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Community Law, International Law and the Italian Constitution

  • Antonio La Pergola (a1) and Patrick del Duca (a2)


For more than 20 years the Italian Constitutional Court and the Court of Justice of the European Communities have disputed the proper relation between Community and national law. In S.p.A. Granital v. Amministrazione finanziaria, the Constitutional Court recently adopted a position consistent with the Community Court’s view of the supremacy of Community law. Italian constitutional law doctrines on international law profoundly affected this development and may in turn be altered as the implications of the Constitutional Court’s view of Community law are worked out.



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1 S.p.A. Granital v. Amministrazione finanziaria, Judgment No. 170 of June 8, 1984, 1984 Giurisprudenza costituzionale [Giur. cost.] 1098. For an English translation with a Note by Giorgio Gaja, see 21 Common Mkt. L.R. 756 (1984). For Italian commentary, see Berri, Composizione del contrasto tra Corte costituzionale e Corte di giustizia delle Comunità europee, 136 Giurisprudenza italiana I, pt. 1 at 1521 (1984); Sotgiu, , L’Applicabilità ‘diretta’ del diritto comunitario, 34 Giustizia civile I, at 2359 (1984); Sperduti, , Una Sentenza innovativa delta Corte costituzionale sul diritto comunitario, 20 Rivista di Diritto Internazionale Privato e Processuale 263 (1984); Tizzano, , La Corte costituzionale e il diritto comunitario: Vent’anni dopo . . . , 107 Foro italiano I, at 2063 (1984).

A word is in order about citation of decisions of the Corte costituzionale. Italian practice is to refer to decisions by number. Party names are used in this article for convenience in referring to the principal cases. Dates of decisions are the dates they were deposited with the clerk of the Court (cancelleria). The Raccolta ufficiale delta Corte costituzionale [Rac. uff.] reproduces the full text of decisions. Giurisprudenza costituzionale is a legal journal that publishes the decisions of the Court with commentary. It generally reproduces the full text. Since 1976 it has been published in two parts. Part I contains texts of decisions and comments. Part II publishes questions referred to the Constitutional Court by other courts. All references in this article are to part I. Other Italian legal journals publish decisions of the Court accompanied by comments on an occasional basis.

Article 13 of Law No. 839, Dec. 14, 1984, Gazzetta ufficiale della Repubblica italiana [Gaz. uff.] No. 345, Dec. 17, 1984, initiated the publication of the full text of Constitutional Court decisions in the Gazzetta ufficiale. Previously, the Gazzetta ufficiale gave notice of Constitutional Court decisions but did not provide the full text.

2 Law No. 1203, Oct. 14, 1957, supp. ord. Gaz. uff. No. 317, Dec. 23, 1957. For the Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community, Jan. 1, 1958, see 298 UNTS 11.

3 The case law of the Constitutional Court on international law is limited. With respect to customary international law, it has never had occasion to invalidate a statute as violating the incorporation of customary international law under Article 10 of the Constitution. Customary international law was involved in the following cases: Judgment No. 32 of May 18, 1960, 9 Rac. uff. 309, 324 (1960), 1960 Giur. cost. 537, 555-56 (Article 10 of the Constitution does not refer to individual commitments of states, specifically Italy’s commitment to protect its German-speaking linguistic minority, but only to customary international law); Judgment No. 67 of Dec. 22, 1961, 12 Rac. uff. 283, 286-88 (1961), 1961 Giur. cost. 1251, 1256-58 (obligation of Italian small boats transporting tobacco outside territorial limits to carry cargo manifests not a violation of customary international law); Judgment No. 135 of July 13, 1963, 18 Rac. uff. 187, 195-96 (1963), 1963 Giur. cost. 1494, 1507-08 (power of Foreign Minister to authorize execution on goods belonging to foreign states that are not related to the exercise of sovereign functions not a violation of customary international law); Judgment No. 48 of Apr. 18, 1967, 25 Rac. uff. 343, 346-49 (1967), 1967 Giur. cost. 299, 306-09 (customary international law does not require the consideration of foreign criminal judgments for double jeopardy purposes); Judgment No. 169 of July 8, 1971, 34 Rac. uff. 471, 478 (1971), 1971 Giur. cost. 1784, 1790 (Article 7 of the Constitution, not Article 10, governs relations between church and state); Judgment No. 96 of June 27, 1973, 38 Rac. uff. 251, 255 (1973), 1973 Giur. cost. 975, 992-93 (customary international law includes principle that state of origin retains jurisdiction over crimes of military personnel committed in allied countries during peacetime); Judgment No. 48 of June 18, 1979, 52 Rac. uff. 275 (1979), 1979 Giur. cost. 373 (diplomatic immunity is a principle of customary international law).

