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Fundamental Rights and Constitutional Duels in Europe: An Italian Perspective on Case 269/2017 of the Italian Constitutional Court and Its Aftermath

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 December 2019


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Case Notes
© 2019 The Authors 

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Giuseppe Martinico is an Associate Professor of Comparative Public Law at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa. Giorgio Repetto is an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Perugia. The work elaborates on a common interest of the authors. Giuseppe Martinico wrote section I (the Introduction) and section III, and Giorgio Repetto authored sections II and V. Section IV is the outcome of a joint effort. We would like to thank Maribel González Pascual, Konrad Lachmayer, Marcus Klamert, Sébastien Platon and Aida Torres Pérez for their help. The usual disclaimers apply. All websites cited were visited on 1 November 2019.


1 For instance, E. Cloots, National Identity in EU Law (Hart Publishing 2015) p. 163 ff. and G. Di Federico, L’identità nazionale degli stati membri nel diritto dell’Unione europea. Natura e portata dell’art. 4, par. 2, TUE (Editoriale Scientifica 2017) p. 15.

2 Halmai, G., ‘Abuse of Constitutional Identity. The Hungarian Constitutional Court on Interpretation of Article E (2) of the Fundamental Law’, 43 Review of Central and East European Law (2018) p. 23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 R.D. Kelemen and L. Pech, ‘Why autocrats love constitutional identity and constitutional pluralism. Lessons from Hungary and Poland’, Reconnect Working Paper n. 2 (2018), ⟨⟩.

4 Gallo, D., ‘Challenging EU constitutional law: The Italian Constitutional Court’s new stance on direct effect and the preliminary reference procedure’, 25 European Law Journal (2019) p. 434 Google Scholar; Di Marco, R., ‘The “Path Towards European Integration” of the Italian Constitutional Court: The Primacy of EU Law in the Light of the Judgment No. 269/17’, 3 European Papers (2018) p. 883.Google Scholar

5 Italian Constitutional Court, decision n. 183/1973.

6 Started with the famous BVerfG 29 May 1974, 2 BvL 52/71 Solange I.

7 ECJ 8 September 2015, Case C-105/14, Ivo Taricco et al., ECLI:EU:C:2015:555, Italian Constitutional Court referral order n. 24/2017, ECJ 5 December 2017, Case C-42/17, M.A.S., M.B., ECLI:EU:C:2017:936, Italian Constitutional Court, decision n. 115/2018.

8 Piccirilli, G., ‘The “Taricco Saga”: The Italian Constitutional Court continues its European journey’, 14 EuConst (2018) p. 814.Google Scholar

9 The factual background of the ruling concerned the power of an independent authority to impose a financial levy on a certain set of entrepreneurs. The referring judges challenged, among other things, the legitimacy of such provisions in light of Arts. 49 and 56 TFEU covering the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services. Although violation of the Charter was thus not at stake, the Italian Constitutional Court took advantage of the opportunity to clarify its new stance with an extensive and highly detailed obiter dictum.

10 Italian Constitutional Court, decision n. 269/2017, para. 5.2, official translation, available at ⟨⟩.

11 Lupo, N., ‘The Advantage of Having the ‘First Word’ in the Composite European Constitution’, 10 Italian Journal of Public Law (2018) p. 186.Google Scholar

12 Italian Constitutional Court, decision n. 269/2017, para. 5.2.

13 Ibid., para. 5.2.

14 ECJ 22 June 2010, Case C-188/10, C-189/10, Aziz Melki, Selim Abdeli, ECLI:EU:C:2010:363.

15 ECJ 11 September 2014, Case C-112/13, A v B and Others, ECLI:EU:C:2014:2195.

16 Italian Constitutional Court, decision n. 269/2017, para. 5.2.

17 Ibid., para. 5.2.

18 ECJ 9 March 1978, Case C-106/77, Amministrazione delle finanze dello Stato v Simmenthal, ECLI:EU:C:1978:49. Claes, M., The National Courts’ Mandate in the European Constitution (Hart Publishing 2006) at p. 149.Google Scholar This point has been emphasised by L.S. Rossi, ‘La sentenza 269/2017 della Corte costituzionale italiana: obiter “creativi” (o distruttivi?) sul ruolo dei giudici italiani di fronte al diritto dell’Unione europea’, Federalismi (2018), ⟨⟩.

