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Advocate general (European Union)

In the European Union, the advocates general (French: avocats généraux, singular: avocat général) are high-ranking functionaries serving in the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Modelled after the French commissaire du gouvernement [fr], the position of advocate general was created together with the European Court of Justice in 1951, when the Treaty of Paris was signed.

The advocate general participates in the court cases and may question the parties, after which they craft their opinions, though in the case when no new point of law is raised, it is not needed. It is only after their opinion that the Court of Justice starts to make its judgment. While the advocate general's opinion is not binding for the ECJ nor for the courts in the member states, their conclusions are often taken into consideration and are often indicative of the ruling by the Court of Justice in the case.[1][2][3]

Since 2020, there are eleven advocates general appointed for six-year terms, five of whom are designated from the largest member states in the EU (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Poland) and the other six members are appointed between the other member states. The first advocate general, who is tasked with assigning the cases to her or himself or their fellow advocates general and has some powers related to judicial review of the General Court cases, is elected for a three-year term among these eleven people. Ad hoc advocates general may also be appointed for cases before the General Court among the judges working in the court, but this possibility is not used now.

Legal basis

The signing of the Treaty of Paris established the European Coal and Steel Community, i.a. featuring a judicial body called the "Court of Justice". During negotiations that led to its signing, the French delegation resented the possibility of dissenting or concurring opinions on the cases.[3] Therefore, Maurice Lagrange, part of the delegation who would later become the first advocate general appointed to the court,[4] proposed that such views be presented by an advocate general, who would perform a similar function to that of the French commissaire du gouvernement [fr] (equivalent to the rapporteur public [fr] since 2009).[5][6][7] The commissaire is tasked with offering legal advice to the Conseil d'État, the highest administrative court. This vision was implemented in the Protocol on the Statute of the Court of Justice as signed in 1951 and has stayed virtually the same ever since.


Currently, according to the provisions in Article 19 of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) and Article 252 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the European Court of Justice, apart from 27 judges (one for every member state), also has eleven advocates general.[8][9] The European Council, acting unanimously, may increase this number if requested so by the ECJ.[10]

When the Court of Justice was formed, it was decided to appoint two advocates general, one from Germany and the other from France. The United Kingdom and Italy joined in 1973, Spain followed in 1995[11] and Poland did so in 2013.[12] Because the UK left the European Union in 2020, there are now five member states (the most populated ones) entitled to appoint their own advocates general.[9] Other member states appoint advocates general on a rotational basis (one in 1981–1986, two in 1986–1995, four in 1995–2000, three in 2000–2015, five in 2015–2020 and six since 2020).[3][11][12] Each advocate general serves a six-year term, may be reappointed and, barring disciplinary removal or resignation, is not removable during the term;[7] however, given the rotational nature of the appointments from countries without a permanent member, these extensions are effectively limited to the five countries that may send their own advocates general. If the position is vacated before the end of the term, a replacement is appointed for the remainder of the term, usually from the same country. An advocate general may be removed prematurely if the Member State which appointed him or her withdraws from the EU.[13]

Since 1974, the first advocate general has been elected from those serving in such capacity.[14] Since 1979, they are in charge of distributing the cases among fellow advocates general.[3] For three decades after its creation, the position was rotated between each of the advocates general,[6] but Melchior Wathelet was the first person to have been elected more than two times and the first to have served consecutive terms. In November 2019, the rules of procedure were changed so that the terms were increased to three years.[15] The first election under the new rules happened in October 2021, when Maciej Szpunar, who had already been serving in that position for three years, was elected to serve for another three years.[16] The first advocate general, however, is not above the other advocates general and is in most regards in the same position as their ten other colleagues.[7]

Criteria of appointment

Advocates general share the criteria of appointment with the judges (mentioned in articles 2–4 of the Statute of the ECJ and in Article 253 of TFEU). They are appointed by mutual accord of the national governments after consultations with a special panel (a so-called "Article 255 panel") that screens the candidates and issues non-binding opinions on their suitability for office;[17][a] The advocates general should be eligible for service in the highest national courts or be lawyers "of recognised competence", and should exhibit independence. Just like the judges, the advocates general take an oath of office and are in general immune from legal persecution. They are barred from holding political or administrative offices and may only hold occupations other than that at the Court of Justice if the European Council decides to grant an exemption.