The Constitutional Court’s principal cases on the constitutional significance of treaty law are the ones on Community law discussed in this article. One noteworthy case not otherwise mentioned is Georges, Judgment No. 54 of June 21, 1979, 52 Rac. uff. 333 (1979), 1979 Giur. cost. 413, in which the Court declared the 1870 text ratifying an extradition treaty with France unconstitutional insofar as it permitted extradition for crimes subject to the death penalty, a penalty that Article 27 of the Italian Constitution bans except under military law. See also Ugo v. Turkish Airlines, Judgment No. 132 of May 6, 1985, Gaz. uff. No. 113 bis, May 15, 1985 (Warsaw Convention limitation on liability unconstitutional).

4 See text at notes 17-20 infra

5 See text at notes 7-14 infra.

6 Costa v. ENEL, Case 6/64, 1964 ECR 585 (supremacy of Community law); Amministrazione delle Finanze dello Stato v. Simmenthal S.p.A., Case 106/77, 1978 ECR 629 (requirement of application by ordinary courts). See Stein, Lawyers, Judges, and the Making of a Transnational Constitution, 75 AJIL 1, 10-16 (1981

7 Article 10, first clause, provides: “L’ordinamento giuridico italiano si conforma alle norme del diritto internazionale generalmente riconosciute.” (Italy’s legal system conforms with the generally recognized principles of international law.) The translations of constitutional provisions into English in this article are taken from the loose-leaf service, Constitutions of the Countries of the World (A. Blaustein & G. Flanz eds.). See id., Italy (G. Flanz & C Figliolaeds. 1973).

8 The reference to ordinary Italian courts is to all Italian courts other than the Constitutional Court. The reference to ordinary or “nonconstitutional” courts includes the civil and the administrative courts.

9 Condorelli, II Riconoscimento generate delle consuetudini internazionali nella costituzione italiana, 62 Rivista di Diritto Internazionale 5, 8-9 (1979); A. La Pergola, Costituzione e Adattamento Dell’ordinamento Interno al Diritto Internazionale 236 n.6 (1961) (rev. Span. ed. forthcoming in Mexico).

10 It provides: “The general rules of public international law shall be an integral part of federal law. They shall take precedence over the laws and shall directly create rights and duties for the inhabitants of the federal territory.” See Federal Republic of Germany (G. Flanz ed. 1974), in Constitutions, supra note 7.

11 For the United Kingdom, see 1 Oppenheim, L., International Law 39-40 (Lauterpacht, H. 8th ed. 1955). For the United States, see The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 700 (1900) (implying that customary international law applies only in the absence of statute or treaty); The Nereide, 13 U.S. (9 Cranch) 388, 423 (1815) (observing that the Court is bound by the law of nations until Congress passes a contrary act).

12 Article 11 provides:

L’Italia ripudia la guerra come strumento di offesa alia libertà degli altri popoli e come mezzo di risoluzione delle controversie internazionali; consente in condizioni di parka con gli altri Stati, alle limitazioni di sovranità necessarie ad un ordinamento che assicuri la pace e la giustizia tra le Nazioni; promuove a favorisce le organizzazioni internazionali rivolte a tale scopo.

[Italy condemns war as an instrument of aggression against the liberties of other peoples and as a means for settling international controversies; it agrees, on conditions of equality with other states, to such limitation of sovereignty as may be necessary for a system calculated to ensure peace and justice between Nations; it promotes and encourages international organizations having such ends in view.]

13 Art. 1, Constitutional Law No. 1, Feb. 9, 1948, Gaz. uff. No. 43, Feb. 20, 1948; Art. 23, Law No. 87, Mar. 11, 1953, Gaz. uff. No. 62, Mar. 14, 1953.

14 Pascolo v. Commissione straordinaria, Judgment No. 3 of Jan. 26, 1957, 2 Rac. uff. 21 (1957), 1957 Giur. cost. 11. This principle was established at the time of the Court’s first major ruling on Community law, but in that ruling the Court declined to consider laws that contradicted the EEC treaties as contrary to constitutional law. It distinguished indirect review of the delegation and indirect review of treaty law by asserting that respect for the Constitution’s rules on the legislative process was mandatory, whereas adherence to an international organization under Article 11 was voluntary. Costa v. ENEL, Judgment No. 14 of Mar. 9, 1964, 19 Rac. uff. 131, 159-61 (1964), 1964 Giur. cost. 129, 160. As explained below, the Court has now adopted a different view.

