By Harm Schepel
Investment Tribunals called upon to resolve intra-EU disputes are getting used to the European Commission showing up at their doorstep to try to convince them to decline jurisdiction. Though the range of arguments is wide and varied depending on the circumstances of the case and the underlying Investment Treaties, the overarching theme is simply that EU Law reigns supreme in relations between Member States and overrides all international law commitments that individual Member States- and the EU itself in the case of the Energy Charter Treaty- have entered into. The Commission has occasionally met with success: in Electrabel, a long learned discussion on the relationship between EU Law and the ECT was concluded with the bombshell that EU law ‘would prevail over the ECT in case of any material inconsistency’ (para. 4.191). Other times, it is summarily dismissed. ‘Should it ever be determined that there existed an inconsistency between the ECT and EU Law’, observed the Tribunal in RREEF Infrastructure, ‘the unqualified obligation in public international law of any arbitration tribunal constituted under the ECT would be to apply the former. This would be the case even were this to be the source of possible detriment to EU law. EU law does not and cannot “trump” public international law.’[i]
The most interesting point about these wide divergences between different Tribunals on rather fundamental points of EU and international law is how little they seem to matter. In both RREEF and Electrabel and numerous other intra-EU cases, the Tribunals disposed of the matter by pointing out that, in casu, there was no relevant material inconsistency, no conflict, no need to rule on matters of EU law, no incompatibility of obligations under different Treaties, and/or nothing that could not be solved by ‘harmonious interpretation.’ It might make sense to think of this Tribunal practice as devising conflicts-rules.
There are good reasons for the Court of Justice not to want to play this game. A case by case analysis of whether a particular award passes muster through national enforcement proceedings, or a Treaty-by-Treaty analysis of whether a particular dispute settlement or applicable law clause is compatible with EU law, is bound to be time consuming and labor-intensive, and will inevitably be unpredictable and lead to legal uncertainty. Continue reading
By Pekka Niemelä
A week has passed since the European Court of Justice (ECJ) rendered the landmark Achmea judgment. A number of posts analyzing the judgment have already appeared in the legal blogosphere (see e.g. here, here, here and here). Much of this commentary has focused on describing the Court’s reasoning and on analyzing the judgment’s broader implications. Most commentators agree that there was nothing unexpected in the Court’s conclusion that the arbitration clauses in the less than two hundred intra-EU BITs have, as the Court put it, an ‘adverse effect on the autonomy of EU law’ (para. 59).
The judgment’s reception has also varied in accordance with the view one has of the underlying purposes of investment treaties – do they promote the international rule of law or narrow corporate interests at the expense of the public interest? Accordingly, those critical of investment treaties and arbitration have welcomed the judgment, whereas the proponents of investment treaties have argued that the judgment leads to less ‘rule of law within the EU’. On a higher level of abstraction, the plausibility of the Court’s reasoning also depends on the view one has of the EU in general: is it an autonomous constitutional order based on the protection of fundamental rights and certain foundational values? Or should the EU demonstrate more openness towards other international law regimes, as it is just one such regime among others? Depending on the view one has over these two intertwined general questions, Achmea can either appear as a logical corollary of EU constitutionalism or as a breach of the EU’s commitment to the international rule of law.
What this blogpost strives to do is to take issue with the Court’s understanding that arbitral tribunals interpret and apply EU law in ways that pose a threat to its autonomy. The point is not to argue that the Court’s reasoning and conclusions are incorrect, but to shed light on the ways in which arbitral tribunals have actually ‘used’ EU law, and to show that the Court’s understanding (with which most commentators sympathize) that investment arbitration poses a threat to the autonomy of EU law is somewhat inflated. Continue reading
By Christina Eckes
After last week’s Achmea ruling of the Court of Justice (CJEU) Member States can no longer legally go ahead with ratifying CETA – the mixed Free Trade Agreement that the EU and its Member States agreed with Canada. Achmea casts serious doubts on the legality of CETA’s investment chapter, which allows investors from one Party to submit to an arbitral tribunal a claim that the other Party has breached an obligation under CETA. By simply going ahead with the ratification, they violate the principle of loyalty under European Union law.
On 6 March, the CJEU declared in its Achmea ruling that the investor-state-dispute-settlement (ISDS) mechanism in the bilateral investment treaty between the Netherlands and Slovakia (NL-SK-BIT) as incompatible with EU law. A request by Belgium is pending before the CJEU asking for clarification on the legality of the new Investor Court System in CETA (Opinion 1/17). Achmea is a clear indication that the CJEU in Opinion 1/17 is likely to find also the Investor Court System in CETA problematic for the autonomy of EU law.
