In recent months, the Spanish Constitutional Court (SCC) has issued a series of decisions related to EU law that show an interesting combination of both openness toward the European legal order and a certain degree of apprehension to the growing role of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in constitutional matters. In these cases the SCC has arrived at fairly pro-EU results: the SCC decided that preliminary references from Spanish courts to the CJEU take precedence over constitutional questions submitted to the SCC, and that a non-transposed, directly-effective EU Directive can be taken as a factor in the interpretation of a constitutional provision. But, as discussed below, the details subtly suggest that the SCC does not fully agree with the ways in which the CJEU has asserted its institutional position, and prefers to avoid potential conflicts in the future. Continue reading →
Opinion 2/15 on the EU’s powers to conclude the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) delivered Tuesday received considerable attention from the press. This comes as no surprise as the Court’s Opinion has consequences for future EU trade deals such as CETA and potentially a future UK-EU FTA. Despite the fact that the ECJ concluded that the agreement should be concluded jointly with the Member States, the Financial Times jubilantly claimed victory for the European Union, belittling Wallonia in the process. This victory claim calls for three initial comments as there are aspects of the Opinion that might merit a different conclusion. 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:
On the 24th January 2017, 7 months to the day of the result of the UK’s referendum to leave the European Union, the President of the United Kingdom Supreme Court delivered the judgment in the Miller appeal. The Court held, by an 8-3 majority, that the UK Government did not have the power to give notice under Article 50 TEU to withdraw from the European Union without a prior Act of Parliament .
Lord Neuberger started the announcement in the manner of a history lecture, detailing the United Kingdom’s accession to the then European Economic Community in 1973. This was a fitting introduction to a judgment which at times reads like a lesson in the UK’s constitution. Accordingly, this lesson encompasses the place that EU law occupies within this order. This post will attempt to provide a concise summary of the magisterial judgment, before providing some comment on the salient issues relevant to EU law. Continue reading →
In recent years ISDS has been on the lips of many politicians, academics, NGOs and even laymen, some of whom have recently ‘discovered’ that there is a mechanism through which foreign investors (often large multinationals, but not always) can bring claims against host-states before an international arbitral tribunal. The arguments in favour and against ISDS are plentiful, but one always catches my eyes. According to this argument (page 3), the EU does not need ISDS in its new free trade and investment agreements (FTIAs) with developed states, because the original rationale of this mechanism was to protect foreign investors from host‑state jurisdictions where basic tenets of the rule of law were not observed. However, trading partners such as the US or Canada have well‑functioning judicial systems that protect foreign investors; therefore, ISDS is not needed.
As a novice to the field of EU investment law, I must confess I am not yet fully convinced by the benefits of ISDS. Nevertheless, the afore-mentioned argument resonates with my previous field of research, concerned with the domestic enforcement of EU and US international agreements, and once again illustrates that there is often a disconnect between the international and the domestic enforcement of treaties.
I will not advocate for the ‘greater’ protection of foreign investors. Instead, I want to shed some critical light on the argument according to which foreign investors already enjoy high levels of protection in advanced domestic judicial systems. I will argue that the domestic protection of foreign investors is more complex. On the one hand, foreign investors can bring a claim before a domestic court against the host-state, invoking domestic standards of protection. On the other hand, they could also potentially bring a claim before the same domestic courts, relying on international standards of investment protection. As I will illustrate, the international and domestic levels of enforcement should not be treated as worlds apart and the interplay between the two can shape the strategies of the treaty negotiators and of the investors. Continue reading →
An Encore to (R)Miller from the Court of Justice? There is a potential European encore to the constitutional drama of the UK High Court decision in R(Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The judgment found that the UK government cannot trigger Article 50 TEU without Parliament’s involvement. The government has already indicated its intention to appeal directly to the UK Supreme Court (UKSC). Certain commentators in the media have picked up on the possibility that the Supreme Court could refer (certain aspects of) the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). This has been referred to as ‘the constitutional equivalent of breaking the space-time continuum’.
