By Benedikt Pirker
Arguably one of the most important international environmental agreements of our days, the Aarhus Convention (AC), obliges its contracting parties to provide access to information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters. Based on a communication by the NGO ClientEarth, the Compliance Committee – the compliance mechanism put in place under the AC – handed down an important decision (called ‘findings and recommendations’ in the Aarhus terminology) with regard to the European Union on 17 March 2017. The present post aims to highlight the most important findings of the Committee, which – in no uncertain terms – criticized a number of features of current EU law as a failure to implement the AC. Continue reading
By Gian Marco Galletti
In his Opinion issued in case C-329/15 ENEA SA w Poznaniu v Prezes Urzędu Regulacji Energetyki on 22 March 2017, AG Saugmandsgaard ØE held that the quota-based system designed by Poland in order to support the production of energy from cogeneration (‘Combined Heat and Power electricity’ or ‘CHP electricity’) should be sheltered from the application of State aid rules as it does not fulfil all the conditions enshrined in Article 107(1) TFEU (‘Article 107(1)’). In particular, the missing piece of the ‘aid jigsaw’ is, according to AG Saugmandsgaard ØE, that the national measure in question does not entail the use of ‘State resources’.
The interpretation of the State resources criterion is a classic battleground between the effectiveness of EU rules and the protection of national regulatory autonomy. On the one hand, a broad reading of the State resources criterion is justified by the fact that Member States may feel tempted to assume a ‘private form’ to evade the application of State aid rules; on the other hand, a narrow reading averts the risk of enabling the Commission to conduct ‘an inquiry on the basis of the Treaty alone into the entire social and economic life of Member States’, as famously summarized by AG Jacobs in Viscido. The EU case law has, after some fluctuations, opted for a broad approach leaving only limited room for a finding of no State resources and therefore no aid (PreussenElektra). This was particularly evident when the Court was called to examine energy production-supporting measures taken by the Member States: the Netherlands (Essent Netwerk), Austria (Austria v Commission), France (Association Vent de Colère) and Germany (Germany v Commission) all unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the European judges that their feed-in tariff schemes did not engage public resources.
From a policy perspective, if this Opinion were to be upheld by the Court this would be the first (post-PreussenElektra) happy ending for the Member States in their struggle to design State aid-compliant legal mechanisms for funding the switch towards environmentally friendlier energy mixes and production processes.
From a strictly legal perspective, the reasoning of the AG in the present case deserves special attention in that it appears to point to a narrower, and arguably more accurate, interpretation of both layers of the State resources criterion. Continue reading
By James Organ
The European Citizens Initiative (ECI) is an agenda-setting tool that gives EU citizens an opportunity to directly influence EU policy. There were high expectations of the ECI enhancing EU democracy when launched in 2012, but only 3 ECIs have so far managed to collect the one million signatures needed to request the Commission to propose a legal act of the Union. EU citizen appetite for direct democracy remains strong, however, and there has been a recent resurgence in the ECI. The number of new initiatives has increased – including last week an ECI aiming to strengthen EU citizenship in the face of Brexit – and new ECIs are being strongly supported, with the Ban Glyphosate ECI gathering almost 700,000 signatures in less than 3 months.
The other important area of ECI activity has been in the General Court where citizens are challenging the Commission’s restrictive approach to ECI registration: almost 40% of ECIs rejected to date. The first three judgments upheld the Commission’s registration decisions, but in the Minority Safepak case ECI organisers successfully challenged a Commission ECI registration decision for the first time. Published last month, the Court decision itself was only a minor, narrow victory for the ECI that left many questions still to be answered in its on-going legal saga. However, following last week’s surprising Commission response to the judgment, the annulment of the Commission’s decision to refuse registration of the Minority Safepak ECI could yet be a landmark decision in defending EU citizens’ rights of democratic participation and direct democracy in the EU. Continue reading
By Gareth Davies
And below: Bougnaoui v Micropole: Mildly Surreal Thoughts on Competence and Clothes (particularly when worn by women)
The two cases were decided on the same day by the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice. Although they both concern essentially the same fact set – a firm wishing to dismiss an employee who insists on wearing an Islamic headscarf – the questions referred were different, and the substantive discussion is found in Achbita. Bougnaoui, briefly noted at the end of this blog, addresses just one, odd, point: the Court confirmed that the fact that a Muslim woman wears a headscarf does not make her incapable of doing her work. That is little comfort though – since Achbita decided that she can probably be dismissed anyway.
