magnify
Home Archive for category "International Economic Law" (Page 17)

ECHR leaves Northern Rock shareholders out in the cold

Published on August 3, 2012        Author: 

On August 1, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) dashed hopes of Northern Rock shareholders to obtain compensation from the UK for the collapse and nationalization of British bank Northern Rock. The Fourth Section of the ECtHR unanimously dismissed the case Dennis Grainger and others v. UK (Application No. 34940/10) as manifestly ill-founded and inadmissible. The decision has broader ramifications. It suggests that member countries of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) have a wide margin of appreciation in setting macro-economic policy in general and in the resolution of banking and financial crises in particular. The ECtHR decision suggests that creditors and other interested parties will face an uphill struggle in challenging measures taken in the context of financial crisis resolution before the ECtHR and in obtaining compensation. It is an important decision at the intersection of international finance and human rights. Investors holding the debt of Eurozone governments will take note.

The court fully endorsed the holding and approach of the English courts. Like the English domestic courts, it found that the assumptions that  the valuer of Northern Rock shares was required to make pursuant to the Banking (Special Provisions) Act 2008 s.5 (4) did not violate the rights of shareholders under Article 1 of the First Additional Protocol.

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

Review of Expert Determinations of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association by Domestic Courts

Published on May 2, 2012        Author: 

A central policy concern since the onset of the Greek debt crisis in 2010 has been whether sovereign debt restructurings trigger credit default swaps (CDS). CDS are insurance-like financial products whereby a protection seller agrees to pay the protection buyer in case of a credit event on a reference entity (in this case Greece) in return for a premium over a defined period of time. The legal framework for CDS transactions is largely standardized. More than 90 percent of CDS transactions are based on the ISDA Master Agreement. As a mechanism for creditors to hedge against the default of a debtor, CDS are financial instruments to redistribute risk (or, according to their defenders, to shift risk onto those entities willing and capable of better bearing such risks). Over the last two decades, CDS on sovereign debtors became increasingly common.

Greece’s debt restructuring in February/March 2012 was the first to be implemented under the umbrella of a large number of CDS (more than 2.5 billion Euros in net terms).  During the implementation phase of the Greek restructuring in March 2012, several interested market participants raised the question whether the Greek restructuring triggered an obligation for the sellers of CDS on Greece to pay. The Determinations Committee (DC) of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) for Europe, Middle East and Africa, the body established by ISDA and given decision-making power under the ISDA documentation to rule on credit events,  found that a restructuring credit event was triggered on March  9 2012.  The parties to CDS have agreed by contract that a credit event occurs only if the competent DC has said so.

As the Greek restructuring in February/March 2012 demonstrated, the consequences of such expert determinations by DCs can be momentous in financial terms not only for the parties to CDS transactions themselves, but also for the broader public and for taxpayers. A case in point is the Austrian bank KA Finanz, the bad bank split off from Kommunalkredit, the comparatively small Austrian lender to municipalities previously owned by Dexia that the Austrian government nationalized at the height of the global financial crisis. KA Finanz had taken over about 500 million Euros of CDS on Greece from Kommunalkredit. As a result of the payouts following the March 9 decision, the Austrian government had to inject another 1 billion Euros into the bank in order to stave off its collapse.

DCs recruit their members from among financial institutions and investment managers, which will often have positions on either side of CDS transactions. In view of their composition and the considerable practical importance of their decisions, concern has arisen that DC members may be tempted to “vote their own book” – i.e. to reach credit determinations in part based on whether the firm is on the buying or selling side of CDS for a particular reference entity.  For instance, two members of the Steering Committee of the Institute of International Finance  which negotiated the restructuring of Greek debt on behalf of private creditors of Greece, are voting members of the DC for Europe (BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank). They were net sellers of CDS protection on Greece, meaning that both institutions had to pay out to protection buyers when the credit event occured. Given these concerns about independence of DCs and the right to a fair trial in civil matters under Article 6 of the European Convention, it is an open question whether competent domestic courts could in effect review decisions and potentially overturn decisions of DCs. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

Integration Through Fear

Published on April 3, 2012        Author: 

Quos Deus vult perdere prius dementat! The manner in which Europe is addressing its grave crisis seems to be validating this piece of wisdom attributed to Euripides, Seneca and others.

