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Application of EU Law in 2020: Protecting our agreed rules and shared values during a pandemic

The European Commission recently (23 July 2021) adopted the Annual Report on Monitoring the Application of EU Law, which sets out how the Commission monitored and enforced EU law in 2020, and how the Member States performed in various policy areas. The report takes into account the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and explains what action the Commission took to safeguard the rights, freedoms and livelihoods of people and businesses across the Union.

Overall, in 2020, the Commission opened 903 new infringement cases. This is a 13% increase compared to 2019, when the number of new cases stood at 797. Denmark, Finland, Ireland and the Netherlands had the fewest number of new cases opened for incorrect transposition or wrong application of EU law in 2020, whereas Bulgaria, Italy, Malta and Greece faced the highest number.

Enforcing EU law during a pandemic

The effective enforcement of EU law matters to Europeans as it helps to ensure that they can enjoy the rights and benefits that EU law brings them. This is all the more true during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a clear impact on the application of EU law. For instance, many Member States unilaterally introduced export restrictions on medicines, protective equipment and other COVID-19 relevant products. Where necessary, the Commission addressed these restrictions with urgent infringement procedures. The Commission also started infringement proceedings against 11 Member States for failing to protect the rights of consumers who bought package trips and who did not receive an appropriate compensation after their trips were cancelled due to COVID-19. 

While the Commission looked for ways to ease the burden on Member States in dealing with infringement procedures (for instance by applying longer deadlines for replies), the proper application of EU law is paramount, even in times of crisis.

Prioritising policy areas important for the everyday lives of Europeans

In 2020, the Commission continued enforcing EU rules across all policy fields while prioritising the areas that have the highest impact on the everyday lives of citizens and businesses, such as the environment, mobility and transport, and energy. Together, these represented half of all new cases. For example, the Commission took action against Member States for failing to comply with EU law when it comes to clean air and drinking water, rights of travellers to obtain reimbursement for cancelled trips, or transport safety.

The enforcement of EU law is based on cooperation. That is why the European Commission actively supports Member States in implementing EU law through guidance and dialogue. In 2020, the Commission issued a number of dedicated guidance documents across the various policy areas, including EU emergency assistance in cross-border healthcare cooperation, health and safety at work, passenger rights, air safety and on a coordinated economic response to the outbreak.

Reducing the late transposition of EU Directives

For citizens and businesses to reap all the benefits of EU law, it is crucial that Member States swiftly transpose European Directives into their national legal order within the agreed deadlines.

Over half of all infringement proceedings in 2020 were related to the late transposition of directives. The number went up significantly, from 406 cases in 2019 to 599 in 2020. In comparison, the highest number of new late transposition cases in the last five years was in 2016 (847 cases). To facilitate a timely and correct transposition, the Commission continued assisting Member States by preparing guidance documents, establishing dedicated websites and by exchanging best practices in expert group meetings or workshops.

Concerning late transposition cases, the United Kingdom*, Portugal, Belgium, and Cyprus had the highest number of new cases opened against them, whereas the fewest new cases were open against Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta and the Netherlands.

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