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Home Archive for category "European Union"

Editorial: The Case for a Kinder, Gentler Brexit

Published on February 6, 2017        Author: 

Of course, we know better than to be shooting at each other; but the post-23 June  relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union is woefully bellicose, and increasingly so. In tone and mood, diplomatic niceties are barely maintained and in content positions seem to be hardening. I am mostly concerned with attitudes and positions of and within the Union and its 27 remaining Member States. Handling Brexit cannot be dissociated from the handling of the broader challenges facing the Union. I will readily accept that the UK leadership bears considerable responsibility for the bellicosity and the escalating lawfare. But the inequality of arms so strikingly favours the Union that its attitude and policies can afford a certain magnanimous disregard of ongoing British provocations.

It is easy to understand European Union frustration with the UK. I want to list three – the first being an understandable human reaction. It is clear that when Cameron called for a renegotiation followed by a referendum he had no clue what it was he wanted and needed to renegotiate. The Union waited patiently for months to receive his list – the insignificance of which, when it did come, was breathtaking. For ‘this’ one was willing to risk breaking up the Union and perhaps the UK? Read the rest of this entry…

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The Polisario case: Do EU fundamental rights matter for EU trade policies?

Published on February 3, 2017        Author: 

On 10 December 2015, the General Court of the European Union (GC) rendered a judgment in the Council v. Front Polisario case that was revolutionary in many regards: not only did a national liberalization movement successfully challenge an EU trade agreement, the Court also considered the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR) applicable to non-EU citizens on a non EU-territory and in the context of trade policies (see previously, Geraldo Vidigal in EJILTalk).

A month ago and a year later, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) quashed the decision of the GC and denied legal standing for the Front Polisario. However, the door for a role of EU fundamental rights as a benchmark for EU trade policies is not yet closed. To the contrary, the ECJ’s conclusions brought to the fore an ugly truth that shows that the extraterritorial effects of EU trade policies are in urgent need of closer scrutiny.

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Quasi-Judicial Dialogue for the Coherent Development of International Law

Multilateral Development Banks have established international accountability mechanisms over the last 25 years in order to offer private individuals or groups a process through which they can demand the redress of grievances caused by the banks’ projects. Accountability mechanisms are often composed of experts appointed by each bank’s Board of Directors. The mechanisms generally have a compliance review function, with or without a problem-solving function. With their different mandates, these quasi-judicial bodies have, just like judicial bodies, proliferated in a process that can be deemed “quasi-anarchic“. This post explores a recent project in Kenya presented simultaneously before two accountability mechanisms, and argues that accountability mechanisms’ “quasi-judicial dialogue” can constitute a source of inspiration for the coherent development of international law.

Two Accountability Mechanisms, Two Mandates

As judicial and quasi-judicial bodies participate in the development of international law, there is a risk of incoherence in their decisions with consequences such as unpredictability, inequalities or forum-shopping, which would endanger the international legal system (see Jonathan I. Charney, Is International Law Threatened by Multiple International Tribunals?). Incoherence may become even more acute for Multilateral Development Banks’ accountability mechanisms as they confront very similar factual scenarios, especially in the case of co-financing where parties affected by an investment may seize more than one accountability mechanism, just like in the Kenya Electricity Expansion Project presented before the World Bank and the European Investment Bank’s accountability mechanisms.

Indeed, there are four important differences between the mandates of the World Bank Inspection Panel (hereinafter the Panel) and the European Investment Bank’s Complaints Mechanism. In all four aspects, the World Bank’s policy is more restrictive than the European Investment Bank’s (hereinafter EIB). Read the rest of this entry…

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International Law in the Early Days of Brexit’s Past

Published on October 20, 2016        Author: 

Editor’s Note: This post is an adapted version of a short-piece prepared by the author for a policy-report by the think-thank Britain in Europe based at Brunel University London. The report will be presented on the 25th October at a high-level meeting at the British Academy and commented upon by Dominic Grieve, former attorney general of the United Kingdom (2010-2014).

Echoing a widespread sense of almost existential malaise across the ‘invisible college’ of public international lawyers regarding ‘Brexit’, Judge James Crawford of the bench of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and until very recently the Whewell Professor of International Law at the University of Cambridge, offered a de minimis definition of international law in times of crisis at the opening ceremony of the 12th Annual Conference of the European Society of International Law (ESIL). International law, Judge Crawford said with a fine sense of irony, is ‘all that remains’ when ‘Brexit’ happens, or when Donald Trump wins the U.S.’ Presidential elections.

