Today is the 50th anniversary of Van Gend en Loos v Nederlandse Administratie der Belastingen, one of the landmark cases of the European Court of Justice. It’s so famous that it has even got its own Wikipedia entry. In short, the Van Gend en Loos judgment established the principle of direct effect: Provisions of the European Economic Community Treaty, as it then was, are capable of creating rights for individuals, and these rights can be enforced by these individuals in the courts of member states.
In its judgment, the European Court of Justice stated:
“The Community constitutes a new legal order of international law for the benefit of which the states have limited their sovereign rights, albeit within limited fields and the subjects of which comprise not only member states but also their nationals. Independently of the legislation of member states, community law therefore not only imposes obligations on individuals but is also intended to confer upon them rights which become part of their legal heritage. These rights arise not only where they are expressly granted by the treaty, but also by reason of obligations which the treaty imposes in a clearly defined way upon individuals as well as upon the member states and upon the institutions of the community.”
Today, we just take this for granted, but in retrospect, it is hard to overestimate the importance of the case, and the dynamic it created.