Cases C-401 to 403/12 and C-404 to 405/12: No review of legality in light of the Aarhus Convention

Should EU secondary legislation be reviewed against the benchmark of the provisions of an international agreement? In 2012 the General Court answered this question in the affirmative and annulled two decisions of the Commission which were based on a regulation which was deemed incompatible with the Aarhus Convention. However, the EU institutions appealed against those judgments. Consequently, in cases C‑401 to 403/12, Council e.a. v. Vereniging Milieudefensie and C-404 and 405/12, Council v. Stichting Natuur en Milieu e.a., the Grand Chamber of the Court was confronted with the same question. There is already quite some case law on the topic of review of legality within the EU legal order in light of international obligations of the EU, typically with the Court being hesitant to undertake such review. In the cases involving the Vereniging Milieudefensie and the Stichting Natuur en Milieu, the General Court and the Advocate General made, in my view, some valuable suggestions in favour of reviewing EU law against international agreements. Unfortunately, the Court decided to stick to its guns, thus continuing in the line of its own previous jurisprudence, and annulled the General Court’s judgments. The result leaves a somewhat sour taste for those who think that EU institutions and their legal acts should be amenable to judicial review under reasonable conditions. Not only is the very purpose of the EU regulation at issue to implement the obligations arising from the Aarhus Convention, but the Grand Chamber’s view also leads to a lacuna in legal protection in EU law exactly where the central aim of the Aarhus Convention would in theory be to provide individuals with access to justice. Continue reading

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: January 2015

Conference : Alternatives to Immigration Detention in the EU – The Time for Implementation

Université Libre de Bruxelles, 6 February 2015. Deadline for (free) registration : 2 February 2015.

Workshop “Drones and Targeted Killings: Defining a European Position”

Aarhus University, 5-6 March 2015. Deadline for abstract submissions : 1 February 2015. Continue reading

The CJEU and the Spasic case: recasting mutual trust in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice?

Ne bis in idem is a fundamental principle of EU criminal law, protecting citizens against double prosecution, even in transnational situations. Yet what is more, since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the ne bis in idem principle has become a yardstick of the systemic impact of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFREU) on secondary EU law.

One reason for this is that the ne bis in idem principle in Article 50 CFREU differs in some aspects from the principle as laid down in the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement (CISA), which introduced transnational ne bis in idem in the EU legal order. In particular, the CFREU neither provides for the “enforcement clause” (Article 54 CISA) nor for the exceptions foreseen by Article 55 CISA, such as the national security exception. According to the enforcement clause, the transnational ne bis in idem bars further prosecution provided that, if a penalty has been imposed: a) it has been enforced, b) it is actually in the process of being enforced or c) it can no longer be enforced under the laws of the Contracting State. Since none of these enforcement conditions are mentioned by Article 50 CFREU, the question arose, when the CFREU became a source of primary EU law, whether those limiting conditions in the CISA are compatible with the CFREU, taking into account that the CFREU is a lex superior and posterior.

In the Spasic case (C-129/14 PPU, 27 May 2014) the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice (CJEU) provided a partial and to a certain extent striking answer to this question, as this contribution will show.   Continue reading

Top 10 Most Read Posts of the Year

With the end of the third year of operation of the European Law Blog approaching, it is once again time to take a brief look back at the most popular posts of the year. Based on our Google Analytics statistics and keeping in mind that there is a certain bias in favour of older posts which have had more time to become popular, we receive the following little tour d’horizon of EU law… Continue reading

Case C-261/13 P Schönberger v Parliament: Petitioners behold

A perceptive follower of the development of the case-law on access to court and justice in general might have noticed that the less willing the Court of Justice to loosen up the constraints in regard of the locus standi for non-privileged applicants, the more generous it seems to be towards the actual acts which can be amenable to judicial review. Be it for the reasons of democracy and rule of law or for the broadening of its competences, it is apparent that the Court is following this path.

This post shall provide a concise view on one of such cases, namely the recent judgment of the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice in case C-261/13 P Schönberger v Parliament, where the Court assessed the decisions adopted by the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament (Parliament), by which a petition is either found admissible and further processed or declared inadmissible, in view of the possibility to challenge such decisions before the EU Courts. Continue reading

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: December 2014

Call for Papers CJICL 2015 Conference: Developing Democracy – Conversations on Democratic Governance in International, European and Comparative Law

University of Cambridge, 8-9 May 2015. Deadline for paper proposals: 16 January 2015.