Procedure and assignment

The procedure in cases before the ECJ is to assign the responsible judge-rapporteur and advocate general, which is done by the President of the ECJ and the first advocate general, respectively.[3][8] In general, the first advocate general has full discretion over the way the cases are assigned, but several informal rules guide the process.[7] For instance, arrangements in which certain advocates general specialise in one particular broad topic are often avoided so that the cases can be approached from different perspectives and thus give more material from which the Court of Justice may draw its conclusions. This rule is, however, not strictly followed, particularly if the advocate general has been treating that specific topic extensively.[6][7] It is also customary for the first advocate general not to assign an advocate general to the case to which the member state, which the advocate general is from, is party. Deviations from that guideline may attract controversy.[18]

Historically, every case had to receive an advocate general's opinion; however, since the Treaty of Nice came to life in 2003, a rule was introduced saying that if the case makes no new point of law (which in 2015, when the latest figures are available, happened in 43% of the cases, with earlier years' estimates ranging from 30% to 53%),[19][20] the advocate general's opinion is not needed; in this case, the court consults the advocate general and, if they agree, only the court's judgment is issued.[21] When the case comes to the Grand Chamber, however, it is always accompanied with such an opinion.[20] The advocate general is obliged to submit his opinion so many times as oral hearings are requested, such that in one of the cases, Commission v. Belgium (Belgian Waste), three opinions were issued;[6] situations when more than one hearing is made, however, happen rarely.[3]

According to the Article 20 of the Statute of the ECJ, the designated advocate general is present during the interactions with the parties. All advocates general may additionally receive advance copies of the judgment and participate in the closed sessions when the ECJ delivers an opinion, but, unlike the judges, they do not participate in the deliberative process of the court.[7]

Opinions of the advocates general

An advocate general, according to Takis Tridimas,[6] serves several purposes. The advocate general helps prepare the case for the Court of Justice. Moreover, their opinions provide the proposed solution and logical reasoning to reach the conclusion presented, all while providing research on the existing case law as well as on the legal points presented.[1]

Contrary to the judgments of the ECJ, which tend to be terse and abstract, a legacy of the French judicial discourse,[5] the opinion of the advocate general does not need to conform to these criteria, and may in fact take any form the advocate general wishes.[22] Historically, particularly until the 1980s, the opinions of the advocates general closely followed the judicial interpretations of the ECJ, but since then, the rulings have become somewhat less reverential towards them.[4]

The opinions may be written in the native language of the Advocate General (any of the 24 official languages of the European Union),[3] though in order to reduce the workload of the translation service, they are now increasingly drafted in one of the five so-called "pivot languages", that is: French, English, German, Spanish and Italian, and the advocates general are particularly encouraged to write in the first two of them.[23] Advocate General's submissions, if needed, are then translated into French, the working language of the ECJ.[24] The judgment of the ECJ is only drafted after receiving advocate general's opinion, though some preparations are possible if the judge rapporteur and his référendaires (clerks) understand the language of the procedure.[24]

The Court of Justice is not bound by the opinions of the Advocates General and need not even address them. In fact, in 2004–2005, only 39% of judgments cited the opinion of the advocate general[18] (the percentage was around 46% in 2017).[25] However, the advocate general's opinions are considered influential.[1] Quantitative studies seem to support the notion. The one from 2017 found that, among the 109 judgments surveyed, 64% agreed in principle with the ruling, 9% disagreed and the rest only agreed in some points; moreover, in 69% of the cases, there were at most slight differences between the interpretations of the legal sources.[25] Another study, which only analysed annulments, found that the ECJ was 67% more likely to strike down parts of an act or the whole act if the advocate general indicated their support for the action, compared to the situations where the opposite was true, though the paper cautioned against making causal inferences.[26]

List of advocates general of ECJ

Note: Current advocates general are bolded; the expected end of their terms is mentioned in italics.