19 A. Ruggeri, ‘Svolta della Consulta sulle questioni di diritto eurounitario assiologicamente pregnanti, attratte nell’orbita del sindacato accentrato di costituzionalità, pur se riguardanti norme dell’Unione self-executing (a margine di Corte cost. n. 269 del 2017)’, 1 Rivista di diritti comparati (2017) p. 234 ⟨⟩; D. Gallo, ‘Efficacia diretta del diritto UE, procedimento pregiudiziale e Corte costituzionale: una lettura congiunta delle sentenze n. 269/2017 e 115/2018’, 9 Rivista AIC (2019) p. 220.

20 A. Guazzarotti, ‘Un “atto interruttivo dell’usucapione” delle attribuzioni della Corte costituzionale? In margine alla sentenza n. 269/2017’, Forum di Quaderni Costituzionali, 18 December 2017, ⟨⟩, M. Massa, ‘Dopo la “precisazione”. Sviluppi di Corte cost. n. 269/2017’, XII Osservatorio sulle fonti (2019) p. 1 at p. 3.

21 Italian Constitutional Court, decision n. 269/2017, para. 5.2. On this point, see P. Faraguna, ‘Constitutional Rights First: The Italian Constitutional Court fine-tunes its “Europarechtsfreundlichkeit”’, Verfassungsblog, 14 March 2018, ⟨⟩.

22 Italian Constitutional Court, decision n. 269/2017, para. 5.2.

24 ECJ 20 May 2003, Case C-465/00, C-138/01 and C-139/01, Rechnungshof and Österreichischer Rundfunk, ECLI:EU:C:2003:294.

25 Italian Constitutional Court, decision n. 20/2019, para. 2.

26 O. Pollicino and G. Repetto, ‘Not to Be Pushed Aside: The Italian Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice’, Verfassungsblog, 27 February 2019, ⟨⟩.

27 See Italian Constitutional Court, decision n. 20/2019, para. 2.3.

28 ECJ 22 October 1987, Case C-314/85, Foto-Frost, ECLI:EU:C:1987:452.

29 On the potential clash between Melki and Simmenthal, see Mastroianni, R., ‘La Corte di giustizia e il controllo di costituzionalità: Simmenthal revisited?’, 58 Giurisprudenza costituzionale (2014) p. 4098.Google Scholar

30 Italian Constitutional Court, decision n. 20/2019, para. 3.1.

31 Art. 11 states that ‘[Italy] agrees, on conditions of equality with other States, to the limitations of sovereignty that may be necessary to a world order ensuring peace and justice among the Nations’, whereas Art. 117(1) reads as follows: ‘Legislative powers shall be vested in the State and the Regions in compliance with the Constitution and with the constraints deriving from EU legislation and international obligations’.

32 In this way, convergence is achieved with the assessment of the Court of Justice in ECJ 20 December 2017, Case C-322/16, Global Starnet Ltd v Ministero dell’Economia e delle Finanze, ECLI:EU:C:2017:985, para. 26.

33 On this case and, in particular, on the acceptance of the Italian Constitutional Court’s stance by the Italian Court of cassation, see D. Tega, ‘Il seguito in Cassazione della pronuncia della Corte costituzionale n. 269/2017: prove pratiche di applicazione’, Questione giustizia, 12 March 2018, ⟨⟩.

34 In this way, the Italian Constitutional Court seeks to keep up with the case law of the ECJ on mandatory provisions of EU law: see on this Melki, supra n. 14, para. 55 and, more recently, ECJ 24 October 2018, Case C-234/17, XC, YB, ZA, ECLI:EU:C:2018:853.

