On 10 December 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered its judgment in the Wightman case on the revocation of a notification of an intention to withdraw from the EU under Article 50 TEU. Extraordinarily, the expedited process adopted by the CJEU upon the request of the referring Scottish Inner Court of Session has seen a judgment delivered barely three months after the original preliminary reference request was made in the domestic judgment on 21 September 2018. This is a reaction to the time-sensitivity of the political end-game of Brexit. The UK House of Commons had been scheduled to hold its ‘meaningful vote’ on adoption of the Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration on the future relationship on 11 December before the postponement of this vote by the government. This vote provided the factual background to the dispute in the case. The petitioners, including Scottish MPs, sought an answer to the question of whether legally there existed the third option of revocation rather than the dichotomy of either accepting the Withdrawal Agreement or else exiting the EU via the automatic operation of Article 50(3) TEU upon the elapse of the two-year time period on 29 March 2019. The full-court judgment has upheld the Advocate-General’s Opinion of 4 December that a Member State is free to revoke unilaterally a notification of intention to withdraw from the EU made under Article 50(2) TEU. Indeed, the final judgment has recognised a right to revoke that is even more receptive to the sovereign discretion of the withdrawing Member State than in the Opinion. This post will first summarise the judgment, before providing some comments thereupon. The Wightman decision has filled a lacuna in EU law; it remains to be seen whether this legal clarity will help to assuage the political chaos currently engulfing the United Kingdom. Continue reading →
A few days before the vote in the House of Commons on the Withdrawal Agreement, scheduled for December 11th, 2018, the debates are still vivid both in the United Kingdom and the European Union. The possibilities of holding a second referendum or stopping the withdrawal process have been repeatedly raised as alternatives should the Withdrawal Agreement be rejected by the House of Commons.
In this context, the pending case Wightman and others before the Court of Justice of the EU is of crucial importance. After the judgment of the UK Supreme Court in R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, which followed the submissions of counsel regarding the irrevocability of a withdrawal notification, the request for a preliminary reference from the Inner House of the Court of Session in Scotland could be a game changer. The Opinion of Advocate General Campos Sánchez-Bordona delivered on December 4th, 2018, invites the Court to rule in favour of the possibility for the UK to unilaterally revoke its notification of withdrawal, potentially opening up a third way. Continue reading →
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 →
In the period since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, Member States have more and more often and more and more passionately challenged the Union exercise of external relations powers conferred to it under the Lisbon Treaty. In the words of Advocate-General Kokott in her Opinion in the Antarctica cases legal actions are fought with ‘astonishing passion’ and ‘allegation[s are made] that the Commission wished to do everything possible to prevent international action by the Member States’, as well as that ‘the Council [was] compulsively looking for legal bases that always permit participation by the Member States’ (para 75).
On 20 November 2018, the Court of Justice ruled in the Antarctica cases on two actions of annulment brought by the Commission against Council decisions approving the submission, on behalf of the Union and its Member States, to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (‘the CCAMLR’) of a reflection paper and a common position on four proposals concerning the creation and study of marine protected areas. The Council was supported in its defence in the two cases by 9 and 10 Member States, respectively. The point of contention – as is the case in a growing body of post-Lisbon litigation – was not the substantive position but the question of on behalf of whom the paper and the positions at issue could be submitted: the Union alone or the Union together with its Member States. Continue reading →
On 21 November 2018 the Court declared a provision of the Law on needs-based minimum income protection in Upper Austria which provides that refugees with a temporary right of residence are granted less social benefits than Austrian nationals and refugees with a permanent right of residence incompatible with Article 29 of the Qualification Directive (Directive 2011/95/EU). The case is important, as the Court also highlighted that the right of refugees to equal treatment with nationals of the respective state with regard to public relief and assistance directly stems from the Geneva Refugee Convention, which does not make the rights to which refugees are entitled dependent on the length of their stay in the respective State. The Court also emphasized that a refugee may directly rely on the incompatibility of the provision with Article 29 of the Qualification Directive before the national courts. Continue reading →
Case C-244/17 – Commission v Council(PCA with Kazakhstan) is one of the most recent cases in the long list of external relations cases and Opinions decided by the Court (in most cases in its Grand Chamber composition) since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty (beginning with Dai-Ichi Sankyo, Case C – 414/11). These cases have covered many aspects of the horizontal balance of competences between the political institutions of the Union, as well as the vertical distribution of powers between the Union and its Member States, in the field of the external relations of the Union.
