The European Law Blog will be taking a summer recess. We’ll be back end of August with new commentaries, including on key Summer developments. Please do send us on your contributions throughout this period and we will get back to you in due course. Happy Holidays to all our readers!
By Valentin Vandendaele
Lawyers, engineers, architects, and other liberal professions, i.e. ‘occupations requiring special training in the liberal arts or sciences’, tend to be subject to heavy regulation. Such regulation may preserve a high service quality or shield consumers against malpractice (see the European Commission’s Report on Competition in Professional Services (COM(2004) 83 final, paras 1 and 28). In a similar vein, Member States have adopted legislation setting minimum and maximum prices in an attempt to ensure service quality by preventing excessive competition on price or to protect consumers from excessive prices.
One example of such legislation is the German Honorarordnung für Architekten und Ingenieure, which was the matter of contention in the Commission v Germany case (C-377/17). This decree fixed minimum and maximum tariffs architects and engineers could charge for their planning services. In its judgment, the Court of Justice of the European Union (Court) ruled that these tariffs constituted requirements falling within the scope of Article 15(2)(g) of the Services Directive (2006/123/EC). This was true even though the German measure provided for multiple exceptions allowing the legal minimum and maximum tariffs to be disregarded. Advocate General (AG) Szpunar had more openly suggested that these exceptions were inconsequential under Article 15(2)(g). Finally, the Court held that the German tariff regulation did not satisfy the conditions in Article 15(3) to be compatible with the directive. Continue reading →
In an increasingly changing and global business environment, companies need to be able to reorganise, also internationally, through cross border, mergers, divisions and conversions. At the same time, these operations pose a risk to stakeholders’ rights, and international reorganisations are increasingly seen by the public, NGOs and EU institutions as a means to avoid social and tax legislation, especially for transnational companies. This tension has been obvious in the preparation of the Directive on cross-border mobility (hereinafter: the new Directive)approved by the European Parliament on April 18th –see the final text here , subject only to the corrigendum procedure– that amends Directive 2017/1132 relating to certain aspects of Company Law (hereinafter: the 2017 Directive).
The key novelty is that the scope of regulated cross border transactions is broadened, as the new Directive adds cross-border divisions and conversions to the already harmonised regulation of cross-border mergers. The EU Court of Justice (hereinafter: ECJ) had declared that companies should be allowed to carry out cross-border transactions as a consequence of their right to freedom of establishment (cases SEVIC,Cartesio, VALE Építési and POLBUD) but the lack of regulation implied practical difficulties. Continue reading →
One stone can change the current of a river. Likewise, one small seemingly technical rule can alter the entire legal system and with it the basic fabric of society.
The European Parliament is about to enact a Directive on Preventive Restructuring Frameworks. Last minute a completely new and never tested nor explained legal concept referred to as Relative Priority was inserted, probably without realizing its ramifications. This new rule is likely to distort basic private law, basic company law and basic insolvency law. Most likely, the European Parliament thinks it is saving businesses and thereby jobs and while at it, also strengthening the position of Small and Medium Enterprise (‘SME’) Businesses in Europe. It will not do that. Much more likely is that Relative Priority will turn against the interests of SME’s.
Regardless of whether one has the interest of large banks and the stability of the financial system in mind or the interest of SME’s, the Relative Priority Rule (RPR) is an untested underexplored rule that will upend general commercial law. Continue reading →
Online platforms have become major economic players over the past decade. It is not surprising, therefore, that their business practices have captured the European Union’s attention. This attention resulted in a 2018 proposal for a Regulation on transparency and equity in relationships with online platforms, a political agreement on which has been reached between the Commission, Council and European Parliament on 13 February 2019 (see for the press release, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-19-1168_en.htm). It is very likely that this Regulation will be adopted before the European Parliament elections of this year. Even though it may seem premature to comment on the Regulation’s content in an in-depth way (the final negotiations and fine-tuning are still in progress at this time), this contribution would like to flag an important gap that has seemingly withstood scrutiny so far. That gap concerns the fact that the proposed Regulation apparently – seemingly unintentionally – would not apply to ‘underlying service-attached intermediation activities’ offered by platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo. This is most surprising, as the Commission clearly wants them to fall within the scope of that Regulation (according to its press release mentioned above, the new instrument is to apply to ‘the entire online platform economy’ if and when adopted). This contribution uncovers that gap and proposes a way to close it. Continue reading →
A small change can have big consequences. Some of these changes may be unplanned and unpredictable. Some represent welcome developments that complement and contribute to long-running narratives of progress. Arguably, the recent publication of a reference to a harmonised standard in the L series of the Official Journal of the European Union belongs to the latter category. It may yet, however, prove to have unintended consequences that go beyond that which was originally envisioned.
