Category: External Relations

Achmea – A Perspective from International (Investment) Law

By Pekka Niemelä

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’.[1] 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

Don’t Lead with Your Chin! If Member States continue with the ratification of CETA, they violate European Union law

By Christina Eckes

 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

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: February 2018

Call for submissions – European Papers

No deadline.

Conference “Looking to the Future and Beyond: New Approaches to ADR”

University of Leicester, 10 May 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions: 28 February 2018.

Dimensions and Identities Summer School “Dimensions of Human Rights”

University of Salzburg, 23-27 July 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions: 30 March 2018.

Colloquium “Current Challenges for EU Cross-Border Litigation in a Changing Procedural Environment”

Max-Planck-Institute Luxembourg for International, European and Regulatory Procedural Law, 26 September 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions: 15 April 2018.

Conference “Le règlement des différends dans les accords de l’UE avec des pays tiers”

University of Fribourg, 2 May 2018. Deadline for registration: 18 April 2018.

Summer School: “Venice School of Human Rights”

EIUC Venice School, 9-16 June 2018. Deadline for registration: 23 April 2018.

Summer School “Recent Developments on Financial Crime, Corruption and Money Laundering: European and International Perspectives”

University of Thessaloniki, 4-12 July 2018. Deadline for applications: 30 April 2018.

AG Wathelet in C-284/16 Achmea: Saving ISDS?

By Andrea Carta and Laurens Ankersmit

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 enforcement 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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

Case C-600/14, Germany v Council (OTIF). More Clarity over Facultative ‘Mixity’?

By Hannes Lenk and Szilárd Gáspár-Szilágyi

  1. Setting the context

Opinion 2/15 on the division of requisite competences between the Union and its Member States for the conclusion of the EU-Singapore FTA has most certainly caused a flurry of academic discussions. Amongst the various topics discussed, two come to mind that are important for this short analysis. First, did the CJEU intend with its reasoning to effectively abolish ‘facultative mixity’ and ‘facultative EU-only’ agreements? (see here, here and here). Second, by placing almost all aspects of the EU-Singapore FTA under exclusive EU competences, with the exception of ISDS and non-direct foreign investment, did the Court of Justice implicitly determine the future of EU trade and investment policy? (see here, here and here). In other words, with a Commission that is determined to prioritize EU-only agreements, is the conclusion of mixed investment agreements in parallel to exclusive trade agreements a logical consequence of Opinion 2/15? Continue reading

POMFR: L. Ankersmit, Green Trade and Fair Trade in and with the EU: Process-based Measures within the EU Legal Order (Cambridge: CUP, 2017)

By Thomas Horsley

Green Trade and Fair Trade in and with the EU: Process-based Measures within the EU Legal Order, by Laurens Ankersmit (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2017, ISBN 9781107191228); 294 pp.; £85.00

This monograph examines the position of ‘process-based measures’ within the EU legal order. PBMs (also known as ‘process and production method’ rules) are characterised as public and private initiatives that, in the context of international trade, seek to address environmental and social concerns that arise externally; in other words, beyond the territory of the regulating state. Examples include, bans on the importation and sale of cosmetics tested on animals; national and regional product labelling schemes; and private initiatives such as Fairtrade and the Marine Stewardship Council certification programme. Continue reading

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: November 2017

Roundtable discussion “Modelling Divergence(s) and Convergence(s) of the EU in the World”

City University, London, 24 November 2017. Registration necessary.

Conference “Citizenship, Citizenships and New Types of Personal Status: International and European Aspects, and National Developments”

University of Salerno, 18-19 January 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions: 25 November 2017.

Workshop “Unpacking the ‘Accountability Paradox’ in Expert-based Decision-making”

Erasmus University Rotterdam, 30 November-1 December 2017. Registration necessary.

Erasmus Early-Career Scholars Conference 2018 “New business models and globalized markets: Rethinking public and private responsibilities”

University of Rotterdam, 11-13 April 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions: 7 January 2018.

Call for papers: Inaugural Issue of the Nordic Journal of European Law

Deadline for submissions: 31 March 2018.

Call for papers: Comparative Constitutional Law and Administrative Law Quarterly

Deadline for submissions: 2 January 2018.

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: October 2017

Call for Papers : Workshop on Challenges and Opportunities for EU Parliamentary Democracy – Brexit and beyond

Maastricht University, 18-19 January 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions : 20 October 2017.

Workshop « The Political and Legal Theory of International Courts and Tribunals »

University of Oslo, 18-19 June 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions : 1 November 2017.

Workshop: « Resolving the Tensions between EU Trade and Non-Trade Objectives: Actors, Norms, and Processes »

Utrecht University, 10 November 2017. Deadline for registration: 3 November 2017.

Conference « The future of free movement in stormy times »

The Hague University of Applied Sciences, 21 November 2017. Deadline for (free) registration: 13 November 2017.