Country First and last name Years of service
Start End As First AG
 France Maurice Lagrange 1952 1964
 Germany Karl Roemer [de] 1953 1973
 France Joseph Gand 1964 1970
 France Alain Louis Dutheillet de Lamothe 1970 1972
 France Henri Mayras 1972 1981 1975–1976
 Italy Alberto Trabucchi [it] 1973 1976 1974–1975
 United Kingdom Jean-Pierre Warner 1973 1981 1976–1977


 Germany Gerhard Reischl [de] 1973 1984 1977–1978


 Italy Francesco Capotorti [it] 1976 1982 1978–1979


 United Kingdom Gordon Slynn 1981 1988 1983–1984
 France Simone Rozès 1981 1984 1982–1983
 Netherlands Pieter verLoren van Themaat 1981 1986 1984–1985
 Italy Giuseppe Federico Mancini [it] 1982 1988 1985–1986
 Germany Carl Otto Lenz 1984 1997 1986–1987


 France Marco Darmon [de] 1984 1994 1987–1988


 Luxembourg Jean Mischo 1986 1991 1988–1989
 Portugal José Luís da Cruz Vilaça [de] 1986 1988
 Belgium Walter van Gerven 1988 1994 1989–1990
 United Kingdom Francis Geoffrey Jacobs 1988 2006 1990–1991


 Italy Giuseppe Tesauro 1988 1998 1991–1992


 Denmark Claus Christian Gulmann 1991 1994
 Greece Georges Cosmas 1994 2000 1997–1998
 Denmark Michael Bendik Elmer 1994 1997
 France Philippe Léger [de] 1994 2006 1998–1999
 Italy Antonio Mario La Pergola 1995 1999 1996–1997
 Ireland Nial Fennelly 1995 2000 1999–2000
 Spain Dámaso Ruiz-Jarabo Colomer 1995 2009 2000–2001
 Germany Siegbert Alber 1997 2003 2001–2002
 Luxembourg Jean Mischo 1997 2003 2002–2003
 Italy Antonio Saggio 1998 2000
 Italy Antonio Tizzano 2000 2006 2003–2004
 Netherlands Ad Geelhoed 2000 2006 2004–2005
 Austria Christine Stix-Hackl 2000 2006 2005–2006
 Germany Juliane Kokott 2003 2027 2006–2007
 Portugal Miguel Poiares Maduro 2003 2009 2007–2008
 United Kingdom Eleanor Sharpston 2006 2020 2008–2009
 Italy Paolo Mengozzi 2006 2018 2009–2010
 France Yves Bot 2006 2019 2010–2011
 Slovakia Ján Mazák [sk] 2006 2012 2011–2012
 Slovenia Verica Trstenjak 2006 2012
 Finland Niilo Jääskinen 2009 2015 2012–2013
 Spain Pedro Cruz Villalón 2009 2015 2013–2014
 Belgium Melchior Wathelet 2012 2018 2014–2018
 Sweden Nils Wahl 2012 2018
 Poland Maciej Szpunar 2013 2024 2018–2024
 Czech Republic Michal Bobek 2015 2021
 Denmark Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe [da] 2015 2021
 Spain Manuel Campos Sánchez-Bordona 2015 2027
 Bulgaria Evgeni Tanchev [bg] 2016 2021
 Ireland Gerard Hogan 2018 2021
 Italy Giovanni Pitruzzella 2018 2024
 Estonia Priit Pikamäe 2019 2025
 Greece Athanasios Rantos [el] 2020 2027
 France Jean Richard de la Tour 2020 2024
 Ireland Anthony Collins 2021 2024
 Latvia Laila Medina 2021 2027
 Cyprus Nicholas Emiliou 2021 2027
 Croatia Tamara Ćapeta 2021 2027

