EU AMA: Who is best (and worst) at implementing EU rules? 

In Ask Me Anything, we tackle questions about the European Union that intrigue and perplex. This month, we grade member countries on their uptake of EU laws 

By Linda A Thompson

Linda A Thompson is a Belgian journalist who writes on EU policy and legal activism

20 Feb 2024

The European Commission is known as “the guardian of the treaties” – meaning it’s the executive arm’s job to ensure the 27 countries that make up the European Union actually apply EU law. If a country fails to implement the rules, or fails to do so on time, the EU’s executive body can crack the proverbial whip. It has the power to open an infringement procedure, and even take legal action against recalcitrant Member States before the Court of Justice in Luxembourg.   

And it’s thanks to the Commission’s detailed record of infringement cases that we can reveal the bloc’s best and worst performers at implementing EU law.   

So, let’s start with the naughty list.   

The top spot for infringement cases opened in 2022, the last year for which data is available, goes to Belgium. The country that hosts many EU institutions and currently holds the presidency of the Council of the EU was told off by the Commission no fewer than 43 times.   

That eye-watering number puts Belgium well ahead of the runners-up, Cyprus and Portugal, who tallied 29 and 30 infringement cases in 2022, respectively.    

Cyprus, however, has been the most egregious culprit overall during this Commission’s term. And ahead of Bulgaria and Romania, which share the third spot, we once again find Belgium. The country takes second place in the ‘worst overall’ list. It’s the only founding member of the EU among a clique of poor performers otherwise dominated by newcomers.   

And what of the shining stars? According to the Commission’s 2022 figures, the country best at applying EU law is … no longer in the EU.   

In 2022, Brussels officials opened only six infringement cases against the United Kingdom. The low number of reprimands is, of course, explained by Brexit. The Commission can now only take action in a limited set of cases – namely over UK infringements of EU law that occurred before the end of the transition period, for breaches of the withdrawal agreement that took the UK out of the EU, as well as three other protocols related to Ireland, Northern Ireland and two parts of Cyprus under British jurisdiction.  

But if we discount the UK, we have what feels like a more appropriate best performer for 2022: Estonia. The Baltic state was reprimanded a mere six times for dragging its feet on implementation of EU law, and once for incorrectly applying an EU law.   

As for the best performers overall across this Commission’s current term, Denmark and Finland have outshone all the other Member States with their efficiency and diligence.   

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