In Achbita v G4S the Court of Justice was asked whether a private firm could prohibit the wearing of Islamic headscarves by employees who dealt with customers, or whether this violated the ban on religious discrimination in the workplace, found in Directive 2000/78. The claimant, Ms Achbita, worked as a receptionist for G4S in Belgium. When she began wearing a headscarf she was warned that it was against company policy, which disallowed all religious, political or philosophical signs in the workplace. When she continued, she was dismissed.
The Court found that under the right circumstances a company might be entitled to have a policy of this sort. One condition was that the policy must be in writing – in the interests of certainty and clarity. Another condition was that it must apply without distinction to all beliefs. Continue reading
By Darren Harvey
Following the delivery by Sir Tim Barrow of a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk notifying the European Council of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU, the two-year time period within which the UK and EU shall negotiate and conclude a withdrawal agreement has commenced.
According to Article 50(2) TEU, the first step in this process is for the European Council to agree upon a set of guidelines defining the framework for the EU side of the negotiations.
A first draft of these guidelines was circulated by European Council President Donald Tusk on Friday 31st March 2017.
The purpose of this post is to follow up from a post written last October on the role of the European Council and the Brexit process. Continue reading
By Laurens Ankersmit
In a significant win for access to justice in environmental matters, the Court’s Grand Chamber found that Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (the right to an effective remedy), read together with the Aarhus Convention, precluded the application of national procedural rules allowing for swift decision-making at the expense of rights granted to environmental NGOs. The case’s procedural history is very complex (the Advocate General referred to it as either Kafkaesque or tilting windmills like Don Quixote, depending on your point of view), so after only a brief factual discussion I will focus on the two major constitutional issues that the Court had to deal with:
- The legal effects of the Aarhus Convention in the EU legal order;
- The meaning of Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR).
By Gareth Davies
As the Brexit negotiations become a reality, the position of UK citizens living in other EU states, and of EU citizens living in the UK attracts ever more discussion, particularly within the UK, where there has been great political support for the idea that those already established in the UK should not simply be thrown out. Nevertheless, aspects of UK procedure and bureaucracy are making it extremely difficult for Union citizens to obtain recognition of their right to reside. At the heart of this is the lack of a UK population register and of any registration requirement, meaning that most Union citizens moving to the UK do so without formalities. That may seem refreshingly easy at first. However, it means that if a Union citizen wants the UK to recognize that they have a right of permanent residence, they have to prove retrospectively that their last five years have been both in the UK, and in compliance with the terms of the Citizenship directive. That raises enormous evidential problems. One of these is to do with sickness insurance: while taking no active steps to require this from new arrivals, the UK takes the view that only those who were privately insured against almost all medical risks were actually lawfully present. This comes as a nasty shock to many migrant citizens – most of them, like over 90% of UK citizens, use the National Health Service rather than private insurance. The discussion below explains how this situation has arisen, and considers whether the UK’s standpoint complies with Union law. It suggests that this issue should not be ignored in Brexit negotiations, as it concerns the rights and lives of many thousands of Europeans. Continue reading
By Margarite Zoeteweij-Turhan and Sarah Progin-Theuerkauf
On 7 March 2017, the CJEU announced its judgement in case C-638/16 PPU (X and X / Belgium) and dashed all hopes for an extensive interpretation of the EU Visa Code in the light of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. To summarize the facts of the case, X and X and their three small children are an Orthodox Christian family living in rebel-held Aleppo. In October 2016 X leaves Aleppo to apply for a visa with limited territorial validity ex Article 25(1) of the EU Visa Code at the Belgian embassy in Beirut (Lebanon). The application states that the aim of entry into Belgium is to apply for asylum. X returns to his family in Aleppo immediately after lodging the application. Less than a week later, they are served with a negative decision from the Belgian authorities, against which they appeal. The court of appeal refers the case to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of Article 25 of the Visa Code. In its rather short judgment the CJEU determines, contrary to what AG Mengozzi (see detailed analyses of this Opinion here and also here) argued with regard to this case, that the applications of X and X fall outside the scope of the EU Visa Code, even if they were formally submitted on its basis. Continue reading
By Stephen Coutts