General Court

In the General Court, unlike the European Court of Justice, there are no specifically designated advocates general, and those serving in the ECJ may not be used for General Court's purposes.[27] However, according to Article 3 of the Rules of Procedure of the General Court, those judges who are not the president, the vice-president or the presidents of chambers of the General Court may be asked to serve as advocates general for a particular case, with the procedure, functions and duties similar to those as in ECJ. These judges, just like in the higher chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union, may not take part in the judgment of the case (Article 49 of the Statute of the Court of Justice) but may participate in the inquiry of the case and in the questioning of parties. In practice, though, the General Court does not use that power anymore.[27]

Despite the fact that none of the advocates general of the ECJ issue opinions in the cases in front of the General Court, the first advocate general may trigger a special review procedure under Article 62 of the Statute of the ECJ (Réexamen in French)[28] by filing an appropriate request within a month's time since the General Court's ruling in case they believe that the ruling of the General Court has a high risk of "the unity of consistency of Union law being affected". As of October 2021, the procedure has been used 16 times, and 8 cases proceeded to the review stage.[3]


  1. ^ Though formally non-binding, the opinions have so far been heeded and, as Dumbrovsky et al. say, are de facto binding.


  1. ^ a b c Właź, Aureliusz (2021-10-10). "Instytucje Unii Europejskiej" (PDF) (in Polish). p. 26. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-11-04. Retrieved 2021-10-10.
  2. ^ O'Leary, Naomi. "Irish judge appointed as advocate general to Courts of Justice of EU". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2021-10-10.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Mańko, Rafał (October 2019). "Role of Advocates General at the CJEU" (PDF). European Parliamentary Research Service. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-09-27. Retrieved 2021-10-09.
  4. ^ a b Clément-Wilz, Laure (2012). "The Advocate General: A Key Actor of the Court of Justice of the European Union". Cambridge Yearbook of European Legal Studies. 14: 587–613. doi:10.5235/152888712805580435. ISSN 1528-8870. S2CID 155764411.
  5. ^ a b Turenne, Sophie (2012). "Advocate Generals' Opinions or Separate Opinions? Judicial Engagement in the CJEU". Cambridge Yearbook of European Legal Studies. 14: 723–744. doi:10.5235/152888712805580309. ISSN 1528-8870. S2CID 156034977.
  6. ^ a b c d e Tridimas, Takis (1997-12-01). "The Role of the Advocate General in the Development of Community Law: Some Reflections". Common Market Law Review. 34 (6): 1349–1387. doi:10.1023/A:1018373914230.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Léger, Philippe (2004-03-21). "Law in the European Union: The role of the advocate general". The Journal of Legislative Studies. 10 (1): 1–8. doi:10.1080/1357233042000318855. ISSN 1357-2334. S2CID 154930018.
  8. ^ a b "Presentation". Court of Justice of the European Union. Archived from the original on 2016-06-03. Retrieved 2021-10-10.
  9. ^ a b "Consequences of the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union for the Court of Justice of the European Union" (PDF). Court of Justice of the European Union. 2020-01-31. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2020-02-03. Retrieved 2021-10-10.
  10. ^ "The Court of Justice of the European Union" (PDF). European Parliament. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2009-04-07. Retrieved 2021-10-10.
  11. ^ a b "Joint declaration on Article 31 of the Decision adjusting the instruments concerning the accession of the new Member States to the European Union". 1995-01-01. Archived from the original on 2018-11-10. Retrieved 2021-10-10.
