Implementation of Union law by Member States: when does the Charter of Fundamental Rights apply?

The scope of EU fundamental rights protection and the influence of the Charter of Fundamental Rights on this scope is a much discussed topic among EU  constitutional lawyers. As is well-known, the recognition of fundamental rights as part of the general principles of EU law by the Court is not new. Already in the cases of Stauder and Internationale Handelsgesellschaft, handed down in 1969 and 1974 respectively, the Court recognized fundamental rights as part of the general principles of EU law. It did so to anticipate challenges to the primacy of EU law by national constitutional courts and the Court therefore took great care in stressing the autonomous nature of EU fundamental rights protection. This means that the Court has maintained authority in determining the content of EU fundamental rights protection and thus remained the ultimate interpreter of EU law. However, before the coming into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, there was no EU catalogue of rights formally binding on the EU as such. Rather, the Court drew inspiration from international treaties and national constitutions, whilst at the same time maintaining the autonomy of the EU rights standard. With the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty the Charter of Fundamental Rights has also become formally binding on the EU. This means there now is a binding catalogue of rights at the EU level.

 A contentious issue is whether the Charter of Fundamental Rights alters the scope of the EU fundamental rights standard laid down in previous case-law of the Court. In its case law, the Court has held that fundamental rights recognized as general principles of EU law apply not only to the acts of the EU institutions but also to the acts of Member States in certain circumstances. Generally, Member States have to act in accordance with fundamental rights recognized at the EU level ‘whenever they act within the scope of EU law’. In the case-law of the Court this includes at least two situations. First, Member States are bound by the EU rights standard where the implement and enforce EU law. Second, the Member States are also bound by the EU rights standard where they derogate from EU law provisions (see cases such as Schmidberger, and ERT). However, when precisely a Member State acts within the ‘scope of EU law’ is not entirely clear. The dividing line between situations within the scope and those outside the scope of EU law often appears arbitrary, as was pointed by AG Sharpston in the case of Zambrano.

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EU files WTO complaint against Argentina

In the wake of last month’s spat over Argentina’s expropriation of Spanish energy holdings comes yet another economic dispute between Argentina and the EU.

On 25 May 2012, the EU filed a WTO complaint (DS438 Argentina–Measures Affecting the Importation of Goods) against Argentina regarding its import licensing rules. Argentina requires importers to obtain certain licenses before their goods can be put into circulation on the Argentinian market. The EU alleges that approval of these licenses “is being systematically delayed or refused by the Argentinian authorities on non-transparent grounds.”

Additionally, the EU alleges that Argentina “often requires” importers to agree to limit imports, balance them with exports, increase their local investments, control prices, not transfer benefits abroad, and/or meet local content requirements. The Argentinian authorities refuse to issue import licenses if these conditions are not met.

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Procuring military equipment under the public procurement directive

As one of the last bastions of purely national competence, trade in arms is excluded from the application of the Treaty rules. Article 346 TFEU provides that the Treaties do not preclude Member States to trade and procure war material for the protection of the essential interests of its security. Nonetheless, this provision is strictly interpreted by the Court and the case discussed here exemplifies that only goods intended for specifically military purposes qualify for the exemption under article 346 TFEU. But what exactly is equipment intended for specifically military purposes?

At issue in case C-615/10 Ins Tiimi is the procurement of the Finnish defense authorities of tiltable turntable equipment. This equipment is used to facilitate the ‘carrying-out of electromagnetic measurements and the simulation of combat situations’. As such it was argued by the Finnish authorities that it was procured for military purposes. Ins Tiimi, a company which lost the tender, did not agree, claiming that the equipment could be used  for civilian uses as well. Whether or not the tiltable turntable equipment qualified for the exemption was important because otherwise the procurement procedure had to comply with the public procurement directive (directive 2004/18/EC).

There are essentially two conditions that Member States have to fulfill in order to escape the application of EU law according to article 346 TFEU when procuring military material:

  • The measures relating to military procurement must concern ‘arms, munitions and war material’;
  • And secondly, those measures must be necessary for the protection of the essential interests of the security of that Member State.

