EN

EFTA Court: Questions and Answers

  • When was the EEA Agreement signed? When did it come into effect?

The EEA Agreement was signed on 2 May 1992 and it entered into force on 1 January 1994.

  • How many Contracting Parties are there to the EEA Agreement?

There are currently 32 Contracting Parties to the EEA Agreement; the 3 EFTA States Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, the European Union and its 28 Member States. 

  • Why was the EFTA Court established under the EEA Agreement?

The Court was established to ensure the judicial control of the EEA Agreement in the EEA/EFTA States, and its tasks are broadly divided into dispute resolution and interpretation of the EEA Agreement.

  • When was the Court established?

The Court came into operation following the entry into force of the EEA Agreement on 1 January 1994; the seat of the Court was initially in Geneva, and from September 1996 in Luxembourg. 

  • Why is Luxembourg the seat of the Court?

Luxembourg was chosen as the seat of the Court since this is also the seat of the EU Courts, ensuring judicial control of the 28 EEA/EU Member States.

  • Where are the Court’s premises?

The Court’s premises are in the Hemicycle Building, on Kirchberg. Luxembourg-City.

  • Which languages does the Court use?

The official language of the Court is English. In advisory opinion cases, the language of the referring court may be used by private parties, i.e. Icelandic, German and Norwegian. 

  • Is the Court part of EFTA?

The Court is an independent judicial body established under the so-called Surveillance and Court Agreement entered into by the 3 EEA/EFTA States. The Court’s staff is remunerated in accordance with the Coordinated Organizations’ common system of salaries.

  • What is the Court’s budget?

The budget of the Court for 2016 is EUR 4 838 500.

  • Who sets the budget and how are the contributions fixed?

The budget of the Court is adopted annually by the ESA/Court Committee, which consists of the representatives of the EFTA States who are among the Contracting Parties to the EEA Agreement, on the basis of a proposal submitted by the Court. The scale of contributions as established by the ESA/Court Committee is currently: Norway 89%, Iceland 9% and Liechtenstein 2%. 

JUDGES

  • How are the judges of the Court appointed and who appoints them?

Each EEA/EFTA State nominates one judge, and he/she is appointed by common accord of all the EEA/EFTA States. Unlike in the EU, there is no supranational panel scrutinising the nominees.

  • What are the prerequisites for becoming a judge?

Article 30 of the Surveillance and Court Agreement states that “the judges shall be chosen from persons who possess the qualifications required for appointment to the highest judicial offices in their respective countries or who are jurisconsults of recognized competence”.

  • How many judges are there?

There are 3 judges.

  • What is the judges’ term of office? 

The judges are appointed for a term of six years. They may be reappointed.

  • Are the judges permanently resident in Luxembourg?

The judges are required to reside in Luxembourg by the Court’s Statute.

  • How is the President chosen and for how long?

The judges by secret ballot elect the President from among themselves for a term of three years. The President may be re-elected.

Article 30 of the Surveillance and Court Agreement provides that “in case one of the Judges, in the opinion of the two other Judges, is disqualified from acting in a particular case, the two other Judges shall agree on a person to replace him chosen from a list established by common accord by the Governments of the EFTA States”. The ad-hoc judge participates in that case on an equal basis with the other judges. Each EEA/EFTA State has nominated two ad-hoc judges. They were appointed by common accord

REGISTRY

  • What is the function of the Registry?

The Registry is the administrative organ of the Court. Headed by the Registrar, it consists of a number of staff dealing with procedure, budget, human resources, logistics, etc.

  • What are the responsibilities of the Registrar?

The Registrar is responsible for all procedural and administrative work, for the assessment and collection of contributions, and for the administration of the accounts and finances of the Court. The Registrar is the regular channel of communications to and from the Court, and is responsible for keeping up to date the register of cases brought before the Court.

  • How many members of staff are there?

There are currently 16 members of staff, plus temporary staff and trainees.

  • Is there a geographical distribution of staff?

The majority of staff is from the 3 EEA/EFTA States, but there are currently nine nationalities represented at the Court. 

CASES

  • How many cases have been registered at the Court so far?

278 cases have been registered at the Court to date.

  • How are cases brought before the Court?