Of course, as the reaction to the judgment in (R)Miller has shown, the UK media are not afraid of exaggeration. The first and most important thing to reiterate is that the CJEU could not act as the final constitutional arbiter of the question in the case of whether the UK government may use the royal prerogative to give notice under Article 50 TEU. The EU law clause is clear that the condition for the decision to withdraw is ‘accordance with [the] constitutional requirements’ of the Member State. Therefore, the final decision on the substance of whether these requirements have been fulfilled will always be for that Member State’s highest judicial authority. Instead, the possibility of a referral to the Court of Justice in the case concerns one specific aspect of the withdrawal clause: whether the notification to the European Council of an intention to withdraw under Article 50(2) is revocable. The silence of the clause can be seen to constitute a ‘gap’ in the law.
However, this post will argue that it is not necessary for the Court of Justice to prove an authoritative determination on this question of EU law in order for the UK Supreme Court to decide the specific question of UK constitutional law in the (R)Miller adjudication. Therefore – in the specific case of (R)Miller – the UK court is under no obligation under Article 267 TFEU to refer the question to the Court of Justice of the European Union. The post will go on to consider the hypothetical situations in which there may be such an obligation to refer, and will suggest how the Court of Justice should determine the question in such a scenario. Continue reading →
As is becoming a tradition with our blog (albeit a bit late this year), we present to you our top 10 most read posts of the last year. We have had another good year of blogging behind us: more readers contributing to the content of the blog with 33 posters coming from approximately 14 different countries this year. Equally important is that readership is steadily increasing according to Google Analytics (plus: we now have almost 1600 email subscribers and 2400 followers on twitter). Most of you are from the UK, followed by the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the United States, Italy, Sweden, France, Ireland and Poland, respectively.
Keeping in mind that there is a certain bias in favour of older posts which have had more time to become popular, this is the 2015 list of most read posts of the year: Continue reading →
In two recent preliminary rulings, the ECJ elaborated on the applicability of the acte clair doctrine. In these judgments, the Court seems to be looking for a new balance between the adoption of a strict approach towards national judges who are unwilling to make preliminary references and maintaining a cooperative relationship with national courts, effectively relaxing the conditions under the Cilfit doctrine.
“Viking, Laval and Beyond”, edited by Mark Freedland and Jeremias Prassl, constitutes the first volume of Hart’s new series on “EU Law in the Member States”. In the series’ foreword Sacha Prechal lays out how crucial it is to understand the “genuine life of EU law in the Member States” since EU law – of course – is generally transposed, applied and enforced at the domestic level. But that is easier said than done. One needs good knowledge of EU law, domestic and comparative (EU) law to come close to some understanding of what Prechal calls EU law’s genuine life. And, let’s be honest, it is often hard enough to keep up with the current developments in EU law while not losing touch with domestic legal issues. Continue reading →
On January 14, Advocate General (AG) Cruz-Villalón issued his opinion in the reference for a preliminary ruling on Gauweiler et al. v Deutscher Bundestag on the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT). The OMT Programme launched in September 2012 was part of a series of measures taken by the ECB in response to the Euro crisis accompanying the loan facilities (European Financial Stability Facility – EFSF, European Stability Mechansim – ESM).
