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EU Law I: Köbler case

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Köbler case (C-224/01)

Since 01 March 1986, Professor Köbler had worked at the University in Insbruck. On 28 February 1996 he requested an age addition. He argued that even though he had not worked the whole time at an Austrian university, he did so in states of the European Community. According to Art. 39 EC - the free movement of workers - that must be possible. The Austrian court, however, after asking for preliminary ruling had rejected the professor's claim as this was an exception Community issues. Köbler brought this issue before another court, which posed questions to the ECJ. Among them were the question if the state may be held liable if the highest national court infringes EC law.

"The principle that Member States are obliged to make good damage caused to individuals by infringements of Community law for which they are responsible is also applicable when the alleged infringement stems from a decision of a court adjudicating at last instance. That principle, inherent in the system of the Treaty, applies to any case in which a Member State breaches Community law, whichever is the authority of the Member State whose act or omission was responsible for the breach. It is for the legal system of each Member State to designate the court competent to adjudicate on disputes relating to such reparation. Subject to the reservation that it is for the Member States to ensure in each case that those rights are effectively protected, it is not for the Court to become involved in resolving questions of jurisdiction to which the classification of certain legal situations based on Community law may give rise in the national judicial system."[1]


The ECJ ruled that it does not matter who infringes EC law but that state liability is, however, limited.

"Member States are obliged to make good damage caused to individuals by infringements of Community law for which they are responsible where the rule of Community law infringed is intended to confer rights on individuals, the breach is sufficiently serious and there is a direct causal link between that breach and the loss or damage sustained by the injured parties. In order to determine whether the infringement is sufficiently serious when the infringement at issue stems from a decision of a court adjudicating at last instance, the competent national court must, taking into account the specific nature of the judicial function and the legitimate requirement of legal certainty, determine whether that infringement is manifest. In particular, the national court must take account of all the factors which characterise the situation put before it. Those factors include, in particular, the degree of clarity and precision of the rule infringed, whether the infringement was intentional, whether the error of law was excusable or inexcusable, the position taken, where applicable, by a Community institution and non-compliance by the court in question with its obligation to make a reference for a preliminary ruling under the third paragraph of Article 234 EC. In any event, an infringement of Community law will be sufficiently serious where the decision concerned was made in manifest breach of the case-law of the Court in the matter."[2]

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