Horizontal Direct Effect Of Directives Essay Outline

'directives can never have horizontal direct effect.' discuss the problems which are caused by this.

The rule of horizontal direct effect remains that directives do not have direct effect against private individuals.

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European law comes into effect in a number of ways and is usually classed as either primary legislation or secondary legislation. This is not in itself unusual as we in the UK have a similar classification of primary (Acts) and secondary (delegated) legislation. Primary sources in the EU are the Treaties and secondary legislation consists of either regulations, directives or decisions. We are concerned with directives and the way in which they give rights to individuals in some cases and not others.


The EU is about member states working together to achieve common goals. The EU goals were borne out of the aftermath of the Second World War and ambitions to secure long term peace, security and economic well being for Europe. Working together would later mean the free movement of goods and services and the creation of an enlarged 'common market' to bring about a more prosperous Europe. This would mean, among other things, the creation of similar rules and regulations setting common standards across Europe so that individual countries did not obtain an unfair advantage but traded subject to common standards to be found elsewhere in Europe. This was to be achieved by the harmonisation of laws within the member states.


Directives are the main way in which harmonisation is achieved. The EU creates directives setting out what is required in terms of the law to be introduced. Many see this harmonisation process as 'big brother' telling us what is best but it would be difficult to see how national parliaments could devise a legislative programme which reflected the interests of the EU as a whole.


The power to create directives is given under Article 249 of the Treaty of Rome. This is the same Article that enables the EU institutions to issue regulations. The difference with directives is that whilst they set out what is required they leave it to the member state to implement the directive by passing laws in the member state.


It should be appreciated that the directive is binding upon the member state to which it is addressed. The member state has no discretion as to the result to be achieved. This is, as we have seen, consideration of what is required to achieve the harmonisation laws and this objective would be defeated if it were open to individual member states to quibble over the principle and effect of the legislation required.


The EU does however recognise that there may be various reasons why the introduction of a new law or measure could cause operational or practical problems in a particular country and this may be do do with the size and population of the country or particular methods of working in an industry. There are sometimes significant costs involved and for these reasons the EU will stipulate a time scale within which the legislation is to be passed. The time limit will be set by the European Commission.

Vertical direct effect


In this event a directive is issued but not implemented by the state to whom it is addressed.


In the case of directives it is possible that a member state may fail to implement a directive thereby potentially depriving an individual of rights to which they would otherwise have been entitled. The claimant in such situations has to show that the state failed to do what it should have done and that it was intended to give individuals rights which are clearly set out and provided for.


Regulations have both vertical and horizontal direct effect but directives do not have horizontal direct effect. This distinction is far from satisfactory as many lay persons find it difficult to see why compensation may be payable in one case but not in another.


The point is well illustrated by the leading cases on the subject Marshall v Southampton and South West Hampshire Area Health authority (1986) and Duke v GEC Reliance Ltd (1988). The former case brought by Mrs Marshall concerned a claim for discrimination on the basis that she was required to retire earlier than her male fellow workers. Mrs Marshall succeeded in her claim to the European Court of Justice despite the fact that a directive had not been fully implemented in the UK. In this case the directive had vertical direct affect and a claim was allowed.


Mrs Marshall's claim succeeded because her employers were considered to be an 'arm of the state' and presumably because it was the state that failed to implement the directive and because it was accepted that rights were created it was only right that the same state, or a part of it, compensated the claimant. The directive was said to have vertical direct effect but it was the difference that allowed her claim to succeed whereas a claim against a private employer would not be allowed. Mrs Duke, on the contrary, was not able to rely on the Directive because her employer was not an arm of the state but a private company.


This seems harsh and difficult to comprehend to many. One saving grace is that the concept of the state or an 'arm of the state' is widely interpreted. In the case of Foster v British Gas plc (1990) the European Court of Justice indicated that it covered situations whereby a public service was provided and that special powers existed which went beyond those normally associated for business purposes. As a result British Gas (a nationalised industry at the time) was considered to be a part of the State and as such the claim succeeded.


The principle was followed in the subsequent case of Gibson v East Riding of Yorkshire Council (1999) where a part-time swimming instructor succeeded in her claim in respect of holiday entitlements despite the fact that the Working Time directive had not been implemented within the time scale allowed. Her employers were an 'emanation of the state.'


Horizontal direct effect


Directives that have not been implemented do not have horizontal effect and as a result individuals do not have rights against others who are not considered an 'emanation of the state.' In Duke v GEC Reliance Ltd (1988) this point was highlighted. Mrs Duke was unable to rely upon the same directive that Mrs Marshall had been able to and her claim was disallowed on the basis that her employer was not an 'arm of the state'. As a result she was deemed not to have acquired rights. The unfairness in allowing rights in some cases and not in others is obvious. Any distinction drawn must appear to those affected to be purely artificial.


