‘Qatargate’ exposes a long-denounced inadequacy of the ethics framework for members of the EU institutions

Blogpost 2/2023

The President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, declared that ‘European democracy is under attack’ and announced the launch of a reform process following the arrests of four people on 9 December 2022, as a result of an investigation into suspicions of corruption to the benefit of Qatar. Among them, the most prominent name is Eva Kaili, at the time Vice-President of the European Parliament, who has as a result been stripped of her title. Former Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Pier Antonio Panzeri is also involved. The problem is that, considering the long-denounced shortcomings of the current ethics frameworks applicable to the members of EU institutions, it was just a matter of time before such a scandal occurred: action should have been taken earlier.

The goal of this post is to examine the most evident shortcomings of the current ethics frameworks for members and staff of the EU institutions involved in the legislative procedures, namely, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union (Council): the excessive laxity of some of the provisions, the insufficient monitoring of the compliance with the rules and their weak enforcement failed to deter this scandal from happening.Continue reading

Superleague: who sets the rules of the game?

Blogpost 1/2023

I’ll be honest: I don’t like football. I think it is overcommercialised, involves way too much money and an excessive amount of public resources and the competition on the pitch has precious little to do with athletes trying to outcompete another (I’ve always liked rowing better). With that out of the way, we can now move on to discuss the recent opinion by Advocate General Rantos in Superleague.

The facts leading to Superleague are clear and widely known. A number of high-ranking football clubs sought to create their own league, the Superleague. This would allow these founding clubs to organize an extra football competition involving them and a limited number of other clubs. The Superleague initiative met with broad opposition ranging from fans, politicians, other football clubs and, notably, UEFA and FIFA. This resulted in the failure of the project that, however, did not stop the Madrid Commercial Court from making a very interesting preliminary reference to the Court.Continue reading

Top ten most-read posts of 2022

As we are reaching the end of 2022, we would like to present to you the European Law Blog’s top ten most-read blog posts of the year. This list of top ten provides us with the opportunity to celebrate the most popular blog posts, to offer an insight into the topics that have gotten the most attention from our readers this past year, and to thank all the authors who have contributed to our blog.

Without further ado, here is our top ten most-read posts of 2022:

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Privacy and data protection vs public access to entrepreneurs’ personal data. Score 2:0

Blogpost 54/2022

How did the ECJ balance the rights to privacy and data protection against transparency of Ultimate Beneficial Owners registries in WM and Sovim SA v Luxembourg Business Registers?

While the eyes of the world are on the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the highest referee in the European Union (EU) – the Court of Justice of the EU (ECJ), sitting as the Grand Chamber – ruled in favour of privacy and data protection of the ultimate beneficial owners (UBO) of corporate entities, whose fundamental rights were infringed by one of the provisions of the EU secondary law. In judgment WM and Sovim SA v Luxembourg Business Registers (joined Cases C‑37/20 and C‑601/20) delivered on 22 November 2022, in the preliminary reference procedure, the ECJ struck down a provision of the EU Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) legal framework, which since early 2020 required a considerable amount of information about UBOs to be accessible to the general public. In the view of the Court, the access in all cases of any member of the general public to such information constitutes a serious interference with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and the right to the protection of personal data, enshrined respectively in Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR), which is neither limited to what is strictly necessary nor, as one can infer from the reasoning of the Court, proportionate to the objective pursued (paras 44, 76 and 77 read jointly with 85 and 86).

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(Re)newing economic governance in the EU: History repeating?

Blogpost 53/2022

On November 9, 2022, after conducting a year-long debate (the debate had been originally launched in February 2020, but then re-launched after the COVID-19 pandemic on October 2021), the European Commission proposed an overhaul of the European Union’s (EU) economic governance framework. If eventually pursued, this will be the third overhaul of the framework since its original adoption 25 years ago. How have these changes affected or will affect the modus operandi of the EU?

