International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Spring 2016 Issue

International Tribunal Spotlight


The Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) States 

The Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)

By: James G. Apple, Editor-in-Chief, International Judicial Monitor

It is not commonly known that there are some western European countries that are not a part of the European Union. The EU currently has 27 member states, but that list does not include Norway, Luxembourg, and Iceland. These three countries are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and also the European Economic Area (EEA). Because they are members of EEA they have access to the internal markets of the EU. Some EU laws apply to them because of this membership, and thus they should be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. This situation presented difficulties because it would give EU institutions powers over non-members. To resolve this dilemma the EFTA court was established.

The original EEA Agreement of 1992 provided that EFTA states would establish a court of justice. This was done for the then seven states of EFTA – Austria, Finland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. The EEA Agreement went into force of January 1, 1994.

On that date the EFTA Court began functioning. It had five judges, one each from Austria, Finland, Iceland,


Norway and Sweden. Switzerland did not ratify the EEA
Agreement. Liechtenstein postponed its referendum. Austria, Finland and Sweden left EFTA in 1995 and joined the EU. Beginning in 1995 the EFTA Court has had three judges and six ad hoc judges nominated and appointed by the three remaining states for terms of six years. Luxembourg was selected as the seat of the Court so that it would be in close proximity to the European Court of Justice.

The EFTA Court is modeled on the European Court of Justice. The main difference is that it does not have Advocates General. The ad hoc judges are called to sit if one of the regular judges is prevented from sitting in a particular case because of illness or bias.

The President of the Court is selected by the judges for a term of three years but may be re-elected. The President is responsible for the judicial business and administration of the Court. The members of the Court also appoint a Registrar who heads the Registry. The Registrar assists the Court in procedural matters, heads the personnel of the Court, and is responsible for pleadings, documents and the Court archives.

The jurisdiction of the Court is limited to matters involving one or more of the member states. There is a Surveillance Authority that allows an EFTA state to reply to complaints against it. The EFTA Court, in addition to its authority to give judgments in disputes, can also issue advisory opinions.

ASIl & International Judicial AcademyInternational Judicial Monitor
© 2016 – The International Judicial Academy
with assistance from the American Society of International Law.

Editor: James G. Apple.
IJM welcomes comments, suggestions, and submissions.
Please contact the IJM editor at