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General principle:

No provision of national law, of any nature whatsoever, can override EU Law.


Internationale Handelsgesellschaft mbH v Einfuhr- und Vorratsstelle für Getreide und Futtermittel (1970) Case 11/70


A regulation required the introduction of export licences in respect of certain agricultural products falling under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Another requirement of this regulation involved the transfer of a deposit that would be forfeited if no exportations were realized during the period of the licence, and this is how the applicant suffered a loss. The applicant claimed that this EU regulation was incompatible with the German Constitution for having contravened with the right to run a business freely. The unconstitutionality was acknowledged but the German Court was uncertain about the consequences of such a decision.

Preliminary question before the Court:

The German Court used Article 177 to ask the ECJ whether or not national constitutional law prevails over EC law?

Preliminary Ruling:

The Court simply replies: “The validity of a Community measure or its effect within a member state cannot be affected by allegations that it runs counter to either fundamental rights, as formulated by the constitution of the state or the principles of a national constitutional structure”.


Internationale Handelsgesellschaft enlarges the scope of the supremacy principle: no provisions of national law, of any nature whatsoever, can override EU Law. In the event of any conflict or inconsistency between any provisions of national law, regardless its nature, and EU law, the domestic courts have an absolute requirement to give effect to EU Law.

Internationale Handelsgesellschaft


The ECHR and the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights have always been important influences on the Court of Justice’s understanding of fundamental rights of EU law. In the early 1970’s, the German government already invoked the major importance of the ECtHR in Internationale Handelsgesellschaft. In Nold v Commission. However, the Court of Justice avoided the main question by encompassing the Convention in the general term of “international treaties”. The Court of Justice, under a strong pressure from the Member States, finally tackled the issue of the relationship between EU Law and the ECtHR. Fundamental rights in EU Law are partly derived from the EConvHR. In Rutili v Minister for the Interior (Case 36/75) [1975] ECR 1219 the Court held that certain rights in the Convention are also specifically manifested in EU law itself. It applied for example the famous test for derogations to Human Rights contained in the EConvHR: the derogation has to be “necessary for the protection of interests in a democratic society”. This case stressed out the prime importance attached by the EU fundamental rights as derived in particular from the constitutions of the Member States and from the ECHR.

Internationale Handelsgesellschaft

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