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 →
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:
By Sandra Hummelbrunner and Anne-Carlijn Prickartz
Shortly before Christmas, the Court of Justice delivered its highly anticipated judgment in case C-104/16 P Council v Front Polisario, on appeal against the General Court (GC) judgment in case T-512/12 Front Polisario v Council, an action for annulment brought by Front Polisario, the national liberation movement fighting for the independence of Western Sahara. In this action, Front Polisario sought the (partial) annulment of Council Decision 2012/497/EU, which approved the conclusion of an agreement between the EU and Morocco concerning reciprocal liberalisation measures on agricultural and fishery products and amendments to the 2000 EU-Morocco Association Agreement. The main bone of contention was the application of the Liberalisation Agreement to the territory of Western Sahara, a non-self-governing territory to be decolonised in accordance with the principle of self-determination, but which is considered by Morocco to be an integral part of its sovereign territory and is largely under Morocco’s effective control.
The Front Polisario, as the internationally recognised representative of the Sahrawi people, contended that the Agreement was contrary to both EU and international law, including the principle of self-determination, international humanitarian law, and EU fundamental rights. In first instance, the GC partly concurred with Front Polisario’s submissions, annulling the contested Decision insofar as it applied to Western Sahara (for a more extensive review of the GC judgment, see our Article on Front Polisario v Council). Deciding on appeal, the Court of Justice took a different path, managing to avoid a discussion on the merits by focussing on the GC’s interpretation of the territorial scope of application of the Liberalisation Agreement as determined by Article 94 of the EU-Morocco Association Agreement, which provides for the application of the Agreements to ‘the territory of the Kingdom of Morocco’. Continue reading →
Of course, it wasn’t all about immigration. But that claimed flood of Eastern Europeans was certainly at the heart of the leave campaign, and, unusually for an immigration debate, it was their right to work in the UK that was the political issue: there were too many of them, they were pushing down wages, they were keeping the low-skilled native out of work, they were costing the government a fortune in in-work benefits, they were making towns and villages unrecognisable and alienating the more established inhabitants.
Whether or not they were true, a lot of these claims seemed to be shared by both sides. Cameron didn’t so much deny them, as offer counter-claims (but they do add to the economy) and promises of change (if you vote remain, we’ll have a new deal and be able to do something about it!).
So the question is this: if the government thought that free movement of workers was causing such terrible problems, why didn’t it impose restrictions years ago when the post-Enlargement flood was at its high point and the issue first became prominent? Continue reading →
As already stressed by Megi Medzmariashvili in her post of 1st March 2016, the question of whether the Court of Justice of the European Union (‘the Court’ or ‘CJEU’) has jurisdiction to give a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of a harmonised technical standard (‘HTS’) adopted by the European Committee for Standardisation (‘CEN’) is, for the first time, raised in Case C-613/14, James Elliot Construction Ltd v Irish Asphalt Limited.
As Director – Legal Affairs of both CEN and CENELEC (the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization), I would like to give an insider’s view on the European standardization system and to expose a more critical approach to the Opinion delivered by the Advocate General (‘AG’) Campos Sanchez-Bordona on 28 January 2016. The AG suggested, in reference to the first question referred for a preliminary ruling, that the Court must declare that it has jurisdiction for the main reason that the HTSs should be regarded as acts of the institutions, bodies, offices or agencies of the Union for the purposes of Article 267 of the Treaty on the functioning of the Union (‘TFEU’), which is the primary law basis of the cooperation between the CJEU and the national courts via the preliminary ruling system. The opinion of the AG is based on three arguments that I would like to comment on, just after insisting on some essential elements of background on the way HTSs are produced and how CEN and the other European standardisation bodies are working. 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 →
The present contribution is a translated and somewhat simplified version of an article that appeared in German on 23 March 2015 in the Swiss legal online-journal Jusletter. The authors thank the Jusletter for their kind permission to republish the article and Markus Kern and the European Law Blog’s editorial team for valuable comments on earlier versions.