15 Denis, Judgment No. 48 of June 18, 1979, 52 Rac. uff. 275 (1979), 1979 Giur. cost. 373.

16 52 Rac. uff. at 283, 1979 Giur. cost, at 381-82.

17 A. La Pergola, supra note 9, at 296-320.

18 Whitney v. Robertson, 124 U.S. 190 (1888).

19 See Cassese, Lo Slato e la comunità internazionale, in 1 Commentario Alla Costituzione 461, 491-96 (Giuseppe Branca ed. 1975).

20 Seduta pomeridiana di 24 marzo 1947, 1 Camera dei Deputati, Segretario Generale, La Costituzione della Repubblica nei lavori preparatori della assemblea costituente 605-07 (1970).

21 Ratified by Law No. 810, May 27, 1929, Gaz. uff. No. 130, June 5, 1929.

22 Article 7 provides: “Lo Stato e la Chiesa sono, ciascuno nel proprio ordine, indipendenti e sovrani. I loro rapporti sono regolati dai Patti Lateranensi. Le modincazioni dei patti accettate dalle due parti non richiedono procedimento di revisione costituzionale.” (The State and the Catholic Church are, each within its own ambit, independent and sovereign. Their relations are regulated by the Lateran Pacts. Such amendments to these Pacts as are accepted by both parties do not require any procedure of Constitutional revision.) See Italy, supra note 7.

23 Judgment No. 18 of Feb. 2, 1982, 59 Rac. uff. 162 (1982), 1982 Giur. cost. 138.

24 59 Rac. uff. at 209-10, 1982 Giur. cost, at 179-80.

25 For the text, see Law No. 121, Mar. 25, 1985, supp. ord. Gaz. uff. No. 85, Apr. 10, 1985.

26 Art. 8(2)(b), Concordat of Feb. 18, 1984, id.

27 Article 177 provides:

The Court of Justice shall have jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings concerning:

(a) the interpretation of this Treaty;

(b) the validity and interpretation of acts of the institutions of the Community;

(c) the interpretation of the statutes of bodies established by an act of the Council, where those statutes so provide.

Where such a question is raised before any court or tribunal of a Member State, that court or tribunal may, if it considers that a decision on the question is necessary to enable it to give judgment, request the Court of Justice to give a ruling thereon.

Where any such question is raised in a case pending before a court or tribunal of a Member State, against whose decisions there is no judicial remedy under national law, that court or tribunal shall bring the matter before the Court of Justice.

Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community, supra note 2, 298 UNTS at 76-77.

28 Judgment No. 14 of Mar. 9, 1964, 19 Rac. uff. 131 (1964), 1964 Giur. cost. 129.

29 Costa v. ENEL, Case 6/64, 1964 ECR 585.

30 Judgment No. 183 of Dec. 27, 1973, 39 Rac. uff. 503 (1973), 1973 Giur. cost. 2401.

31 39 Rac. uff. at 518-19, 1973 Giur. cost, at 2420.

32 Società industrie chimiche Italia Centrale (ICIC) v. Ministero commercio con l’estero, Judgment No. 232 of Oct. 30, 1975, 45 Rac. uff. 395, 404-05 (1975), 1975 Giur. cost. 2211, 2218. Implicit in the Court’s reasoning is recognition that ordinary courts may apply Community regulations without recourse to the constitutional review procedure if there is no conflict with subsequent national law.

33 45 Rac. uff. at 405-06, 1975 Giur. cost, at 2219-20.

34 Cf. the finding in the Court’s 1975 decision that the delay and consequent uncertainty in the law were not determinative. 45 Rac. uff. at 407-08, 1975 Giur. cost, at 2221.

35 Case 106/77, 1978 ECR 629.

36 The Court of Justice said:

A national court which is called upon, within the limits of its jurisdiction, to apply provisions of Community law is under a duty to give full effect to those provisions, if necessary refusing of its own motion to apply any conflicting provision of national legislation, even if adopted subsequently, and it is not necessary for the court to request or await the prior setting aside of such provisions by legislative or other constitutional means.

Id. at 645-46.

