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 →
Case C‑202/18 (Ilmārs Rimšēvičs v Republic of Latvia) and Case C‑238/18 (European Central Bank v Republic of Latvia); Opinion of AG Kokott of 19 December 2018, ECLI:EU:C:2018:1030; judgment of the Court of 26 February 2019, ECLI:EU:C:2019:139.
A recent judgment of the ECJ underlined the increasing interweaving of EU law and national law in the area of central bank law, not only in substantive matters but, also procedurally. In the first cases since the provision providing for this anomaly was inserted in the Treaty in 1993, the ECJ confirmed that review of a national legal act affecting the independence of the monetary authority lies with the European Court of Justice. Normally, only legal acts of EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies can be challenged before the CJEU (Article 263 TFEU); national legal acts with an EU law connotation may come before the CJEU through a reference for a preliminary ruling (Article 267 TFEU) or in infringement proceedings (Article 258 TFEU). Admittedly, this is a singular and exceptional case as it concerns review of a Member State measure by which a Governor of a National Central Bank (NCB) is “relieved from office”. Together with the Executive Board of the European Central Bank (ECB), NCB Governors in the Eurosystem form the ECB’s Governing Council, which has ultimate decision-making power for monetary policy in the Euro Area. Since monetary policy is an exclusive Union competence, at least for the <in> Member States, to be pursued in independence, the Court found that it has jurisdiction to assess the legality of a measure that interferes with an NCB Governor performing his functions and annulled the relevant national decision in so far as it prohibits the Governor from performing his duties as NCB Governor. There is more that’s exceptional about this case: alleged corruption at a central bank, allegations of money laundering and of a misinformation campaign…..
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]
On 9 October 2018, the Civil Division of the The Hague Court of Appeal in the Netherlands has delivered its judgment on the appeal of the ‘Urgenda case’ The Court imposed an order to act on the Dutch government to adjust its policy from 20% to achieve a 25% emission reduction by 2020, compared to 1990 levels (paras 51 and 75). The judgment confirmed the initial ruling in favour of Urgenda in 2015.[i] The consequences for Dutch climate, energy and environmental policy and potentially for climate mitigation efforts worldwide are potentially far-reaching, regardless of possible further appeals by the Dutch government. This ruling raises important questions with respect to the interpretation of Dutch and European Union law, their interrelationship, and possible transferability to other national jurisdictions. In this Commentary, we discuss these issues in turn, starting with a brief synthesis of the judgment.
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 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 →
Last week, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued an important, highly anticipated judgment, condemning the United Kingdom for its mass surveillance program.
Following Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the United States-United Kingdom intelligence surveillance and intelligence sharing programme, 16 organizations and individuals (including the NGO Big Brother Watch) filed an application against the United Kingdom before the ECtHR. The 212page-long judgment published on September 13, 2018 is rich and deals with a great variety of important issues. Several among them are directly linked to some major legal questions examined in the past by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) or currently pending before it – not to mention the ongoing debate about whether the EU-US data transfer agreement known as Privacy Shield provides an “adequate level of protection”. The objective of this piece is to provide some first thoughts focusing on the strategic place of this judgment in the European legal landscape. Continue reading →
This February, the Court of Justice of the European Union delivered a judgment in which, one year after the C-104/16 P Council v Front Polisario judgment, once more the EU’s trade relations with Morocco took centre stage. Whereas in Front Polisario the Court was faced with the question of the validity of the EU-Morocco Association Agreement (AA) and Liberalisation Agreement (LA), this time the Court was tasked with determining the validity of the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA), the 2013 Protocol thereto and the EU implementing acts in the context of a preliminary ruling procedure requested by the British High Court. The national proceedings were brought by the voluntary organization Western Sahara Campaign UK, which sought to challenge certain British policies and practices implementing the aforementioned legal acts, as far as they pertained to goods originating in and fisheries policy related to Western Sahara. As in Front Polisario, the main issue was the application of these agreements to the territory of and products originating in Western Sahara, a non-self-governing territory to be decolonised in accordance with the principle of self-determination, but considered by Morocco to be an integral part of its sovereign territory (for background, see our Article on T-512/12 Front Polisario v Council).
