European Union Exec Flexes Legal Muscle

     BONN, Germany (CN) – The European Union’s executive body filed 500 notices against member states for failing to comply with EU law. This routine administrative chore may also reflect an uptick in states’ desire for autonomy.
     The European Commission’s actions spanned every sector of governance and applied to all 27 member states. In addition to the 500 decisions regarding noncompliance, the commission also filed five complaints with the EU’s judicial instrument, the Court of Justice.
     “The fact they took so many actions can be significant,” said Jan Komárek, a lecturer at European Institute of the London School of Economics.
     Yet Komárek also pointed out that the European Commission regularly files large quantities of decisions all at once. He described the actions as, on some level, the meta-body merely carrying out routine administrative duties.
     One year ago today, the commission filed 416 decisions on breaches of EU law against member states, while a year earlier, that number was 450.
     Implementation of EU law can be difficult for member states since “governments are like living entities,” Komárek told Courthouse News Service.
     There is an ongoing gap between law and practice for reasons such as that governing coalitions change during the time between passage of an EU law and the deadline for implementation.
     Whether a member state implements an EU directive also relates to other factors, such as efficiency of government infrastructure, levels of corruption and the general attitude of a government, which varies from country to country.
     EU President Manuel Barroso today told the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung that he thinks EU institutions should be made stronger in order to effectively stabilize the euro zone.
     Komárek agrees that making meta-level institutions stronger would benefit the EU as a whole, although he thinks political realities are likely to prevent this from happening.
     A common perception is that countries will want to act in their own interests, which often don’t include giving up national sovereignty to the EU, Komárek said, although he also noted that Barroso had not connected the issue of strengthening institutions to member states’ legal compliance.
     Komárek thinks the growth of the union – which since 2004 has nearly doubled in size, adding 12 member states – has also made it more difficult to reach consensus on policies.
     But “the US is also quite diverse and survives,” Komárek noted. One possible alternative political constellation would be for countries to “create a number of European unions, not just one.” The current framework allows this, he pointed out, although it has yet to be put into practice.
     Among the decisions filed yesterday, the commission asked eight member states to comply with a directive on the return or removal of illegal immigrants.
     Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands still have not notified the commission of national implementation measures for a 2008 directive on standards and procedures for returning third-country nationals who stay illegally in an EU state.
     Among the five court referrals, the commission wants Spain to submit final management plans for river basins that fall within a single Spanish territory.
     This requirement stems from a 2000 directive intended to ensure water quality by regulating extraction from aquifers and monitoring chemical levels in bodies of water.

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