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The European Union and International Law under the Treaty of Lisbon

Published on October 16, 2009        Author: 

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of post on the Treaty of Lisbon. The first post in the series was by Laurent Pech and can be found here

Now that Ireland has voted yes in a referendum earlier this month – remarkable how democracy swings! – the European Union’s Treaty of Lisbon looks set to enter into force over the next couple of months.  Barring any further upheaval, such as a recalcitrant Czech President refusing to sign, or further delay allowing the UK Conservative Party (if they win the next general election in the UK) to set up their referendum, the curtain will fall over the European Union’s [EU] long constitutional episode which followed the Treaty of Nice.  It is by no means the end of the play though.  The curtain may fall for the general public, but behind the scenes much of the work remains to be done.  The entry into force of Lisbon will not close institutional reform.  Quite the contrary, it will set in motion an intense period of institutional adaptation, governed by often sketchy Treaty provisions which are indeterminate and riddled with opportunities for inter-institutional strife.  This is particularly the case for the conduct of the EU’s external relations – or external action, as the Treaties now call it.  The role and position of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who will also be a Commission Vice-President, will need to be clarified.  His or her relationship with both the Commission President and with the new European Council President will need to be developed.  The EU’s External Action Service will need to be set up.  These are just some examples.

The focus of this post is not on such institutional issues, but on other questions regarding the EU’s future as an international actor, subject to international law.  What are some of the main changes which may affect that future?  Here are some projections.

The International Legal Personality of the European Union

Readers probably know this by now, but it is still momentous: the European Community will be no more.  The difficult construction of a European Union, based on, and complementing the European Community, will be replaced by a single EU, which will have legal personality (Art 47 Treaty of the European Union [TEU]).  That will terminate the rather tedious academic discussions about whether the EU, as opposed to the EC, has international legal personality (it clearly had, at the latest from the moment it started concluding international agreements).  Instead of two international legal persons, the EU and the EC, there will be only one.  This also means that the various EU external policies will need to be further integrated.  Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: EJIL Analysis, European Union
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Investment Treaties and EU law

Published on July 21, 2009        Author: 

Piet Eeckhout is Professor of Law and Director of the Centre for European Law at King’s College London.

In two parallel decisions of March of this year (Case C-249/06 Commission v Sweden and Case C-205/06 Commission v Austria) the European Court of Justice ruled that Sweden and Austria are in breach of their EC Treaty obligations by maintaining bilateral investment treaties with third countries which may interfere with the EU’s powers to restrict capital movements.  This is the Court’s first venture into the booming international investment law field.  It should be seen in its broader setting. The Treaty of Lisbon purports to extend the scope of the EU’s common commercial policy to matters of “foreign direct investment”.  Perhaps in anticipation of this significant expansion of Community competence, the Commission is becoming active in this area.  It considers that bilateral investment treaties between Member States and third countries are incompatible with Community law, in so far as they contain a clause on the free transfer of payments connected with an investment.  Such a clause, whilst in principle compatible with the free movement of capital between the Community and third countries, could create problems were the Community to introduce restrictions pursuant to Articles 57(2), 59 and 60(1) of the EC Treaty.  There is as yet no relevant legislation under any of these Treaty provisions, but the Commission is concerned that the future exercise of Community competence could be hindered.

The Commission therefore brought proceedings against Sweden and Austria, referring to a series of investment treaties which they have concluded.  Those treaties come within the scope of Article 307 EC, pursuant to which (a) rights and obligations arising from agreements, concluded before accession, between Member States and third countries are not affected by the EC Treaty, and (b) Member States shall take all appropriate steps to eliminate any incompatibilities with the EC Treaty.  Sweden and Austria were alleged not to have removed the incompatibility between their investment treaties and EC law.  What the Commission would like to see is a so-called Regional Economic Integration Organisations clause in these agreements: a clause which allows and safeguards EC measures. Read the rest of this entry…


Kadi and Al Barakaat: Luxembourg is not Texas – or Washington DC

Published on February 25, 2009        Author: 

Piet Eeckhout is Professor of Law and Director of the Centre for European Law at King’s College London. He was a member of the legal team for the applicant Yassin Kadi.

The European Court of Justice’s approach in the Kadi decision has already been described as sharply dualist (see,Professor Joseph Weiler’s EJIL editorial, posted here on this blog and Gráinne de Búrca, “The European Court of Justice and the International Legal Order after Kadi“, Jean Monnet Working Paper No. 01/09).  The Court emphasises the autonomy of the Community legal order. Judicial review in the light of fundamental rights is the expression of a constitutional guarantee stemming from the EC Treaty as an autonomous legal system, a guarantee which is not to be prejudiced by an international agreement. Not even the UN Charter is capable of interfering with that guarantee, notwithstanding the Charter’s primacy under international law, a primacy which the Court accepts.

The strong confirmation of the autonomy of Community law is undeniable. But there is of course nothing new in that autonomy: since Van Gend en Loos this is the very premise of the Community legal order. However, I find the notion of dualism much less helpful for the purpose of characterising the Court’s reasoning. The interactions between international law and municipal law in today’s world have too many different dimensions for blunt concepts such as monism and dualism to be helpful. This means that Kadi needs to be put in perspective. It is very tempting to argue that the judgment is ground-breaking, perhaps even revolutionary, the most important judgment handed down by the Court in decades. Alas, my academic assessment is that this is exaggerated. Read the rest of this entry…