Given that this is the first request for a preliminary reference concerning the validity of international agreements concluded by the EU and their acts of conclusion, it also raised some new procedural questions, especially concerning the Court’s jurisdiction. In this case, the Court readily accepted that it has jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings on the interpretation and validity of all EU acts, ‘without exception’. This is noteworthy in and of itself, as it firmly establishes the Court’s jurisdiction when it comes to reviewing the EU’s international agreements in light of international law, albeit indirectly in the context of ruling on the validity of the EU act approving the international agreement in question (Judgment paras 48-51). Such jurisdiction is in line with the Court’s recent case-law that provides for the Court’s comprehensive jurisdiction, especially in light of the Court’s finding that the Treaties have created a ‘complete system’ of judicial review entrusted to the Courts of the EU (Rosneft para 66). Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 a significant win for access to justice in environmental matters, the Court’s Grand Chamber found that Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (the right to an effective remedy), read together with the Aarhus Convention, precluded the application of national procedural rules allowing for swift decision-making at the expense of rights granted to environmental NGOs. The case’s procedural history is very complex (the Advocate General referred to it as either Kafkaesque or tilting windmills like Don Quixote, depending on your point of view), so after only a brief factual discussion I will focus on the two major constitutional issues that the Court had to deal with:
By Sandra Hummelbrunner and Anne-Carlijn Prickartz
Shortly before Christmas, the Court of Justice delivered its highly anticipated judgment in case C-104/16 P Council v Front Polisario, on appeal against the General Court (GC) judgment in case T-512/12 Front Polisario v Council, an action for annulment brought by Front Polisario, the national liberation movement fighting for the independence of Western Sahara. In this action, Front Polisario sought the (partial) annulment of Council Decision 2012/497/EU, which approved the conclusion of an agreement between the EU and Morocco concerning reciprocal liberalisation measures on agricultural and fishery products and amendments to the 2000 EU-Morocco Association Agreement. The main bone of contention was the application of the Liberalisation Agreement to the territory of Western Sahara, a non-self-governing territory to be decolonised in accordance with the principle of self-determination, but which is considered by Morocco to be an integral part of its sovereign territory and is largely under Morocco’s effective control.
The Front Polisario, as the internationally recognised representative of the Sahrawi people, contended that the Agreement was contrary to both EU and international law, including the principle of self-determination, international humanitarian law, and EU fundamental rights. In first instance, the GC partly concurred with Front Polisario’s submissions, annulling the contested Decision insofar as it applied to Western Sahara (for a more extensive review of the GC judgment, see our Article on Front Polisario v Council). Deciding on appeal, the Court of Justice took a different path, managing to avoid a discussion on the merits by focussing on the GC’s interpretation of the territorial scope of application of the Liberalisation Agreement as determined by Article 94 of the EU-Morocco Association Agreement, which provides for the application of the Agreements to ‘the territory of the Kingdom of Morocco’. Continue reading →
Of course, it wasn’t all about immigration. But that claimed flood of Eastern Europeans was certainly at the heart of the leave campaign, and, unusually for an immigration debate, it was their right to work in the UK that was the political issue: there were too many of them, they were pushing down wages, they were keeping the low-skilled native out of work, they were costing the government a fortune in in-work benefits, they were making towns and villages unrecognisable and alienating the more established inhabitants.
Whether or not they were true, a lot of these claims seemed to be shared by both sides. Cameron didn’t so much deny them, as offer counter-claims (but they do add to the economy) and promises of change (if you vote remain, we’ll have a new deal and be able to do something about it!).
So the question is this: if the government thought that free movement of workers was causing such terrible problems, why didn’t it impose restrictions years ago when the post-Enlargement flood was at its high point and the issue first became prominent? Continue reading →
As already stressed by Megi Medzmariashvili in her post of 1st March 2016, the question of whether the Court of Justice of the European Union (‘the Court’ or ‘CJEU’) has jurisdiction to give a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of a harmonised technical standard (‘HTS’) adopted by the European Committee for Standardisation (‘CEN’) is, for the first time, raised in Case C-613/14, James Elliot Construction Ltd v Irish Asphalt Limited.
As Director – Legal Affairs of both CEN and CENELEC (the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization), I would like to give an insider’s view on the European standardization system and to expose a more critical approach to the Opinion delivered by the Advocate General (‘AG’) Campos Sanchez-Bordona on 28 January 2016. The AG suggested, in reference to the first question referred for a preliminary ruling, that the Court must declare that it has jurisdiction for the main reason that the HTSs should be regarded as acts of the institutions, bodies, offices or agencies of the Union for the purposes of Article 267 of the Treaty on the functioning of the Union (‘TFEU’), which is the primary law basis of the cooperation between the CJEU and the national courts via the preliminary ruling system. The opinion of the AG is based on three arguments that I would like to comment on, just after insisting on some essential elements of background on the way HTSs are produced and how CEN and the other European standardisation bodies are working. Continue reading →