One manifestation is an argument which has become prevalent. In his very first speech as Premier elect to the Italian Senate, Mario Monti warned that ‘the end of the Euro would unravel the single market, its rules, its institutions, and would take us back to where we were in the 1950s’. The same nonsensical scare tactics – if the Euro fails, so does Europe as a whole – have been used by all major European leaders, from Barroso and van Rompuy to the Merkozy twins.  

The argument is, of course, simply false. The Single Market, the most singular and enduring economic achievement of Europe, operates today across the Euro divide. Ten of the 27 Member States do not belong to the Euro and in some of these countries their currency is not even pegged to the Euro. Sure, fixed exchange rates facilitate the functioning of the market. And a break up of the Euro will be incredibly messy and wreak havoc within that market. But unless one turns this into a self-fulfilling wish, and that is rapidly becoming the case, the actual existence of the Single Market never was, and still is not, dependent on some or all of its Members having a single currency.

Why is this nonsense peddled? Linking the fate of the Euro to the very existence of the Union offers a powerful tool with which to bludgeon one’s opponents and public opinion as a whole. Thus, each of its proponents uses it to advance positions and policies which at times are even at odds with each other.  

Beyond its falsity, it is a reckless tactic, a Faustian compact, deeply injurious, and one which will return to haunt us regardless of the fate of the Euro. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 
Comments Off on Integration Through Fear

Eurozone Crisis: All Eyes on Karlsruhe

Published on October 17, 2011        Author: 

Michael Waibel is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge.

On 7 September 2011, the German Federal Constitutional Court gave judgment in three joined cases regarding the constitutionality of German financial assistance to Greece and of its guarantees to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). The Eurozone rescue efforts are widely seen to stand (or fall) with the government in Berlin. Germany is the largest contributor to the Greek rescue and the EFSF with more than 27 percent, or 119 billion €, of the 440 billion € in guarantees and one of only six AAA-rated sovereigns remaining in the Eurozone (alongside Austria, France, Finland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands).

Financial markets breathed a collective sigh of relief once the court upheld the rescue measures, even though few had expected the Court to strike down the laws authorizing the German guarantees. They had waited for word from Germany’s highest court with a mix of anxiety and hope. The decision removed an important source of uncertainty that had weighted on financial markets over the summer of 2011. At the same time, the judgment also raises several questions with regard to German participation in future rescue efforts, and in particular, how far fiscal integration in the European Union may go without infringing the German constitution.

The threat of constitutional review limited the German government’s room for manoeuvre in the Eurozone crisis, slowed down the policy response and explains some features of the ongoing rescue efforts, such as the structure of the EFSF and the requirement of strict conditionality attached to financial assistance to struggling Eurozone economies. The Constitutional Court has been a central player in the drama surrounding the efforts to resolve the Greek debt crisis. In a telling sign of the court’s importance, Chancellor Merkel postponed her intervention in the general budgetary debate on 7 September in the German Parliament to await the court’s ruling.

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 
Comments Off on Eurozone Crisis: All Eyes on Karlsruhe

Greek Rescue – Act II

Published on August 12, 2011        Author: 

Michael Waibel is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge.

After losing a disastrous war to the Ottoman Empire in 1898, Greece was unable to service its existing debt or to pay an indemnity. The major European powers, alongside private bondholders pushed for the establishment of an international commission of financial control. Greece reluctantly agreed. The commission, consisting of representatives appointed by Austria-Hungary, Italy, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain asserted direct control over the main sources of Greek public revenue to ensure their debt was serviced. They also imposed other limits on Greek fiscal autonomy such as control over public borrowing and the money supply.

