Category: Public International Law

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

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: January 2018

Call for papers: Workshop “Information Sharing and European Agencies: Novel Frontiers”

European University Institute, 23 May 2018. Deadline for submissions: 15 February 2018.

Call for Papers: “Challenges to EU Law and Governance in the Member States”

European University Institute, 8 June 2018. Deadline for submissions: 18 February.

Call for papers: Special Issue “Revisiting WTO’s Role in Global Governance”

Trade, Law and Development. Deadline for submissions: 28 February 2018.

Call for Papers: PhD Colloquium “Regulating New Technologies in Uncertain Times”

Tilburg University, 14 June 2018. Deadline for submissions: 28 February 2018.

Call for Papers: “Geography and Legal Culture on the International Bench”

Leiden University, The Hague Campus, 17-18 May 2018. Deadline for submissions: 28 February 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

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.

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: September 2017

PhD Seminar “The EU Area of Freedom, Security and Justice”

University of Basel, 16-17 November 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions: 30 September 2017.

Conference “ Cross-border Mergers Directive: EU perspectives and national experiences”

University of Cyprus, 7 October 2017.

Conference “The Legitimacy of Unseen Actors in International Adjudication”

The Hague/University of Leiden, 26-27 October 2017. Registration required.

Symposium “External Challenges to the Common Fisheries Policy”

University of Edinburgh, 18 May 2018. Deadline for abstract submissions: 30 November 2018.

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

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.

Implementation of the Aarhus Convention by the EU – An Inconvenient Truth from the Compliance Committee

By Benedikt Pirker


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

The power to conclude the EU’s new generation of FTA’s: AG Sharpston in Opinion 2/15

By Laurens Ankersmit

To say that the EU’s new generation of trade agreements (such as CETA and TTIP) is politically controversial is becoming somewhat of an understatement. These free trade agreements (FTA), going beyond mere tariff reduction and facilitating hyperglobalization, have faced widespread criticism from civil society, trade unions, and academics. It may come as no surprise therefore that the legal issue over who is competent to conclude such agreements (the EU alone, or the EU together with the Member States) has received considerable public attention, ensuring that the Advocate General Sharpston’s response to the Commission’s request for an Opinion (Opinion 2/15) on the conclusion of the EU-Singapore FTA (EUSFTA)  has made the headlines of several European newspapers.

The Opinion of Advocate General Sharpston in Opinion 2/15, delivered on 21 December, is partly sympathetic to the Commission’s arguments on EU powers, but ultimately refutes the most outlandish of the Commission’s claims to EU power vis-à-vis that of its constituent Member States. The Opinion is of exceptional length (570 paragraphs, to my knowledge the longest Opinion ever written), and contains an elaborate discussion on the nature of the division of powers between the EU and the Member States and detailed reasoning on specific aspects of the EUSFTA such as transport services, investment protection, procurement, sustainable development, and dispute settlement.

Given the breadth of the AG’s conclusions, the aim of this post is to discuss the Opinion only in relation to investment protection and to reflect upon some of the consequences for the Commission’s investment policy, perhaps the most controversial aspect of this new generation of trade agreements. Continue reading

EU-Morocco Trade Relations Do Not Legally Affect Western Sahara – Case C-104/16 P Council v Front Polisario

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

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: December 2016

Conference « EU Civil Procedure Law and Third Countries: Which Way Forward? »

University of Kiel, 2-3 February 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 19 December 2016.

Workshop « International Law in a Dark Time »

University of Helsinki, 22-23 May 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 30 December 2017.

Conference « EU Policy on International Investments : Uncertainties, Challenges, and Opportunities »

University of Zaragoza, 20-21 March 2017. Deadline for proposal submissions : 31 December 2017.

IntLawGrrls! 10th Birthday Conference

University of Georgia Law School, 3 March 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 1 January 2017.

Workshop « New Challenges for European Solidarity »

University of Cambridge, 9-10 March 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 13 January 2017.

Call for papers Jean Monnet Seminar « The EU and Trust in the Online Environment »

Inter University Center, Dubrovnik, 23-29 April 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 31 January 2017.

ESIL Annual Conference 2017 : Global Public Goods , Global Commons, and Fundamental Values : The Responses of International Law

University of Naples, 7-9 September 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 31 January 2017.

Call for submissions : Trade, Law and Development Special Issue on Recent Regionalism

Deadline for submissions : 15 February 2017.

Call for papers : « Human Dignity and the Constitutional Crisis in Europe : Humanity, Democracy, Social Europe »

European University Institute, Florence, 15-16 June 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 28 February 2017.

European Environmental Law Forum 2017 Conference : « Sustainable Management of Natural Resources – Legal Approaches and Instruments »

Copenhagen, 30 August – 1 September 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 17 March 2017.

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: November 2016

Call for papers : The Cambridge International and European Law Conference 2017 «Transforming Institutions»

University of Cambridge, 23-24 March 2017. Deadline for abstract submission : 25 November 2016.