No general obligation exists for Member States to halt national ratification of mixed agreements when their compatibility with EU is questioned before the CJEU. Yet, CETA is different. The clear indication of incompatibility in Achmea imposes an obligation on national Parliaments to halt the CETA ratification process and wait for Opinion 1/17. Continue reading
By Päivi Leino and Daniel Wyatt
The EU Treaty commits the Union to respect international human rights in both its internal and external action, and to always act as openly as possible. Despite this, the transparency of the EU institutions remains a hot-button issue, including in relation to the consummation of international agreements (or other international arrangements) that have potential human rights implications. This very issue was on display in the recent judgment of the General Court in Case T-851/16 Access Info Europe v Commission. Here, Access Info Europe, an NGO concerned about the 2016 compatibility of the EU-Turkey refugee deal with international human rights law, sought, through an access to documents request made to the Commission, to uncover the institution’s own legal analysis regarding the agreement’s legality.
The matter was no less urgent because of the General Court’s recent order in Cases T-192/16, T-193/16 and T-257/16 NF, NG and NM v European Council, which established that the deal does not count as measure adopted by one of the institutions of the EU for the purposes of judicial review under the Treaties. This leaves the matter in a legal limbo especially considering that the EU is not party to the European Convention of Human Rights and thus not subject to its external human rights scrutiny, a path effectively closed by the CJEU itself. To our knowledge, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, the EU body that was established to provide expertise on fundamental rights, had not been consulted on the matter. It would be a clear concern to the public to uncover, if this indeed was the case, that an international arrangement that dealt with areas of fundamental importance, for example considerations of whether Turkey was a ‘safe third country’ for the purposes of the refugee regime, was concluded on the basis of hasty and incomplete legal advice—or, in the worst case, that advice that deemed the agreement illegal was ignored. It is hard to envisage a matter in which public access rules would be serving their constitutional function better.
By Gianni De Stefano and Jaime Rodríguez-Toquero
The European Commission is about to gain a new investigative power through the Single Market Information Tool (SMIT). The SMIT will allow the Commission to request information (including factual market data or fact-based analysis) from private firms or trade associations when the Commission initiates or substantiates infringement proceedings against one or more Member State(s) that may have failed to fulfil an obligation under the applicable Single Market legislation. This post will discuss the background of the SMIT, its purported rationale, and critically reflect on the powers granted to the Commission under the SMIT.
The Commission is at pains to clarify that the SMIT initiative does not aim to create new enforcement powers allowing it to pursue infringements of Union law in the Single Market area against individual market participants. That said, the Single Market rules can be infringed by either Member States or private companies. Therefore, companies responding to such information requests will not only incur administrative and financial burdens, but they will also have to be careful not to incriminate themselves in doing so, as we will see below.
By Andrea Carta and Laurens Ankersmit
A few months ago, AG Wathelet delivered a remarkable defence of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in international investment agreements between Member States in his Opinion in C-284/16 Achmea. The case concerned a preliminary reference by a German court (the Federal Court of Justice, or Bundesgerichtshof) regarding the validity of an award rendered by an ISDS tribunal under the Dutch-Slovak bilateral investment treaty (BIT). This monetary award against the Slovak government was the result of the partial reversal of the privatisation of the Slovak health care system. The Opinion is the latest development in the legal controversies surrounding ISDS and EU law after the Micula cases and, of course, the recent Request for an Opinion by Belgium (Opinion 1/17) on the compatibility of CETA with the EU Treaties. Although many aspects of this Opinion merit critical commentary, this post will focus on two issues:
- the question whether ISDS tribunals set up under intra-EU BITs should be seen as courts common to the Member States and are therefore fully part of the EU’s judicial system.
- whether the discrimatory access to ISDS in the Dutch-Slovak BIT is compatible with Article 18 TFEU and justified under EU internal market law. Continue reading
Call for Papers : Workshop on Challenges and Opportunities for EU Parliamentary Democracy – Brexit and beyond
Maastricht University, 18-19 January 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions : 20 October 2017.
Workshop « The Political and Legal Theory of International Courts and Tribunals »
University of Oslo, 18-19 June 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions : 1 November 2017.
Workshop: « Resolving the Tensions between EU Trade and Non-Trade Objectives: Actors, Norms, and Processes »
Utrecht University, 10 November 2017. Deadline for registration: 3 November 2017.
Conference « The future of free movement in stormy times »
The Hague University of Applied Sciences, 21 November 2017. Deadline for (free) registration: 13 November 2017.
Call for Participants : European Law Moot Court 2017-2018
Deadline for team registrations : 15 November 2017.
Call for Papers: « The neglected methodologies of international law »
University of Leicester, 31 January 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions: 15 November 2017.
Call for nominations: International Society for Public Law Book Prize
Deadline for nominations: 31 December 2017.
Call for Papers : ESIL Annual Conference « International Law and Universality »
University of Manchester, 13-15 September 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions : 31 January 2018.
