. Consequently, the judgments handed down by the ECJ serve as catalysts for the development of EU law.

During the second week of the course, we aimed to combine our understanding of procedural aspects with the study of substantive law, to be precise Internal Market Law. This endeavour commenced with a brief historical overview, tracing the evolution of the Internal Market from its inception to its current state. We also explored possible public perceptions regarding the advantages and disadvantages of the Internal Market, as well as theories related to European integration. 

The pivotal segment of the second week of our course revolved around the introduction to the four fundamental freedoms within the European Union, with a particular emphasis placed on the free movement of goods and workers. Initially, we delved into the nuances of the free movement of goods, primarily governed by Article 34 TFEU addressing quantitative restrictions on imports and any measures having equal effect. Our exploration extended to the jurisprudential interpretations provided by the ECJ regarding the scope of “measures having an equivalent effect”, as evidenced in landmark cases such as Dassonville, Cassis de Dijon, and Keck.

Subsequently, our attention shifted to the free movement of persons, specifically of workers. Art.45 subp.1 states that “every citizen has the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States.” We asked ourselves: Can a job seeker be considered a worker? Is pocket money also considered remuneration? Can a person invoke the free movement of workers against private employers (Case C-281/98)? We examined the autonomous interpretation of the definition of a "worker" and the concept of "remuneration" to ascertain the scope of application of Article 45.  
A noteworthy aspect of this segment was the unique opportunity to delve into real-life cases presented by Professor Dr. Bernhardt Schima, who has extensive experience in this field. Dr. Schima's professional background, having served in the Legal Service of the European Commission currently working as a legal adviser in the Directorate-General of the Freedom, Security, and Justice Team, added a distinctive dimension to our learning experience. His wealth of expertise, coupled with an interactive and immersive teaching approach grounded in practical applications, truly transported the essence of Luxembourg to Strobl, offering an invaluable perspective into the development of the cases we explored.
I can only give a brief overview here of the learning experience we were privileged to have.

These two weeks have been truly remarkable. We formed a dynamic group of students from around the world who share a common interest in European Union Law. Furthermore, we have had the pleasure of learning from an exceptional expert in one of the most breathtaking locations I have ever had the opportunity to visit. Should you think about Strobl 2024: go for it!