Call for Participants : European Law Moot Court 2017-2018

Deadline for team registrations : 15 November 2017.

Call for Papers: « The neglected methodologies of international law »

University of Leicester, 31 January 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions: 15 November 2017.

Call for nominations: International Society for Public Law Book Prize

Deadline for nominations: 31 December 2017.

Call for Papers : ESIL Annual Conference « International Law and Universality »

University of Manchester, 13-15 September 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions : 31 January 2018.

Case C 142/16 Commission v Germany: the Habitats Directive meets ISDS?

By Laurens Ankersmit

Recently, the ECJ has found Germany in breach of its obligations under the Habitats Directive for authorising the operation of a coal-fired power plant near Hamburg, Germany without an appropriate environmental impact assessment. The case is the latest addition to a series of legal battles surrounding the environmental impact of the plant. On the one hand, the negative environmental impact, in particular for fish species in the Elbe river, has led to litigation opposing the authorisation of the plant, including these infringement proceedings before the ECJ. On the other, Swedish power company Vattenfall has opposed the environmental conditions attached to its water use permit before a national court and before an ISDS tribunal which in its view would make the project ‘uneconomical’. This post will discuss the general legal background of the case, the ECJ judgment, and comment on the wider implications of these legal battles for the relationship between investment law and EU law. Continue reading

A Joint EU-UK court for citizens’ rights: A viable option after and beyond Brexit?

The European Law Blog will be taking a summer recess. We’ll be back end of August with new commentaries, including on key Summer developments. Please do send us on your contributions throughout this period and we will get back to you in due course. Happy Holidays to all our readers!

By Oliver Garner


An impasse in Brexit negotiations exists between the United Kingdom and the European Union regarding the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union. This post will consider the legal viability of a proposed solution to this stalemate: a joint EU-UK court to adjudicate upon citizens’ rights. Although the proposals have limited the substantive remit of such a potential court to citizens’ rights, due to this area being the most contentious between the EU and the UK, in principle one could envisage a joint court with jurisdiction over all aspects of the withdrawal agreement. It may be argued that such a solution would be politically unacceptable for the European Union as it allows the United Kingdom to “have its cake and eat it” through a substitute for the Court of Justice over which the withdrawing state has far more influence. However, this post will focus on the legal rather than political viability of the proposal. This post will consider the proposal with a particular focus on whether the joint court could violate the Court of Justice’s stringent conditions for protecting the autonomy of the EU legal order. A comparison will be drawn to the similar proposals for an EEA court in the original EEA agreement, and the eventually established EFTA court. Finally, beyond the United Kingdom’s withdrawal, the post will move on to consider whether the idea of a joint national and European court could provide a solution to the problems that arise from the unique composite nature of the EU legal order. Continue reading

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: July 2017

Brussels Summer School on EU competition law

Brussels, 4-9 September 2017. (Paid) registration required.

Conference « Metamorphosis of the European Economic Constitution »

University of Luxembourg, 21-22 September 2017. Registration required.

Conference « Protecting European Union Values: Breaches of Article 2 TEU and Their Consequences »

University of Warsaw, 14-15 September 2017. (Free) registration required.

Seminar : « The EU FTAs : Do you really want to know ? A dialogue on transparency »

King’s College London, 14 July 2017. (Free) registration required.

Call for papers : Special issue on European Law

Utrecht Journal of International and European Law. Deadline for submissions : 25 August 2017.

Call for papers : Comparative Constitutional Law and Administrative Law Quarterly

Deadline for submissions : 1 September 2017.

Call for papers: European Data Protection Law Review 2017 Young Scholars Award

Deadline for submissions: 15 October 2017.

Opinion 2/15: Maybe it is time for the EU to conclude separate trade and investment agreements

By Szilárd Gáspár-Szilágyi

Opinion 2/15 is already causing quite a stir in legal academia. While some take an EU law perspective, others look at it from the perspective of investment law or public international law. In this short post I will not focus on purely legal issues. Instead, I will look at the Opinion’s effects on the EU’s investment policy and propose a change in the Commission’s approach to the negotiation of international economic agreements. Continue reading

Opinion 2/15: Adding some spice to the trade & environment debate

By Laurens Ankersmit

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

Opinion 2/15 and the future of mixity and ISDS

By Laurens Ankersmit

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

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: May 2017

Conference on the Legitimacy of Unseen Actors in International Adjudication

The Hague, 26-27 October 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 31 May 2017.

Call for applications: Summer School „Fundamental Rights and EU Trade Agreements”

University Centre of Bertinoro, 25-30 June 2017. Deadline for applications: 15 June 2017.

Conference “Freedom under Pressure – Data protection and privacy, the freedom of movement in the EU and property protection”

Ghent University, 7-8 December 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 15 June 2017.

Workshop “Resolving the Tensions between EU Trade and Non-Trade Objectives: Actors, Norms, and Processes”

Utrecht University, 10 November 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 1 July 2017.

