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CETA Opinion – Setting Conditions for the Future of ISDS

Published on June 5, 2019        Author:  and

The April 2019 New York UNCITRAL Meeting of Working Group III did not discuss the then forthcoming Opinion 1/17 (CETA Opinion) on the compatibility of CETA’s investment court system with EU law. For some the dangers this Opinion could pose to ISDS were altogether non-existent – the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) might as well have considered ISDS in CETA as incompatible with EU law. To others ISDS reform negotiations without the EU, and probably without its Member States, might have seemed a more appealing prospect. The CETA Opinion was rendered on 30 April 2019 and confirmed that the treaty’s investment court system is compatible with EU law. Reaction to it has been immediate, but the real consequences of this (probably explosive or even implosive) opinion will take time to absorb, and a lot of in-depth analysis will certainly follow.

In the past years the CJEU was seemingly headed down a narrow one-way street: its Opinions on a Patent Court, the EU accession to the ECHR or even the Achmea Judgement questioned the participation of the EU and its Member States in international dispute settlement placed outside the control of the EU judicial system. With the CETA Opinion the Court took a U-turn out of the one-way street, back into the path of international dispute settlement. But as the Court managed to turn – and immense pressure was brought to bear – it drafted the conditions for the new multilateral court system that the EU is currently pursuing in international fora. In the remainder of this short contribution we will not canvass the possible contradictions between the Opinion and previous CJEU decisions – although there might be some. We focus on the future instead. In light of the EU’s role as a major investment treaty negotiator and its push for the creation of an MIC, we ask two questions: what this Opinion might mean for the future of ISDS and what open questions remain.

  1. Conditions for the Future of ISDS

Although the CJEU only dealt with the narrow question of whether CETA’s investment court system is compatible with EU primary law, its Opinion will likely have consequences well beyond this context, including notably in relation to a future Multilateral Investment Court (MIC). When the CJEU was deciding, the MIC was the invisible elephant in the room: first, because in CETA the EU commits to pursuing the establishment of an MIC; second, because the European Commission in its contributions to UNCITRAL’s WGIII promotes this option as at least at this time the only possible future for ISDS involving the EU. Read the rest of this entry…

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