Internationalists by training and vocation, public international lawyers have not, for their greatest part, been too fond (to put it lightly) of the outcome of the Brexit referendum. But, is this gremial intellectual ‘malaise’ really justified from the perspective of the strictly professional academic interests of the UK academically-based ‘invisible college’ of international lawyers? After all, most international law scholars based in academic institutions across the UK received the news of the outcome of the EU referendum with, at least, a pinch of ironical relief at not having made European Union Law their life’s profession. The awareness that the UK was to be in an even greater need of international legal expertise in the years to come may have added further reassurance to those concerned by their job security and perhaps, overall their life-project in a country which, worn out by years of austerity, had just turned its back on what for all its flaws remains on paper the most advanced value-based and peaceful historical experiment of legal and political integration that a History littered with projects of conquests and subjugation of peoples in the name of religion, imperialist designs and totalitarian ideologies had ever witnessed. International law is, at the end of the day, ‘all that remains’ to replace the law of the European Union as legal vernacular for this country to lay new foundations of its ‘global’ legal relationship with the rest of the world. But, can the UK truly count on some sense of academic loyalty on the part of non-British UK-based international lawyers, many of whom, moreover, feel particularly estranged amidst an extended public rhetoric of ultra-nationalist overtones as EU nationals in a country that will soon not be part of the ‘EU family of nations’? What might appear prima facie to be a question primarily addressed to interrogate the theoretical possibility that many non-British nationals (both EU and non-EU citizens alike) would be rethinking pursuing their academic careers in British universities in a post-Brexit scenario, has, however, gained an unexpected, and slightly disquieting added dimension in recent weeks. According to the British media, indeed:

‘foreign academics from the LSE acting as expert advisers to the UK government were told they would not be asked to contribute to government work and analysis on Brexit because they are not British nationals’

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Continent in Crisis

Published on October 7, 2016        Author: 

Note from Joseph Weiler, Editor-in-Chief of the European Journal of International Law:

I have invited Jan Klabbers, member of our Scientific Advisory Board, to write a Guest Editorial for this issue of EJIL (Vol. 27 (2016) No. 3).

In the early 1990s, when many were dancing in the streets to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall and the long-awaited arrival of the end of history in the form of a liberal victory, historian Mark Mazower was working on a book that would caution some sobriety. The victory of liberalism, he wrote, had not been inevitable, nor due to its inner charms and attractions; it had, instead, been hard-won, locked in deadly battle with the forces of totalitarianism both on the left and the right. The fact that liberal democracy came out victorious owed as much to the failings, structural and strategic, of fascism and communism as to liberalism’s own virtues. If anything, so Mazower demonstrated, Europe has always been a rich and fertile soil for totalitarian movements; the fact that these were momentarily defeated should not result in too much complacency and self-congratulations about European values and all that.

Recent events demonstrate painfully just how correct Mazower’s assessment was. While communism remains largely dead and buried (unless one counts the surprise emergence of left-wing politicians in the UK and even the US as manifestations of a resurgence), Euro-fascism is clearly on the rise again. This is visible in Hungary and Poland, where the Rule of Law has been all but abandoned or, in an alternative narrative, cynically deployed so as to undermine itself. This is visible in much of the Balkans, with governments building fences and walls to keep out people fleeing persecution and destitution. This is visible in the streets of Finland, where self-appointed vigilantes patrol the streets at night in order to fight largely imaginary crimes, and find considerable encouragement in the speech by which the President inaugurated the parliamentary year in 2016. This is visible in Denmark, which enacts laws to strip poor people of their belongings so as to pay for being treated unkindly. This is visible in the streets of Germany and the Netherlands, with Pegida demonstrations demanding attention. This is visible in Ukraine, where the streets are filled with Russian militias. This is visible in the United Kingdom’s rediscovered isolationism mixed with delusions of grandeur. This is visible, in short, all over Europe: the triumph of liberal democracy is quickly giving way to the triumph of what can only be called some kind of fascism. And it is not limited to Europe, if the presidential campaigning in the US is anything to go by: who would have thought, even a few months ago, that a vulgar loudmouth such as Donald Trump, not hindered by any trait of common decency, would stand any chance of success? Read the rest of this entry…