Call for Papers: Democratic Standards of and for Free Trade Agreements

Berlin, 24 April 2015. Deadline for paper proposals: 30 January 2015.

Call for Papers: Chasing Criminal Money in the EU: New Tools and Practices?

University of Luxembourg, 15-16 June 2015. Deadline for paper proposals: 31 January 2015.

POMFR: The EU Accession to the ECHR

At the time of writing, EU scholars and lawyers are still eagerly awaiting the Court’s verdict on the compatibility of the EU/ECHR Accession Agreement with the Union Treaties (Opinion 2/13 is to be delivered on 18 December 2014 and hopes are high that accession may proceed as smoothly as possible and without any major amendments to the agreement). In the meantime – pre-Christmas stress allowing – I can only recommend the latest academic contribution to this topic, a volume co-edited by Vasiliki Kosta, Nikos Skoutaris and Vassilis P. Tzevelekos, concisely entitled The EU Accession to the ECHR (Hart Publishing, 2014). Even though the issue of the EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights is almost as old as the Union itself, this book aptly brings the debate again to the spotlight and discusses the intricate nitty-gritties of this historically unprecedented step in a clear and precise manner. And whatever the outcome of Opinion 2/13 might be, human rights in Europe undoubtedly form part and parcel of the European ‘constitutional’ public order – a development to which the case law of the Court of Justice and the entry into force of the Charter of Fundamental Rights have successfully contributed. Accession remains the missing building block in the edifice of European human rights law, which is intended to close the last gaps in the protection of individual rights by subjecting the EU and its institutions to the external supervision of the European Court of Human Rights. Thus, as the editors correctly state, ‘the post-accession order will be structured on a vertical basis confirming that the last say in human rights will rest with the Strasbourg Court’ (p. 4). Continue reading

C-148/13, C-149/13 and C-150/13, A, B and C v Staatssecretaris van Veiligheid en Justitie: Stop Filming and Start Listening – a judicial black list for gay asylum claims

The recent 2 December judgment in the A, B and C case, provides guidance on prohibited steps in determining an asylum claim based on sexual identity. Where was the positive guidance? Is the Court’s failure to provide guidelines on how a claim is to be determined a blessing in disguise?

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Mutual trust and transnational ne bis in idem: A further step made by the CJEU (C-398/12, M., 5 June 2014)

Ne bis in idem is one of the key principles of EU criminal law. On the one hand, it is an important individual safeguard for suspects and convicted persons in the EU, as it protects against double prosecution and double punishment. On the other hand, it is the only mechanism – although imperfect and insufficient – to regulate conflicts of jurisdiction in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ). A final judgment in one Member State indeed prevents another Member State from (further) prosecuting the same person (again) for the same facts.

Last June the Court of Justice (CJEU) issued an important judgment regarding the scope of the transnational protection against double jeopardy. The decision of the CJEU further expands the concept of ‘final decision’ triggering the ne bis in idem, confirming the validity of the previously consolidated trend which, on the one hand, recognises a strong importance to the mutual trust between Member States, and on the other hand acknowledges the inherent link between ne bis in idem and the freedom of movement in the EU.  Continue reading

EU-freedom of movement: No protection for the stranded poor

Case-note on C-333/13, Elisabeta Dano v Jobcenter Leipzig

The Dano case goes right to the heart of the debate on social tourism. Are economically inactive EU-citizens, residing in a Member State of which they are not a national, entitled to social assistance which is granted to nationals of that host Member State? Directive 2004/38/EC (the EU Citizenship Directive) does not oblige Member States to provide for such assistance, but Art. 18 TFEU, Regulation 883/2004 on the coordination of social security and the Charter of Fundamental Rights might do so in the end. These were the elements at stake in the Dano case.

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Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: November 2014

Conference “International Litigation in Europe: the Brussels I Recast as a panacea?”

Verona University, 28-29 November 2014. Deadline for registration: 20 November 2014.

