The Directorate-General for European Policy at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy acts as co-ordinator on central issues relating to European legislation at federal and, in many cases, at Länder level as well. It is responsible for providing legal expertise in the field of EU law, the extra-judicial settlement of disputes with the European Commission (infringement proceedings) and issues that cut across multiple sectors, such as review of compliance with the principle of subsidiarity, and the fending off of penalty payments etc. In addition, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy represents Germany in all cases that are brought before the European courts in Luxembourg - Court of Justice of the European Union and the EFTA Court.

Legal expertise

In its capacity as the Federal Government's Centre of Excellence on European law, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provides around 100 expert opinions on questions relating to all areas of EU law covered by the various ministries every year.

These include:

  • institutional issues of EU law (e.g. legal status of EU institutions, such as agencies, the European Court of Auditors, the European Central Bank; relations with third countries)
  • substantive questions of EU law (especially fundamental freedoms, market organisation, corporate taxation, procurement law, tariffs, equity law, laws governing the crafts sector)
  • procedural issues (such as requirements for the adoption of legal acts in the Council and the European Parliament, delegated acts / comitology, representation in international organisations)
  • effects of EU law on German law (retroactive effect of preliminary rulings, primacy of EU law, state liability for breaches of EU law).

Infringement proceedings

The Federal Government's Centre of Excellence on European law is responsible for the central processing of all (non-procedural) infringement allegations that are raised against Germany (federal and Länder level) by the European Commission. The aim here is:

  • to defend legitimate German interests and assert reasoned German legal positions before the European Commission
  • to prevent cases without merit from being brought before the European Court (for instance by asserting legitimate EU interests before the federal ministries and the Länder).

The Centre of Excellence deals with around 90 infringement cases every year. The European Commission publishes press releases on the decisions, which are usually taken every month. In addition, it makes available a data base on the subject matter and current status of the individual proceedings. The annual report on monitoring the application of Union law published by the European Commission provides a good overview of the development in terms of numbers and of the major issues of the infringement proceedings.

Legal representation before the European courts

The Centre of Excellence on European law at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy represents Germany in all cases that are brought before the European courts in Luxembourg. This legal representation includes:

  • ongoing analysis of all upcoming cases or cases pending before the European courts - the European Court of Justice, the General Court, and the European Union Civil Service Tribunal - and the EFTA Court, as well as subsequent briefing of the ministries concerned, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat
  • provision of expert advice to the authorities concerned and co-ordination of the German position in the court proceedings
  • legal representation of the Federal Republic of Germany in written and oral proceedings
  • evaluation and documentation of the rulings.

Being in charge of legal representation is crucial for the Federal Government as it is the key means of actually influencing the decision-making process in the European courts. In this way, the legal views and interests of Germany can be effectively heard. Each year, the Federal Government provides expertise for around 500 sets of proceedings which are at various different stages. A total of around 1,500 new cases are passed on to European courts each year.

Most of this involvement is focussed upon

  • cases referred by the national courts for preliminary rulings, and
  • infringement proceedings, actions for annulment, and appeals.

The Federal Government is involved in all cases that fall under the jurisdiction of the European court as stipulated in the TFEU. These are:

  • the four fundamental freedoms (free movement of persons, goods, services and capital); European citizenship
  • the areas of competition policy (including state aid), taxation policy, employment and social policy, trade policy, domestic policy (particularly laws on immigration, visas, and asylum), corporate law, health sector, environmental policy, consumer protection, transport policy, structural policy, energy policy, telecommunications and media policy.