by Alessandra Silveira, Editor and Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor
On 5 December 2017, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled again on the Taricco saga. The interpretation set out in the judgment in Taricco I gave rise to heated debate, particularly within the Italian legal community, since the compatibility of the interpretative solution set out therein was called into question in the light of supreme principles of the Italian constitutional order, particularly the principle of legality in criminal matters [Article 25(2) of the Italian Constitution], the disregard of which would allegedly violate the constitutional identity of the Italian Republic.
At the origin of the judgment in M.A.S. and M.B. (or Taricco II) is thus the interpretation laid down in Taricco I regarding Article 325 TFEU, the provision concerning the obligations on Member States to combat fraud affecting the financial interests of the Union. In Taricco I, the ECJ held it to be incompatible with EU law, in particular with Article 325 TFEU, a national regime on limitation periods for criminal offenses which has the effect that facts constituting serious fraud affecting the financial interests of the Union would escape criminal punishment, in the framework of a de facto impunity.
The contentious point was that, within the Italian legal system, and with support of constitutional case-law, the legislation governing limitation periods of criminal offences is characterised as being substantive (rather than procedural) in character and is, therefore, subject to the principle of legality in criminal matters laid down by Article 25(2) of the Italian Constitution. Since the Italian constitutional order would ensure (according to the Italian Constitutional Court) a higher level of protection of fundamental rights than the one guaranteed under EU law, the Italian Constitutional Court held that both Article 4(3) TEU (respect for national constitutional identities) and Article 53 CFREU (principle of the highest level of protection of fundamental rights) would allow national courts not to comply with the obligation laid down by the ECJ in Taricco I (see commentary here).