35 Alter, K., ‘Explaining National Court Acceptance of European Court Jurisprudence: A Critical Evaluation of Theories of Legal Integration’, in Slaughter, A.M. et al. (eds), The European Court and National Courts – Doctrine and Jurisprudence. Legal Change in its Social Context (Hart Publishing 1998) p. 227.Google Scholar

36 A. Barbera, ‘La Carta dei diritti: per un dialogo fra la Corte italiana e la Corte di Giustizia’, paper delivered on the occasion of a quadrilateral summit between the French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish constitutional judges held in Seville on 26-28 October 2017, ⟨⟩.

37 Barbera, supra n. 36, p. 2.

38 Barbera, supra n. 36, p. 4.

39 Viganò, F., ‘La tutela dei diritti fondamentali della persona tra corti europee e giudici nazionali’, 39 Quaderni Costituzionali (2019) p. 481 at p. 484.Google Scholar

40 Italian Constitutional Court, decisions nos. 348 and 349/2007. Without going into detail, the main contents of these two decisions can be summarised as follows: 1. The European Convention on Human Rights has a super-primary value (i.e. its normative ranking is half way between statutes and constitutional norms); 2. In some cases, the Convention can stand as an ‘interposed parameter’ for reviewing the constitutionality of primary laws, since the conflict between them and the Convention can result in an indirect violation of the Constitution; 3. This (no. 2) does not imply that the Convention has constitutional value; on the contrary, the Convention has to respect the Constitution; 4. The Convention cannot be treated domestically in the same way as EU law, as we will see below; 5. The constitutional status accorded to the European Convention on Human Rights implies the necessity to interpret national law in light of ECHR provisions. On this see F. Biondi Dal Monte and F. Fontanelli, ‘The Decisions No. 348 and 349/2007 of the Italian Constitutional Court: The Efficacy of the European Convention in the Italian Legal System’, 7 German Law Journal (2008) p. 889; O. Pollicino, ‘The Italian Constitutional Court at the Crossroads between Constitutional Parochialism and Co-operative Constitutionalism. Judgments No. 348 and 349 of 22 and 24 October 2007’, 4 EuConst (2008) p. 363; D. Tega, I diritti in crisi (Giuffrè 2012).

41 ECJ 24 April 2012, Case C-571/10, Kamberaj, ECLI:EU:C:2012:233.

42 Among others, Italian Constitutional Court, decisions nos. 311/2009, 317/2009 80/2011.

43 See, for instance, Italian Constitutional Court, decision n. 10/1993, whereby the Consulta described the ECHR as an ‘atypical source of law’.

44 Italian Constitutional Court, decision n. 388/1999.

45 Biondi Dal Monte and Fontanelli, supra n. 40; Pollicino, supra n. 40.

46 For further details see Biondi Dal Monte and Fontanelli, supra n. 40, p. 891.

47 To borrow the terminology employed by public international lawyers: Broude, T. and Shany, Y. (eds.), Multi-Sourced Equivalent Norms in International Law (Hart Publishing 2011).Google Scholar

48 R. Conti, ‘La Cassazione dopo Corte cost. n. 269/2017. Qualche riflessione, a seconda lettura’, Forum di Quaderni Costituzionali, 28 December 2017, ⟨⟩. ‘The lack of trust expressed by the Constitutional Court towards the common judges, unfortunately, it is evident and obvious’, p. 11, our translation.

49 Aziz Melki, Selim Abdeli, supra n. 14.

50 A v B and Others, supra n. 15.

51 Gallo, supra n. 4, p. 442.

52 Aziz Melki, Selim Abdeli, supra n. 14, para. 22.

53 Conseil constitutionnel, decision no. 2010-605 DC.

54 Simmenthal, supra n. 18.

55 16 December 2008, Case C-210/06, Cartesio, ECLI:EU:C:2008:723.