Readers of this blog will nearly inevitably already have been confronted with this decision. The reactions to the Court’s Opinion have been vivid, to say the least. What did the Court say exactly on this draft agreement for accession to the ECHR? And is the current predominantly negative reaction (see for an exception here) justified? The main aim of the present post is to provide a concise summary of the Court’s findings, but also to provide some early assessment and criticism of the reactions on particular points. After a brief historical introduction to the context of the Opinion, we follow the sequence of analysis of the Court and thus examine in turn:
the arguments of the Court on the autonomy of the EU legal order;
the monopoly on dispute settlement established by Article 344 TFEU;
the co-respondent mechanism;
the procedure for the prior involvement of the CJEU and the specific characteristics of EU law concerning judicial review in matters of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
Sometimes a book wins you over, and José Luís Da Cruz Vilaça’s EU Law and Integration: Twenty Years of Judicial Application of EU Law (Oxford/Portland, Hart 2014), is such a book.
I must admit that I had some reservations at first over the concept of the book, which is in essence an overview of the legal career – both as a legal scholar and a judge – of José Luís Da Cruz Vilaça, on the basis of a series of articles on different topics written over the course of two decades. Books like this only stand out if they can avoid three traps. Continue reading →
Should EU secondary legislation be reviewed against the benchmark of the provisions of an international agreement? In 2012 the General Court answered this question in the affirmative and annulled two decisions of the Commission which were based on a regulation which was deemed incompatible with the Aarhus Convention. However, the EU institutions appealed against those judgments. Consequently, in cases C‑401 to 403/12, Council e.a. v. Vereniging Milieudefensie and C-404 and 405/12, Council v. Stichting Natuur en Milieu e.a., the Grand Chamber of the Court was confronted with the same question. There is already quite some case law on the topic of review of legality within the EU legal order in light of international obligations of the EU, typically with the Court being hesitant to undertake such review. In the cases involving the Vereniging Milieudefensie and the Stichting Natuur en Milieu, the General Court and the Advocate General made, in my view, some valuable suggestions in favour of reviewing EU law against international agreements. Unfortunately, the Court decided to stick to its guns, thus continuing in the line of its own previous jurisprudence, and annulled the General Court’s judgments. The result leaves a somewhat sour taste for those who think that EU institutions and their legal acts should be amenable to judicial review under reasonable conditions. Not only is the very purpose of the EU regulation at issue to implement the obligations arising from the Aarhus Convention, but the Grand Chamber’s view also leads to a lacuna in legal protection in EU law exactly where the central aim of the Aarhus Convention would in theory be to provide individuals with access to justice. Continue reading →
A perceptive follower of the development of the case-law on access to court and justice in general might have noticed that the less willing the Court of Justice to loosen up the constraints in regard of the locus standi for non-privileged applicants, the more generous it seems to be towards the actual acts which can be amenable to judicial review. Be it for the reasons of democracy and rule of law or for the broadening of its competences, it is apparent that the Court is following this path.
This post shall provide a concise view on one of such cases, namely the recent judgment of the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice in case C-261/13 P Schönberger v Parliament, where the Court assessed the decisions adopted by the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament (Parliament), by which a petition is either found admissible and further processed or declared inadmissible, in view of the possibility to challenge such decisions before the EU Courts. Continue reading →
On June 5 the Court has handed down the eagerly awaited judgment in the Kone case. This is one of the several cases that result from the Commission’s decision finding a cartel in the elevators and escalators sector. The decision concerned a bid rigging cartel involving four well-known firms (Kone, Schindler, Otis and ThyssenKrupp) active in the market for the production, installation and servicing of elevators and escalators. Bid rigging is a practice by which the participants in a tender procedure coordinate their bids in order to determine who wins the tender at what price. They will typically determine the cartel member intended to win and ensure that the other bidders put in a higher price. As most of these products are bought by professional buyers that tend to hang on to their purchasing records, civil damages claims resulted from the Commission’s finding that there was cartel. This means that the customers of the companies involved in the cartel seek to claim the supracompetitive part of the price they paid (the cartel mark-up). In keeping with the need for more damages claims fervently voiced by then Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes, the Court has had to deal with quite a few cases on this issue already, but many more are to be expected. Kone deals with the question to what extent the cartelists are required to compensate the higher price charged not just by the members of the cartel, but also by other companies in the market (the umbrella effect). 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 →
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.