Call for submissions : European Journal of Legal Studies New Voices Prize

Deadline for paper submissions : 15 December 2016.

Call for papers : 6th Conference of the Postgraduate and Early Professionals/Academics Network of the Society of International Economic Law

Tilburg University, 20-21 April 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 30 November 2016.

Call for papers : Conference « Post-Conflict Justice in Ukraine »

Kyiv, 26-27 May 2017. Deadline for abstract submissions : 15 December 2016.

The Extraterritorial Reach of EU Animal Welfare Rules (Again): Case C-592/14 European Federation for Cosmetic Ingredients

By Jessica Lawrence

What is the scope of the marketing ban on cosmetics containing ingredients that were tested on animals? Does it include cosmetics that were tested on animals because of the requirements of a third country’s laws? This was the question the CJEU addressed in its decision in the European Federation for Cosmetic Ingredients case. The Court’s 21 September 2016 judgment goes some way toward resolving the lack of clarity of the animal testing provisions of the Cosmetics Regulation (which Advocate General Bobek’s Opinion referred to as ‘not well drafted’ and ‘not a paragon of clarity’ (AG’s Opinion paras 74 & 24)). But it also continues a recent line of cases in which the Court approves of EU rules with important extraterritorial effects. Continue reading

ISDS in EU FTIAs. Yes, No, Maybe? A Domestic Enforcement Perspective

by  Szilárd Gáspár-Szilágyi


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

Brexit: A Tale of Two Agreements?

By Hugo Flavier and Sébastien Platon

There seems to be a common assumption (see, among many others, here 3.6, here or here at 14:00) that there is a distinction between two kinds of « post-Brexit agreements », i.e. the withdrawal agreement (the divorce settlement) and the agreement regarding the future relationship between the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU). However, this distinction is, in fact, not very clear. It raises, in particular, several questions related to the legal basis and the nature (exclusive or not) of the withdrawal agreement. This contribution aims to clarify the distinction between these two agreements and identify the legal difficulties arising from their articulation. It will be argued that, due to some legal uncertainties, the negotiators of these agreements should be careful of their respective contents. Continue reading

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: May 2016

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: March 2016

Jean Monnet Doctoral Workshop “Interactions Between European Union and International Law”

City University London, 23 June 2016. Deadline for abstract submission: 25 March 2016.

Conference “Boosting the Enforcement of EU Competition Law at Domestic Level”

Radboud University Nijmegen, 3 June 2016. Deadline for abstract submissions: 31 March 2016.

Workshop “The Disintegration of Europe”

Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, 30-31 May 2016. Deadline for abstract submissions: 1 April 2016.

Seminar “Transnational Solidarity: Setting the Boundaries”

Center for Transnational Legal Studies, London, 1 April 2016. (Free) registration needed.

Conference “Environmental Rights in Europe and Beyond”

Lund, 21-22 April 2016. (Free) registration needed.

Conference “Existe-t-il encore un seul non bis in idem aujourd’hui?”

University of Nancy, 28 April 2016. Registration needed.

Vienna Journal on International Constitutional Law Conference 2016

Vienna University of Economics and Business, 23 September 2016. Deadline for abstract submissions: 15 May 2016. Continue reading

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: February 2016

Conference “The European Convention on Human Rights and the Crimes of the Past”

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, February 26 2016. Deadline for registration: 19 February 2016.

Conference “Searching for Solidarity in EU Asylum and Border Policies”

Brussels, 26-27 February 2016. (Paid) registration needed.

Conference “Reforms in UN Treaty Bodies and the European Court of Human Rights: Mutual Lessons?”

University of Oslo, 29 February 2016. (Free) registration needed.

Conference “Mapping the challenges in economic and financial criminal law: a comparative analysis of Europe and the US”

University of Luxembourg, 17 March 2016. (Free) registration needed.

Workshop “Austerity and Law in Europe”

University of Amsterdam, 16-17 June 2016. (Free) registration needed.

EUI Summer Courses on Human Rights and on the Law of the European Union

European University Institute, Florence, 20 June-1 July/4-15 July 2016. Deadline for applications: 4 April 2016.

Conference “Adjudicating international trade and investment disputes: between interaction and isolation”

University of Oslo, 25-26 August 2016. Deadline for abstract submissions: 1 March 2016.

Neues aus dem Elfenbeinturm: January 2016

Seminar „Rethinking EU Competences“

Inter-University Center, Dubrovnik, 17-23 April 2016. Deadline for abstract submissions: 31 January 2016.

Conference „Europe’s crisis: What future for immigration and asylum law and policy“

Queen Mary University of London, 27-28 June 2016. Deadline for abstract submissions: 15 February 2016.

LCII Conference „Regulating Patent ‘Hold-up’“

Brussels, 29 February 2016. Deadline for (paid) registration: 25 February 2016.

ASIL Interest Group Meeting „Regional Approaches to International Adjudication“

Washington, 30 March-2 April 2016 (exact date TBD). Deadline for abstract submissions: 1 February 2016.

Top ten most read posts of 2015

By the editors

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