Inevitably sometimes both aspects are touched upon, as in the present case. On the one hand, there is the question of which institutions play, or should play, a role in the decision-making under Article 218(9); on the other hand questions arise which methods of decision-making should be followed, unanimity or qualified majority voting; whether this should be determined by which legal bases such decisions should be taken and which method should be used to select such legal bases. The first question seems – and is – simple at first sight, but raises an important question about democratic legitimacy. The second question seems very complicated, but – after reflection – can be easily decided on the basis of existing precedents. Continue reading →
In the landmark judgement Commission v France rendered on the 8th of October, the Court of Justice condemned for the first time a Member State for a breach of Article 267(3) TFEU in the context of an infringement action, after the French administrative supreme court (Conseil d’Etat) failed to make a necessary preliminary reference. This decision is undoubtedly a crucial step towards a more complete system of remedies in the EU legal order, but may, upon closer examination, lead to detrimental consequences for judicial dialogue. Continue reading →
The EU case law on the horizontal effect of fundamental rights is not the average lawyer’s go-to example of coherence, clarity, or adequate judicial reasoning. To give credit where credit is due, however, in a series of cases over the last year, the Court has significantly improved this state of affairs. The Grand Chamber’s judgment in Bauer et al is the most noteworthy affirmation of this change of direction so far. This post maps out what might now be safely described as the current position on the horizontal effect of fundamental rights in the European Union and attaches a threefold (mostly positive) meaning to the Bauer judgment. However, using Bauer as a springboard, it also raises two broader questions regarding the status of social rights and the non-horizontality of directives, which may require further refinement in future case-law. Continue reading →
On 8 October, four new Judges and two Advocates General officially entered into office at the Court of Justice of the European Union (henceforth ‘the Court’). Just two days before, the U.S. Senate had confirmed the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Whilst the latter process had attracted the attention of media from all over the world, the appointment of the new European judges had barely made the news. This situation is reflected also in the academic world, which, surprisingly, never showed much interest in the Court’s appointment process.
However, this does not mean that the procedure set out at Articles 253-255 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (henceforth “TFEU”) is immune to criticism. Two aspects in particular appear capable to negatively affect the appearance of independence of the European Judges: the duration of the mandate – 6 years – and the lack of transparency of the whole process which is dominated by national governments. These flaws may be one of the reasons why the Court had elaborated a minimal definition of the concept of judicial independence; a definition that may need to be reshaped in order to tackle the judicial reform enacted by the Polish government.
The concerns related to the transparency of the procedure and the discretion of national executives have been partially addressed by the Lisbon Treaty, with the creation of the s.c. Article 255 Panel. This Panel, composed of senior members of national judiciaries, former members of the Court and one person chosen by the European Parliament, is charged with the task to confirm a candidate’s suitability to perform the duties of Judge or Advocate General. Notwithstanding the undoubtedly positive effects produced by the panel on the quality of candidates, serious concerns remain regarding the transparency of its work: the Council Decision 2010/124/EU establishing the operating rules of this Panel, provides that both the hearing of the candidate and the deliberations of the body shall take place in private. Hence, the introduction of Article 255 Panel has been effectively dubbed as a form of “progress by stealth”.
Ahead of the oral hearing at the Bundesverfassungsgericht in the proceedings “European Banking Union” (on Tuesday, 27 November 2018, at 10:00 a.m.) signs can be found of the need of a slight reconsideration by the Court of some of its tenets about sovereignty and the status of the European Parliament, to which this case lends itself eminently. Here is one of the feelers for a possible outcome, as found circulating in the form of a fictional draft press release of the ruling.
