Case C‑310/10, Ministerul Justiţiei și Libertăţilor Cetăţenești

Court rejects invitation to extend its own jurisdiction

This reference for a preliminary ruling concerned the interpretation of Article 15 of Directive 2000/43, which implemented the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin.

The Romanian Curtea de Apel Bacău asked the Court of Justice whether, once Article 15 of Directive 2000/43 and Article 17 of Directive 2000/78 had been implemented in national law, these provisions must be interpreted as precluding the possibility for the Romanian Curtea Constituțională of finding that that provision of national law could not give rise to the right, for persons who had been discriminated against as regards pay on the basis of socio-professional category or place of work, to compensation in the form of salary rights provided for by law for another socio-professional category. 

On the assumption that that was the case, the questions seek to ascertain, second, whether a national court was then required to disregard such a provision of national law or the constitutional case-law in question without being obliged to await the amendment of that provision by legislative means or a new interpretation of the provision by the constitutional court which were appropriate for ensuring its compliance with European Union law.
However, the Romanian Government and Ireland questioned whether the questions referred were admissible, in particular on the ground that the situation at issue in the main proceedings did not fall within the scope of Directives 2000/43 and 2000/78 or, more generally, of European Union law.

The Court of Justice stressed that under Article 267 TFEU, the Court of Justice had jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings concerning the interpretation of the Treaties and of acts of the institutions of the European Union.

The Court reiterated that the procedure provided for in Article 267 TFEU was a means of cooperation between the Court of Justice and national courts.

It was therefore for the national courts alone which were seised of the case and were responsible for the judgment to be delivered to determine, in view of the special features of each case, both the need for a preliminary ruling in order to enable them to give their judgment and the relevance of the questions which they put to the Court.
The Court held that where questions submitted by national courts concerned the interpretation of a provision of European Union law, the Court was, in principle, obliged to give a ruling. (see, inter alia, Joined Cases C‑297/88 and C‑197/89 Dzodzi [1990]; Case C‑28/95 Leur‑Bloem [1997]; and Case C‑409/06 Winner Wetten [2010]. 

Nevertheless, the Court pointed out that it had also stated that, in exceptional circumstances, it could examine the conditions in which the case was referred to it by the national court, in order to confirm its own jurisdiction (see, inter alia, Case C‑13/05 Chacón Navas [2006]).  
The Court held that a reference by a national court could be rejected if, inter alia, it was obvious that European Union law cold not be applied, either directly or indirectly, to the circumstances of the case.  

Article 1 of Directive 2000/78 stated that the purpose of the directive was to lay down a general framework, as regards employment and occupation, for combating discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. The purpose of Directive 2000/43, as was apparent from Article 1 thereof, was to lay down a framework for combating discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin.

However, it was apparent from the order for reference that the discrimination at issue in the main proceedings was not based on any of the grounds thus listed in those directives, but operated instead on the basis of the socio-professional category, within the meaning of national legislation, to which the persons concerned belong, or their place of work.

The Court concluded that a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings fell outside the general frameworks established by Directives 2000/43 and 2000/78 respectively for combating certain forms of discrimination. The Court held that  the questions referred by the Curtea de Apel Bacău, the purpose of which was not to ascertain whether a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings fell within the scope of Article 15 of Directive 2000/43 or Article 17 of Directive 2000/78, but which were in fact based on the assumption that that was the case in order to seek an interpretation from the Court, even though those provisions of European Union law clearly could not be applied, either directly or indirectly, to the circumstances of the case, were inadmissible.

The Court held that the need to ensure uniform interpretation of the provisions of European Union law might  justify extending the Court’s jurisdiction in matters of interpretation to the content of such provisions, including in situations in which, because a rule of national law refered to such provisions, they were applicable indirectly to a given situation. The Court held, however, that such a consideration could not, without disregarding the divisions of powers between the European Union and its Member States, confer on that provision of European Union law primacy over higher‑ranking provisions of domestic law which would require that, in such a situation, the rule of national law or any interpretation of it must be disregarded.