Bananas are back on the menu of the Court of Justice of the EU. The court of first instance of Brussels (Interim Decision of 17 May 2013, 196/33/13, in Dutch, not online) decided to refer a preliminary question to Luxembourg concerning the consistency of Council Regulation 1964/2005 regarding import tariffs for bananas with the EU’s obligations under the GATT. Soon the Court is to decide whether to address this question in a regular panel, or instead in a Grand Chamber. This decision itself will signal whether the Court considers this a fresh legal argument warranting scrupulous attention, or regards this simply as old, long-settled questions. In this post, I will argue that authoritative judicial clarifications would indeed be desirable in this case. Continue reading
This blogpost concerns probably my favorite EU law topic: the scope of the Common Commercial Policy (CCP). The scope of the CCP as a source of litigation between the Council and the Commission goes way back and most likely will continue to be so for a considerable time. The reasons are quite simple: the Common Commercial Policy is an important foreign policy tool and exclusive EU competence. As such, Member States are not entitled to act within this politically sensitive field. This is different with respect to shared competences of course, which enable Member States – subject to the Treaties – to continue to make policy that is not in violation of existing secondary legislation. In the most recent edition of this feud between the Commission and the Council, the scope of the Common Commercial Policy was at issue vis-à-vis the scope of internal market competences. Litigation in the past has usually evolved around the relationship between trade (art. 207 TFEU) and environment (art. 192 TFEU), so this case is a welcome variant to that strand of case law already explored in the Daiichi Sankyo case (commented here). In this case the Commission won yet another victory against the Council.
The Grand Chamber today dismissed the appeal by the seal hunters to annul the basic regulation prohibiting the marketing of seal products on the EU internal market. As expected, the CJEU held that the seal hunters lacked standing to challenge a legislative act. This does not mean that the seal hunters will not prevail in the end (although I doubt it), as they have also challenged the Commission implementing Regulation, which will enable them to challenge the basic Regulation too (the decision of the GC in that case can be found here and my comments are here). What makes the judgment worth mentioning here though, is the more general relevance of the Grand Chamber’s interpretation of the concept of a ‘regulatory act’. This concept was introduced with the Lisbon Treaty and was intended to make it easier to challenge EU legal acts which were not of a legislative nature.
If one thing resorts clearly from the ACTA saga, it is that the atmosphere of secrecy in which ACTA was negotiated (required allegedly to enable mutual trust between the parties in the negotiations) completely backfired and deteriorated trust in the European Commission by European citizens and the European Parliament, resulting in ACTA’s ultimate demise. In a case decided yesterday by the General Court this tension between secrecy needed for the effective conduct of negotiations and the right of citizens to be informed was readily apparent in determining whether the Commission was acting lawfully in its decision to refuse access to documents related to those negotiations to European Member of Parliament Sophie in ‘t Veld.
One of the hottest topics in international trade law currently is the seals dispute between the EU and a number of arctic countries, notably Canada and Norway. The dispute has not only given rise to proceedings before the WTO (providing more wood for the ongoing fiery debate on the legality of PPM-measures), but has also found its way to Luxembourg in the form of a number of direct actions for annulment of EU regulations banning trade in seal products.
Today’s Opinion of Advocate General Kokott (Opinion in Case C-583/11P Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Others v Parliament and Council) concerns one of those cases. It also concerns one of the most contentious issues in EU law: the locus standi of individuals for a direct action for annulment of EU legal acts (see my previous post on the judgment of the General Court). As is well known, the CJEU has taken a very restrictive stance on the locus standi of non-privileged applicants (that is: individual parties, rather than privileged applicants such as Member States and the EU institutions, as mentioned in the second and third paragraph of article 263 TFEU). The criteria for direct and individual concern are so strict that it is very difficult for individuals to directly challenge EU legal acts. In particular, the requirement for individual concern, also known as the ‘Plaumann formula’ (see the bottom of page 107 in Case 25/62 Plaumann v. Commission), is especially hard for individuals to meet.
The European Commission has decided to withdraw its request for an Opinion of the CJEU on the compatibility of ACTA with EU law, and more specifically the EU Charter of fundamental rights (the decision was allegedly taken on Wednesday’s meeting of the Commission, although we are still waiting for an official press release). As I reported earlier, the admissibility of the request was doubtful in any case. Nonetheless, this is a nice Christmas present from the Commission to the CJEU, which will not have to deal with this political hot potato anymore. Too bad for the academic world I guess; I was quite curious what the CJEU would make of the request.
One of the most interesting and complex issues in international trade over the past decade has been how to deal with the opening Chinese market. As China has become more integrated into international markets and has joined the WTO, its trading partners have sometimes struggled with the non-market aspects of its economy. Industries hard hit by Chinese competition have argued that Chinese interference with its internal market and support for domestic companies amount to unfair trading practices, and that they should consequently be compensated or controlled. Regulators have had sympathy for these concerns, applying trade remedies like countervailing measures and anti-dumping duties to Chinese products. However, this practice has led to counter-accusations of protectionism and discrimination. The recent spate of complaints both by and against China in the WTO is evidence of this struggle.
Last week’s Xinanchem judgment, however, is a significant step along the path toward normalized trade relations between China and the EU. In this case, which Advocate General Kokott called “of fundamental importance for future trade relations between the European Union and a number of dynamic emerging countries, such as the People’s Republic of China” (AG para. 1), the Grand Chamber of the ECJ dismissed the Council’s appeal of a General Court judgment in favor of the Chinese company.