The European Court of Justice is above national constitutions


With the accession of the Republic of Cyprus to the European Union (EU) in 2004, European law came into force in the free areas, while its application in the occupied part was suspended due to the illegal Turkish occupation.

A person ceased to be a citizen only of his/her country, municipality or community, since he/she is simultaneously a citizen of the European Union. It is therefore extremely important for citizens of the Union to be aware of the law that governs and affects their daily lives. However, it is not easy for citizens to understand the overall structure of the EU and its legal system. This is partly due to the texts of the Treaties themselves, which often have a complex structure and are not easy to understand. Also, many of the terms used by the writers of the Treaties to convey the meaning of new situations are unusual.

Among the fundamental values and value concepts prevailing in the EU are the fundamental individual rights of citizens of the Union.

In addition, there are numerous international agreements for the protection of human rights, among which the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) has a prominent place for Europe.

However, the protection of fundamental rights by the Community legal order was brought about through the established case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, which was relatively late in coming to prevail. This is because in the past the Court of Justice rejected pleas based on the infringement of fundamental rights on the grounds that it had no jurisdiction to deal with questions of national constitutional law. The Court of Justice has had to revise its case-law in this respect, in particular because of the principle of the primacy of Union law, which it itself introduced, since the application of this principle presupposes that Union law is capable of ensuring the protection of fundamental rights in the same way as national constitutions do.

The starting point for this jurisprudence was the Stauder judgment, in which a recipient of a war victim's allowance considered it an affront to his dignity and the principle of equality that he was obliged to declare his name in order to buy cheap "Christmas butter". Although the Court of Justice concluded that the declaration of the name was not required at this time, on the basis of the interpretation of the relevant provision of European Union law, and that it was therefore not necessary to examine the ground of infringement of fundamental rights, it nevertheless concluded that respect for fundamental rights is one of the general principles of EU law which the Court of Justice must uphold. The Court thus recognised for the first time the existence of an autonomous system of fundamental rights within the EU.

Although the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice has evolved over the years and on many issues has resulted in decisions that would allow Member States' courts to make use of European legislation (as required by European law), Cyprus has not yet made full use of abusive banking terms. With the immediate application of European legislation, many borrowers could have been vindicated ages ago.

Since the Government, Parliament and the Courts agree that no one is above the law and since European legislation trumps domestic legislation, what is preventing the administration of justice?

The above is, of course, linked to the implementation of judicial reform. The start date of the reform was in January 2023, but there appears to be a delay in implementation. The delay is indeed not the end of the world. However, the most conventional thing is to put this reform into practice so that any omissions and shortcomings can be improved and/or modified in such a way that the principles of the European Court of Justice are applied in a direct and effective manner.

The content of this article is valid as at the date of its first publication. It is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you seek professional advice on your specific matter before acting on any information provided. For further information or advice, please contact Savvas Savvides, Partner at savvas.savvides@kyprianou.com or tel +357 26930800.