Introduction to European Union law
Introduction to European Union law

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Introduction to European Union law

10.1 Issues on supremacy of EU law

Described image
Figure 12 Work in progress

The principle of supremacy of EU law has raised some interesting questions for national courts.

Factortame (No 2) demonstrates just how important the principle of supremacy of EU law is in practice, in that it resulted in the English courts providing a remedy that did not previously exist under English and Welsh law. Suspending an Act of Parliament by injunction had never been done before, not least because of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. The ECJ held that it was necessary to safeguard directly effective EU law and ensure that it was applied uniformly across the EU.

In preparation for academic discussion, the next activity looks at a seminal decision of the court, which set the benchmark for how national courts should approach the issue.

Activity 13 Supremacy and the national courts

Timing: You should allow yourself 15 minutes to do this activity.

Read Amministrazione della Finanze dello Stato v Simmenthal SpA (Case C-106/1977) [1978] ECR 629. [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

This was a reference from a case in which a lower court in Italy decided that a national law conflicted with EU law.

Read the facts (paragraph 2 to first issue) but not the Decision. Decide whether you think the statement that follows is true or false and make a note of the reasons for your conclusion.

  • The ECJ held that the lower court had to wait until the Italian Constitutional Court (the highest court in Italy) had declared the national law incompatible with EU law. The lower court could not refuse to apply the national law on its own.
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.





The correct answer is b.

Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


The ECJ held that it was not necessary for a lower court to await the setting aside of the contradictory law by legislative or other means, so the correct answer is false. To do otherwise would undermine the effectiveness of EU law.

Activity 14 The role of the court

Timing: You should allow yourself 30 minutes to do this activity.

Read ‘(H) Role of the court’ (Craig and de Búrca, 2015, pp. 62–6). As a focus to your reading, consider the following questions (there is no comment for this activity - the questions are intended as points to look for in this reading):

  • Does the court have regard to precedent from its previous cases, or does it see itself as a constitutional court reacting to changing conditions within the EU?
  • How far has the court chosen to clarify or obscure its approach to its own previous Decisions?
  • To what extent has the CJEU guaranteed a legal base to EU action?

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371