Open Europe Blog

It’s that time of year when the European Commission either assigns gold stars to or puts black marks against member states based on how they implement EU rules. The Commission notes that the number of infringement procedures opened against EU member states is consistently decreasing – from 2,900 at the end of 2009 to 1,343 at the end of 2012. So the kids are behaving better overall.

At the end of 2012, the UK had 61 pending infringement procedures – meaning that the European Commission believes the UK is breaching EU law in 61 cases. That seems quite a lot, but, in fact, the UK is facing less infringement procedures than half of the EU’s founding members: Italy (undisputed leader for the ninth consecutive year, 99 pending cases), Belgium (92) and France (63). And it’s even with another founding member, Germany. Not bad, for a country usually seen as the ‘troublemaker’ of the bloc.

Out of curiosity, we took one step further – and looked at the ECJ’s latest annual report of activities. There, we found the number of “judgments concerning the failure of a member state to fulfill its obligations” – that is, how many times EU judges have actually ruled that a country either broke or refused to implement EU rules.

Look at this graph (click to enlarge):

Between 2008 and 2012, the UK has been found guilty of breaching EU law in 14 cases, of which two times last year. A Mediterranean trio of Italy, Spain and Greece (46 infringements declared), France (33) and Germany (19) all figure ahead of the UK. Interestingly, the graph also shows that the EU’s newest member states have been better at implementing EU rules than the bloc’s founding members.

We may be repeating ourselves a bit, but this serves as another reminder that those countries often labelled as ‘good Europeans’ don’t always have the best record of playing by the EU’s rules.

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