Members' Research Service By / February 7, 2023

60 years of Van Gend & Loos: Direct effect of EU law and a ‘new legal order’

The 5 February 1963 judgment of the Court of Justice in Case 26/62 N.V. Algemente Transport- en Expeditie Onderneming van Gend & Loos v Nederlandse administratie der belastingen (in short ‘Van Gend & Loos’) is one of the milestones of the Court’s jurisprudence and a fundamental building block of EU constitutional law, ‘universally celebrated as perhaps the most important case of the Court’, alongside the Costa v ENEL ruling of 15 July1964.

© Communautés européennes, 1958; Court of Justice of the European Union.

Written by Rafał Mańko.

Sixty years ago, on 5 February 1963, the European Court of Justice handed down the first in a series of landmark judgments that laid the constitutional foundations of the EU legal order. The seminal case of Van Gend & Loos offered the Court an opportunity to proclaim the doctrine of the direct effect of EU law within the legal orders of the Member States. In practice, this means that individuals may claim rights directly under EU law and enforce those rights before national courts.

The Van Gend & Loos case was triggered by a company that claimed that Dutch customs duties on a product imported from West Germany were in violation of the standstill clause contained in Article 12 of the Treaty of Rome. The clause prohibited Member States from introducing new customs duties on products originating from other Member States, or from raising existing customs duties. In Van Gend & Loos, the product in question was subject to a duty of 3 % at the time of the entry into force of the Treaty of Rome, but this was later raised to 8 %.

At that time, the constitutional laws of the Member States were not consistent as regards the effects of the EU Treaties before national courts. The Dutch court asked the European Court of Justice whether the standstill clause had direct effect before national courts and, if so, whether changing the customs classification of the product in question, with the effect of making the customs duties higher, was in breach of the clause. The European Court, rejecting the opinion of the Advocate General and that of three of the six Member States, said yes to the first question, thereby inaugurating the doctrine of direct effect in EU law and empowering individuals to enforce rights derived from EU law before national courts.

Marking the 60th anniversary of Van Gend & Loos, this briefing takes a closer look at the landmark decision, outlines the legal background to the dispute, examines the Court’s findings, analyses its reasoning and concludes with an analysis of the broader implications of the decision for EU law.

Read the complete briefing on ‘60 years of Van Gend & Loos: Direct effect of EU law and a ‘new legal order’‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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