The on-going conflict in the Middle East has profound implications for the global legal order in two areas of law in particular: asylum law and anti-terrorist law. The European Union and EU law have not been immune from this development and in many respects are closely affected by these geopolitical developments and their legal impact. After a fitful start, the EU has become a major actor in the area of criminal law, and in particular anti-terrorist law, on the one hand and in asylum law on the other. The two fields meet in Article 12(2)(c) of the Qualification Directive, itself reflecting Article 1F of the Geneva convention, providing that an individual shall be excluded from eligibility for refugee status for acts contrary to the principles and purposes of the United Nations, acts which have been held to include acts of terrorism. Furthermore, Article 12(3) of the Qualification Directive extends that exclusion to ‘persons who instigate or otherwise participate in the commission of the the crimes or acts’ mentioned in Article 12(2). The status of terrorist and refugee are legally incompatible and mutually exclusive; one simply cannot be a terrorist and also a refugee. What, however, constitutes a terrorist for the purposes of Article 12 of the Qualification Directive? That essentially is the question at stake in Lounani. Continue reading
By Thomas Verellen
On Valentine’s Day 2017, the Grand Chamber of the ECJ issued its opinion on the competence of the EU to conclude the ‘Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.’ As happens increasingly often, the Commission, on the one hand, and several Member States and the Council on the other, disagreed on the nature of the competence of the EU to conclude the agreement. The Commission considered the agreement to be covered entirely by the EU’s exclusive competences, whereas the Member States, and to a lesser extent the Council, argued that at least part of the agreement fell outside of the scope of those competences, and instead fell within the scope of the EU’s shared competences.
The distinction between exclusive and shared competences matters. Unless an agreement is covered entirely by the EU’s exclusive competences, it will most likely be concluded in the form of a mixed agreement, i.e. an agreement to which not only the EU, but also the Member States are parties. This typically is the case even when the agreement falls within the scope of the EU’s shared competences, as the Council considers that when the Commission proposes to negotiate and conclude an international agreement parts of which are covered by shared competences, the Council can opt not to exercise those competences with regard to part of that agreement, however small this part may be. In such an event, the Member States must fill the gap by exercising their own competences, rendering the agreement a mixed agreement. Continue reading
By Oliver Garner
I. Introduction: A New Initiative for UK nationals After Brexit?
On 11 January 2016, the European Commission registered a European Citizens Initiative to create a “European Free Movement Instrument”. The purpose of the Initiative is to lobby the European Union institutions to create a mechanism by which individuals may be directly granted the rights of free movement provided by EU citizenship, which is currently predicated upon nationality of a Member State in accordance with Article 20 TFEU. The proposers of the Initiative – the “Choose Freedom Campaign” – outline that their intention is not to reform the nature of Citizenship of the European Union; they concede that “the EU isn’t a government, and only Nation states can issue Citizenship”. Instead, their ambition is more limited – they argue that the European Union should institute a “Universal Mechanism” in order to provide individuals with a European Union passport: “we beg the Commission to delineate a method by which all Europeans of good standing may be granted a signal & permanent instrument of their status and of their right to free movement through the Union by way of a unified document of laissez-passer as permitted by Article (4) of Council Regulation 1417/2013, or by another method”.
Although the information on the Initiative on the Commission’s website and the accompanying press release do not explicitly link the putative Free Movement Mechanism to Brexit, it seems clear that such a competence for the European Union to directly issue EU passports would address the loss of rights that will be attendant to UK nationals losing the status of EU citizenship provided to them through nationality of a Member State once the United Kingdom has withdrawn in accordance with Article 50 TEU. Continue reading
Workshop Series “Current Issues in EU External Relations”
University of Luxembourg, 31 March/19 May/29 May 2017. Deadline for proposal submissions: 6 March 2017.
Conference “Comparative Public Law in Europe – Opportunities and Challenges”
University of Essex, 14 March 2017. Deadline for (free) registration: 10 March 2017.
Radboud Economic Law International Conference “Digital Markets in the EU”
Radboud University, 9 June 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 24 March 2017.
Summer Schools “Venice Academy of Human Rights – Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as an Answer to Rising Inequalities” and “Venice School of Human Rights – Human Rights as Our Responsibility”
EIUC Venice, 3-12 July and 9-17 June 2017, respectively. Deadline for applications: 19/27 April 2017.
