Action brought by Ireland under UN Convention on the Law of the Sea against UK over Sellafield nuclear recycling activity was unlawful because Convention falls within EU jurisdiction to the exclusion

May 31, 2006

Luxembourg, 30 May 2006

C-459/03, Commission of the European Communities v. Ireland

Judgment of the Court of Justice (Grand Chamber) on 30 May 2006 (link to English version when available).
Full text of this Judgment

Failure of a Member State to fulfil obligations - United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea - Part XII - Protection and preservation of the marine environment - Dispute-settlement system provided for under that convention - Arbitration proceedings initiated on the basis of that system by Ireland against the United Kingdom - Dispute relating to the MOX plant at Sellafield (United Kingdom) - Irish Sea - Articles 292 EC and 193 EA - Undertaking not to submit a dispute relating to the interpretation or application of the Treaty to a method of settlement other than those provided for by the Treaty - Mixed agreement - Community competence - Articles 10 EC and 192 EA - Duty of cooperation

The Court ruled:

1. Declares that, by instituting dispute-settlement proceedings against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea concerning the MOX plant located at Sellafield (United Kingdom), Ireland has failed to fulfil its obligations under Articles 10 EC and 292 EC and under Articles 192 EA and 193 EA;

2. Orders Ireland to pay the costs;

3. Orders the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Kingdom of Sweden to bear their own respective costs.

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Press release:

By bringing proceedings against the United Kingdom within the framework of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, Ireland has breached Community law

The Court of Justice of the European Communities has exclusive jurisdiction to rule on disputes concerning the interpretation and application of the provisions of the Convention which form part of the Community legal order

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was approved on behalf of the European Community by Council decision of 1998 (1). According to the declaration of Community competence made at the time of the formal confirmation of that convention, the Community enjoys exclusive competence with regard to the Convention provisions on the prevention of marine pollution only to the extent to which those provisions affect existing Community rules. The Convention also provides for a dispute-settlement procedure.

Furthermore, under the EC Treaty Member States undertake not to submit a dispute concerning the interpretation or application of Community law to any court or tribunal other than the Court of Justice of the European Communities.

The MOX plant is situated at Sellafield (United Kingdom) on the coast of the Irish Sea. It recycles material from nuclear reactors and converts it into a new fuel known as MOX (mixed oxide fuel) intended for use as an energy source in nuclear power stations. Ireland raised the issue of the MOX plant with the United Kingdom authorities, questioning in particular the soundness of the reports and decisions which formed the basis for justification of the plant's construction.

Ireland instituted proceedings against the United Kingdom before the arbitral tribunal provided for under the Convention with a view to resolving the dispute concerning the MOX plant, the international transfer of radioactive substances and the protection of the marine environment of the Irish Sea. The applicant criticised the United Kingdom for failure to comply with the Convention by not taking the appropriate measures to protect the marine environment with regard to the operation of the MOX plant. (2)

The Commission was informed of the proceedings brought by Ireland and requested that they be suspended on the ground that the dispute in question came within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court. Ireland did not accede to that request and the Commission accordingly brought the present action. The Commission claims that Ireland has failed to respect the Court's exclusive jurisdiction to rule on any dispute concerning the interpretation and application of Community law.

The Court first of all finds that the provisions of the Convention which the United Kingdom is accused of having breached relate to the 'protection and preservation of the marine environment', an area in which the Community's external competence is not exclusive but is, in principle, shared between it and the Member States. Moreover, the declaration of Community competence, so far as concerns, in particular, the provisions of the Convention relating to the prevention of marine pollution, makes the transfer to the Community of areas of shared competence subject to the existence of Community rules, even though it is not necessary that those rules should be affected.

It appears that the matters covered by the Convention provisions which Ireland invoked before the arbitral tribunal are to a very large extent regulated by Community measures. There are, for instance, directives relating to the obligation to carry out a proper assessment of the environmental impact of plant-related activities on the marine environment, to international transfers of radioactive substances connected to the activity of the MOX plant, and to the freedom of access to information on the environment. Finally, the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, which Ireland invoked before the arbitral tribunal, was concluded by the Community.

As the provisions of the Convention relied on by Ireland in the context of the dispute form part of the Community legal order, the Court accordingly has jurisdiction to deal with disputes relating to their interpretation or application and to determine whether a Member State has complied with them.

The Court goes on to find that Ireland submitted instruments of Community law governed by the EC and EA Treaties to the arbitral tribunal for purposes of their interpretation and application within the framework of proceedings seeking a declaration that the United Kingdom had breached the provisions of those instruments. That is at variance with the obligation imposed on Member States (3) to respect the exclusive nature of the Court's jurisdiction to resolve disputes concerning the interpretation and application of provisions of Community law. A breach of this nature involves a manifest risk that the jurisdictional order laid down in the Treaties and, consequently, the autonomy of the Community legal system may be adversely affected.

The Court holds in conclusion that, by bringing proceedings under the dispute-settlement procedure laid down in the Convention on the Law of the Sea, without having first informed and consulted the competent Community institutions, Ireland has failed to comply with its duty of cooperation under the EC and EA Treaties. (4)

The Court accordingly finds that Ireland is in breach of Community law.

(1) Decision 98/392/EC (OJ 1998 L 179, p. 1).

(2) In particular, failure to comply with Articles 123, 192, 193, 194, 206, 207, 211 and 213 of the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

(3) Under Articles 292 EC and 193 EA.

(4) Articles 10 EC and 192 EA.

Unofficial document for media use, not binding on the Court of Justice. Languages available: FR, DE, EN, PL, SL. For further information, please contact Christopher Fretwell. Tel: (00352) 4303 3355 Fax: (00352) 4303 31

European Court of Justice
Press and Information Press Release No 45/06
Judgment 30 May 2006
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