Pending before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is a core issue of legal protection against European Union (EU) acts – can a bank itself challenge the withdrawal of its license by the European Central Bank (ECB) even when the powers of the bank’s board have been taken over by a liquidator, or can the shareholders act for the bank or, alternatively, for the protection of their own interests?
Three years since the ECB withdrew the license of a Latvian bank, Trasta Komercbanka, in March 2016, this issue of effective judicial protection is at the centre of proceedings in which the Advocate General (AG)’s Opinion is just out. This post sketches the background to the on-going proceedings and summarises the AG’s Opinion, highlighting the issue of contestation of withdrawal of a bank’s license: who can challenge the ECB in court: the bank’s board, side-lined by the liquidator, or its shareholders? Continue reading →
Case C‑202/18 (Ilmārs Rimšēvičs v Republic of Latvia) and Case C‑238/18 (European Central Bank v Republic of Latvia); Opinion of AG Kokott of 19 December 2018, ECLI:EU:C:2018:1030; judgment of the Court of 26 February 2019, ECLI:EU:C:2019:139.
A recent judgment of the ECJ underlined the increasing interweaving of EU law and national law in the area of central bank law, not only in substantive matters but, also procedurally. In the first cases since the provision providing for this anomaly was inserted in the Treaty in 1993, the ECJ confirmed that review of a national legal act affecting the independence of the monetary authority lies with the European Court of Justice. Normally, only legal acts of EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies can be challenged before the CJEU (Article 263 TFEU); national legal acts with an EU law connotation may come before the CJEU through a reference for a preliminary ruling (Article 267 TFEU) or in infringement proceedings (Article 258 TFEU). Admittedly, this is a singular and exceptional case as it concerns review of a Member State measure by which a Governor of a National Central Bank (NCB) is “relieved from office”. Together with the Executive Board of the European Central Bank (ECB), NCB Governors in the Eurosystem form the ECB’s Governing Council, which has ultimate decision-making power for monetary policy in the Euro Area. Since monetary policy is an exclusive Union competence, at least for the <in> Member States, to be pursued in independence, the Court found that it has jurisdiction to assess the legality of a measure that interferes with an NCB Governor performing his functions and annulled the relevant national decision in so far as it prohibits the Governor from performing his duties as NCB Governor. There is more that’s exceptional about this case: alleged corruption at a central bank, allegations of money laundering and of a misinformation campaign…..
On Monday 23 April 2018, the European Commission released its proposal on the protection of persons reporting on breaches of Union law. The proposal of the European Commission comes after pressure of the European Parliament and other organisations calling for a coherent protection of whistle-blowers at the EU level. This pressure results partially from different scandals that were revealed by whistle-blowers such as Panama Papers or the case of the Pilatus Bank in Malta. The Commission’s proposal aims to set common minimum standards to protect whistle-blowers when they report breaches of EU law. It has several legal bases and covers a wide-range of EU areas such as consumer protection, financial services and the protection of privacy and data. The reporting procedure follows the ‘classic’ three-tier model for whistle-blowing, that is reporting firstly internally, then to the designated authorities and as a last solution to the public. The text is innovative in the sense that it proposes a wide definition of the whistle-blower ranging from trainees to ex-employees. The European Commission regards whistle-blowing as an enforcement tool for the prevention, detection and prosecution of illegalities affecting EU law.
For the future, it is compelling to pursue the negotiations between the two co-legislators of the EU (European Parliament and Council) in order to follow the challenges on the question of whistle-blowing at the national and European level. These negotiations could take many years. This post aims to introduce the reader to the proposal for a Directive on the protection of whistle-blowers by cross-referring to the case of the Pilatus Bank where a journalist and a whistle-blower are involved. The purpose is to highlight that there is a need for an EU Directive on the protection of whistle-blowers and to demonstrate that the proposed EU Directive would have better protected the Pilatus Bank whistle-blower. Furthermore, this contribution will demonstrate the problematic nature of money laundering and banking supervision at the EU level. Following the creation of the Banking Union, the interconnectivity of banks is a fact and a problem in one country can create a domino effect to the others. For example, the Pilatus Bank scandal does not only concern Malta but the European banking system as a whole. Continue reading →
From North to South, from national governments to the Commission: EU Institutions and Member States are in agreement that a reform of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) is high on the political agenda. One aspect of such a reform is the integration of the Fiscal Compact into the EU legal framework, which the Member States committed to in the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union (TSCG). With a French Government that is pushing for reforms, a German government that is finally in place, and a proposal for a directive drafted by the EU Commission on the table, it is likely that the topic will gain importance.
