European Law Monitor

Make your voice heard!

Does European Law Override National Law?

Yes it does.
Is this stated in the Lisbon Treaty? Yes
Is this anything new? No.

The principle of European law overriding national law has actually been around since 1963, when it was decided that European law could not be applied in different ways in the Member States, without fundamentally undermining any chance of acheiving the Treaty objectives.

Treaty objectives are agreed by the member governments when a new Treaty is being drafted. The EU can only propose new laws to fulfill the completion of those Treaty objectives, and should not come out with measures outside of that framework.

Basically, the governments agree a 10 year plan, which is then put into Treaty form. They then tell the Commission to implement these policies by coming out with legislative proposals to fulfill the agreed Treaty objectives. Once a law has been passed, the different countries agree to implement it, and allow it to override national law.

Does the UK accept this principle?

Yes, and it has done since 1972, when Parliament passed the European Communities Act. Since then, if there has been a conflict between national law and European law, the UK courts have to give priority to European law.

What happens if they don´t?

If you join the EU, then part of that package means you are fundamentally obliged to take all appropriate measures, whether general or particular, to ensure fulfillment of the obligations arising out of a Treaty.

Equally, member states are fundamentally obliged to implement any laws agreed in Brussels, which means that it is up to governments and businesses to get the best deal they can when new acts are proposed by the Commission.

Finally, any government must abstain from doing anything which could jeopardize the completion of the agreed Treaty objectives.

If a government does break this fundamental obligation, then they can be taken to court and fined (sometimes very heavily!)

To finish up, and just to show you that nothing actually changes in politics, here is a quote made by Lord Denning in 1979.

"If the time should come when Parliament deliberately passes an Act with the intention of repudiating the Treaty, or any provision in it, or intentionally of acting inconsistently with it and says so in express terms then I should have thought that it would be the duty of our courts to follow the statute of our Parliament.   I do not however envisage any such situation… Unless there is such an intentional and express repudiation of the Treaty, it is our duty to give priority to the Treaty."

The adoption by Parliament of a law repudiating a Treaty would, of course, put the UK in breach of its fundamental obligations under European law.