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Rome I and third-party aspects of voluntary assignment

Under Article 27(2) of the Rome I Regulation (Regulation (EC) 593/2008 on the law applicable to contractual obligations), the Commission is charged with the task to submit to the EP, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee a report on the proprietary aspects of voluntary assignment. The Commission report under Article 27(2) Rome I will be based on a comprehensive study that has just been released titled “Study on the question of effectiveness of an assignment or subrogation of a claim against third parties and the priority of the assigned or subrogated claim over a right of another person”. This study shall serve as a potential future proposal to amend Art. 14 Rome I Regulation to provide for a new harmonized conflict of laws solution for the third-party aspects of assignment. Why was this necessary?

The rule in art. 14 Rome I Regulation is concerned with the law applicable to assignment of debt and subrogation. As far as the third-party aspects are concerned however, no uniform solution to a conflict–rule could be agreed upon in the drafting process of Rome I and, consequently, the Rome I Regulation (save a reference in recital 38) doesn’t regulate the proprietary aspects of assignment. As a result, Member States currently adopt different approaches. The current incomplete conflict of laws solution in Article 14 Rome I gives rise to various problems, as described in the study. To end this situation, the Commission has to deliver a report (which, incidentally, was due 17 June 2010) accompanied with, if appropriate, a proposal to amend the Rome I Regulation and an impact assessment.

When the Commission will deliver its report is unclear at this point but there is no doubt that it will rely heavily on this study. We will go into more detail in subsequent posts.

Case C-348/09 P.I.: Expulsion of an EU citizen and the notion of ‘imperative grounds of public security’

Removing persons from a community because of a crime they committed is a common phenomenon in law. In medieval England, sources show that men ‘of particular ill-repute’ or presented for serious crimes were forced to ‘abjure the realm’, sometimes even if they passed the procedure of an ordeal (J Hudson, The Formation of the Common Law, Longman, London 1996, 177). More modern international law renders such a mixture between an immigration measure and criminal punishment somewhat more complex: A state can no longer simply expel its own nationals. Still, for foreigners the question continues to arise whether a crime they committed should exclusively be tackled with the tools of criminal law or whether that crime should be seen as a rupture of the bonds of integration between the foreigner and society, resulting in the foreigner’s expulsion.

This thorny question is raised by the case of P.I. Mr I has lived in Germany since 1987. From 1990 onwards, he comitted acts of sexual coercion, sexual assault and rape on his former partner’s daughter who was 8 years old when the offences began. His acts were only discovered later, because he continuously threatened and isolated his victim. In 2006, he was eventually convicted to a term of imprisonment of seven years. By a decision of 2008, Mr I was ordered to leave the territory and lost the right to enter and reside in Germany.

In the appeal to this decision and the subsequent preliminary reference to the CJEU, the question arose whether the long period of residence should prevent an expulsion or whether the nature and context of the crime Mr I committed called for a different solution. Directive 2004/38 on the right of EU citizens to move and reside freely creates a system substantially based on an ever ‘greater degree of protection against expulsion’, the ‘greater the degree of integration of Union citizens’ becomes (recital 24). For Union citizens who have resided for ‘many years in the territory of the host Member State’, an expulsion measure should only be taken ‘where there are imperative grounds of public security’ (ibid.). Putting these objectives into practice, Article 28 of the Directive requires in its first paragraph that before taking an expulsion decision based on ‘public policy or public security’, factors to be taken into account by a Member State are the period of residence, age, state of health, family and economic situation, social and cultural integration into the host Member State and the extent of links with the country of origin of the EU citizen. The second paragraph raises the bar, requiring ‘serious’ grounds of public policy or public security for those Union citizens having gained the right of permanent residence. Finally, the third paragraph provides that in cases where a Union citizen has resided in the host Member State for the previous 10 years, ‘imperative grounds of public security’ must be brought forward to justify an expulsion decision.

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Compensation of passengers for delayed flights – AG confirms Sturgeon case

As a firm blow to airlines trying to dodge the Sturgeon decision, AG Bot’s opinion in the joined cases C-581/10 and C-629/10 has already been called a ‘Luxembourgian punch on the nose’ and ‘a kick in the Bot’. In his opinion, AG Bot essentially advises the Court to confirm its earlier Sturgeon decision (Cases C-402/07 and C-432/07). The cases concern the interpretation of Articles 5, 6 and 7 of Regulation 261/2004 on air passengers compensation. Although frequently named the ‘Denied-boarding’ Regulation, the Court ruled in Sturgeon that passengers whose flights are delayed may also rely on the right to compensation laid down in Article 7 where they suffer, on account of such flights, a loss of time equal to or in excess of three hours (paragraph 61 of Sturgeon). Not surprisingly, airlines have since argued that the ruling in Sturgeon is contrary to the principles of legal certainty and proportionality, and, moreover, that it is inconsistent with both the 2006 IATA ruling and the Montreal Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air (ratified by the EC).

