Category: Institutional law

Achmea – A Perspective from International (Investment) Law

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’.[1] 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

Don’t Lead with Your Chin! If Member States continue with the ratification of CETA, they violate European Union law

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

No public interest in whether the EU-Turkey refugee deal respects EU Treaties and international human rights?

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.

Continue reading

The EU Single Market Information Tool: The European Commission’s new investigative power in 2018

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.

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AG Wathelet in C-284/16 Achmea: Saving ISDS?

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 enforcement 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: October 2017

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.

Cases C-643 and C-647/15: Enforcing solidarity in EU migration policy

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

The EP’s ‘European Standards’ Resolution in the wake of James Elliott Construction: carving ever more holes in Pandora’s Box?

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

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: June 2017

Call for papers “The Process of European Integration between Limits and Antinomies: Citizenship, Immigration and National Identities”

Review “Freedom, Security & Justice: European Legal Studies”. Deadline for abstract submissions: 30 June 2017.

Call for expressions of interest – Members of the Scientific Committee of the Fundamental Rights Agency

Vienna. Deadline for applications: 7 July 2017.

Workshop on “Current and Future Challenges of EU Agencification”

Brussels, 20 September 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 7 July 2017.

EJLS 10th Anniversary Conference Call for Papers “60 Years of European Integration: Reflections from Young Legal Scholars”

European University Institute, 16 November 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 15 July 2017.

Call for submissions “Trade, Law and Development”

Deadline for submissions: 20 September 2017.

Opinion 2/15 and the future of mixity and ISDS

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

Implementation of the Aarhus Convention by the EU – An Inconvenient Truth from the Compliance Committee

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

“In Light of the Guidelines”: Brexit and the European Council Revisited

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

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: March 2017

Doctoral Workshop “The EU as a Global Actor in …”

University of Geneva, 6-7 July 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 27 March 2017.

Conference “Article 7 TEU, the EU Rule of Law Framework and EU Values: Powers, Procedures, Implications”

University of Warsaw, 13-15 September 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 30 April 2017.

Conference “Economic Evidence in Competition Law and the Future of the ‘More Economic Approach’”

University College London, 12 May 2017. Deadline for registration: 10 May 2017.

Call for Papers “Comparative Constitutional Law and Administrative  Law Quarterly”

Deadline for submissions: 10 May 2017.

Summer School on EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy

Brussels, 3-14 July 2017. Deadline for applications: 10 June 2017.

Summer School “People on the Move in an Evolving Europe – EU Law and Policy on Mobility, Migration and Asylum”

University of Fribourg, 21-25 August 2017. Deadline for applications: 15 April.

The European Citizens Initiative on a European Free Movement Mechanism: A New Hope or a False Start for UK nationals after Brexit?

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

A Harmonised European (technical) Standard-Provision of EU Law! (Judgment in C-613/14 James Elliott Construction)

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

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: November 2016

Call for papers : The Cambridge International and European Law Conference 2017 «Transforming Institutions»

University of Cambridge, 23-24 March 2017. Deadline for abstract submission : 25 November 2016.

Call for submissions : European Journal of Legal Studies New Voices Prize

Deadline for paper submissions : 15 December 2016.

Call for papers : 6th Conference of the Postgraduate and Early Professionals/Academics Network of the Society of International Economic Law

Tilburg University, 20-21 April 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 30 November 2016.

Call for papers : Conference « Post-Conflict Justice in Ukraine »

Kyiv, 26-27 May 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 15 December 2016.

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: October 2016

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.



“In the Light of the Guidelines”: Brexit and the European Council

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

Brexit: A Tale of Two Agreements?

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

Union Citizenship – Still Europeans’ Destiny after Brexit?

By Gareth Davies

If the UK withdraws from the EU, then its citizens will cease to be citizens of the Union. That much is simple – Article 20 TFEU doesn’t leave any doubt that Union citizens are those who are citizens of the Member States.

Still, while that provision was once thought to make Union citizenship dependent on national citizenship, in Rottmann the Court turned it neatly around, showing how it made national citizenship equally dependent on EU law. In that case a German citizen was faced with threatened denaturalisation, which would be likely to leave him stateless. He argued that the denaturalisation, because it also deprived him of his Union citizenship, was an interference with his EU law rights, and so should be constrained by EU law.

He won on the principle, although he probably lost on the facts: the Court said that indeed, a national measure which deprives a Union citizen of their Union citizenship clearly falls within the scope of EU law, and is therefore subject to judicial review in the light of EU law rules and principles. However, it went on to say that such a measure is not per se prohibited. It must merely be proportionate. Denaturalising fraudsters probably is, in most circumstances. Continue reading