Proceedings before the Court are instituted by written application in direct action cases or by a request from a national court of an EEA/EFTA State in preliminary reference cases. The procedure to be followed for the instigation of proceedings before the Court is laid down in the Court’s Statute and Rules of Procedure. Further details can be found in the Court’s Notice for the guidance of counsel and Note for guidance on requests by national courts for advisory opinions.

  • What type of cases are submitted to the Court?

The two main types of cases before the Court are: direct actions and preliminary references (advisory opinions).
Direct Actions are initiated with an application lodged directly at the Court by an EFTA State, the EFTA Surveillance Authority or an individual or an economic operator. 
Preliminary References are submitted to the Court by national courts for the interpretation of EEA Law, and form part of their cases.

  • Are the hearings open to the public?

The hearings are public unless the Court, of its own motion or on application by the parties, decides otherwise for serious reasons. Anyone wishing to attend the hearings should register in advance to ensure entry.

  • Who bears the expenses of the Court for cases submitted to it?

Expenses of the Court are borne by the EEA/EFTA States through the budget of the Court. Proceedings before the Court are free of charge inasmuch as no charges or fees of any kind are, as a rule, payable to the Court.

  • What law is applied by the Court?

The Court applies EEA law. As the EEA Agreement extends the EU Single Market to the EEA/EFTA States, EEA law is in most circumstances identical in substance to EU law.

  • Can experts be appointed by the Court?

Yes. The Court may at any time entrust any individual, body, authority, committee or other organization with providing an expert opinion.

  • Can witnesses be heard by the Court during hearings?

Yes. The Court may, either of its own motion or on application by a party, order that certain facts be proved by witnesses.

  • Is the Court the only court which deals with the EEA Agreement?

No. The EU Courts (Court of Justice of the European Union and the General Court) deal with issues related to the EEA in the EU and the 28 EEA/EU States, while the EFTA Court deals with such issues in the 3 EEA/EFTA States.

  • Who can bring cases before to the Court?

In direct action cases, the Court is open to entities other than Contracting Parties to the EEA Agreement, if they have legal standing. In other words, individuals and businesses can bring cases before the Court if they fulfill the admissibility criteria. In preliminary reference cases, the case is a ‘dialogue’ with the national court: the national court refers questions concerning EEA law which are then subject to proceedings before the Court.

  • Are the Court's judgments binding and how can the Court enforce them?

The judgments in direct action cases of the Court are final and binding and the parties to the dispute are required to comply with them. However, the Court has no means of enforcing its decisions. In preliminary reference cases, the Court also hands down judgments. They are not formally binding on the referring national court. However, that court is bound by a duty of loyalty and has to live up to the legitimate reciprocity expectations of the EU. 

  • What are Expedited Procedure and Accelerated Procedure cases?

In direct action cases, on application by the applicant or the defendant, the President may exceptionally decide that a case is to be determined pursuant to an expedited procedure derogating from the Rules of Procedure where the particular urgency of the case requires the Court to give its ruling with the minimum of delay. This ensures that the case is prioritised so that the Court’s judgment can be given as soon as possible in the best interests of justice.
In preliminary reference cases, at the request of the national court, the President may exceptionally decide to apply an accelerated procedure derogating from the Rules of Procedure. Just like expedited direct action cases, the accelerated preliminary reference procedure ensures that the case is prioritised so that the Court’s judgment can be given to the referring national court as soon as possible in the best interests of justice.

  • Is there any recourse to appeal?

No. The decisions of the Court are final.

INFORMATION

  • Can I visit the Court?

Yes. The Court may hold presentations to individuals or groups, and individuals/groups are welcome to attend oral hearings.

The Court has the following publications: 
- Annual Reports
- Statute
- Rules of procedure
- Instructions to the Registrar
- Notes for the guidance of Counsel in written and oral proceedings before the EFTA Court
- Note for guidance on requests by national courts for advisory opinions
- Pending and decided cases
- Press releases

  • How can I get general information about the Court?

The website is the best place to start in order to obtain general information. In addition, a brochure on the Court may be obtained from the Registry.

  • How do I find out about jobs or traineeships at the Court?

All vacancies are posted on the Court’s website. Questions regarding vacancies posted there may be sent to the Registry. Information about the traineeship programme is also available on the Court’s website.