37 La Giustizia costituzionale nel 1983: Conferenza stampa del presidente Leopoldo Elia, 1984 Giur. cost. 338, 340.

38 Law No. 42, Feb. 8, 1982, Gaz. uff. No. 55, Feb. 25, 1982.

39 Judgment No. 170 of June 8, 1984, 1984 Giur. cost. 1098. In Judgment No. 176 of Oct. 26, 1981, S.p.A. Comavicola v. Amministrazione delle Finanze dello Stato, 58 Rac. uff. 501 (1981), 1981 Giur. cost. 1543, the Constitutional Court avoided addressing the Community Court’s position in Simmenthal. It was asked to accept that Court’s Simmenthal position or to declare the law ratifying the EEC Treaty unconstitutional insofar as it authorized the supremacy of Community law as proclaimed by Simmenthal. The Constitutional Court found the question to be moot because the substantive legal provisions in the underlying litigation had been modified. For a partial translation of the opinion with a Note by Giorgio Gaja, see 19 Common Mkt. L.R. 443 (1982).

40 1984 Giur. cost, at 1113-17.

41 Judgment No. 183, 39 Rac. uff. at 515, 1973 Giur. cost, at 2415.

42 1984 Giur. cost, at 1114-15.

43 1984 Giur. cost, at 1116. But see Gaja, supra note 1, at 771. He argues that ordinary courts should take it upon themselves to ignore applicable Italian constitutional law when applying EEC regulations. He asserts that the Constitutional Court’s dualistic reasoning implies that no place is left for the Italian Constitution to exert any control over the application of Community law.

44 See Cappelletti, , The “Mighty Problem” of Judicial Review and the Contribution of Comparative Analysis, 53 S. Cal. L. Rev. 409, 432-36 (1980).

45 1984 Giur. cost, at 1116.

46 See Greifeld, , Requirements of the German Constitution for the Installation of Supranational Authority, 20 Common Mkt. L.R. 87 (1983).

47 For a review of member states’ positions on the supremacy of Community law, see Hartley, T. C., The Foundations of European Community Law 224-46 (1981).

48 The development of the European Communities is related to the traditional theories of federalism and associations between states by Forsyth, M., Unions of States: The Theory and Practice of Confederation (1981).

49 U.S. Const, art. I. §8, cl. 9; art. III, §1.

50 Art. 2, App. E, Law No. 2248, Mar. 20, 1865, Gaz. uff., Apr. 27, 1865.

51 Cost. art. 135 (Italy).

52 Id., art. 106.

53 Id., art. 105.

54 The United Nations, the most universal of international organizations, has not developed into a lawmaking institution with anything approaching the effectiveness of the European Communities. On the difficulties of the United Nations system as a source of law, see Castles, , Legal Status of UN. Resolutions, 3 Adelaide L. Rev. 68 (1967); Schwebel, , The Effect of Resolutions of the U.N. General Assembly on Customary International Law, 73 ASIL Proc. 301 (1979).

55 Sperduti, , Una Modifica elementare ed essenziale della Costituzione, 107 Foro italiano V, at 201 (1984), suggests modifying Article 10, first clause, to say “L’ordinamento giuridico italiano si conforma alle norme del diritto internazionale generalmente riconosciute e assicura, a partire dalla pubblicazione, piena ottemperanza ai trattati internazionali debitamente conclusi.” (Italy’s legal system conforms with the generally recognized principles of international law and assures, from publication, full compliance with duly concluded international treaties.)

56 Article 100(2) of the German Constitution contains such a system of direct application of international law rights, although it does provide for a declaratory judgment by the Constitutional Court. It provides: “If, in the course of litigation, doubt exists whether a rule of public international law is an integral part of federal law and whether such rule directly creates rights and duties for the individual (Article 25), the court shall obtain a decision from the Federal Constitutional Court.” Federal Republic of Germany, supra note 10.

57 Judgment No. 1 of June 14, 1956, 1 Rac. uff. 26, 38 (1956), 1956 Giur. cost. 1, 9-10.

58 See, e.g., Judgment No. 98 of Dec. 27, 1965, 22 Rac. uff. 365 (1965), 1965 Giur. cost. 1322 (challenge to constitutionality of law ratifying European Coal and Steel Community on grounds that the Treaty resulted in deprivation of constitutional rights of access to national courts denied on the merits by finding no conflict between the Treaty and constitutional provisions). See also Georges, Judgment No. 54 of June 21, 1979, 52 Rac. uff. 333 (1979), 1979 Giur. cost. 413, discussed in note 3 supra.

59 See Rupp, , Judicial Review of International Agreements: Federal Republic of Germany, 25 Am. J. Comp. L. 286 (1977).

60 Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1933).


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