Technical standards have long played a fundamental role in the regulation of the internal market. According to the regulatory technique of the “New Approach”, EU directives establish only the essential requirements of general interest of a product, while referring the detailed definition of technical aspects to private organizations composed of experts and representatives of the business sector, i.e. the European standard-setting organisations (ESOs). To this end, the European Commission makes a request to one of these ESOs and, where a standard satisfies the requirements set out in the request and in the corresponding Union harmonisation legislation, it publishes a reference to it in the Official Journal. Through this procedure, these standards elaborated by private European standardisation bodies are granted a presumption of conformity with the secondary EU law measures they are aimed at complementing. Consequently, they are endowed with the qualification of ‘harmonised standards’.
Recent developments in EU legislation (see Regulation EU) No 1025/2012) and in the case law (see, inter alia, Case C-171/11, Fra.bo. v DVGW) have progressively changed the view of standardization as a purely non-binding, private phenomenon. In particular, the James Elliott case established the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice with regard to the interpretation of harmonised standards in a preliminary reference under Article 267 TFEU, clarifying that harmonised standards shall be considered as “measures implementing or applying an act of EU law” and, therefore, “part of EU law”. This ruling of the Court has thus contributed to strengthen the claims of an unstoppable “juridification” of harmonized standards, fostering the debate on their legal qualification under EU law (as discussed here, here and here). Continue reading →
All is clear, then: CETA’s Investment Chapter is perfectly compatible with EU Law. According to Advocate General Bot, the agreement is wholly separate from the normative (as opposed to the factual) universe of EU law, and merely protects readily identifiable ‘foreigners’ investing in the EU in the same way as it protects readily identifiable ‘European’ investors in foreign lands. From what we know of the hearing, the Advocate General provides not much more than a useful summary of the talking points offered by the Council, the Commission and the vast majority of the 12 intervening Member States, remarkably united in a bid to save the EU’s new external trade and investment policy. Clearly, the pressure on the Court to follow suit will be enormous. And yet. It is true, CETA builds strong fences to make good neighbors. But let spring be the mischief in me: CETA cannot wall out what EU Law walls in.[i]
The EU’s exercise of its post-Lisbon competences over foreign direct investment (FDI) has been anything but smooth. In Opinion 2/15 the CJEU clarified the EU and Member State competences over the EU’s new generation free trade and investment agreements, resulting in the splitting of the EU‑Singapore agreement into a separate trade and investment agreement. Then, in Achmea the Court found investor-state arbitration (ITA) clauses under intra-EU BITs to be incompatible with EU law, which will result in the termination of almost 200 intra-EU BITs and the non-enforcement of ITA awards rendered under them within the EU. Now, everyone is anxiously awaiting the outcome of Opinion 1/17 – requested by Belgium under the insistencies of Wallonia – and whether the Investment Court System (ICS) under CETA is compatible with EU law. This opinion will not only affect the entry into force and conclusion of the trade and investment agreements with Canada, Singapore, Vietnam and Mexico, but it will have broader implications for the multilateral ISDS reform process and the EU’s investment policy.
Therefore, Advocate General Bot’s extensive opinion delivered on 29 January 2019 (first commentaries here and here) in which it found the CETA ICS to be compatible with EU law deserves scrutiny. I will only focus on the AG’s arguments concerning the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court of Justice over the definitive interpretation of EU Law. In a separate post, Harm Schepel will focus on the AG’s arguments on non‑discrimination. Continue reading →
All eyes were on the Wightman case in recent days. This may have somewhat overshadowed a second interesting development: On Friday 7 December the Swiss government (the Federal Council) decided to publish the result of its negotiations with the European Union on a Framework Agreement (FA) for their bilateral relationship. Such an agreement would form a sort of governing structure for the most important of the Bilateral Agreements that currently link the EU and Switzerland.
There is a complex political context to the negotiations of this draft agreement that I will deliberately leave aside for the present post (see for a recent overview over Swiss-EU relations here). To put it in a nutshell, since 2008 the EU requests this step from Switzerland, and since 2014 the EU and Switzerland have been negotiating a special agreement to cover the most crucial current and future (market-access oriented) agreements among the Bilateral Agreements currently in force between Switzerland and the EU. The goal is to create a more reliable framework (1) for Switzerland’s incorporation of EU legal acts in the relevant domains, (2) for the uniform interpretation and application of the Agreements and the EU law referenced therein, (3) for the surveillance of the application of those norms and (4) for the settlement of disputes (Article 1 (3) FA). Presently, I want to highlight two elements that seem to be of relevance beyond the confines of Swiss-EU relations: the solution found for the interpretation and dispute settlement of the FA and the law it covers. Continue reading →
The much awaited Company Law Package was finally published by the European Commission on April 25. It aims to establish “simpler and less burdensome rules for companies” regarding incorporation and cross border transactions and consists of two proposals.