56 Conseil constitutionnel, decision no. 2010-605 DC. On this see Donnat, F., ‘La Cour de Justice et la QPC: chronique d’un arrêt imprévisible et imprévu’, 26 Recueil Dalloz (2010) p. 1640 Google Scholar; Sarmiento, D., ‘L’affaire Melki: esquisse d’un dialogue des juges constitutionnels et européens sur toile de fond française’, 46 Revue trimestrielle de droit européen (2010) p. 588.Google Scholar

57 Aziz Melki, Selim Abdeli, supra n. 14, para. 51.

58 Foto-Frost, supra n. 28.

59 Conseil constitutionnel, decision no. 2018-765 DC.

60 Conseil constitutionnel, decision no. 2004-496 DC. On constitutional identity in France, see Millet, F.X., ‘Constitutional identity in France: vices and – above all – virtues’, in Calliess, C. and van der Schyff, G., Constitutional Identity in a Europe of Multilevel Constitutionalism (Cambridge University Press 2019) p. 134 at p. 141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

61 L. Besselink et al., ‘National constitutional avenues for further EU integration’ (Report for the European Parliament’s Committees on Legal Affairs and on Constitutional Affairs, n. PE 493.046) at p. 218, ⟨⟩.

62 Conseil constitutionnel, decision no. 2018-765 DC; Millet, supra n. 60, p. 143.

63 Italian Constitutional Court, decision 269/2017, official translation of the Italian Constitutional Court.

64 Cede, P., ‘Report on Austria and Germany’, in Martinico, G. and Pollicino, O. (eds), The National Judicial Treatment of the ECHR and EU Laws: A Comparative Constitutional Perspective (Europa Law Publishing 2010) p. 55 at p. 63.Google Scholar

65 Austrian Constitutional Court, U 466/11-18, U 1836/11-13, para. 59, official translation of the Austrian Constitutional Court.

66 A v B and Others, supra n. 15, paras. 25-26.

67 Klammert, M., ‘The implementation and application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU in Austria’, 4 Acta Universitatis Carolinae Iuridica (2018) p. 88 at p. 88.Google Scholar

68 ECJ 24 October 2018, Case C-234/17, XC and Others, ECLI:EU:C:2018:853.

69 BVerfG 22 October 1986, 2 BvR 197/83, Solange II.

70 See BVerfG 13 March 2007, 1 BvF 1/05, Treibhausgas; 11 March 2008, 1 BvR 256/08, Vorratsdatenspeichrung; 19 July 2011, 1 BvR 1916/09, Anwendungserweiterung; 4 October 2011, 1 BvL 3/08; 24 April 2013, 1 BvR 1215/07, Antiterrordateigesetz.

71 For an exception, see BVerfGE 7 July 2009, 1 BvR 1164/07, Lebenspartnerschaft.

72 Classen, C.D., ‘Schwierigkeiten eines harmonischen Miteinanders von nationalem und europäischem Grundrechtsschutz’, 52 Europarecht (2017) p. 347 at p. 359CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bäcker, M., ‘Das Grundgesetz als Implementationsgarant der Unionsgrundrechte’, 50 Europarecht (2015) p. 389 at p. 404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

73 BVerfG 11 March 2008, 1 BvR 256/08, Vorratsdatenspeichrung.

74 See, among others, Thym, D., ‘Vereinigt die Grundrechte!’, 70 JuristenZeitung (2015) p. 53 at p. 56 ffCrossRefGoogle Scholar and Classen, supra n. 72, p. 357.

75 BVerfG 21 March 2018, 1 BvF 1/13, Verbraucherinformation. According to F. Wollenschläger, ‘Die Verbraucherinformation vor dem BVerfG’, 73 JuristenZeitung (2018) p. 980 at p. 985, this decision shows some similarity with the tendency of the Italian Constitutional Court to have the ‘first word’ with regard to the ECJ in fundamental rights cases.

76 On the indirect forms of dialogue existing beyond Art. 267 TFEU, see M. Cartabia, ‘Taking Dialogue Seriously’, Jean Monnet Working Paper n. 12 (2007), ⟨⟩; Martinico, G., ‘Judging in the Multilevel Legal Order: Exploring The Techniques of “Hidden Dialogue”’, 21 King’s Law Journal (2010) p. 257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

77 Hungarian Constitutional court, decision n 22/2016 (XII.5) AB.

78 BVerfG 6 July 2010, 2 BvR 2261/06.

79 As Mayer pointed out: ‘An ultra vires-control of European acts by the German Constitutional Court would only occur in extraordinary circumstances and obvious cases, and apparently a preliminary reference to the ECJ would have to take place first’. F. Mayer, ‘Rashomon in Karlsruhe – A Reflection on Democracy and Identity in the European Union’, Jean Monnet Working Paper, 5 (2010), ⟨⟩.