The Grand Chamber today dismissed the appeal by the seal hunters to annul the basic regulation prohibiting the marketing of seal products on the EU internal market. As expected, the CJEU held that the seal hunters lacked standing to challenge a legislative act. This does not mean that the seal hunters will not prevail in the end (although I doubt it), as they have also challenged the Commission implementing Regulation, which will enable them to challenge the basic Regulation too (the decision of the GC in that case can be found here and my comments are here). What makes the judgment worth mentioning here though, is the more general relevance of the Grand Chamber’s interpretation of the concept of a ‘regulatory act’. This concept was introduced with the Lisbon Treaty and was intended to make it easier to challenge EU legal acts which were not of a legislative nature.
We have covered on this blog the remarkable Åkerberg Fransson decision (see here and here), in which the Court essentially held that the scope of application of EU fundamental rights was identical to that of the scope of application of EU law itself. The Texdata case – apart from some internal market law aspects we will subsequently cover as well – can mostly be seen as a confirmation of that case law. This is remarkable because the setting in the case is less contentious than in Åkerberg Fransson, but the Court seems to be willing to use already this early opportunity to confirm and emphasize that Åkerberg Fransson is the law and here to stay. The case concerns a requirement in Austrian company law which creates – based on Article 12 of Eleventh Council Directive 89/666/EEC – a system of automatic penalty payments for the failure of a capital company in another Member State with a branch in Austria to submit certain accounting documents within a nine-month period. The Court was called to examine the compatibility of this system with the Directive, with the freedom of establishment and with the principle of effective judicial protection and the rights of defence as enshrined in Articles 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and 6 (2) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
While I cannot go into every detail of the case for the present post, I will first cover the scrutiny by the Court under the requirements of the Directive, which helps to understand the details of the Austrian regime of sanctions; I will then briefly address aspects of the freedom of establishment; and last but not least I will focus on the scope of fundamental rights review exercised by the Court. Continue reading →
In a second round of cases in Luxembourg, a number of seal hunters failed (yet again) to convince the General Court to annul the EU-wide ban on trade in seal products. In a nutshell, the seal hunters argued that the EU acted ultra vires by adopting the ban on the basis of article 114 TFEU (harmonization of rules for the establishment and functioning of the internal market). Moreover, the applicants argued that the ban violated their fundamental rights and the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. According to the applicants, the EU-wide ban was not aimed at improving the functioning of the internal market, but rather at safeguarding the welfare of animals, an objective for which no legal basis exists within the EU Treaties.
In dismissing the arguments put forward by the seal hunters, the General Court made a number of interesting statements regarding the EU’s ability to severely restrict trade of an ‘exotic import’ (a product not made within the EU) within the EU’s internal market on grounds of protecting the welfare of animals living outside the EU. In this post I will focus on the competence issue by discussing the particularities of EU constitutional law and the (modest) challenge a ban on the sale of exotic imports such as seal products poses for EU legislative competence.
After an Odyssey of nearly 10 years, the legal proceedings of Switzerland against German restrictions on flights to and from Zurich airport have come to an end: The CJEU, in its judgement delivered on 7 March 2013 (Case C‑547/10 P), has rejected Switzerland’s appeal against the judgment of the General Court of 9 September 2010 (Case T‑319/05), by which the General Court had rejected Switzerland‘s action for annulment against Commission Decision 2004/12/EC of 5 December 2003 (OJ 2004 L 4, p. 13), thus allowing Germany to continue to apply unilateral restrictions on flights to and from Zurich airport over German territory.
Beyond its undoubtedly grave consequences for the airport of Zurich and all other affected stakeholders, the case was also particularly interesting from the point of view of Swiss-EU relations in general: As Advocate General Jääskinen pointed out in his Opinion delivered on 13 September 2012, this is the first time Switzerland initiated an action for annulment before the EU judiciary. Unfortunately, like the General Court before, the CJEU did not take the opportunity to assess the legal consequences of the Swiss-EU Agreements on the procedural status of Switzerland before the CJEU. Continue reading →