Admissibility of ordinary appeals depending on the value of the suit
Interpretation of Community law
Referral for a preliminary ruling
Requisites for referrals
Purpose of referrals.
RULING Nº 163/90
23 of May of 1990
Preliminary rulings, provided for in Article 177 EC, serve to ensure the primacy of the Community legal system. Allowing national courts to interpret Community law independently would eventually undermine the unity of Community law, substituting for the "common rule" a whole series of rules distorted by national court practices. The purpose of preliminary rulings is to ensure that Community law is interpreted in the same way in all the member states.
Parties may raise the question of seeking a preliminary ruling in national courts, but only the latter may trigger the intervention of the Court of Justice of the European Communities, since the preliminary rulings procedure takes the form of dialogue between the national and European courts. There are, in other words, no parties in preliminary rulings proceedings.
Applications for a preliminary ruling are admissible only when interpretation of a provision of Community law is deemed relevant, i.e. when the case in question must be decided in accordance with that rule, and the national court needs an opinion from the Court of Justice of the European Communities to decide it.
In this case, concerning concrete review of constitutionality, the applicants wished to know whether Article 168a EC implied that Portuguese law must recognise the right of appeal to a higher court "for the protection of fundamental rights, and concerning points of law". The Constitutional Court ruled, first, that the "interpretation" of a Community law was not even at issue.
The fundamental question requiring a decision in the appeal challenging the constitutionality of Article 678.1 of the Civil Code was whether the rule laid down in this article, in accordance with which ordinary appeals were admissible only in cases where the amount in dispute took the case outside the jurisdiction of the court giving the impugned decision, was unconstitutional. However, any ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Communities as to whether Article 168a EC obliged member states - for the protection of fundamental rights and concerning points of law only - to make the right of appeal to a higher court a principle in domestic law would have no bearing on this question, since the dispute requiring a decision as to whether or not a right of appeal existed was concerned, not with fundamental rights, but with the meaning and scope of a negotiation clause.
This judgment was the first in which the Portuguese Constitutional Court acknowledged that it was also required to seek preliminary rulings from the Court of Justice of the European Communities in all cases where the interpretation (or validity) and consequent effectiveness of rules of Community law were at issue. This judgment was adopted unanimously and establishes the Constitutional Court's position on the intervention of the European Court of Justice, at least in connection with concrete review of constitutionality.