Motor insurance cases in Ireland keep on giving the CJEU opportunity to refine and re-emphasise the lack of horizontal direct effect of Directives. This time it is C-122/17 Smith v Meade.
I apologise to the readers if this sounds gobbledygook: [EU law tutorial] in short: one of the issues of the penetration of EU law into national legal orders, is whether individuals can, against other individuals (hence ‘horizontal’ relations), call upon rights given to them by EU ‘secondary’ law (as opposed to primary law, which mainly consists of the Treaties), particularly in the case of Directives, which unlike Regulations require Member States’ implementing measures.
The CJEU’s long-standing case-law answers this question in the negative (Marshall): mostly because it argues that any other conclusion would cancel out the Treaty-sanctioned difference between Regulations and Directives. The Court does do it utmost to assist individuals seeking to rely on EU law against national law: Directives can be called upon against the Member State and ’emanations from the state’ and the latter notion is stretched as much as possible (that was also the issue in Farrell); national law needs to as much as possible be interpreted to reflect the intention of the EU Directive, even if this requires setting aside long-standing interpretation of national law (Marleasing) – but this does not extend to interpretation contra legem (ex multi: Dominguez); and if all else fails, the State owes its citisens compensation (Frankovich). [EU law tutorial ends].
In the case at hand, the CJEU recalls all of the above succinctly, and confirms the absence of an overall possibility of relying on a directive in the sphere of relationships between private persons. EU law does not oblige a national court (question to EU institutional law experts: may a Member State ‘gold plate’ and do so anyway, even if this route might be unavailable to individuals in other Member States) to set aside in a horizontal relationship, national provisions that are incompatible with the Directive, and the contractual provisions between private individuals as a result of that national law.
The Irish Court’s referral to Luxembourg may seem odd given the established principles. Yet the Court of Justice does stretch its own case-law on these issues, ever so slowly while sticking to the Marshall principle. As a result national courts feel encouraged to ask the Court just where the boundaries lie.
The answer of the Court in full:
EU law, in particular Article 288 TFEU, must be interpreted as meaning that a national court, hearing a dispute between private persons, which finds that it is unable to interpret the provisions of its national law that are contrary to a provision of a directive that satisfies all the conditions required for it to produce direct effect in a manner that is compatible with that provision, is not obliged, solely on the basis of EU law, to disapply those provisions of national law and a clause to be found, as a consequence of those provisions of national law, in an insurance contract.
In a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings, a party adversely affected by the incompatibility of national law with EU law or a person subrogated to the rights of that party could however rely on the case-law arising from the judgment of 19 November 1991, Francovich and Others (C‑6/90 and C‑9/90, EU:C:1991:428), in order to obtain from the Member State, if justified, compensation for any loss sustained.