Here's a judgment of the Court of Justice that caught our eye recently. It is not a ground breaking judgment by any stretch of the imagination. But it does illustrate the chronic backlog of cases pending before the General Court and why, in those circumstances, plaintiffs just give up on direct annulment actions and prefer to get the matter resolved by the Court of Justice using the preliminary reference procedure via national courts.
In its judgment in Case C-425/08 Enviro Tech (Europe) Ltd v. Belgium, the Court of Justice held that Commission Directive 2004/73/EC of April 29th 2004 classifying n-propyl bromide as a dangerous substance was perfectly valid.
We need not get into the technicalities of the case. The interesting point for our purposes is that Enviro Tech brought two sets of proceedings before what was then the Court of First Instance: a first annulment action in December 2003 (Case T-422/03) to attempt to prevent the classification of n-propyl bromide as a dangerous substance and a second annulment action in July 2004 seeking the annulment of Commission Directive 2004/73/EC (Case T-291/04). As the Court of First Instance was slow in dealing with the case on the substance (the plaintiffs were unsuccessful in two interim measures cases in February 2004 and July 2004) and because an issue of admissibility was probably at stake, Enviro Tech brought proceedings before the Belgian courts against the Belgian measure implementing Commission Directive 2004/73/EC in Belgium. It was in the course of those proceedings that the Belgian supreme administrative court, the Conseil d'Etat, referred the question to the Court of Justice on the validity of Commission Directive 2004/73/EC.
The Court of Justice was able to deal with the matter and settle the dispute for good in just over a year.
Also, Enviro Tech had commenced similar proceedings to their Belgian case before the English High Court. That court, however, decided to stay the proceedings pending the outcome of the litigation before the Court of First Instance in Cases T-422/03 and T-291/04. Meanwhile, the Court of First Instance, once the Court of Justice had been seised of the issue of validity of Commission Directive 2004/73/EC, the Court of First Instance stayed the proceedings pending the answer to the preliminary reference.
Note to potential plaintiffs: You are better off challenging measures not addressed to you via the national courts rather than getting bogged down in an annulment action before the General Court.