Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 August 2013
In late February 2013, the ECJ handed down the Åkerberg Fransson preliminary ruling (Fransson), a ten-page decision which tackled the unresolved issue of the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (the Charter) to domestic measures. Notwithstanding the Advocate General's effort to investigate the theoretical foundations that legitimise this projection of the Charter upon state acts, the ECJ delivered a judgment which largely followed in the pattern of its own anodyne case-law on general principles. The judgment confirmed that the Swedish measures at stake – cumulating administrative and criminal penalties for tax evaders – ‘implemented’ EU law insofar as they contributed to the effective collection of VAT, one of the sources of the EU's budget. As a consequence, it is for the Swedish judge to check their compliance with the Charter's norm on ne bis in idem. This decision confirms that the Charter applies to national measures that do not transpose EU legislation and happen to fall within its scope only incidentally.
Regardless of the relative conservativeness of this finding, its implications are fated to displease member states and the reasoning of the Court was not compelling enough to prevent distinguishing and criticism. The first attack was promptly brought by the German Constitutional Court, which in its anti-terror database decision made clear that it subscribes only to a restrictive reading of Fransson and does not accept that the Charter applies to domestic measures whose objectives are set domestically, even if their purposes are shared by EU legislation.