Proposal 2018/0113 intends to promote the use of digital tools and procedures in company law. Member States will need to allow a fully online procedure for the registration of new companies and of branches of other companies, that permits the incorporation without the physical presence of the members before any public authority. To avoid fraud and abuse the proposal “sets safeguards against fraud and abuse such as mandatory identification control, rules on disqualified directors and a possibility for Member States to require the involvement of a person or body in the process, such as notaries or lawyers”. The proposal also establishes the need to offer free access to the most relevant information of companies in the Companies Registers. This proposal will require important changes in national legislations and its implementation will be a technological challenge for the Member States that want to preserve the present level of control in the incorporation of companies. The question of online identification will undoubtedly be of special interest and complexity.
This first proposal certainly deserves more detailed examination. However, to keep this post short, I will concentrate here on the second proposal (2018/0114) regarding cross-border conversions, mergers and divisions. Continue reading →
Long gone are the days when a taxi was the only means of private transport in return for payment to be obtained in our cities. The ridesharing smartphone application provider Uber has shaken up the way in which people book, offer and conceive private rides. One of the most far-reaching and therefore controversial Uber applications is UberPOP. That application enables non-professional individuals (in contrast with UberX, which relies on professional – and often licensed – drivers) to act as remunerated drivers, transporting other private individuals from point A to point B. As UberPOP drivers generally are non-professional drivers making ancillary revenue out of their ridesharing activities, they do not have a taxi or other transport license and are not employed by Uber. That fact has encouraged regulators strictly to limit or even to prohibit UberPOP activities for safety and consumer protection reasons.
A prohibition thus issued in Barcelona gave rise to a first ruling by the Court of Justice on the matter in the Elite Taxi judgment (C-434/15) rendered last December 2017. In some Member States, such as France, the offering of unlicensed transportation activities has even been subject to criminal law sanctions, which led to the Uber France judgment (C-320/16) rendered on 10 April 2018. In both judgments, Uber argued that the national regulations in place were incompatible with EU law and more particularly with the provisions of the e-commerce (Directive 2000/31) and services (Directive 2006/123) Directives. The Court flatly ruled out that possibility, considering Uber to offer services in the field of transport not actually governed by EU secondary legislation. Continue reading →
Last week, the Court handed down a decision on the provisions of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) between Switzerland and the EU. It denied that a French national who had moved to Switzerland and who wanted to rely on the AFMP’s freedom of establishment provisions to challenge a French legal mechanism of exit taxation on unrealised capital gains could do so. The case is of interest for those following Swiss-EU relations, as the ECJ had (and missed) the opportunity to say more on the rather specific version of freedom of establishment enshrined in the Agreement. At the same time, there are also certain lessons to be learned for the interpretation of future agreements of the EU with third countries dealing with access to the internal market and the free movement of persons (looking at you, Brexit). Arguably, there is a certain meandering in the reasoning of the Court on the AFMP, and this latest case seems to demonstrate a return to the early days of a more restrictive interpretation, based to a substantial degree on the fact that Switzerland has said no to the internal market. Below, I will briefly explain the facts of Picart and the decision of the Court. Then, I will examine in more depth the above claim on the Court’s shift in interpretive methodology and the alternative approaches to the interpretation of the AFMP that could have been taken. Continue reading →
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.
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 →
Green Trade and Fair Trade in and with the EU: Process-based Measures within the EU Legal Order, by Laurens Ankersmit (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2017, ISBN 9781107191228); 294 pp.; £85.00
This monograph examines the position of ‘process-based measures’ within the EU legal order. PBMs (also known as ‘process and production method’ rules) are characterised as public and private initiatives that, in the context of international trade, seek to address environmental and social concerns that arise externally; in other words, beyond the territory of the regulating state. Examples include, bans on the importation and sale of cosmetics tested on animals; national and regional product labelling schemes; and private initiatives such as Fairtrade and the Marine Stewardship Council certification programme. Continue reading →
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 →
Case C-434/15 Asociación Profesional Elite Taxi v. Uber Systems Spain SL, Opinion of the Advocate General, 11 May 2017
Uber is among the best known sharing economy services offering what Uber would call a platform that allows the introduction of people offering ride shares to those seeking lifts to their destination. Uber have been clear and single minded in their legal status in a number of cases around the globe: they’re not a taxi firm they are a technology company. This position has been challenged by AG Szpunar in his recent opinion in the case of Asociación Profesional Elite Taxi v. Uber Systems Spain SL. His position that “it is undoubtedly the supply of transport which is the main supply and which gives the service economic meaning” is being seen as a major setback for Uber. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →