By Sofia Mirandola
The case and questions referred
In these times when “strong headwinds” are blowing against the European culture of fundamental rights and the rule of law (see P. Pinto de Albuquerque), the principles of mutual recognition and mutual trust on which judicial cooperation in the EU is based have come under pressure. The CJEU and the ECtHR are increasingly called upon to address the phenomenon of “rule of law backsliding” and to strongly defend these common values.
The recent preliminary reference submitted by the High Court of Ireland in case C-216/18 L.M. fits into such trend. It concerns the possibility to refuse the execution of three European Arrest Warrants issued by Polish courts against an individual, L.M., on account of the potential violation of the right to a fair trial ensuing from the latest controversial reforms of the judiciary in Poland. According to the Commission’s reasoned proposal to activate for the first time in history the procedure of Art. 7 TEU, which recently found the endorsement of the European Parliament calling on the Council to take action swiftly, the said reforms resulted in a breach of the rule of law due to, essentially, a lack of sufficient guarantees of external independence of the judiciary at all levels. Even though the application of the Framework Decision on the EAW can be suspended only after a Council’s decision under Art. 7 (1) TEU has been adopted (Recital 10 of the Framework Decision on the EAW), it is nonetheless inevitable that such circumstances may – from the viewpoint of the person subject to an EAW issued by Poland – entail a serious risk of breach of the right to a fair trial. The CJEU now has thus the opportunity to clarify whether an alleged lack of judicial independence amounts to a breach of the right to a fair trial that calls for the refusal to execute an EAW, as an exception to the principle of mutual trust.
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.
In the landmark cases Kendrion, Gascogne and Gascogne Germany the CJEU clarified some important procedural issues related to infringements of the reasonable time requirement. The most important legal question that the CJEU tackled is what is the appropriate remedy for infringements of the right to have the case adjudicated within a reasonable time. The CJEU had two options: the first one was to follow the Baustahlgewebe judgment in which the CJEU had concluded that the proceedings were excessively lengthy and subsequently reduced the fine the Commission had imposed upon the undertakings. The second was to follow the Der Grüne Punkt judgment where the CJEU also concluded that there had been an infringement, but required instead a separate action for damages to be lodged before the General Court. Following this path would, however, mean that the General Court itself would have to assess whether, and to what extent, the parties suffered any harm due to the excessive length of proceedings. In the present cases, the CJEU has opted for the second solution.