Erasmus Honours Law College visit to the Court of Justice of the European Union (Part I)

In: Court of Justice of the European Union|Student blog

25 May 2015

The Court of Justice of the EU: reconsideration after visiting

On the 16th of October 2014, students of the Erasmus Honours Law College visited the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxemburg. The visit was organised by the Department of International and European Union law, in order to deepen our knowledge of the legal order of the European Union.

The day at the Court commenced with the opportunity to attend a preliminary ruling hearing of case C-547/13 Oliver Medical. Within the EU, the legal framework of the internal market provides for the free movement of goods. Thus, imported goods from outside the EU will have to meet certain EU requirements. Since the European Union is also a customs union, there are common customs tariffs for those imported goods. The main issue in this case was whether or not the ultrasonic and laser equipment of Oliver Medical could be classified as medical goods. If so, a common customs tariff more beneficial to Oliver Medical would be applicable. Therefore, the question of law was to determine what ranking criteria would cause the equipment to be distinguished as medical goods, or what would label them as purely esthetical goods. It was very interesting to observe that the European judicial process itself does not differ so much from domestic judicial processes, but that the appearance of the court, the courtroom, and the large amount of interpreters amounted to the impression that the case was of much greater importance than simply determining the right customs tariff.

What perhaps was even more interesting was the meeting with prof. mr. Marc van der Woude, Judge at the General Court. Not only did he give us an overview of issues that are commonly addressed at the General Court, he also let us in on his personal thoughts on the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union and in which direction the European Union is possibly heading. In a personal  opinion, he raised the question of which institution is actually drafting the policies in present day Europe. Is that the European Commission, as it should be according to article 17 of the Treaty on the European Union, or is the Court increasingly more stepping in as a policy maker? Judge Van der Woude appears to be of opinion that the Court of Justice is indeed stepping in by continuing to rule more often over decisions that are supposed to be taken by institutions such as the Commission and the European Parliament. Moreover, he does not necessarily seem to think that the Court should be fond of such a development, as this would mean that judges are increasingly taking on tasks of the legislator. Judge Van der Woude even questioned whether or not the European Union is becoming a modern Byzantium – has the Union started to lose control over its continued existence, now that the distribution of tasks has started to become blurred?

As European citizens, we do not have to fear that the opinions and thoughts of Judge Van der Woude will impact his rulings; he explicitly stated that he has no problem whatsoever with distinguishing his personal opinion from his professional one. However, if someone who is aware of the ins and outs of the European Union is questioning whether the EU can still control its own institutional direction and policy making, could this not be an eye opener for us? Should we not more critically assess the on-going developments of the European Union? Thus, the thoughtful comments of Judge Van der Woude gave us something to think about on the way home, and it certainly completed our visit in such a way that the students now have a much more nuanced vision of the European Court of Justice.

Eefke Janssen

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