From the Velvet Glove to the Iron Fist: Criminal Sanctions for the Enforcement of Union Law

Michael Dougan

in Compliance and the Enforcement of EU Law

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199644735
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191740695 | DOI:

Series: Collected Courses of the Academy of European Law

From the Velvet Glove to the Iron Fist: Criminal Sanctions for the Enforcement of Union Law

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This chapter analyses the obligations concerning the enforcement of substantive Union policies by the member states within the national legal systems. The use of criminal penalties for the enforcement of substantive Union law arises in two main categories of situation. The first can usefully be termed the ‘velvet glove’: in the absence of Union legislation prescribing precise sanctions for its own enforcement, the member states are free to impose appropriate sanctions within their own legal systems — including penalties of a criminal nature — subject to various obligations imposed under Union law as interpreted by the Court in the famous Greek Maize ruling. In the second situation, the Union legislature positively requires the member states to criminalize certain infringements of Union law, and may even prescribe the detailed rules governing the imposition of liability and the type/level of sanction. That ‘iron fist’ can claim a constitutional provenance both more recent and more rumbustious than the Greek Maize jurisprudence: pre-Lisbon, bitter institutional disputes about whether criminal sanctions could or should be imposed under the First (or instead the Third) Pillar culminated in the Court's controversial rulings in the Environmental Crimes and Ship-Source Pollution cases; since 1 December 2009, the revised provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union have radically changed the relevant legal framework once again.

Keywords: EU law; law enforcement; criminal penalties; sanctions; member states; Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union; Greek Maize

Chapter.  31111 words. 

Subjects: EU Law

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