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The European Community, the European Court of Justice and the Law of the Sea

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The European Community has gradually increased its focus on marine and maritime affairs, starting with the Community's Fishery Policy in the 1970s and culminating recently in the 2007 Blue Book on an Integrated Maritime Policy of the European Union. The Community's increased clout over marine and maritime matters has been reflected also in the case law of the European Court of Justice. From the outset the Court has given great impetus to the Community's efforts to assert its external competence in matters related to fisheries and conservation of biological resources of the sea. Even so, the Court has thus far only occasionally been confronted with public international law questions pertaining to the law of the sea. However, the few cases in which the Court has addressed such issues are worthy of note. For example, the Court has ruled on whether Member States should be allowed to rely on the international law of the sea in order to derogate from obligations under Community law; whether Member States should be allowed to prefer the dispute settlement provisions set out in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over the Community's own dispute settlement system; and on whether private parties may invoke arguments derived from the customary or conventional international law of the sea to challenge the validity of Community legislation pertaining to marine and maritime matters. The resulting judgments of the European Court of Justice have often turned out to be landmark cases, although some of them have tended to divide academic opinion.

Affiliations: 1: Legal Service of the European Commission, Brussels


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