European Court Acts on Greek Computer Games Ban

20 October 2004

Finally the European Court of Justice, set up in 1952 under the Treaty of Paris, will judge the Greek law, dated July 2002, concerning the ban on computer games (including those offered at Internet caf├ęs). The European Commission announced last week that it will take Greece to court over the law.

The commission argues that the Greek law is disproportionate because it applies not only to equipment like slot machines and games of chance--which may give rise to social concerns--but also to games that threaten neither public order nor consumers.

EU Directive 83/189/EEC, which was codified by Directive 98/34/EC, requires European member states to notify the commission of their projects in the field of technical regulations, and the requirement has gradually been extended to cover all products and information-society services.

European businesses and consumers in general feel penalized by the gulf between the vision of an integrated European economy and the day-to-day reality in which they operate, according to a report published by the Commission in July 2002 (IP/02/1180). The report, along with other studies and polls, bears witness to the existence of serious obstacles to the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services, despite the fact that more than 10 years have passed since the completion of the single market "without borders" on Jan. 1, 1993.

Erkki Liikanen, the commissioner responsible for enterprise policy, stated, "There is a need for transparency and prevention in order to ensure the smooth operation of the single market in services and thus economic growth in the European Union. The notification procedure has worked well in the sectors of products and online services. Extending it to other services sectors where there is a real need will make it possible to exploit more fully the growth potential in services activities, while avoiding disproportionate bureaucratic burdens."

The ECJ Process

The European Court of Justice's cases are submitted to the registry, and a specific judge and advocate general are assigned to each case. The procedure that follows has two stages: one written and one oral.

In the first stage, all the parties involved submit written statements, and the judge assigned to the case draws up a report summarizing the statements and the legal background to the case. From this report, the advocate general assigned to the case draws his or her conclusions. In light of these conclusions, the judge draws up a draft ruling, which is submitted to the other members of the court for examination.

The second stage is a public hearing. In principle, this takes place before the whole court (in "plenary session"), but hearings can also take place before chambers of three or five judges, depending on the importance or complexity of the case. At the hearing, the parties' lawyers put their case before the judges and the advocate general, who can question them. The advocate general then gives his or her conclusions, after which the judges deliberate and deliver their judgment.

Judgments of the court are decided by a majority and pronounced at a public hearing. Dissenting opinions are not expressed.

The court case involving the Greek policy on electronic games is planned to start in September 2005.