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There is Chutzpah and Then There is David Cameron

Published on October 6, 2016        Author: 

It is hard to translate the Yiddish word Chutzpah. Cheek doesn’t quite capture it. ‘What a cheek’ is not the same as ‘What Chutzpah’. Chutzpah involves a certain brazenness. ‘What Chutzpah’ is usually associated with a rubbing of the eyes or a shake of the head in disbelief. Even a kind of perverse admiration. The classical example of Chutzpah is the son who kills his mother and father and then turns to the judge and pleads: Mercy, I’m an orphan.

Cameron has taken Chutzpah to new heights.

A good place to start would be in the final weeks of the campaign when Cameron’s refrain was ‘Brits don’t Quit!’ Rub your eyes – this from the Brit who just months earlier had presented his ‘either we get this and this and that or, well yes, we quit’. Takes some nerve, does it not? Of course to have any credibility in his pre-referendum Brussels negotiations he would have to sell himself and his country as ready to quit.

You would think that in playing against the grain of ‘Brits don’t quit’ there would have to be something huge at stake. You may just remember the weeks that became months when the world and its sister were waiting for him to present his list of demands. You will certainly not have forgotten the disdainful disbelief from all and sundry when he finally presented his Potage of Lentils – that thin gruel of demands for which he was willing to gamble the future of the UK membership of the European Union and much more.

It was also an insult to one’s political intelligence. As a ploy to address internal party politics – the real reason behind the whole unfortunate manoeuvre – did he really believe that even if his demands were met in full (and they mostly were) this would keep the wolves at bay? Even more damning in my view, it was clear that Cameron never grasped the serious problems of the European construct which, if one were to use the ‘nuclear option’ of threatening to quit, could and perhaps should have been raised. Read the rest of this entry…

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European Union 2: A Revolutionary Response to a British Coup d’état

Published on September 8, 2016        Author: 

The antipathy towards the European Union reflected in the British Referendum of 23 June 2016 is shared by many people across the whole of Europe. As Jürgen Habermas has said: “the British vote also reflects some of the general state of crisis in the EU and its member states”. (Die Zeit, July 12, 2016.)

An unexpected moment of further European disintegration offers a unique opportunity to make the unloved EU into what it could be. The citizens of Europe should force the governments of Europe to make possible a European Union 2, an enterprise that a majority of British people might support, even if they were still not able to love it.

We are living through a time of exceptional disorder and danger throughout the world. A very bad time is a good time to plan a better future. In the dark days of the Second World War, governments were already planning new social security systems, new education systems, new public health systems, a new world financial system, and a United Nations to replace the League of Nations.

There are realistic principles underlying a project of European Union. It can be a close partnership of independent nations pursuing their unique and precious destinies, but seeking also the huge gains that come from acting together to serve a common interest. Their national interest contains also the common interest that they share.

Such a partnership is a sharing of the power of 500 million people. We have a common interest in responding effectively to a world that threatens our survival and prosperity, politically and economically and culturally, and even our physical survival.

But we also share a special responsibility to help to make the present chaotic and dangerous world into a better world. It is something that Europe owes to the world, a world that is very much the world that Europe made, for better and for worse. Read the rest of this entry…

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‘Brexit’, Article 50 TEU and the Constitutional Significance of the UK Referendum

Published on July 6, 2016        Author: 

This post tries to answer two questions:

First, who has the right to trigger the process of Article 50 TEU under the UK constitution? Second, what is constitutional significance of the UK referendum?

Article 50 TEU is the provision that governs the process of withdrawal of an existing EU Member State from the Union. The provision was introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon and it has not been used thus far. This provision is drafted in a way that is not too prescriptive with the clear intention for allowing a considerable margin for manoeuvring in the ensuing negotiations.

Article 50 (1) stipulates that a Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements whereas Article 50 (2) provides that the relevant Member State must notify its intention to the European Council.