By Daniela Obradovic
The duty of solidarity between EU Member States
Although the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) long ago characterised the deliberate refusal of a Member State to implement EU law as a ‘failure in the duty of solidarity’ that ‘strikes at the fundamental basis’ of the EU legal order (Case 39/72, para. 25), it has not been clear whether the principle of solidarity among Member States can be enforced in European courts. The recent response of the CJEU to the Slovakian and Hungarian challenge (C-643 and C-647/15, the migrant quotas verdict) to the Council decision on the relocation of migrants from Italy and Greece (the relocation decision) seems to establish that the principle of solidarity between Member States in the area of EU immigration policy can be a source of EU obligations susceptible to judicial enforcement. Continue reading
By Pieter van Cleynenbreugel and Iris Demoulin
A mere three years ago, the voluntary and non-binding nature of technical standards was still deemed self-evident. Standards, it was believed, would never be seen as parts of EU law. In the meantime, however, the James Elliott Construction case (C-613/14) caused a serious crisis of faith in this regard. Holding that it has jurisdiction to interpret a European harmonised technical standard adopted by the European Committee for Standardisation (‘CEN’), the EU Court of Justice (‘CJEU’) forewarned that it would play a more active role in the interpretation and legality assessment of harmonised technical standards. In the wake of that judgment, the European Parliament in July 2017 additionally also called for more control and accountability mechanisms to be put in place, albeit in ways diametrically opposed to what the CJEU had proposed just eight months earlier. This post will compare and contrast the Parliament’s proposals with the CJEU’s approach in James Elliott Construction, inviting the European Commission to reconcile both institutions’ positions as part of its on-going modernisation initiatives in this field. Continue reading
By Laurens Ankersmit
Opinion 2/15 on the EU’s powers to conclude the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) delivered Tuesday received considerable attention from the press. This comes as no surprise as the Court’s Opinion has consequences for future EU trade deals such as CETA and potentially a future UK-EU FTA. Despite the fact that the ECJ concluded that the agreement should be concluded jointly with the Member States, the Financial Times jubilantly claimed victory for the European Union, belittling Wallonia in the process. This victory claim calls for three initial comments as there are aspects of the Opinion that might merit a different conclusion. Continue reading
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 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 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
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
Conference « New Instruments to Promote the Correct Application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights »
Florence, 28 October 2016. Deadline for (free) registration : 18 October 2016.
Colloquium « Les religions et le droit du travail »
Université de Rouen, 20-21 Octobre 2016. Free access.
Conference « Computers, Privacy & Data Protection : The Age of Intelligent Machines »
Brussels, 25-27 January 2017. Deadline for submissions : 22 October 2016.
Call for Papers: ESIL Conference “The Role of the European Parliament in the Conclusion and Implementation of International Agreements on International Economic Law Issues”
European Parliament, Brussels, 9 December 2016. Deadline for abstract submissions: 7 November 2016.
Call for papers : One Day Symposium on Transnational and International Environmental Crime – Synergies, Priorities and Challenges
University of Lincoln, 15 February 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 18 November 2016.
Call for submissions Comparative Constitutional Law and Comparative Law Quarterly
Deadline for submissions : 27 November 2016.
Housing Law Research Network 3rd Annual Housing Law Symposium: Human Rights, Housing and Dispute Resolution
Malmö University, 23-24 March 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 1 January 2017.
By Darren Harvey
During her speech at the Conservative Party conference on Sunday, Prime Minister Theresa May stated that the UK would be notifying the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the EU in accordance with Article 50(1) TEU by the end of March 2017 at the latest.
Earlier that day, during an interview on the BBC with Andrew Marr, the Prime Minister was asked what will happen immediately after the notification to leave the EU has been made.
The Prime Minister responded:
“Well, it’s for the European Union, the remaining members of the EU have to decide what the process of negotiation is. I hope, and I’ll be saying to them, that now that they know what our timing is going to be, it’s not an exact date but they know it’ll be in the first quarter of next year, that we’ll be able to have some preparatory work, so that once the trigger comes we have a smoother process of negotiation.”
Shortly after this announcement, European Council President Donald Tusk took to Twitter, stating that once Article 50 had been triggered, the remaining 27 EU Member States would “engage to safeguard [their] interests” – thus suggesting that no preliminary negotiations shall be conducted prior to such notification.
This exchange raises a fundamental question about the Article 50 TEU withdrawal process that has not yet been fully considered; namely, what role will the European Council play in this process? Continue reading
By Hugo Flavier and Sébastien Platon
There seems to be a common assumption (see, among many others, here 3.6, here or here at 14:00) that there is a distinction between two kinds of « post-Brexit agreements », i.e. the withdrawal agreement (the divorce settlement) and the agreement regarding the future relationship between the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU). However, this distinction is, in fact, not very clear. It raises, in particular, several questions related to the legal basis and the nature (exclusive or not) of the withdrawal agreement. This contribution aims to clarify the distinction between these two agreements and identify the legal difficulties arising from their articulation. It will be argued that, due to some legal uncertainties, the negotiators of these agreements should be careful of their respective contents. Continue reading