Infringements of EU law
Member State breaches of their obligations under EU law include both actions and failures to act by the Member State. Member States have a general obligation to cooperate under Article 4 (3) TEU, which states:
‘Pursuant to the principle of sincere cooperation, the Union and the Member States shall, in full mutual respect, assist each other in carrying out tasks which flow from the Treaties.
The Member States shall take any appropriate measure, general or particular, to ensure fulfilment of the obligations arising out of the Treaties or resulting from the acts of the institutions of the Union.
The Member States shall facilitate the achievement of the Union's tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union's objectives.’
For example, the refusal or failure of a Member State to respond to a Commission request for information needed to develop policy in an area of employment or industrial relations could constitute an infringement of the Article 4 (3) TEU obligation. Similarly, the failure of a Member State to ensure that its national law penalises citizens breaking EU law in the same way as those who break similar national laws may constitute an infringement by the Member State of its Article 4(3) TEU obligation.
In the case of directives, a Member State’s failure to implement the directive by the date specified is a clear case of violation. Further, since Member States are given the ‘choice of form and methods’ of achieving the result required by a directive (Article 288 TFEU), the infringement may take the form of inadequate implementation of the directive.
Administrative enforcement against Member States violating EU law is through the mechanism of Article 258 TFEU. This grants the Commission the powers to investigate and bring before the European Court of Justice any EU Member State that it considers ‘has failed to fulfil an obligation under this Treaty’.
The introduction by the Treaty of Maastricht of an amendment to Article 228 EC (now Article 260 TFEU), providing for financial penalties to be imposed on Member States failing to comply with previous judgements of the Court condemning violations, is intended to reinforce the consequences of Member States violating their EU obligations. Member States failing to comply with EU law face a state liability, and a compensation can be claimed by individuals in a legal action before a national court.
Member States may define the procedures governing claims for violations of EU law, such as prescribing the time limits within which claims must be made. However, such rules must comply with EU principles of equivalence and effectiveness: the procedures must be equivalent to those available for similar claims for damages under national law, and the procedures must be effective to secure that EU law is respected.