According to this source, the number of infringements of the "pivot countries" (France and Germany) are significantly larger than those of the newcomers such as Romania and Bulgaria.

  • DE = 55 (entered EU in 1958)
  • FR = 49 (entered EU in 1958)

as opposed to

  • RO = 23 (entered EU in 2007)
  • BG = 17 (entered EU in 2007)

The same seem to be true for related KPIs such as duration of infringement proceedings and time taken to comply.

This is counter-intuitive, as newcomers are expected to adapt much harder to the "ground-rules" than the old countries (who actually started the Union).

Question: How come that the most important countries in European Union have the largest number of pending infringements?

Note: The Commission may start ‘infringement proceedings’ if it considers that e.g. a Member State has not transposed an EU directive correctly or on time, or is applying single market rules incorrectly. Infringement proceedings only start when the Commission sends a ‘letter of formal notice’ to the Member State in question.

[EDIT] More details for non-European users (as requested in comment)

As indicated in the provided source, an infringement is a procedure started by European Commission against a country that does not apply a directive (partially or not at all):

The Commission may start ‘infringement proceedings’ if it considers that e.g. a Member State has not transposed an EU directive correctly or on time, or is applying single market rules incorrectly. Infringement proceedings only start when the Commission sends a ‘letter of formal notice’ to the Member State in question.

Several examples of such procedures can be found here. An actual example is illustrated below:

26/11/2014, MEMO/14/2130, Taxation: Commission asks ROMANIA to stop the discriminatory tax treatment of non- resident individuals receiving income from Romania Case No 2009/2134

16/10/2014, MEMO/14/589, Taxation: Commission asks ROMANIA to stop the discriminatory tax treatment of foreign legal entities Case No 2009/4343 Proceedings closed on 19/11/2015 (Romania changed its legislation)

"Why you expect newcomers to have bigger problems?" (from comment)

According to this reference, Romania si Bulgaria were admitted easier than some expected. For both countries it still applies what we call MVC for justice (quite big problem in Romania, a very big problem in Bulgaria).

Intuitively, newcomers should have more problems due to communist background: many people simply do not understand the separation of powers, the free market and other concepts related to liberal democracy. Also corruption is still endemic (they even tried to facilitate corruption by changing the law).

  • Comments deleted. Comments are for providing constructive criticism on the question itself. They are not for answering the question. If you would like to answer, please write a proper answer which adheres to our quality standards.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 16:39
  • What is an infringement? If I click the link, I get the idea that this is something related to the European Union. What are some examples? Do the newcomers have the same kind of infringements? How do infringements get assigned per year? How long do they last?
    – Brythan
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 18:18
  • @Brythan - I have added some extra context information. As far as I know, all members are treated equally when it comes to these rules. I do not think are assigned per time basis, but rather event triggered (country did not implement a law change within a time frame). Source also indicates how much the procedure lasts until the infringement cause is fixed.
    – Alexei
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 19:31
  • Do you have any indication that it is not a matter of having been a member for a longer time? Since it is almost a 50 year time difference, would this not have been expected? Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 19:33
  • 3
    Can you clarify more why you expect newcomers to have bigger problems? It's been observed that the hardest part of being an EU member is becoming one. The new EU members had all their i's dotted and t's crossed recently, and it takes time for institutions to deteriorate. In countries like France and Germany, it's become an open secret that the EU can be ignored. Greece really reinforces that. And since it's impossible to eject Germany over this, you can expect the other countries to follow Germany's behavior - but with a delay.
    – MSalters
    Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 22:45

1 Answer 1


It seems to me that part of the answer is already contained in the question itself. If infringement proceedings last longer for some member states, they will have more of them open at any given time, everything else being equal. As to why that might be, I cannot offer any hard stats on this but one reason could be that some member states are more willing or better able to fight each case all the way to the EU Court of Justice.

The UK is for example notorious for this, just as a (semi-)random example, it took over two years of procedure to get it to exempt third-country nationals with a residence card as family member of an EU citizen from the requirement to hold a visa, something that is stated very clearly in the relevant directive (this was not an infringement case but a prejudicial question). Once a decision is handed down, the UK bureaucracy is able to implement it competently and professionally but until then it will fight the Commission tooth and nail.

By contrast, I have heard of cases pertaining to some newer member states where the state in question would not even send a representative or written arguments to the court (here again I think it was about prejudicial questions, not infringement proceedings but it shows how specific countries approach EU litigation in general). They simply have much more limited resources to deal with all this. Some countries also take a less contentious approach, I am told that Denmark will most of the time accept the Commission's interpretation as soon as it gets a letter of formal notice and seldom drags the proceedings in court. That would also make for a quicker resolution and smaller number of open cases. One way to check whether this explanation makes any sense would be to compare the total number of cases over a period of time (rather than open cases at any given time).

Finally, you wrote that "all members are treated equally" and that's formally true but the Commission actually has a lot of leeway in choosing to bring infringement proceedings or not. For example, the Schengen area is a mess and it's recently become possible to launch infringement proceedings about these rules too but it looks like the Commission won't touch that with a ten-foot pole. Intuitively, I would have expected this discretion to work to the advantage of the bigger member states but I guess it's also possible that the Commission prioritizes what it sees as the most important issues and doesn't push as hard against newer members that already have a lot on their plate.

  • A reasonable argument, but the source given by the OP does already contain the necessary information to reject this hypothesis. Both France (40.5 months) and Germany (38 months) are in the middle field with respect to the duration of the infringement proceedings.
    – user23205
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 10:16
  • 4
    I didn't realize that this question is two years old, but having already commented, I'll also provide an explanation. IMHO, country size is more important than membership time! I've looked over the list of the infringement cases that were closed in the last year. A large share belonged to the policy area "Environment". While there were cases that refer to national rules (e.g., hunting), there are also many cases that refer to the air quality in cities, water quality in lakes and so on. France and Germany have more cities and lakes and therefore - ceteris paribus - more infringement procedures.
    – user23205
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 10:50

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