This post first lays out the existing economic governance framework of the EU before looking at the proposals made by the Commission.Continue reading

Case C-911/19: the CJEU rules on EBA’s Soft Guidelines

Blogpost 52/2022

On 15th July 2021, the Court of Justice (CJEU) delivered its judgment in Grand Chamber case FBF / ACPR, dealing with the impact of soft law within the EU legal order once again. Especially in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, EU institutions and agencies strongly relied on soft instruments, whose nature and effects have been assessed by the CJEU in different occasions (on this point, see Alberti). Moreover, this approach has been consolidated over the time and still constitutes a reality for the EU financial governance. Indeed, the dispute at stake concerned a series of preliminary questions on the Guidelines of the European Banking Authority (EBA) on product oversight and governance arrangements for retail banking products.

The use of soft law within the Union is often linked to two peculiar situations. On the one hand, non-binding instruments are frequently used to overcome competence questions or to circumvent the difficulty to find political consensus on the adoption of binding rules. On the other hand, soft law is largely preferred in times of crisis, since it is fast, flexible, and easy to enact. The financial sector, furthermore, has always preferred soft forms of regulation, which easily adapt to the speed of change of market’s conditions.Continue reading

New limitations on GDPR enforcement? Advocate General’s Opinion in UI v Österreichische Post

Blogpost 51/2022

I. Introduction

Should you receive compensation for the harm caused by illegal data use? This question may soon have an answer. The Austrian Supreme Court asked the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) how the right to compensation for non-material damages in the GDPR should be interpreted. Other courts have referred comparable questions to the ECJ.

On October 6th 2022 the Advocate General (AG) Campos Sánchez-Bordona delivered his Opinion regarding the Case C-300/21. This blog post aims at providing a short analysis of the AG Opinion. It is argued that the proposed threshold for compensation is not in line with the GDPR and that objective criteria should guide compensation for non-material damages.

II. What is at stake?

Since 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has provided a uniform regulation for data protection in the EU and EEA. It grants rights to individuals and imposes obligations upon data controllers and data processors in order to safeguard the fundamental right to data protection.

Stronger enforcement was one of the main promises of the GDPR. It includes, generally speaking, two enforcement mechanisms. First, the data protection authorities: Individuals (called data subjects in the GDPR) can lodge a complaint with an authority that should then be handled and addressed accordingly. The authority can also act on their own initiative. The second mechanism is litigation. Data subjects may bring a claim directly against a controller or processor in court.

Certain claims are to be brought in court only. This is the case when an individual is claiming compensation for damages they suffered because provisions of the GDPR were infringed.

Damages in the GDPR are divided into two categories: material and non-material. A material damage could be the loss of income, whereas a non-material damage could be the emotional harm when your data was misused. Non-material damage is typically hard to quantify, as it is not related to assets or wealth (p. 38-39).

The ECJ has now been asked what qualifies as a non-material damage. Given the broad scope of applicability of the GDPR and the common infringement of its provisions, the issue at stake is particularly relevant as it shapes an important part of the redress mechanisms for data subjects.

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EU 2.0 Revisited: Between Vetocracy and Rule of Law Concerns

Blogpost 50/2022

On 14 September 2022, the European Parliament declared that Hungary can no longer be considered a full democracy. The adoption of this position was followed by the Commission’s proposal for a Council implementing decision that, if adopted, would trigger the measures envisaged in the Conditionality Regulation concerning the suspension of certain EU budgetary commitments towards Hungary.

While EU institutions keep looking to the EU Treaties for effective tools to address the rule of law crisis, Hungary and Poland exploit those very same Treaties to exercise their ‘vetocracy’ on multiple matters. In a nutshell, they rely on their veto power to block EU decision-making in a number of procedures which require unanimity. The EU then becomes a hostage of its own constitution and the unanimity requirements included therein. Remarkably, the outcome of the Conference on the Future of Europe offers quite an overview of how delicate this moment is for the fate of EU decision-making. The implementation of more than 10% of the 178 recommendations coming from the Citizens’ Panels would require Treaty change. This has resulted in the European Parliament’s urgent call for ‘reforming voting procedures in the Council to enhance the European Union’s capacity to act, including switching from unanimity to qualified majority voting’.Continue reading