Workshop “L’ordre juridique de l’Union européenne sous l’angle de son action extérieure/The Legal Order of the European Union from the Perspective of Its External Action”

University of Luxembourg, 24 November 2014. (Free) registration required.

The Treaty of Lisbon and EU Criminal Law – Five Years On

University of Innsbruck, 1 December 2014. (Free) registration required.

Third REALaw Research Forum “Judicial Coherence in the European Union

University of Utrecht, 30 January 2015. Deadline for abstract submission: 1 December 2014.

13th Jean Monnet Seminar “EU Law and Risk Regulation”

Inter-University Center, Dubrovnik, 19-25 April 2015. Deadline for paper proposal submissions: 15 January 2015.

Will the Juncker Commission initiate unified Eurozone external representation?

As the response to the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis has shown, when push comes to shove, EU Member States are willing to accept a further transfer of powers to the European level. However, they are – understandably – not so keen on reforms that diminish their international stature. The long overdue consolidation of the Eurozone’s external representation, identified as one of the building blocks of a ‘genuine’ Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), was perpetually delayed under the Barroso Commission. EU Member States, it appears, are still not ready to accept this particular curtailment of their powers. This raises the question whether the new Juncker Commission will be able to seal the deal fifteen years after the Eurozone came into existence. Continue reading

POMFR: The developing regulatory framework of Foreign Direct Investment in the EU

Philip Strik, Shaping the Single European Market in the Field of Foreign Direct Investment, Hart Publishing 2014, 318 pages, ISBN 978-1-84946-5-427.

The place of foreign direct investment (‘FDI’) within the European Union’s legal framework is a topical issue among scholars and practitioners of European law and of international dispute settlement. This monograph explores the issues arising within the internal market and those that have come up in the European Union’s and the Member States’ individual external economic relations. It looks at the various aspects of FDI regulation, analysing the admission, treatment and protection direct investments in the EU.

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Requiring ‘unity first’ in relations with third states: the Court continues ERTA-doctrine in Opinion 1/13

 In last Tuesday’s Opinion (Grand Chamber) following an article 218 (11) request by the Commission, the Court confirmed that the acceptance of the accession of an non-Union country to the 1980 The Hague Convention on child abduction fell within the EU’s exclusive competence. As a consequence, the decision to accept accession of a third state can only be taken after the Council has taken a decision on the matter, and Member States can no longer decide that third countries can accede and establish bilateral obligations on their own. The Court rejected the position taken by 19 out of 20 Member States who submitted observations to the Court, and once again supported the view that EU Member States are required to act jointly first in matters which may affect the EU legal order. The judgment is particularly noteworthy because;

  • The Court’s interpretation on the scope and meaning of the article 218 (11) TFEU request;
  • The confirmation of the ERTA-case-law post-Lisbon.

This blogpost will consider both points in turn. Continue reading

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: October 2014

Conference “The European Union as an Actor in International Trade and Investment”

University of Oslo, 31 October 2014. Registration still open.

4th Conference of the Postgraduate and Early Professionals/Academics Network of the Society of International Economic Law (PEPA/SIEL) 2015

University of Milan, 16-17 April 2015. Deadline for abstract submissions: 2 November 2014.

Call for Papers : Utrecht Journal of International and European Law – Privacy under International and European Law

Deadline extension (!): 14 November 2014.

Conference “Challenges in the field of economic and financial crime in Europe”

University of Luxembourg, 1-3 December 2014. Deadline for registration: 21 November 2014.

The Apple state aid investigation: fiscal state aid at its best

Oddly enough, state aid has recently been making headlines. In June, the Commission decided to open three in-depth investigations into tax rulings issued by Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in relation to Apple, Fiat and Starbucks respectively. In October, the Commission announced that it will also be examining whether the tax treatment of Amazon by Luxembourg is in line with EU state aid rules. These decisions are the spearhead of a recent clampdown on sweetheart tax deals between Member States and big multinationals that Commissioner Almunia says will ensure that they pay “their fair share of taxes”.

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Protocol 16 and the Autonomy of EU law: who is threatening whom?

