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(1963) CMLR 105

Van Gend en Loos is often cited as the most important decision in the history of Community law, as it established the dual vigilance system that is now used to enforce the directives of the European Union within each member state.

VGL, a shipping company, imported ureaformaldehyde from Germany to Holland, and was charged a duty by the Dutch customs service. This clearly violated Article 12 (now Article 25 EC) provisions for the common market, so VGL went before the Tariefcommissie and asked for the duty to be reimbursed. The Dutch court claimed that it didn't have the authority to enforce a law that wasn't Dutch, and so it sent the case to the European Court of Justice as a preliminary reference under Article 177 (now Article 234 EC).

The ECJ decided that:

The objective of the EEC Treaty, which is to establish a Common Market, the functioning of which is of direct concern to interested parties in the Community, implies that this Treaty is more than an agreement which merely creates mutual obligations between the contracting states. This view is confirmed by the preamble to the Treaty which refers not only to governments but to peoples. ...

In addition the task assigned to the Court of Justice under Article 177, the object of which is to secure uniform interpretation of the Treaty by national courts and tribunals, confirms that the states have acknowledged that Community law has an authority which can be invoked by their nationals before those courts and tribunals.

The conclusion to be drawn from this is that 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.

"According to the spirit, the general scheme and the wording of the Treaty," the opinion continued, "Article 12 must be interpreted as producing direct effects and creating individual rights which national courts must protect."

Although the court's judgement was a landmark in the history of international law, creating a system that had never existed before, it failed to resolve the case at hand. Instead, the Court told VGL and the Dutch government to work out their problem in a Dutch court, where the case should have been decided in the first place.

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