Simmenthal SpA v Italian Minister of Finance [1978]

European Law

Simmenthal SpA v Italian Minister of Finance [1978]
‘White Cow’ by Nic Dartnell

This brief yet pivotal case turned upon the unfair application of import fees regardless of existing Community law enabling the free movement of goods between Member States, when under guidance of art.32 of the Italian consolidated health laws, a Monza-based meat supplier was subjected to inspection fees for a beef consignment purchased in France despite operating within the framework of Community law. 

Having waited almost three years, the supplier sought action against the Italian government on grounds that it had acted beyond the limits of its Member State obligations, and so in the first instance the local court (Pretura di Susa) sought a preliminary ruling in the European Court of Justice under art.177 EC, whereupon it was held by the Court that importation charges levied against its citizens amounted to little more than quantitive restrictions within the scope of art.30 EC and were therefore illegal and repayable with interest.

In response the Amministrazione Delle Finanze Dello Stato (Finance Administration) appealed the judgment while citing incompatibility with Italian national law (no.1239/70), a challenge that resulted in the issue of ‘direct effect’ and the reluctance of Member States or their Constitutional courts to enforce Community laws when national laws obstructed the blanket protections afforded individual citizens. 

At the time of discussion the only options available to the judiciary were the immediate repeal of the relevant legislation or declaration of incompatibility by the Constitutional Court, and while the latter approach doubtless favoured the Italian government, it was later held by the European Court of Justice that the ‘principle of the precedence of Community law’ must be held in the highest regard, therefore in order for that doctrine to continue it was paramount that the lower courts were to be given powers to enforce Community law regardless of any jurisdictional contradictions presented, while further reminding the parties that:

“[D]irectly applicable Community provisions must, notwithstanding any internal rule or practice whatsoever of the Member States, have full, complete and uniform effect in their legal systems in order to protect subjective legal rights created in favour of individuals…”