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Court Of Justice Of The European Free Trade Agreement - Description [2003] PICTRes 8 (31 October 2003)

Court Of Justice Of The European Free Trade Agreement

The European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) was established in 1960 to remove trade barriers between its member States; currently those members are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. In 1992, the European Communities, the EFTA, and their member States, entered into an agreement aimed at integrating the two economic areas into a so-called European Economic Area (EEA). The aim of the EEA is to guarantee the free movement of persons, goods, services, and capital; to provide equal conditions of competition; and to abolish discrimination on grounds of nationality in the area.

The EEA Agreement provides for the creation of three independent EFTA organs: the Standing Committee, the Surveillance Authority (ESA), and the Court of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA Court), which closely mirror the EC Council, the EC Commission, and the ECJ. The EFTA Court is entrusted with monitoring the obligations of those EFTA States which have ratified the EEA Agreement (Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, but not Switzerland) and the functioning of the ESA under EEA law. Conversely, the Court of Justice of the European Communities ensures the respect of EEA law by the communities' member States and organs. It is evident that for the EEA Agreement to work, coordination between the EFTA Court and the ECJ had to be guaranteed.

To this end, article 106 of the EEA Agreement establishes an exchange of information system between the two courts. Whenever the EEA Agreement and EC laws are identical, the former will be interpreted according to the jurisprudence of the ECJ/CFI prior to the signing of the EFTA Agreement, without prejudice to later jurisprudence. Under article 3.2 of the ESA/Court Agreement, the EFTA Court shall pay due account to the principles laid down by the relevant rulings by the [ECJ] given after the day of signature of the EEA Agreement and which concern the interpretation of that Agreement or of such rules of the [treaty] in so far they are identical .

Moreover, in order to achieve as uniform an interpretation of the EEA Agreement as possible, the agreement establishes additional procedures. According to article 105 of the EEA Agreement, the EFTA Joint Committee shall keep under constant review the development of the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Communities and the EFTA Court. If the EEA Joint Committee is not able to settle the divergence in jurisprudence between the two courts, the contracting parties may agree to request the ECJ to give ruling on the interpretation of the relevant rules. Protocol 48 to the EEA Agreement stipulates that decisions taken by the EEA Joint Committee under Articles 105 and 111 may not affect the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Communities. 

Finally, to foster homogeneity, all EEA contracting parties can be represented in cases before the EFTA Court, and the ECJ/CFI. According to the Statute of the EFTA Court, the Community and the European Commission are represented before the EFTA Court by an agent appointed for each case. They are entitled to submit statements or written observation to the Court. Similarly, according to the EC Statute, the EFTA States and the EFTA Surveillance Authority are represented before the ECJ, and when a national court in EC Member States requests a preliminary ruling from that court, the EFTA states shall be notified and allowed to submit statements of case or written observations to the Court. Furthermore, in light of the homogeneity between EEA law and EU law, and when the ECJ/CFI are addressing EU law of importance for the EEA Agreement, the EFTA Surveillance Authority submits written and/or oral observations.

PICT Data obtained from the Project on International Courts and Tribunals (PICT)

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