Today, the European Commission adopted its Annual Report on Monitoring the Application of EU Law. The report outlines the enforcement actions that the Commission took in 2021 to guarantee the protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens and businesses across the EU. Today, the Commission also published its regular package of decisions on infringements.
The infringement decisions should be seen in the broader context of the Commission’s work to uphold rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law both within the Union. Earlier this week, the Commission presented the third annual Rule of Law Report, looking into the main trends and developments across the EU. As a preventive mechanism, the report brings attention to rule of law challenges, and for the first time this year, also gives specific recommendations to Member States. For those rule of law issues, which eventually deepen and constitute a breach of EU law, the Commission can resort to infringement procedures. While different in nature, both the Rule of Law Report and the infringements are important elements of the EU’s rule of law toolbox.
Today’s package has a particular focus on upholding the EU’s fundamental rights, values and the rule of law in the EU. The Commission is taking the next step in the infringement procedure against Poland on the primacy of the EU law undermined by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal. The Commission is also referring Hungary to the Court for (i) discrimination of LGBTIQ people and (ii) for restricting media freedom and the rights of Klubrádió to use radio spectrum. At the same time, the Commission is pursuing its legal action against 15 Member States to protect ‘whistleblowers’, people who report breaches of EU law. To ensure that EU citizens’ personal data are protected to the highest standards across the Union, the Commission is sending a reasoned opinion to Slovenia for failing to fulfil its obligations under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Finally, to protect the fundamental principles of free movement, which are the cornerstone of the EU’s single market, the Commission is launching an infringement procedure against Hungary for having introduced discriminatory fuel prices for vehicles with a foreign number plate. The full infringement cycle package is available online.
Application of EU law in 2021
Overall, in 2021, the Commission opened 847 new infringement cases, compared to an average of 809 over the five preceding years. Two-thirds (571) of the new cases were launched for late transposition of EU directives, while one third (276) were launched because of wrongful application of EU law or non-conformity of national rules with EU law, including the Treaties. The enforcement action by the Commission has helped bring back Member States into compliance: 704 infringement cases were closed over the year.
In 31 cases, the Commission decided to refer a Member State to the Court of Justice of the European Union. One third of these cases concerned the quality of air or drinking water, or the treatment of wastewater.
Upholding rights, values and the rule of law
The Commission continued to enforce EU rules across all policy fields, while prioritising the areas with the highest impact on the everyday lives of people and businesses. Almost half of the procedures launched by the Commission for wrongful application of EU law or non-conformity of national rules with EU law concerned the environment, employment, transport and mobility, or the single market.
For citizens and businesses to benefit fully from the advantages of the single market, a correct application of its rules is key. The Commission opened or pursued 13 cases against Member States to protect European businesses, particularly SMEs, against late payment in commercial transactions or to ensure the correct implementation of EU rules on public procurement and concession contracts. The Commission also took steps in 22 cases to enforce EU rules on the recognition of professional qualifications or to ensure that any new national requirements for regulated professions are necessary and balanced, and launched 24 cases to reinforce the practical application of the rules on posting workers.
The Commission acted decisively to protect its common values and the rule of law. For example, it opened cases against 11 Member States for failing to comply with EU rules to fight racism and xenophobia, and launched cases against Hungary and Poland to protect the right to non-discrimination of LGTBIQ people. The Commission pursued cases against Poland to protect judicial independence. Overall, the number of new cases on justice, fundamental rights and consumers was at a record high compared to previous years.
As a matter of priority, the Commission acted to protect consumers and guarantee freedom of movement, put to the test by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the Commission took further steps in infringement proceedings against Member States for failing to comply with EU law when it came to the rights of travellers to obtain reimbursement for cancelled trips and monitored Member States’ implementation of the EU Digital COVID Certificate.
Efforts to prevent violations from happening in the first place
For citizens and businesses to reap all the benefits of EU law, it is crucial that Member States swiftly transpose EU law into their legal order. The Commission increased its efforts to prevent infringements from occurring in the first place, providing early support to Member States to ensure a correct application of EU law, including the timely transposition of directives.
In 2021, the Commission provided guidelines on the interpretation and implementation of EU law in all main policy fields. In addition, over 40 committees or expert groups met to promote the good implementation of EU law.
The number of new infringement proceedings required related to the late transposition of directives decreased, from 599 in 2020 to 571 in 2021, despite the fact that the number of directives with a transposition deadline in 2021 was higher than in 2020.
The correct application and enforcement of EU law remains a shared responsibility of Member States and EU institutions. To achieve swift compliance, or to collect information to perform its assessment, the Commission continued to make use of the EU Pilot process, an informal dialogue with Member States. The Commission opened 246 new EU Pilot files in 2021, an increase compared to 2020 (212). 81% of EU Pilot cases handled last year led to a solution with the Member States concerned, avoiding the need to resort to an infringement procedure.
Since 1984, following a request made by the European Parliament, the Commission presents an annual report on monitoring the application of EU law during the preceding year. The European Parliament then adopts a resolution on the Commission’s report.
In the division of responsibilities between the European institutions, the Commission has the general responsibility of initiating the legislative process.
The Council and the European Parliament decide on the Commission’s proposals. Member States are responsible for timely and correct application, implementation and enforcement of EU law in the national legal order.
The Commission closes this circle: once proposals are adopted and become EU law, it monitors whether the Member States are applying this law correctly and may take legal action otherwise.