To be fair, the wording of the Regulation does not directly provide for the compensation right to passengers whose flights are delayed. In that sense, as indeed the airlines argue, the Court has taken a bold step in Sturgeon and has maybe, in interpreting the Regulation beyond its literal wording, overstepped its powers. AG Bot, however, doesn’t see any reason for the Court to deviate from its approach in Sturgeon and states that nothing new which might call into question the interpretation that the Court gave in Sturgeon has been presented (point 39). The AG notes that the disputes in these cases show that air carriers refuse to apply that judgment and to compensate passengers finding themselves in such situations (i.e. situations of delay instead of cancellation or denied-boarding). The AG takes the view that Articles 5, 6 and 7 of the Regulation (as interpreted in Sturgeon) are compatible with the IATA ruling, with the Montreal Convention, with the principle of proportionality and with the principle of legal certainty (point 29-49 and 67).

Meanwhile, the Attorney General (AG) at the Dutch Hoge Raad (Supreme Court of the Netherlands) has delivered his opinion (in Dutch) in several cases pending before the Supreme Court concerning compensation under Art. 7 for delayed flights. The opinion was delivered exactly four days before AG Bot’s opinion but follows the same pattern. The AG rejected all of the airlines’ arguments against the Sturgeon ruling..

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Fair-trade coffee and tea under the procurement directive

Can public authorities procure fair trade products, or are they debarred from specifically referring to the fair trade qualities of those products under the public procurement directive (directive 2004/18/EC)? This is one of the issues underlying the judgment of the Court in Case C-368/10 Commission v. Netherlands.

In 2008, the Dutch province of North Holland announced in a tendering procedure that it wished to procure coffee machines and the products necessary to make them function (coffee, tea, sugar, milk, cups). It required that those products to be delivered to bear the Max Havelaar label, a private label that adheres to the rules of the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation. Considering that this tender was contrary to the public procurement directive (2004/18/EC) the Commission started an infringement procedure against the Netherlands.

Obviously, specifically requiring products to bear only that label is contrary to EU public procurement law, as it is way too over specific and does not allow for any form of competition for the contract. However, the Court made – for the first time – some interesting points on procuring fair trade products in general.

The two points I will discuss are:

  • Fair trade requirements to products cannot be part of technical specifications but are conditions relating to the performance of the contract;
  •  Fair trade criteria can be used as award criteria for public supply contracts.

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Religious prosecution in the Qualification Directive: the ‘core’ of fundamental rights as a core business of EU asylum law?

In his recent Opinion in Cases C-71/11 and C-99/11 Advocate General Bot held that a serious infringement of the freedom of religion may constitute an ‘act of persecution’ where the asylum seeker, by exercising that freedom or as a result of infringing the restrictions placed on the exercise of that freedom, runs a real risk of being deprived of his most fundamental rights. This is an important case for the application of fundamental rights in asylum context. The AG seems to be aware of this considering the extensive elaboration on the matter. Nevertheless, the Opinion of the AG is not very satisfying, mainly because the interpretation based on the European Court of Human Rights (hereafter: ECHR) case law, does not seem very consistent.

The cases concerned a reference for a preliminary ruling by the German Bundesverwaltungsgericht (Federal Administrative Court). The applicants in the main proceedings were Pakistani nationals who entered Germany and applied for asylum on religious grounds. They stated that because they exercised their faith as members of the Ahmadiyyah (a minority community that adheres to the Ahmadiyyah, long contested by the Sunni Muslim majority in Pakistan), they would be prosecuted and therefore should be recognized as refugees. The lower German Court had decided that the freedom of religion entails amongst others the right to exercise and demonstrate faith in public and that the restrictions on the exercise of faith in Pakistan represent a grave violation of the freedom of religion for a devout Ahmadi. The Bundesverwaltungsgericht decided to refer questions, in which it asked the Court of Justice to set out the circumstances in which an infringement of the freedom of religion, and in particular of the right of an individual to live his faith freely and openly, may constitute an ‘act of persecution’ within the meaning of Directive 2004/83/EC.[1]

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