80 Halmai, supra n. 2.

81 The literature is extensive. For instance: Schimmelfennig, F., ‘Competition and community: constitutional courts, rhetorical action, and the institutionalization of human rights in the European Union’, 13 Journal of European Public Policy (2006) p. 1247 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kumm, M., ‘The Jurisprudence of Constitutional Conflict: Constitutional Supremacy in Europe before and after the Constitutional Treaty’, 11 European Law Journal (2005) p. 262 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Martinico, G., ‘The “Polemical” Spirit of European Constitutional Law: On the Importance of Conflicts in EU Law’, 16 German Law Journal (2015) p. 1343 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Paris, D., ‘Limiting the “Counter-Limits”. National Constitutional Courts and the Scope of the Primacy of EU Law’, 10 Italian Journal of Public Law (2018) p. 2015.Google Scholar On the difficult role of constitutional courts nowadays see Komárek, J., ‘The Place of Constitutional Courts in the EU’, 9 EuConst (2013) p. 420.Google Scholar

82 Barbera, supra n. 36.

83 Eeckout, P., ‘The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Federal Question’, 39 CML Rev (2002) p. 945.Google Scholar

84 ECJ 26 February 2013, C-617/10, Åklagaren v Hans Åkerberg Fransson, ECLI:EU:C:2013:280, para. 29.

85 Frenzel, E.M., ‘Die Charta der Grundrechte als Massstab für Mitgliedstaatliches Handeln zwischen Effektivierung und Hyperintegration’, 53 Der Staat (2014) p. 1 at p. 27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

86 ECJ 26 February 2013, C-399/11, Stefano Melloni v Ministerio Fiscal, ECLI:EU:C:2013:107. As can plainly be seen, Melloni and Fransson were delivered on the same day. For an insightful reading of the implications thereof, see Besselink, L., ‘The Parameters of Constitutional Conflict after Melloni’, 39 European Law Review (2014) p. 531.Google Scholar

87 As Daniel Sarmiento convincingly argued, the shift to Art. 53 represents a vital turning point in the reestablishment of a pluralist setting in fundamental rights protection because ‘[t]his transfer of the centre of gravitation from issues of applicability towards issues of interaction between autonomous legal orders proves that the case law seems willing to assume a pluralist approach to constitutional issues’: Sarmiento, D., ‘Who’s Afraid of the Charter? The Court of Justice, National Courts and the new Framework of Fundamental Rights Protection in Europe’, 50 CML Rev (2013) p. 1267 at p. 1302.Google Scholar

88 M.A.S., M.B., supra n. 7, para. 47.

89 von Papp, K., ‘A Federal Question Doctrine for EU Fundamental Rights Law: Making Sense of Articles 51 and 53 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights’, 43 European Law Review (2018) p. 511 at p. 517Google Scholar, stressing that ‘federal question’ does not refer to the enforcement of EU rights by the ECJ ‘but that of securing the existing rights of EU citizens in a multi-layered system of governance’.

90 In terms of effectiveness (‘Effektivitätskonzeption’), see Britz, G., ‘Grundrechtsschutz durch das Bundesverfassungsgericht und den Europäischen Gerichtshof’, Europäische Grundrechte Zeitschrift (2015) p. 275 at p. 276.Google Scholar

91 Masing, J., ‘Unity and Diversity of European Fundamental Rights Protection’, 41 European Law Review (2016) p. 490 at p. 508Google Scholar, B. De Witte, ‘Art. 53 – Level of protection’, in Peers, S. et al. (eds.), The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. A Commentary (Hart Publishing 2014) p. 1523 at p. 1533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

92 We see in this a sign of the Italian Constitutional Court’s institutional and interpretative relationality: see Cartabia, M., ‘Of Bridges and Walls: the “Italian Style” of Constitutional Adjudication’, 8 Italian Journal of Public Law (2016) p. 37 at p. 49.Google Scholar