Preliminary ruling (European Union Law) (De.: Vorabentscheidungen, Ro.: hotarari preliminare, Fr.: décisions préjudicielles, Gr.: προδικαστική απόφαση) (See also: Preliminary reference, Court of Justice of the European Union, supremacy of EU law) = a decision on the application of European Union law made by the European Court of Justice, upon receiving a reference from a national court of a member state where a case relevant to EU law is pending. A reference can be submitted either regarding the interpretation of EU primary or secondary legislation or regarding the validity of secondary rules. It is also used for clarification on the compatibility between a national law or practice and European Union law.

Preliminary rulings are binding not only for the referring court but for all national courts (res judicata).

The reference for a ~ (De.: Ersuchen um ~, Ro.: procedura intrebarilor preliminare, Fr.: le renvoi préjudiciel, Gr.: προδικαστική παραπομπή) = a procedure before the European Court of Justice where national courts are enabled to question the Court on the interpretation or the validity of EU Law or the compatibility of national legislation with European Law.

According to the Court of Justice, all national courts must submit a reference for a preliminary ruling when they have doubts regarding the application of an EU act, but last instance courts have a duty to do so, according to article 267 (3) TFEU, unless a similar question has already been submitted or the interpretation of the act is obvious (CJEU: CILFIT).

Useful links

Legislation - Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, article 256, 267 [English] - Rules of Procedure of the Court of Justice, articles 40 to 48 [English] - Recommendations to national courts in relation to the initiation of preliminary ruling proceedings, OJ C 338 of 6.11.2012 [English]

Case Law - The European Court of Justice (European Union), Case C-77/83 Srl CILFIT and others and Lanificio di Gavardo SpA v Ministero della sanità, 1984 01257 [English] - The European Court of Justice (European Union), C-314/85 - Foto-Frost v Hauptzollamt Lübeck-Ost, 1987 04199 [English],T,F&num=C-132/93&td=ALL – The European Court of Justice (European Union), Volker Steen v Deutsche Bundespost, 1994 [English],T,F&num=C-143/94&td=ALL – The European Court of Justice (European Union), Furlanis Costruzioni Generali SpA v Azienda Nazionale Autonoma Strade (ANAS), 1995 [English],T,F&num=C-127/94&td=ALL –
The European Court of Justice (European Union), The Queen v Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, ex parte H. & R. Ecroyd Holdings Ltd and John Rupert Ecroyd., 1996 [English] - Request for a preliminary ruling from the Vrhovno sodišče Republike Slovenije (Slovenia) lodged on 14 September 2016: Case C-490/16 A.S. v Republic of Slovenia [English]

Online publications - Court of Justice of the European Union, Annual report 2011: Statistics concerning the Judicial Activity of the Court of Justice [English] – Cartabia, M., 2015, Europe as a Space of Constitutional Interdependence: New Questions about the Preliminary Ruling, Germany: German Law Journal Vol. 16 No. 6 [English] - Chalmers, D. & Chaves, M., 2011, The Reference Points of EU Judicial Politics, United Kingdom: LSE ‘Europe in Question’ Discussion Paper Series [English] - Vink, M., Claes, M. & Arnold, C., 2009, Explaining the Use of Preliminary References by Domestic Courts in EU Member States: A Mixed-Method Comparative Analysis, 11th Biennial Conference of the European Union Studies Association [English]


P. Craig; G. De Búrca, 2003, EU Law: Texts, Cases and Materials, Oxford: Oxford University Press [English]

L. Kramer, 2016, The Commission's omission to use article 267 TFEU as a tool to enforce EU environmental law, Journal for European Environmental & Planning Law, 13(3/4), 255-269 [English]

S. C. Matteucci, 2016, Breaking the isolation? Italian perspectives on the dialogue between the European Court of Justice and constitutional courts, European Public Law, 22(4), 689-715 [English]

Woods, L. & Watson, P., 2014, Steiner & Woods EU Law, United Kingdom, Oxford, Oxford Uniersity Press, p. 222-246 [English]

By Daniela Toma