In three somewhat distinct steps, this post aims to explain the obligation to incorporate the Fiscal Compact into EU law (1.), explore one viable option to do so, which some of the treaty-drafters might have had in mind, namely the Enhanced Cooperation mechanism (2.), and analyse the (rather surprising) Commission proposal on the topic (3.). Continue reading →
A couple of months ago, an interesting volume edited by Federico Fabbrini, Ernst Hirsch Ballin and Han Somsen entitled „What form of government for the European Union and the Eurozone?“ appeared on the EU law book market. Containing contributions of many renowned scholars of EU law and EU politics, it seeks to explore the impact of the Euro-crisis on the institutional setting, the distribution of competences and the balance of power as well as issues of legitimacy and accountability within the Eurozone and ultimately within the European Union. Continue reading →
Few elections have as their core issue an international arrangement. The Greek election of 25 January 2015 was one of these exceptions. In 2010 and 2012, Greece agreed with its Eurozone partners and the IMF to accept two large bailout packages conditioned on the fulfilment of far-reaching, austerity-oriented reforms. It also agreed to submit to a monitoring mechanism comprised by officials from the European Commission, the IMF, and the ECB that would supervise its compliance with the conditions and regularly revise them. This monitoring and rule-making structure became known as the Troika.
The second of the bailout agreements, concluded in 2012, was due to expire on 28 February 2015. Unlike Portugal or Ireland, Greece had not established access to the bond market by the end of its Adjustment Programme. Ending international financing support at the end of February would thus possibly prompt a Greek default. What the next step after the expiry of the 2012 bailout programme should be was put to a national vote on 25 January.
This post will offer an overview of the recent major developments concerning the Greek part of the Eurozone crisis. It will discuss how the Greek government tried to challenge basic elements of the new European economic governance and the outcome of this challenge. In the first part of the post, I present the starting position of the new Greek government (1.), then the legal and political context in which the negotiations took place (2.), and finally the agreement of 20 February 2015 (3.). In my conclusion, I take the position that opponents of austerity should wait to celebrate a victory. “Strict conditionality”, the necessary counterpart of financial assistance according to EU law, proved to be much stricter than many actors thought, both in economic and institutional terms (4.). Continue reading →
On January 14, Advocate General (AG) Cruz-Villalón issued his opinion in the reference for a preliminary ruling on Gauweiler et al. v Deutscher Bundestag on the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT). The OMT Programme launched in September 2012 was part of a series of measures taken by the ECB in response to the Euro crisis accompanying the loan facilities (European Financial Stability Facility – EFSF, European Stability Mechansim – ESM).
The German Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, “BVerfG”) had asked the Court of Justice (CJEU) two questions in what it classified as an ultra vires review of acts of the European Union. Roughly speaking, the BVerfG wanted to check whether the European Central Bank (ECB) had transgressed the limits of its powers derived from the treaties. If the ECB had, this would have consequences for the constitutional identity of Germany. Therefore, the BVerfG first wanted clarification on whether the Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) Programme was an economic rather than a monetary measure and whether the ECB had therefore exceeded its powers by establishing it. Second, the BVerfG raised the question whether the OMT programme was not violating the prohibition of monetary financing of Member State. Continue reading →
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 →
While the Eurozone crisis started as banking crisis which turned into a sovereign debt crisis simultaneously leading to the crisis of the monetary union, the first measures taken (bilateral loans to Greece, the EFSF, the ESM, the ECB’s SMP and later OMTs, the Six-Pack and the TSCG) were primarily meant to stabilize and contain the ongoing crisis. The Banking Union, however, completed through the recent agreement on the Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM), is a further, forward-looking step. More than to contain, it is meant to prevent crises of the kind just experienced. It has rightly been described as the most ambitious integration project since the creation of the single currency as it leads to its members transferring the control of their biggest banks to the supranational level.
The Banking Union consists of two pillars – the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) and the Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM). Continue reading →
On Friday, February 7th, 2014, the German Federal Constitutional Court (BVerfG) requested the CJEU for preliminary ruling for the first time. The request is exceptional in terms of both European Union law and German constitutional law. Commentators call the decision a Spring in the Desert, a Golden Bridge to Luxembourg or simply put Historic. The BVerfG stated its opinion throughout several decisions regarding fundamental questions between the European Union and its Member States (e.g. Solange I, Solange II, Maastricht, Lisbon), but always abstained from requesting a preliminary ruling. This time, however, the BVerfG indeed submitted a question. The stakes in the case are high, as the BVerfG considers giving an ultra vires ruling regarding a decision by the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) concerning Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) unless the CJEU announces that that decision is partially incompatible with primary law or restricts its scope. If the “conditions” laid out by the BVerfG are not met by the CJEU, the decision on OMT will be declared incompatible with the German constitution. The consequence would be that German authorities would not be bound to the decision by the ECB. In other words, the German central bank with around 18 % in capital subscriptions (shares) of the ECB would not participate in OMTs. Continue reading →