By Margarite Zoeteweij-Turhan and Sarah Progin-Theuerkauf
The opinion of AG Mengozzi in the case of X and X v. Belgium, so far only available in French, has created quite a stir throughout the European Union. In a nutshell, the AG found that, when third country nationals apply for a visa with limited territorial validity (‘LTV’) under Article 25 of the Visa Code with the aim of applying for international protection once they have arrived in a Member State’s territory, the Member State’s immigration authority should take the circumstances of the applicant into account and assess whether a refusal would lead to an infringement of the applicant’s rights as protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Although the AG makes an effort to cover all the arguments brought up by the parties, this blogpost focuses mainly on the issues directly related to the margin of discretion left to the Member States by Article 25(1) of the Visa Code. Continue reading
By Laurens Ankersmit
This blog post summarises my contribution to the Brexit & Environment roundtable organised by the British Academy & EUrefEnv on 30 January 2017. It was published before on the blog The EU Referendum and the UK Environment: an expert review.
The UK government has announced that it will pursue a “bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement” with the EU. The EU, no stranger to negotiating such agreements, typically includes in its FTAs a chapter dedicated to sustainable development. From the start, it should be clear that these chapters come nowhere near the protection offered by current EU environmental legislation. That said, these chapters may present some opportunities. This contribution seeks to explain the EU’s approach to environmental protection in its FTAs and identifies four key options for a potential future environmental chapter in a UK-EU FTA. Continue reading
By Oliver Garner
Introduction – A Timely History Lesson
On the 24th January 2017, 7 months to the day of the result of the UK’s referendum to leave the European Union, the President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court delivered the judgment in the Miller appeal. The Court held, by an 8-3 majority, that the UK Government did not have the power to give notice under Article 50 TEU to withdraw from the European Union without a prior Act of Parliament .
Lord Neuberger started the announcement in the manner of a history lecture, detailing the United Kingdom’s accession to the then European Economic Community in 1973. This was a fitting introduction to a judgment which at times reads like a lesson in the UK’s constitution. Accordingly, this lesson encompasses the place that EU law occupies within this order. This post will attempt to provide a concise summary of the magisterial judgment, before providing some comment on the salient issues relevant to EU law. Continue reading
By Megi Medzmariashvili
Is a harmonised technical standard (HTS) developed in response to the Commission’s mandate, a provision of EU Law? Up until recently, this issue has not been raised before the CJEU, much to academics’ surprise working in this field. Contractual litigation in James Elliott Construction became a trigger for the inquiry about the legal nature of HTS. The Court handed down its judgment on 27 October 2016, nine months after the Advocate General’s (AG) Opinion was published. Two blog posts discussed the AG’s Opinion and offered divergent analysis thereof.
The judgment, in essence, followed the AG’s Opinion resulting in the finding that an HTS is a part of EU law. The Court’s line of argumentation, as opposed to the AG’s, is remarkably cautious. In short, the Court regarded privately produced technical rule-HTS, as a provision of EU law. At the same time, the ECJ was extremely keen to prevent an HTS from having effects on a contractual relationship or on the Irish Law on Sale of Goods. Continue reading
By Orla Lynskey
The CJEU delivered its judgment in Tele2 Sverige AB and Watson on 21 December 2016. The Court had been asked by a Swedish and British court respectively to consider the scope and effect of its previous judgment in Digital Rights Ireland (discussed here). The judgment reflects continuity in so far as it follows in the line of this, and earlier judgments taking a strong stance on data protection and privacy. Yet, the degree of protection it offers these rights over competing interests, notably security, is radical. In particular, the Court unequivocally states that legislation providing for general and indiscriminate data retention is incompatible with the E-Privacy Directive, as read in light of the relevant EU Charter rights. While the judgment was delivered in the context of the E-Privacy Directive, the Court’s reasoning could equally apply to other EU secondary legislation or programmes interpreted in light of the Charter. This judgment will be a game-changer for state surveillance in Europe and while it offered an early Christmas gift to privacy campaigners, it is likely to receive a very mixed reaction from EU Member States as such. While national data retention legislation has been annulled across multiple Member States (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Germany and Romania), this annulment has been based on an assessment of the proportionality of the relevant measures rather than on a finding that blanket retention is per se unlawful. For those familiar with the facts and findings, skip straight to the comment below. Continue reading