The question whether it would be lawful for a Member State to revoke the notification of withdrawal from the EU before the two-year lapse (laid down in the third paragraph of Article 50 TEU) has, clearly, vital political, economic and social implications. Even though it cuts to the core of the philosophy governing the “ever closer Union” and the role that States and private individuals play in it, it’s also a matter to which the provision itself does not give a definite answer. Moreover, there is no case law issued on the matter by the CJEU that could contribute to the interpretation of the provision, while the UK Supreme Court seems to have posited the irrevocability of a withdrawal notification in the famous judgment issued in the case of R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [UKSC 2016/0196], foregoing the opportunity to use the preliminary reference mechanism. This absence of relevant CJEU case-law is expected to change after the Inner House of the Court of Session in Scotland decided on 21.09.2018 to refer a relevant preliminary question (see O. Garner’s analysis),
Part of the literature expressing interesting and strong legal arguments has suggested the answer to the above question to the positive (e.g. P. Craig, S. Peers, O. Garner, A. Sari). Arguing the contrary and attempting a contribution to the academic debate, this post’s point of view is based on the fundamental principle that the EU legal order constitutes an “autonomous legal system”, which is governed by its own rules enacted by its own institutions and interpreted by its established Court (C-26/62, Van Gend en Loos). It is, therefore, argued that the legal lacuna regarding the provision of revoking the withdrawal notification, leads, according to the interpretation of the provision set out in Article 50 TEU – in line with the letter and spirit thereof – to the conclusion that permitting such a revocation would contradict the principle of autonomy, regardless of whether it is unilateral or initiated upon consensus.
The present post is divided into two parts. In the first part I approach the interpretation of Article 50 TEU through its letter and spirit. In the second part I develop my argumentation concerning the critical role that the fundamental principle of autonomy should play when attempting to find the true meaning of the provision and to fill the legal gap concerning the right to revoke the withdrawal notification. Continue reading →
This is not entirely surprising: due to the increased use of all kinds of online services and information and communication technologies (ICTs), police and judicial authorities are confronted on a daily basis with the problem to collect electronic evidence, as the data they are looking for are often processed, transmitted and/or stored by foreign service providers, including big global technology companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft or Amazon. To compel a foreign person to cooperate in a criminal investigation is not obvious – the enforcement jurisdiction of police and judicial authorities is, in principle, limited to their own national territory.
This post will present the highlights of the double e-evidence proposal that is on the table and the first reactions to the proposals, at a moment where the institutional negotiations are picking up speed. Continue reading →
Book review: S. Vogenauer and S. Weatherill (eds.), General Principles of Law – European and Comparative Perspectives, Hart, 2017, 418 p.
The book is a collection of articles that reflect the outcome of a two-day seminar organised by the Oxford Law Faculty’s Institute of European and Comparative Law in 2015 on general principles of law. As often with collective works the result is a mixed bag with articles jumping in various directions, dealing with international law, EU law, private law and comparative law; some take a bird’s eye view on the legal landscape or the history of European integration, others focus on very specific issues, such as discrimination on the grounds of obesity. All authors, however, have clearly something to tell.
The book starts off with a brief introduction, as is customary for a collective work, but quickly cuts to the chase. The first two substantive chapters contrast the use of general principles in international law through a pleasant overview by Catherine Redgewell and in EU law with a most enjoyable essay by one of the editors, Stephen Weatherill. Continue reading →
On the day that Theresa May declared that withdrawal negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union have reached an impasse, the Inner House of the Court of Session in Scotland issued a judgment that may pave the road for a third option between no deal and May’s imperilled Chequers deal. The Scottish court decided to refer the following question in a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union:
‘Where, in accordance with Article 50 of the TEU, a Member State has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union, does EU law permit that notice to be revoked unilaterally by the notifying Member State; and, if so, subject to what conditions and with what effect relative to the Member State remaining within the EU’.
The purpose of the reference is to clarify for Members of Parliament whether it would be a legally valid option under Section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act to withhold a resolution approving any negotiated withdrawal agreement, or lack thereof, and instead vote to revoke notification under Article 50(2).