The difference has now been mitigated to some extent by the case of Francovich v Italian Republic (1991). In this case the Italian Government failed to implement a directive which provided safeguards for employees whose employers became insolvent. The claimant, Mr Francovich, claimed against the state in respect of unpaid wages when his employer went into liquidation. He succeeded in his claim.


In allowing the claim the European Court of Justice set out three conditions which needed to be met before a claim could be allowed:


  • that the rights were clear and defined;

  • that the directive gave rights to individuals; and

  • there had to be a causal link between the breach of the state's obligations and the damage or harm suffered.


The problems caused by the distinction made between employers forming part of the state and those who did not has largely been overtaken by the European court's acceptance of the right of individuals to a claim for compensation irrespective of which sector their employer was in. Such cases as The Queen v HM Treasury, ex parte British Telecommunications plc (1996) and Brasserie du Pecheur SA v Federation of Republic of Germany and R v Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame Ltd (No 4) (1996) will have a considerable bearing in the future upon claims for compensation in circumstances where the state has failed in its obligations to implement EU law.



(Word Count 1331)

As always the essay lends itself to expansion and further research using the additional resources and links provided.


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With reference to the case law on direct effect, critically discuss the extent to which this concept (direct effect) is an effective means of protecting an individual’s European Union Law rights.

rodrigo | January 12, 2017

WritePass - Essay Writing - Dissertation Topics [TOC]


Direct effect seeks to ensure that the rights of individuals are being protected under EU Law[1]. This is not always achievable since EU Law is generally only directly effective against national authorities. As such, individuals cannot usually invoke EU Law against other individuals unless the EU Law provisions are horizontally directly effective. This suggests that the concept of direct effect is not that effective in protecting an individual’s European Union Law rights. In light of recent case law, the courts are  now using vertical direct effect as a way of invoking EU Law by demonstrating that the provisions give effect to general principles of EU law. This essay will critically discuss the extent to which individual rights are being protected by reviewing the case law in this area.

European Union Law

Parliamentary sovereignty renders Parliament the most supreme legal authority in the UK. The courts are unable to overrule any decisions made by Parliament and no Parliament is capable of passing laws that future Parliaments will be unable to change[2]. Since the UK’s entry into the European Union (EU) in 1972 and the implementation of the Human Rights Act 1998, the sovereignty of parliament has been significantly weakened. This is primarily due to the fact that EU Law has direct effect under the European Communities Act 1972. EU Law can be used to dis-apply acts of parliament and overturn previous decisions[3]. This protects individual rights by allowing them to use the direct effect principle to invoke EU Law. The principle of direct effect confers rights on individuals which all Member States must recognise and enforce and although the principle is not explicitly provided for under any of the Treaties of the EU, it has been recognised through various case law such as Van Gend en Loos v Netherlands Inland Revenue Administration[4]. Here, it was made clear that in the event of a confliction between EU Law and national legislation, EU Law will always prevail. This decision recognised for the first time that the supremacy of the EU would always be upheld through the principle of direct effect.

Direct Effect

The decision in Van Gend en Loos focused upon the rights of individuals against the state and not against other individuals. This issue was subsequently addressed in Defrenne v SABENA[5] when it was noted that there exists two different types of direct effect; vertical and horizontal. The distinction between the two would depend upon the person or entity the right was being enforced against. Vertical direct effect is concerned with the relationship between EU Law and national law, whilst horizontal direct effect is concerned with the relationship between individuals[6]. It was identified in the case that if a particular provision of EU Law is horizontally directly effective, then individuals will be able to rely upon that provision to enforce EU Law against another individual. Although this is necessary in ensuring that the rights of individuals are being protected by all, there are only limited EU Law provisions that are horizontally directly effective. The rights of individuals may still be violated by other individuals and companies. This shows that the principle of direct effect may not always be an effective means of protecting an individual’s EU Law rights. Consequently, the principle is only effective when it comes to EU regulations and is not that effective when trying to enforce directives. This is due to the fact that directives are not generally given horizontal direct effect.

The lack of directives that have horizontal direct effect was identified by AG Jacobs in Nicole Vaneetveld v Le Foyer SA[7]when he argued that there would exist greater legal certainty and a more coherent system “if the provisions of a Directive were held in appropriate circumstances to be directly enforceable against individuals”. Arguably, because directives do not always have horizontal direct effect, it cannot be said that the rights of individuals are being fully protected under EU law as violations can still occur. In Van Duyn v Home Office[8] the courts made it clear that vertical direct effect would apply to Directives if “individuals were prevented from taking it into consideration as an element of Community law”. In addition, it is declared under Article 249 EC (now Art 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) that Directives should be binding upon Member States, though the decision is left for the courts to decide based upon the particular facts and circumstances of the case. Individuals thus have the ability to invoke Directives before the courts, yet their rights cannot always be guaranteed. Furthermore, if the Directive is “sufficiently clear and precise, unconditional, leaving no room for discretion in implementation”[9] it is unlikely that the courts will be able to make a decision by weighing up the particular circumstances of the case. Only if a Directive is not sufficiently precise and deemed unworkable by the court, will national authorities be able to intervene.