  12. ^ a b "Council Decision increasing the number of Advocates-General of the Court of Justice of the European Union". European Council. 2013-06-14. Archived from the original on 2021-10-11. Retrieved 2021-10-10.
  13. ^ Lashyn, Serhii (2021). "The Unsuccessful Bid of the British Advocate‐General to Remain on the Bench Despite Brexit". The Modern Law Review. 84 (6): 1414–1426. doi:10.1111/1468-2230.12651. ISSN 0026-7961. S2CID 236385986.
  14. ^ "Court of Justice: Rules of Procedure". Official Journal of the European Communities. 1974-12-28. Archived from the original on 2021-10-11. Retrieved 2021-10-10.
  15. ^ "Amendments of the Rules of the Procedure of the Court of Justice". 2019-12-06. Archived from the original on 2021-10-11. Retrieved 2021-10-10.
  16. ^ "Mr Maciej Szpunar is elected First Advocate General of the Court of Justice" (PDF). Court of Justice of the European Union. 2021-10-08. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2021-10-08. Retrieved 2021-10-10.
  17. ^ Dumbrovsky, Tomas; Petkova, Bilyana; Van Der Sluis, Marijn (2014). "Judicial appointments : the article 255 TFEU advisory panel and selection procedures in the Member States". Common Market Law Review. 51: 455–482. doi:10.54648/COLA2014034. ISSN 0165-0750. S2CID 153431044.
  18. ^ a b Ritter, Cyril (2006-03-29). "A New Look at the Role and Impact of Advocates-General – Collectively and Individually". Columbia Journal of European Law. 12 (3). Rochester, NY. SSRN 892970 – via SSRN.
  19. ^ "Annual Report 2015: Judicial Activity" (PDF). Court of Justice of the European Union. August 2016. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-09-24. Retrieved 2021-10-10.
  20. ^ a b Bobek, Michal (2015). "The Court of Justice of the European Union". In Arnull, Anthony; Chalmers, Damian (eds.). The Oxford handbook of European Union law (1 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 153–177. ISBN 978-0-19-967264-6. OCLC 918968460.
  21. ^ Sozański, Jarosław (2010). Trybunał Sprawiedliwości (in Polish). Warsaw-Poznań: Polskie Wydawnictwo Prawnicze „Iuris”. p. 208. ISBN 978-83-89363-82-4.
  22. ^ Kulinich, Iana (2020). "SOME REMARKS ON THE LEGAL INSTITUTION OF THE ADVOCATE GENERAL". European Integration Studies. 16 (1): 81–90. ISSN 1588-6735.
  23. ^ McAuliffe, Karen (2012-03-08). "Language and law in the European Union: the multilingual jurisprudence of the ECJ". In Solan, Lawrence M.; Tiersma, Peter M. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law (1 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 208. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199572120.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-957212-0.
  24. ^ a b McAuliffe, Karen (2017), Nicola, Fernanda; Davies, Bill (eds.), "Behind the Scenes at the Court of Justice: Drafting EU Law Stories", EU Law Stories, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 35–57, doi:10.1017/9781316340479.003, ISBN 978-1-316-34047-9, retrieved 2021-10-10
  25. ^ a b Šadl, Urška; Sankari, Suvi (2017-01-01). "The Elusive Influence of the Advocate General on the Court of Justice: The Case of European Citizenship". Yearbook of European Law. 36: 421–441. doi:10.1093/yel/yex001. hdl:1814/76576. ISSN 0263-3264.
  26. ^ Arrebola, Carlos; Mauricio, Ana Julia; Portilla, Héctor Jiménez (2016). "An Economic Analysis of the Influence of the Advocate General on the Court of Justice of the European Union" (PDF). Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law. 5: 82–112. doi:10.4337/cilj.2016.01.05. S2CID 146742530.
  27. ^ a b Wägenbaur, Bertrand (2013). Court of Justice of the European Union : commentary on statue [sic] and rules of procedure. München: C.H. Beck. pp. 510–511. ISBN 978-3-406-60325-9. OCLC 826895523.
  28. ^ "Review decisions – list of results". InfoCuria. Archived from the original on 2021-10-11. Retrieved 2021-10-11.

Further reading

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Advocate general (European Union)
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