By Marco Antonio Simonelli
On 8 October, four new Judges and two Advocates General officially entered into office at the Court of Justice of the European Union (henceforth ‘the Court’). Just two days before, the U.S. Senate had confirmed the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Whilst the latter process had attracted the attention of media from all over the world, the appointment of the new European judges had barely made the news. This situation is reflected also in the academic world, which, surprisingly, never showed much interest in the Court’s appointment process.
However, this does not mean that the procedure set out at Articles 253-255 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (henceforth “TFEU”) is immune to criticism. Two aspects in particular appear capable to negatively affect the appearance of independence of the European Judges: the duration of the mandate – 6 years – and the lack of transparency of the whole process which is dominated by national governments. These flaws may be one of the reasons why the Court had elaborated a minimal definition of the concept of judicial independence; a definition that may need to be reshaped in order to tackle the judicial reform enacted by the Polish government.
The concerns related to the transparency of the procedure and the discretion of national executives have been partially addressed by the Lisbon Treaty, with the creation of the s.c. Article 255 Panel. This Panel, composed of senior members of national judiciaries, former members of the Court and one person chosen by the European Parliament, is charged with the task to confirm a candidate’s suitability to perform the duties of Judge or Advocate General. Notwithstanding the undoubtedly positive effects produced by the panel on the quality of candidates, serious concerns remain regarding the transparency of its work: the Council Decision 2010/124/EU establishing the operating rules of this Panel, provides that both the hearing of the candidate and the deliberations of the body shall take place in private. Hence, the introduction of Article 255 Panel has been effectively dubbed as a form of “progress by stealth”.