On 2 October 2013, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe opened for signature Protocol no. 16 to the European Convention on Human Rights. This new Protocol, which has been referred to as the “Protocol of the dialogue” by Dean Spielmann, the President of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), creates the possibility for supreme courts of the Contracting States to the Convention to request an advisory opinion from the ECtHR on “questions of principle relating to the interpretation or application of the rights and freedoms defined in the Convention or the protocols thereto”[1].

Even though the material scope of Protocol no. 16 is clearly confined to the Convention and its protocols, some concerns have been expressed in the recent past, notably at the recent hearing held by the ECJ on the draft agreement on EU Accession to the Convention (“DAA”), that the use of this new instrument of consultation by courts of the EU Member States might be problematic from the point of view of EU law. More specifically, the question was raised in this context whether Protocol no. 16 would not threaten the autonomy of EU law and the monopoly of the ECJ on the interpretation of EU law, by allowing supreme courts of the Member States to engage in a kind of “forum shopping” between the Luxembourg and Strasbourg courts. This contribution purports to demonstrate that those concerns are unjustified and should not be allowed to undermine the further development of the Convention system initiated by Protocol no. 16. Continue reading

No laughing matter: the right to parody in EU copyright law (Case Deckmyn v. Vandersteen, C-201/13)

Suske and Wiske

Parody is one of the limitations on copyright, contained in Article 5(3)(k) of the InfoSoc Directive (‘the Directive’). The list of limitations in Article 5 of the Directive is optional, meaning that the Member States are free to decide which of the limitations from the list they will implement into their national laws. The judgment in Deckmyn v. Vandersteen, issued on September 3rd, is about the concept of parody in the EU copyright law and it is meant to clarify two issues: the scope of harmonization of the parody limitation in the Directive and the criteria to be looked at when applying this limitation. The potential impact of the judgment, however, goes well beyond the pure sphere of copyright: at stake here was also the issue of balancing of the fundamental rights, in particular the balance between copyright and freedom of speech. The Advocate General went further than the Court and also looked at the conflict between the right of ‘human dignity’ (para. 82 of the Opinion) or ‘deepest convictions of European society’ (para. 85 of the Opinion) and the freedom of speech. Unfortunately, the brevity with which the CJEU addressed the most controversial aspects of this case, leaves many questions unanswered. Continue reading

It Takes Two to Tango: Two-Sided Markets and the Appeals in Cartes Bancaires and MasterCard

The Court has recently decided on the appeals in two seminal cases: MasterCard MIF (MasterCard) and Groupement des Cartes Bancaires (CB). Both cases result from Commission decisions that found Article 101 TFEU to have been infringed by the decisions taken within those schemes with regard to fees that form part of the working of these payment systems. To understand both cases it is necessary to first set out the background to the MasterCard and CB systems. After that we will examine the procedure and finally the judgments themselves. This will reveal essentially three interesting issues:

  1. the object-effect dichotomy,
  2. the relation between the exclusion of competitors and the object category, and
  3. the possibility to take into account redeeming features.

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Belgium & EU B-2-C Commercial Practices. Will they ever learn?

In the field of EU B-2-C Commercial Practices, Belgium is a hard learner. Although the Belgian trade practices legislation has already been under investigation several times and has even been declared incompatible with the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (Directive 2005/29/EC) by the EU Court of Justice (e.g. Pelckmans Turnhout NV against Walter Van Gastel Balen NV a.o.; WAMO BVBA against JBC NV and Modemakers Fashion NV; VTB-VAB against Total Belgium,  and Galatea against Sanoma Magazines), the Belgian legislator nonetheless ‘maintained’ certain strict rules. For instance, the Belgian Law of 6 April 2010 on commercial practices, consumer information and consumer protection (LPMC) still excludes certain professions from its scope of application and includes strict rules on discount prices and on the organization of travelling trading and fairground activities.

 Not surprisingly, the European Commission decided to challenge the aforementioned rules and bring an action for failure to fulfil obligations under Article 258 TFEU against Belgium. In this short contribution, I will discuss the judgment of the EU Court of Justice (‘CJEU’) following the aforementioned action. This judgment does not only have an impact on current Belgian trade practices legislation – the LPMC was abolished and replaced by Book VI of the (recently adopted) Belgian Code of Economic Law –, but also contains lessons for other EU Member States.

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