|Costa v ENEL|
|Decided 15 July 1964|
|"Full case name||Flaminio Costa v E.N.E.L.|
|Case Type||Reference for a preliminary ruling|
|Nationality of parties||Italy|
|Procedural history||Giudice conciliatore di Milano, Sezione I, ordinanza del 16 January 1964 21 January 1964 (RG 1907/63)|
|As a subsequent unilateral measure cannot take precedence over community law, the questions put by the Giudice Conciliatore, Milan, are admissible in so far as they relate in this case to the interpretation of provisions of the EEC treaty|
Mr. Costa was an Italian citizen who had owned shares in an electricity company, Edisonvolta, and opposed the nationalisation of the "electricity sector in Italy. He asked to two lower courts in Milano (two different Giudice Conciliatore) to ascertain that the real creditor of his electricity bill (a relatively small amout of money, 1,925 "lire) was the nationalised company, Edisonvolta, and not the newly established state company, "Enel. He argued that the nationalisation of the electricity industry violated the "Treaty of Rome and the "Italian Constitution. The first Giudice Conciliatore of Milan referred the case to the "Italian Constitutional Court and the second Giudice Conciliatore referred it to the "European Court of Justice.
The Italian Constitution Court gave judgement in March 1964, ruling that while the Italian Constitution allowed for the limitation of sovereignty for international organisation like the European Economic Community, it did not upset that normal rule of "statutory interpretation that where two statutes conflict the subsequent one prevails ("lex posterior derogat legi anteriori/priori). As a result the Treaty of Rome which was incorporated into Italian law in 1958 could not prevail over the electricity nationalisation law which was enacted in 1962.
In light of the decision of the constitutional court, the Italian government submitted to the ECJ that the Italian court's request for a "preliminary ruling from the ECJ was inadmissible on the grounds that as the Italian court was not empowered to set aside the national law in question, a preliminary ruling would not serve any valid purpose.
The ECJ held the Treaty of Rome rule on an undistorted market was one on which the Commission alone could challenge the Italian government. As an individual, Costa had no standing to challenge the decision because that Treaty provision had no direct effect. However, Costa could raise a point of EC law against a national government in legal proceeding before the courts in that Member State: EC law would not be effective if Costa could not challenge national law on the basis of its alleged incompatibility with EC law.
|“||As opposed to other international treaties, the Treaty instituting the E.E.C. has created its own order which was integrated with the national order of the member-States the moment the Treaty came into force; as such, it is binding upon them. In fact, by creating a Community of unlimited duration, having its own institutions, its own personality and its own capacity in law, apart from having international standing and more particularly, real powers resulting from a limitation of competence or a transfer of powers from the States to the Community, the member-States, albeit within limited spheres, have restricted their sovereign rights and created a body of law applicable both to their nationals and to themselves. The reception, within the laws of each member-State, of provisions having a Community source, and more particularly of the terms and of the spirit of the Treaty, has as a corollary the impossibility, for the member-State, to give preference to a unilateral and subsequent measure against a legal order accepted by them on a basis of reciprocity.
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.
This case is additional confirmation that under Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) a court has an obligation to refer cases that have reached the highest point of appeal in their respective country if there is a question of the application of EU Law. Costa had reached its highest point of appeal.