Conference “Constitutionalism in a Plural World”

University of Porto, 22-23 November 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 15 July 2017.

Call for Papers for the Irish Journal of European Law Volume 2017 on Brexit

Deadline for submissions: 28 July 2017.

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: April 2017

Conference “Le droit pénal et la procédure pénale face aux défis de la société numérique”

University of Liège, 28 April 2017. Deadline for (partly paid) registration: 27 April 2017.

Call for papers “First EU Business Law Forum – The Influence and Effects of EU Business Law in the Western Balkans”

Széchenyi István University, 15-16 June 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 4 May 2017.

Call for papers “International Society for the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy World Congress – Peace Based on Human Rights”

Lisbon, 16-21 July 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 15 May 2017.

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: March 2017

Doctoral Workshop “The EU as a Global Actor in …”

University of Geneva, 6-7 July 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 27 March 2017.

Conference “Article 7 TEU, the EU Rule of Law Framework and EU Values: Powers, Procedures, Implications”

University of Warsaw, 13-15 September 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 30 April 2017.

Conference “Economic Evidence in Competition Law and the Future of the ‘More Economic Approach’”

University College London, 12 May 2017. Deadline for registration: 10 May 2017.

Call for Papers “Comparative Constitutional Law and Administrative  Law Quarterly”

Deadline for submissions: 10 May 2017.

Summer School on EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy

Brussels, 3-14 July 2017. Deadline for applications: 10 June 2017.

Summer School “People on the Move in an Evolving Europe – EU Law and Policy on Mobility, Migration and Asylum”

University of Fribourg, 21-25 August 2017. Deadline for applications: 15 April.

Terror and Exclusion in EU Asylum Law Case – C-573/14 Lounani (Grand Chamber, 31 January 2017)

By Stephen Coutts

The on-going conflict in the Middle East has profound implications for the global legal order in two areas of law in particular: asylum law and anti-terrorist law. The European Union and EU law have not been immune from this development and in many respects are closely affected by these geopolitical developments and their legal impact. After a fitful start, the EU has become a major actor in the area of criminal law, and in particular anti-terrorist law, on the one hand and in asylum law on the other.[1] The two fields meet in Article 12(2)(c) of the Qualification Directive, itself reflecting Article 1F of the Geneva convention,[2] providing that an individual shall be excluded from eligibility for refugee status for acts contrary to the principles and purposes of the United Nations, acts which have been held to include acts of terrorism. Furthermore, Article 12(3) of the Qualification Directive extends that exclusion to ‘persons who instigate or otherwise participate in the commission of the the crimes or acts’ mentioned in Article 12(2). The status of terrorist and refugee are legally incompatible and mutually exclusive; one simply cannot be a terrorist and also a refugee. What, however, constitutes a terrorist for the purposes of Article 12 of the Qualification Directive? That essentially is the question at stake in Lounani. Continue reading

Opinion 3/15 on the Marrakesh Treaty: ECJ reaffirms narrow ‘minimum harmonisation’ exception to ERTA principle

By Thomas Verellen

On Valentine’s Day 2017, the Grand Chamber of the ECJ issued its opinion on the competence of the EU to conclude the ‘Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.’ As happens increasingly often, the Commission, on the one hand, and several Member States and the Council on the other, disagreed on the nature of the competence of the EU to conclude the agreement. The Commission considered the agreement to be covered entirely by the EU’s exclusive competences, whereas the Member States, and to a lesser extent the Council, argued that at least part of the agreement fell outside of the scope of those competences, and instead fell within the scope of the EU’s shared competences.

The distinction between exclusive and shared competences matters. Unless an agreement is covered entirely by the EU’s exclusive competences, it will most likely be concluded in the form of a mixed agreement, i.e. an agreement to which not only the EU, but also the Member States are parties. This typically is the case even when the agreement falls within the scope of the EU’s shared competences, as the Council considers that when the Commission proposes to negotiate and conclude an international agreement parts of which are covered by shared competences, the Council can opt not to exercise those competences with regard to part of that agreement, however small this part may be.[1] In such an event, the Member States must fill the gap by exercising their own competences, rendering the agreement a mixed agreement. Continue reading

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: February 2017

Workshop Series “Current Issues in EU External Relations”

University of Luxembourg, 31 March/19 May/29 May 2017. Deadline for proposal submissions: 6 March 2017.

Conference “Comparative Public Law in Europe – Opportunities and Challenges”

University of Essex, 14 March 2017. Deadline for (free) registration: 10 March 2017.

Radboud Economic Law International Conference “Digital Markets in the EU”

Radboud University, 9 June 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 24 March 2017.

Summer Schools “Venice Academy of Human Rights – Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as an Answer to Rising Inequalities” and  “Venice School of Human Rights – Human Rights as Our Responsibility”

EIUC Venice, 3-12 July and 9-17 June 2017, respectively. Deadline for applications: 19/27 April 2017.