This post will summarise the reasoning of the Court of Session judgment. It will then engage with the arguments for and against the proposition that notice under Article 50(2) may indeed be revoked unilaterally. The argument will be forwarded that such a unilateral revocation by the United Kingdom should be possible, so long as a decision is made to do so in accordance with the constitutional requirements of the Member State. The post will conclude with consideration of the second limb of the conditions and effects of such a revocation for the Member State remaining within the EU. If unilateral revocation is indeed possible, it will be argued that the most desirable method of creating such a statutory power would be to include it within legislation mandating the holding of a second referendum on the question of whether the United Kingdom should leave or remain within the European Union, and to predicate its operation thereupon. Continue reading →
Thinking about the whole legal saga arising from Romano Pisciotti’s involvement in the Marine Hose Cartel, discussed recently on this blog by J. Przerwa, triggers some thoughts about how much depends on circumstance and happenstance. This is relevant to the claims often made by enforcers and lawyers regarding the deterrent effect of severe sanctions (in particular the ‘inferno’ of prison terms in the US), of dedicated enforcement efforts (in particular on the part of the US Department of Justice), and of the possibility of extradition to the US (as in Pisciotti’s case). ‘From Hollywood to Hong Kong – criminal antitrust enforcement is coming to a city near you,’ warned Scott D Hammond of the DoJ in 2002. Maybe so. But aficionados of deterrence theory should remember that in this world much depends on circumstance and happenstance.
For instance, there is the happenstance of double criminality as a basis for extradition, and that still varies among European jurisdictions in relation to the criminality of cartel offending. If Pisciotti had changed flights at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport rather than Frankfurt Airport, there would have been a crucial criminal law difference – no possibility of extradition. Moreover, Pisciotti was unaware that he was at risk, having been indicted in the US ‘under seal,’ so that he blithely disembarked at Frankfurt Airport. Then there is the happenstance of court jurisdictions, the Landgericht in Berlin seemingly more willing to raise questions with the European Court of Justice than the Bundesverfassungsgericht. And then there is the circumstance that Pisciotti’s state of nationality, Italy, appeared disinterested or unwilling to take over the legal process and possibly save its national from the ‘inferno’ of an American correctional institution.
In sum, many elements along the road may remain unpredictable or variable, while arguably there are still arguments to be played out at the EU legal level that the variability of legal position across the EU may fall foul of non-discrimination and free movement rules. Even if Pisciotti brings no further claims, this may not be the end of the legal saga, especially in the circumstance of determinedly litigious cartelists such as Romano Pisciotti or Ian Norris, a former UK executive of Morgan Crucible who underwent a somewhat similar fate: his extradition to the US was first refused by the House of Lords on grounds of price-fixing but the DoJ eventually succeeded on the basis of obstruction of justice charges (see for instance here). Let’s hope this case law will also stimulate some further reflection on the underlying deterrence logic of cartel enforcement and the long road ahead to make detection, prosecution and enforcement of sentences more predictable across Europe.
In these times when “strong headwinds” are blowing against the European culture of fundamental rights and the rule of law (see P. Pinto de Albuquerque), the principles of mutual recognition and mutual trust on which judicial cooperation in the EU is based have come under pressure. The CJEU and the ECtHR are increasingly called upon to address the phenomenon of “rule of law backsliding” and to strongly defend these common values.
The recent preliminary reference submitted by the High Court of Ireland in case C-216/18L.M. fits into such trend. It concerns the possibility to refuse the execution of three European Arrest Warrants issued by Polish courts against an individual, L.M., on account of the potential violation of the right to a fair trial ensuing from the latest controversial reforms of the judiciary in Poland. According to the Commission’s reasoned proposal to activate for the first time in history the procedure of Art. 7 TEU, which recently found the endorsement of the European Parliament calling on the Council to take action swiftly, the said reforms resulted in a breach of the rule of law due to, essentially, a lack of sufficient guarantees of external independence of the judiciary at all levels. Even though the application of the Framework Decision on the EAW can be suspended only after a Council’s decision under Art. 7 (1) TEU has been adopted (Recital 10 of the Framework Decision on the EAW), it is nonetheless inevitable that such circumstances may – from the viewpoint of the person subject to an EAW issued by Poland – entail a serious risk of breach of the right to a fair trial. The CJEU now has thus the opportunity to clarify whether an alleged lack of judicial independence amounts to a breach of the right to a fair trial that calls for the refusal to execute an EAW, as an exception to the principle of mutual trust.