Direct effect is a principle of The European Union is unique among international organizations in having a complex and highly developed system of internal law which has direct effect within the legal systems of its member states. In contrast to nations such as the United States, European nations subscribe to the principle that international law adopted...
European Union Law stating that European regulations have a direct effect on EU citizens and on the laws of the member states.
The concept was defined by the The ECJ should not be mistaken for the European Court of Human Rights, a Council of Europe institution. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is the Court of Justice of the European Communities, i.e. the court of the European Union (EU). It is based in Luxembourg, unlike most of...
European Court of Justice in its ruling in Case 26/62 Van Gend en Loos v. Nederlanse Administratie der Belastingen ( ECR 1), which stated that European Community regulations could (and should) be tried before national courts, since the regulations have a direct effect on individuals' rights and responsibilities similar to that of national laws.
Direct effect on substantive law
By the concept of direct effect, EU member states are bound to comply with Community law in their own internal laws. In Case 128/78 Commission v. UK ( ECR 419), the Court of Justice ruled that EU regulations are binding "in their entirety," and that a member state cannot choose to implement them piecemeal. The ECJ can order a member state to change its laws if a severe noncompliance is found (see Case C-246/89R Commission v. UK,  ECR 3125).
Although EU member states and their citizens can be sued in state courts for violating EU regulations, the The European Commission (formally the Commission of the European Communities) is the executive of the European Union. Its primary roles are to propose and enact legislation, and to act as guardian of the treaties which provide the legal basis for the EU. The role of the European Commission has some...
European Commission cannot be sued for failure to enforce a directive (see Case 247/87 Star Fruit Co. v. Commission,  ECR 291).
Direct effect on procedural law
In Case 45/76 Comet v. Produktschap ( ECR 2043), the Court of Justice established that the procedural rules of each member state generally apply to cases of EU law. However, two basic principles must be adhered to: equivalence (the procedure for EU cases must be equivalent to the procedure for domestic cases) and effectiveness (the procedure cannot render the law functionally ineffective).
Since then, the ECJ has ruled that national courts have general authority to interpret their own procedural laws, since they tend to be more familiar with local procedure than the European court. However, member state courts have to follow the basic principles of equivalence and effectiveness when interpreting the validity of their procedural law.
Direct Effect & Directives
Directives can be subject to direct effect, but there are certain limitations imposed on the extent of the doctrine. A key requirement is that the directive is capable of being relied upon by a claimant - the text of the directive must not be vague nor be ambiguous. While directives are by their very nature often seen as 'vague', being as they are merely a guide towards implementation, in reality they are usually as detailed as regulations. However, unlike regulations they are subject to an implementation period. Until this implementation period expires, they cannot be directly effective. The reasoning behind this is simple - directives are not intended to take legal effect until they are implemented. If however, a member state fails to implement the directive, then the 'equity argument' states that they cannot rely on their failure to revent a directive taking effect. Therefore, a directive, if it meets the conditions, can be directly effective.
However, in practice, direct effect in relation to directives is less important than the related concept of Indirect effect is a principle of European Union Law stating that EU directives can override the laws of member states under certain circumstances. In the EU, a directive is a legislative order that requires implementation in every member state by the domestic government. While the member state has the freedom...