Essentially, it is evident that direct effect will not always apply to directives and as asserted by Tovey; “some policy decisions needed to be developed and articulated for Directives to be accorded direct effect”[10]. In Marshall v Southampton and South-West Hampshire Area Health Authority (Teaching)[11]it was held that a Directive cannot be directly enforceable against individuals, however in Grad v Finanzamt Traunstein[12] it was signified that because Directives imposed obligations which were to achieve a desired result, they could be directly effective. Moreover, in Pubblico Ministero v Ratt[13] it was stated that Directives would not have direct effect if Member States had not implemented the Directive within the time allowed for its implementation. The conflicting case law decisions in this area are likely to cause confusion as to whether directives are capable of having direct effect, though it seems as though the decision will be made on a case by case basis. Whether this limits the protections under EU Law is likely as the provisions will not always be able to be invoked. Recent case law surrounding the direct effect of EU Law has prompted even more confusion. This is because, whilst the courts have made many attempts to reject extending horizontal direct effect to directives (Faccini Dori v Recreb Srl[14]), it is now questionable whether this is still the case since the decisions of Mangold v Helm[15] and Kücükdeveci v Swedex GmbH & Co KG[16].

Individuals EU Law Rights

In Mangold the court held that national courts were under a duty to adopt the provisions of a Directive and set aside conflicting national law even if the time limit for transposition had not yet expired. It seemed that a new principle was being established by the court as Directives were originally only capable of having direct effect after the transposition date. In Kücükdeveci it was held that although Directives did not have horizontal direct effect, they were not prepared to apply national legislation as this would infringe the individuals rights under EU Law. Instead, it was found that the principle of non-discrimination was a general principle of EU Law and that the national court was therefore under a duty to dis-apply national legislation that violated this principle. This case seemed to suggest that even when a directive is not horizontally directive effective, an individual can still invoke EU Law against another individual by applying the general principles of EU Law. The court in Re Honeywell[17] questioned whether the Mangold decision was ultra vires, yet because age discrimination fell within the competencies of EU Law, it was found that no new competencies had been created. Consequently, whilst it generally depends upon the nature of the case as to whether direct effect will be applicable, it is capable of being used as an effective means of protecting an individual’s rights whether this be via horizontal or vertical direct effect. The case law in this area suggests that if a Directive gives effect to general principles of EU law, national legislation which conflicts with the Directive must be dis-applied by national courts.


In light of recent case law decisions, the protection that is being afforded to individuals under EU Law is now more effective through the principle of direct effect than it ever was. Previously, if an EU Law provision did not have horizontal direct effect, individuals could not invoke EU Law against another individual such as their employer. This resulted in discriminatory treatment and prevented individuals from relying upon their rights under EU Law. Since Mangold and Kücükdeveci, individuals will be capable of invoking Directives that give effect to general principles of EU law against other individuals.



Text Books

Alina Kaczorowska, European Union Law (Routledge 2013).

John Fairhurst, Law of the European Union (Pearson Education, 2010).

Lorna Woods and Phillipa Watson, Textbook on EU Law, (12th Edn, Oxford University Press, 2014).

Nigel Foster, Foster on EU Law (OUP Oxford 2011) 219.

Online Journal Articles

Gwyn Tovey, ‘European Union Law’ (2011) EU Law and National Law, <http://www.topnotes.org/EU-3-1-Direct%20Effect-2010-2011.pdf> accessed 02 December 2014.

Parliament, ‘Parliamentary Sovereignty’ (UK Parliament) <http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/sovereignty/> accessed 01 December 2014

Case Law

Defrenne v SABENA Case 2/74 [1974] ECR 631

Grad v Finanzamt Traunstein Case 9/70, [1970] ECR 825

Faccini Dori v Recreb Srl Case 91/92 [1995] All ER (EC) 1

Kücükdeveci v Swedex GmbH & Co KG [2010] All ER (EC) 867)

Mangold v Helm [2006] All ER (EC) 383

Marshall v Southampton and South-West Hampshire Area Health Authority (Teaching) [1986] ECR 723

Nicole Vaneetveld v Le Foyer SA Case 316/93, [1994] ECR 1-793 290

Pubblico Ministero v Ratt Case 148/78, [1979] ECR 1629

Re Honeywell [2011] 1 CMLR 1067

Van Gend en Loos v Netherlands Inland Revenue Administration [1963] ECR 1


Tags: case law, direct effect, EU Law

Category: Essay & Dissertation Samples, Law


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