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EU Law I: Costa ENEL case

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Costa v. ENEL (Case 6/64)

Facts Flaminio Costa had shares in the Italian energy company ENEL and therefore opposed its nationalisation. In order to protest he refused to pay his electricity bill. He argued that nationalisation infringes EC law as it distorts the market.

Decision The ECJ ruled in favour of the Italian government, as the Treaty only provides possibilities for the European Commission to act here. Mr. Costa, as an individual, could not go against the decision, because the Treaty provision had no direct effect. Nevertheless, the ECJ made it clear that Community law could not be challenged by any piece of national law.

Effect "It follows from all these observations that the law stemming from the treaty, an independent source of law, could not, because of its special and original nature, be overridden by domestic legal provisions, however framed, without being deprived of its character as community law and without the legal basis of the community itself being called into question." [1]

In short

What happened? It was at stake, what would happen if prior or later national law contradicted EC law.
What opinion had the ECJ? The ECJ argued that it would be necessary for the new-founded legal order of the EC to override national legislation if it aimed at creating a new legal order for the community.
Why is this case so important? The final jurisdiction of the ECJ ensured that the law of the EC enjoys PRIMACY over national law from this time on. (Principle of Supremacy, Art. 249 EC

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