On 10 December 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered its judgment in the Wightman case on the revocation of a notification of an intention to withdraw from the EU under Article 50 TEU. Extraordinarily, the expedited process adopted by the CJEU upon the request of the referring Scottish Inner Court of Session has seen a judgment delivered barely three months after the original preliminary reference request was made in the domestic judgment on 21 September 2018. This is a reaction to the time-sensitivity of the political end-game of Brexit. The UK House of Commons had been scheduled to hold its ‘meaningful vote’ on adoption of the Withdrawal Agreement and political declaration on the future relationship on 11 December before the postponement of this vote by the government. This vote provided the factual background to the dispute in the case. The petitioners, including Scottish MPs, sought an answer to the question of whether legally there existed the third option of revocation rather than the dichotomy of either accepting the Withdrawal Agreement or else exiting the EU via the automatic operation of Article 50(3) TEU upon the elapse of the two-year time period on 29 March 2019. The full-court judgment has upheld the Advocate-General’s Opinion of 4 December that a Member State is free to revoke unilaterally a notification of intention to withdraw from the EU made under Article 50(2) TEU. Indeed, the final judgment has recognised a right to revoke that is even more receptive to the sovereign discretion of the withdrawing Member State than in the Opinion. This post will first summarise the judgment, before providing some comments thereupon. The Wightman decision has filled a lacuna in EU law; it remains to be seen whether this legal clarity will help to assuage the political chaos currently engulfing the United Kingdom. Continue reading →
A few days before the vote in the House of Commons on the Withdrawal Agreement, scheduled for December 11th, 2018, the debates are still vivid both in the United Kingdom and the European Union. The possibilities of holding a second referendum or stopping the withdrawal process have been repeatedly raised as alternatives should the Withdrawal Agreement be rejected by the House of Commons.
In this context, the pending case Wightman and others before the Court of Justice of the EU is of crucial importance. After the judgment of the UK Supreme Court in R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, which followed the submissions of counsel regarding the irrevocability of a withdrawal notification, the request for a preliminary reference from the Inner House of the Court of Session in Scotland could be a game changer. The Opinion of Advocate General Campos Sánchez-Bordona delivered on December 4th, 2018, invites the Court to rule in favour of the possibility for the UK to unilaterally revoke its notification of withdrawal, potentially opening up a third way. Continue reading →
The question whether it would be lawful for a Member State to revoke the notification of withdrawal from the EU before the two-year lapse (laid down in the third paragraph of Article 50 TEU) has, clearly, vital political, economic and social implications. Even though it cuts to the core of the philosophy governing the “ever closer Union” and the role that States and private individuals play in it, it’s also a matter to which the provision itself does not give a definite answer. Moreover, there is no case law issued on the matter by the CJEU that could contribute to the interpretation of the provision, while the UK Supreme Court seems to have posited the irrevocability of a withdrawal notification in the famous judgment issued in the case of R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [UKSC 2016/0196], foregoing the opportunity to use the preliminary reference mechanism. This absence of relevant CJEU case-law is expected to change after the Inner House of the Court of Session in Scotland decided on 21.09.2018 to refer a relevant preliminary question (see O. Garner’s analysis),
Part of the literature expressing interesting and strong legal arguments has suggested the answer to the above question to the positive (e.g. P. Craig, S. Peers, O. Garner, A. Sari). Arguing the contrary and attempting a contribution to the academic debate, this post’s point of view is based on the fundamental principle that the EU legal order constitutes an “autonomous legal system”, which is governed by its own rules enacted by its own institutions and interpreted by its established Court (C-26/62, Van Gend en Loos). It is, therefore, argued that the legal lacuna regarding the provision of revoking the withdrawal notification, leads, according to the interpretation of the provision set out in Article 50 TEU – in line with the letter and spirit thereof – to the conclusion that permitting such a revocation would contradict the principle of autonomy, regardless of whether it is unilateral or initiated upon consensus.
The present post is divided into two parts. In the first part I approach the interpretation of Article 50 TEU through its letter and spirit. In the second part I develop my argumentation concerning the critical role that the fundamental principle of autonomy should play when attempting to find the true meaning of the provision and to fill the legal gap concerning the right to revoke the withdrawal notification. 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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
Opinion 2/15 might keep legal scholars, practitioners, and policy-makers busy for the foreseeable future. Many aspects of the ruling deserve comment and further discussion (see already for starters the blogposts here, here, here, here, here, and here) and I would like to follow up my previous post with some comments on an intriguing paragraph of the Opinion: paragraph 161 on the possible suspension of the agreement for a breach of one of its ‘sustainable development’ provisions. The ECJ’s statements here touch upon a long-standing debate whether labour and environmental provisions in trade and investment agreements should be enforceable. The ECJ found that Parties could indeed (partially) suspend or even terminate the agreement for breaches of such provisions. Practicalities aside, this finding is certainly a positive step from a social and environmental point of view. 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 →