The German Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, “BVerfG”) had asked the Court of Justice (CJEU) two questions in what it classified as an ultra vires review of acts of the European Union. Roughly speaking, the BVerfG wanted to check whether the European Central Bank (ECB) had transgressed the limits of its powers derived from the treaties. If the ECB had, this would have consequences for the constitutional identity of Germany. Therefore, the BVerfG first wanted clarification on whether the Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) Programme was an economic rather than a monetary measure and whether the ECB had therefore exceeded its powers by establishing it. Second, the BVerfG raised the question whether the OMT programme was not violating the prohibition of monetary financing of Member State. Continue reading →
With the end of the third year of operation of the European Law Blog approaching, it is onceagain time to take a brief look back at the most popular posts of the year. Based on our Google Analytics statistics and keeping in mind that there is a certain bias in favour of older posts which have had more time to become popular, we receive the following little tour d’horizon of EU law… Continue reading →
Remember the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray is caught in a time loop and relives the same day over and over again? Well, that’s a bit how the Court must have felt when being asked this question by the Landesgericht Bozen:
“Does the interpretation of Articles 18 and 21 TFEU preclude the application of provisions of national law, such as those at issue in the main proceedings, which grant the right to use the German language in civil proceedings pending before the courts in the province of Bolzano only to Italian citizens domiciled in the Province of Bolzano, but not to nationals of other EU Member States, whether or not they are domiciled in that province?” Continue reading →
On 13 February, the Spanish Constitutional Court (“SCC” or the “Court”) handed down its awaited judgment in the Melloni case (STC 26/2014). The case concerned the problematic issue of differing levels of protection of fundamental rights at national and European levels in relation to the execution of a European Arrest Warrant (“EAW”). This affair was the source of the SCC’s first-ever preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”). Following the CJEU’s ruling last year (Melloni, Case C-399/11, 26 February 2013), which has already been covered in this blog by V. Franssen, the SCC has now agreed to lower the degree of protection afforded by the Spanish Constitution in line with EU law.
On Friday, February 7th, 2014, the German Federal Constitutional Court (BVerfG) requested the CJEU for preliminary ruling for the first time. The request is exceptional in terms of both European Union law and German constitutional law. Commentators call the decision a Spring in the Desert, a Golden Bridge to Luxembourg or simply put Historic. The BVerfG stated its opinion throughout several decisions regarding fundamental questions between the European Union and its Member States (e.g. Solange I, Solange II, Maastricht, Lisbon), but always abstained from requesting a preliminary ruling. This time, however, the BVerfG indeed submitted a question. The stakes in the case are high, as the BVerfG considers giving an ultra vires ruling regarding a decision by the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) concerning Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) unless the CJEU announces that that decision is partially incompatible with primary law or restricts its scope. If the “conditions” laid out by the BVerfG are not met by the CJEU, the decision on OMT will be declared incompatible with the German constitution. The consequence would be that German authorities would not be bound to the decision by the ECB. In other words, the German central bank with around 18 % in capital subscriptions (shares) of the ECB would not participate in OMTs. Continue reading →
What is an ‘internal armed conflict’ in EU law? This was a question which the Belgian Conseil d’État referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), asking in essence whether this concept is to be understood as defined in international humanitarian law (IHL) or as a term with an independent meaning in the Union legal order.
On 30 January 2014, the CJEU gave its answer in the Diakité judgment, which concerns the granting of ‘subsidiary protection’ to third country nationals as well as stateless persons who seek refuge in the EU from such ‘internal armed conflicts’. By giving an autonomous meaning to the latter term in EU law, the CJEU has spoken up for a lower threshold for receiving such status throughout the 28 Member States. While this is, from a legal point of view, a highly interesting case with regard to the relationship between EU law and international law, it amounts, more practically speaking, to good news for all those in search of shelter from violence-ridden regions on a continent marked by an increasing reluctance to welcome foreigners (note most recently the successful Swiss referendum on limiting mass immigration). Continue reading →
The 20th century has witnessed an impressive rise of constitutional justice, in particular as regards the emergence of and role given to constitutional courts in many European countries and the CJEU at the supranational level. A lot of literature has covered aspects of this development, and in the academic debate several authors have also voiced criticism of this court-centred constitutionalism and academic obsession with courts. This can be seen e.g. in the recent issue of the German Law Journal which features a number of contributions on the Political Constitution as a counter movement. In this rich context, Maartje de Visser examines two questions in her book Constitutional Review in Europe: First, who should uphold the Constitution, and second, how is constitutional review organised? In an attempt to answer these questions, she scrutinizes the legal order of 11 European countries and the EU legal order. In this post, I will first briefly set out the structure and content of the book in some more detail, before offering some praise and criticism. Continue reading →
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 →