It is clear that once the process of Article 50 begins, the negotiating position of the Union is strengthened. This is because Article 50 (3) TEU imposes a time frame for the completion of negotiations (two years). If at the end of this period the EU and the Member State fail to reach an agreement, the Treaties cease to apply to that Member State thus leading to a disorderly withdrawal. The two year period may be extended by the European Council acting unanimously. Since the costs of a disorderly withdrawal are apparently higher for the Member State that leaves the Union, it is obvious that the two year time-frame hangs like a sword of Damocles over its shoulders. This means that the question of when the process begins and on whose initiative is critical.

The ‘who’ and ‘when’ under the UK Constitutional Arrangements Regarding the Invocation of Article 50 TEU

The question of who has the power to trigger Article 50 TEU has attracted a deserved amount of attention by scholars and commentators. Most of the scholars agree that EU partners cannot trigger the withdrawal process (see for example Marl Elliott, Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Nick Barber, Tom Hickman and Jeff King).

This is certainly the case from a legal point of view however, it is possible for the EU to increase the pressure on the UK to trigger the renegotiation process. How? Read the rest of this entry…

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Brexit and International Law

Published on July 4, 2016        Author: 

In earlier posts (here and here) there was a discussion about the different scenarios that might play out following the UK’s vote to exit the European Union. These and other debates have focused largely on the legal implications for the UK and the European Union and the modalities of their future relationship. Yet the UK’s withdrawal from the Union will also have consequences at the international level, especially for the hundreds of international agreements concluded by EU and the UK with third states and international organizations. In this post I will look at some of the international law issues that arise from the UK’s exit from the European Union. The EU is a unique, perhaps even sui generis, international organization, but it is an international organization nevertheless and withdrawal will necessarily gives rise to questions under public international law. An important question in this regard is the fate of the international treaties to which the EU and the UK are party.

The first point of departure are the rules in the treaty establishing the international organization itself, that is, the EU Treaties. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) establishes that a party may withdraw ‘in conformity with the provisions of the treaty’, which in this case is Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). Once this has been invoked, the EU and the UK will negotiate an agreement setting out the arrangements for withdrawal. Some have argued that the UK might be able to ‘bypass’ Article 50 TEU using international law, by invoking the Brexit vote as a ‘fundamental change in circumstances’ according to Article 62(1)(a) VCLT. Such proposals should not be taken seriously. This article of the VCLT was deliberately worded negatively, stating that a fundamental change in circumstances cannot be invoked unless two restrictive conditions are fulfilled. These are: (a) the existence of those circumstances constituted an essential basis of the consent of the parties to be bound by the treaty; and (b) the effect of the change is radically to transform the extent of obligations still to be performed under the treaty. The International Court of Justice has moreover pointed out “the stability of treaty relations requires that the plea of fundamental change of circumstances be applied only in exceptional cases.” (Case concerning the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Project (Hungary/Slovakia) (Judgment) [1997] ICJ Rep 7. para. 104) As Professor Kenneth Armstrong argues:

“there is simply no way that the European Court of Justice would permit the autonomous legal order of the European Union and the specific procedural mechanism of Article 50 TEU to bend to international law in this manner.”

While it is possible that avenues other than Article 50 may be used (for instance, to allow a form of ‘associate membership’) the EU Treaties provide a clear provision that covers the exit of a Member. Article 50 is silent, however, for the most part on the important issues that will face the UK, the EU and the many other states with whom they have legal relations. Read the rest of this entry…

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Brexit and Hamilton’s King George: You’ll Be Back and What Comes Next

Published on June 28, 2016        Author: 

If I may be forgiven for lowering the level of conversation (yet again) after the excellent post by Jure Vidmar & Craig Eggett and Larry Helfer’s post over on Opinio Juris discussing many important legal issues – I just wanted to share a (rare) happy Brexitian thought. In Broadway’s smash-hit Hamilton, coming soon to London’s West End, King George sings a delectable British Invasion-y break-up song to his American soon-to-be-ex subjects (“You’ll Be Back”) and then follows up with two shorter songs on the same tune (one of them, “What Comes Next”, works magnificently here as you’ll see). Now, I concede that the analogy is imperfect, but humour me. Just picture in your head Donald Tusk or (better yet) Jean-Claude Juncker at his charming best, belting this out to Britain on behalf of the EU. Got that? Hold that in, take a breath. Then listen, read the lyrics below, and tell me you can’t feel the magic. Am I right or what?

 

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