The option to use German before the civil courts of the Province of
Bolzano must not be reserved only for Italian citizens residing in that region
To the contrary, that option must be open to all citizens of the
The use of Italian is compulsory before the Italian civil courts.
Any document drafted in another language is invalid.
However, there is an exception with respect to the courts in the Province of
Italian citizens who reside in that region have the option to use German.
That exception aims to protect the German-speaking ethnic and cultural
minority in the Province of Bolzano.
The Landesgericht Bozen (Regional Court, Bolzano) asks the Court of Justice
whether EU law precludes the option to use German before the courts of the
Province of Bolzano from being reserved solely for Italian citizens residing in
In that case, a German skier was injured on a ski run in the Province of
Bolzano and seeks damages from a Czech skier who is supposed to have caused the
Since the originating application and the defence were drafted in German the
Landesgericht Bolzano should, pursuant to Italian law, declare those documents
However, it has doubts as to the compatibility of such invalidity with EU
In its judgment today, the Court replies that EU law (more specifically the
prohibition on all discrimination on grounds of nationality and the free
movement guaranteed to citizens of the EU) precludes national rules which, in
civil cases brought before the courts of a specific territorial entity in the
Member State in question, grant the right to use an unofficial language only to
Italian nationals who are domiciled in that territorial entity.
The Court recalls that it has already answered that question affirmatively
with regard to criminal proceedings brought before the courts of the Province of
According to the Court of Justice, the considerations which led it to that
result apply to all judicial proceedings brought within the territorial entity
concerned, including, civil proceedings.
None of the arguments raised by the Italian Government in the present case
can justify the rules at issue.
As regards the argument that the proceedings would be encumbered if citizens
of the EU were able to use German, the Court observes that, according to the
information provided by the Landesgericht Bozen, the judges in the Province of
Bolzano are perfectly able to conduct judicial proceedings in Italian and/or
As regards the extra costs which would be incurred by Italy as a result of
the application of the language rules to citizens of the EU, the Court recalls
that aims of a purely economic nature cannot justify a restriction of a
fundamental freedom guaranteed by EU law.
A reference for a preliminary ruling allows the courts and tribunals of the
Member States, in disputes which have been brought before them, to refer
questions to the Court of Justice about the interpretation of European Union law
or the validity of a European Union act.
The Court of Justice does not decide the dispute itself.
It is for the national court or tribunal to dispose of the case in accordance
with the Court’s decision, which is similarly binding on other national courts
or tribunals before which a similar issue is raised.