On the 30th of April this year, the CJEU handed down its highly anticipated Opinion 1/17 on the compatibility of the CETA agreement with EU law. As Ankersmit details in his blogpost, the request for an opinion had been part of a widely known quarrel within Belgian internal politics, with Wallonia demanding the Belgium government to expressly consult the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on the legal merits of that agreement. Respecting that decision from its regional parliament, Belgium asked the CJEU, among other things, whether such an agreement was compatible with the principle of autonomy of the EU.
I will circumscribe this post to the analysis of the precise question of autonomy and leave out many of the other troubling questions such as the ones raised by Schepel’s in his previous post. The argument I put forth is as simple as it is controversial: autonomy, due to its abstract characteristics, is often subject to power injections leading to incoherent interpretations depending on the subject-matter at hand.
Let us see how autonomy has been interpreted before Opinion 1/17 and then analyze it in that light. Continue reading →
All is clear, then: CETA’s Investment Chapter is perfectly compatible with EU Law. According to Advocate General Bot, the agreement is wholly separate from the normative (as opposed to the factual) universe of EU law, and merely protects readily identifiable ‘foreigners’ investing in the EU in the same way as it protects readily identifiable ‘European’ investors in foreign lands. From what we know of the hearing, the Advocate General provides not much more than a useful summary of the talking points offered by the Council, the Commission and the vast majority of the 12 intervening Member States, remarkably united in a bid to save the EU’s new external trade and investment policy. Clearly, the pressure on the Court to follow suit will be enormous. And yet. It is true, CETA builds strong fences to make good neighbors. But let spring be the mischief in me: CETA cannot wall out what EU Law walls in.[i]
The EU’s exercise of its post-Lisbon competences over foreign direct investment (FDI) has been anything but smooth. In Opinion 2/15 the CJEU clarified the EU and Member State competences over the EU’s new generation free trade and investment agreements, resulting in the splitting of the EU‑Singapore agreement into a separate trade and investment agreement. Then, in Achmea the Court found investor-state arbitration (ITA) clauses under intra-EU BITs to be incompatible with EU law, which will result in the termination of almost 200 intra-EU BITs and the non-enforcement of ITA awards rendered under them within the EU. Now, everyone is anxiously awaiting the outcome of Opinion 1/17 – requested by Belgium under the insistencies of Wallonia – and whether the Investment Court System (ICS) under CETA is compatible with EU law. This opinion will not only affect the entry into force and conclusion of the trade and investment agreements with Canada, Singapore, Vietnam and Mexico, but it will have broader implications for the multilateral ISDS reform process and the EU’s investment policy.
Therefore, Advocate General Bot’s extensive opinion delivered on 29 January 2019 (first commentaries here and here) in which it found the CETA ICS to be compatible with EU law deserves scrutiny. I will only focus on the AG’s arguments concerning the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court of Justice over the definitive interpretation of EU Law. In a separate post, Harm Schepel will focus on the AG’s arguments on non‑discrimination. Continue reading →
Investment Tribunals called upon to resolve intra-EU disputes are getting used to the European Commission showing up at their doorstep to try to convince them to decline jurisdiction. Though the range of arguments is wide and varied depending on the circumstances of the case and the underlying Investment Treaties, the overarching theme is simply that EU Law reigns supreme in relations between Member States and overrides all international law commitments that individual Member States- and the EU itself in the case of the Energy Charter Treaty- have entered into. The Commission has occasionally met with success: in Electrabel, a long learned discussion on the relationship between EU Law and the ECT was concluded with the bombshell that EU law ‘would prevail over the ECT in case of any material inconsistency’ (para. 4.191). Other times, it is summarily dismissed. ‘Should it ever be determined that there existed an inconsistency between the ECT and EU Law’, observed the Tribunal in RREEF Infrastructure, ‘the unqualified obligation in public international law of any arbitration tribunal constituted under the ECT would be to apply the former. This would be the case even were this to be the source of possible detriment to EU law. EU law does not and cannot “trump” public international law.’[i]
The most interesting point about these wide divergences between different Tribunals on rather fundamental points of EU and international law is how little they seem to matter. In both RREEF and Electrabel and numerous other intra-EU cases, the Tribunals disposed of the matter by pointing out that, in casu, there was no relevant material inconsistency, no conflict, no need to rule on matters of EU law, no incompatibility of obligations under different Treaties, and/or nothing that could not be solved by ‘harmonious interpretation.’ It might make sense to think of this Tribunal practice as devising conflicts-rules.
There are good reasons for the Court of Justice not to want to play this game. A case by case analysis of whether a particular award passes muster through national enforcement proceedings, or a Treaty-by-Treaty analysis of whether a particular dispute settlement or applicable law clause is compatible with EU law, is bound to be time consuming and labor-intensive, and will inevitably be unpredictable and lead to legal uncertainty. Continue reading →
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 →
Last Thursday, the leaders of the Belgian federal government and the regional and community governments reached a compromise deal over the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). One of the key outcomes is that the Belgian federal government will seek the Opinion of the European Court of Justice on the compatibility of the Investment Court System (ICS) in Chapter Eight of CETA with the Treaties. As soon as the Belgian federal government makes the request for an Opinion, the Court will be able to express itself on this contentious legal issue. In this post, I will provide some background on the origins of the Walloon request before explaining why ICS could potentially pose a legal problem for the EU.
Wallonia’s longstanding resistance against CETA and the resolution of 25 April of 2016
To insiders, the resistance put up by Wallonia in particular should have been no surprise. Over the past few years, the Walloon and Brussels parliaments have had extensive debates on the merits of CETA and have been increasingly critical of the deal. One of the main and more principled sources of opposition was the inclusion of ICS in CETA, a judicial mechanism that allows foreign investors to sue governments over a breach of investor rights contained in the agreement. Continue reading →