UPDATE 1-EU states may face slew of Brussels fines after landmark legal opinion

(adds details, context) By Francesco Guarascio BRUSSELS, March 28 () – European Union countries failing to apply the bloc’s laws could face a slew of EU fines under a landmark case that could hasten existing sanctions proceedings that rarely end up in penalties, a legal opinion issued on Thursday showed. The 28 EU nations are required to apply EU rules by set deadlines or face sanctions. But the procedures to force them to adopt the laws are so cumbersome that they have led to only 38 fines since 2000 despite hundreds of infringement cases opened by the EU Commission every year. The advocate general of the EU top court called on Thursday for the process to be sped up, issuing a legal opinion that could drastically cut the time needed to fine offending states, potentially exposing them to dozens of penalties every year. Currently states are currently fined only after the EU court rules twice against them on the same case – a process which usually take years and allows countries to breach EU rules for prolonged periods with relative impunity. This has also allowed states like Poland and Hungary to breach EU rule-of-law covenants without facing imminent sanction – a problem the commission plans to address with a new set of rules which could be discussed as early as next week. The legal expert said states could now be fined after only one ruling from the EU top court, in what would be the first application of a so-far neglected article of the EU treaty. Opinions from the advocate general are not binding, but the court has upheld them in its rulings in a overwhelming majority of cases. The case that triggered the opinion was brought to the court by the EU Commission which accused Spain of having failed to adopt EU rules on consumer credit agreements for property deals. After a lengthy case over laws that should have been applied already in 2016, the Commission referred Madrid to the EU court and asked for a daily fine of nearly 106,000 euros ($119,250) after the court judgment. The advocate general endorsed the commission’s position on sanctioning Spain, the court said in a statement, noting that this was the first case in which the court would rule on a direct request for penalties. The court’s ruling is anticipated in the coming months, but there is no set date for it. Over the last year, Brussels brought to the court 38 cases against EU states, and a total of 58 are still pending, court data show. ($1 = 0.8889 euros) (Reporting by Francesco Guarascio Editing by Mark Heinrich)Our Standards:The Thomson Trust Principles.