Fast-forward 113 years. Greece is at the epicentre of yet another sovereign debt crisis. On May 2010, Eurozone governments and the International Monetary Fund, in Act I of the newest Greek debt crisis, devised a 110 billion € ad hoc assistance package to prevent a possible default by Greece, but it failed convince financial markets. By covering the Greek wound with one insufficient plaster after another for the past 18 months, the Eurozone doctors have allowed the contagion to spread to major Eurozone economies, such as Spain and Italy. Policymakers have been fighting a rearguard action to get ahead of an increasingly systemic debt crisis that threatens Europe’s decade-old single currency itself.

On 21 July 2011, in Act II of the Greek Debt crisis, the European Council proposed emergency measures to shore up financial stability in the Euro area. These measures include additional financing of more than 100 billion € for Greece, lengthening of maturities and reduction in interest rates to about 3.5 percent on existing programmes for Greece, Ireland and Portugal, plus technical assistance on measures to increase competitiveness and structural reforms designed to boost economic growth.

Eurozone leaders also called upon the private sector to contribute, on a voluntary and exceptional basis, to restoring Greek debt sustainability by swapping Greek bonds maturing between 2012 and 2020. Given the implicit threat of a Greek default, it is doubtful whether the exchange is free from elements of coercion – an important factor for the rating agencies assessing the country’s creditworthiness and for whether credit default swaps, essentially insurance against sovereign defaults, will be triggered. If they are, large payment obligations by banks, insurance companies and others could be an additional channel for contagion.

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 
Comments Off on Greek Rescue – Act II

Dispatch from the Euro Titanic: And the Orchestra Played On [EJIL Editorial]

Published on February 2, 2011        Author: 

These are challenging times for the European Union. Internally, important, even fundamental, decisions are on the agenda as the Union struggles with the Euro crisis and its underlying economic fissures. (Mercifully, the scapegoating of the USA as an escape from facing Europe’s very own breathtaking governmental and private-sector financial and fiscal irresponsibility has all but disappeared – mercifully, since facing reality unflinchingly is a necessary condition for dealing with it effectively.) What is subprime in Europe is the decisional structure of the Union: the European Politburo – President of the Commission, newly-minted President of the Council, tired-old-more-senseless-than-ever rotating Member State Presidency, recycled High Representative answerable to two bosses and thus to none – has proven at best irrelevant to the real actors in you know where (Berlin, Paris, the formidable Merkel, the erratic Sarkozy), at worst distracting – was the able President of the Council’s productive moves really helped by the forced tango with his opposite number at the Commission? About a year after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, it is clear that at least some of the principal objectives intended by the new decisional structure at the top are turning out to be as ineffective (some claim laughable) as critics anticipated.

Externally, the world sans-Amerique (or at least with a terribly weakened America) is not waiting for Europe either. Here, the non-handshake of Catherine Ashton and Saeed Jalili, Iran’s representative to the resumed talks, was an image emblematic at many levels of the depth of the international challenges and Europe’s worrying circumstance. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 
Comments Off on Dispatch from the Euro Titanic: And the Orchestra Played On [EJIL Editorial]

Necessity in Investor-State Arbitration: The Sempra Annulment decision

Published on August 16, 2010        Author: 

Sahib Singh is a  member of the international litigation and arbitration group at Skadden and a visiting lecturer at the University of Vienna. This note was prepared before the Enron v. Argentina annulment decision became available at the beginning of August. A note on that case is forthcoming on EJIL: Talk!

On 29 June 2010, the ad hoc ICSID Annulment Committee annulled the initial award in Sempra Energy International v. Argentina, finding that the initial tribunal had exercised a manifest excess of powers. The decision is central to our understanding of necessity in international investment law, and particularly the relationship between necessity under Article XI of the Argentina-US BIT of 1991 and under customary international law. Unfortunately, the committee’s decision leaves much to be desired in terms of its interpretive methodology. The central critique of this post, is the degree of relevance the committee’s decision gives to necessity under customary international law when interpreting Article XI. It also questions the presumptive relevance of necessity under custom as an interpretive tool, when the latter can only apply if the investor does not hold substantive or procedural rights under the BIT.

Background

The investor-state arbitration awards concerning Argentina are, for the most part, centred on the Argentine financial crisis that hit the country in late 2001. As a consequence of the crisis, Argentina undertook specific regulatory measures which liquidated the value of foreign investments (the factual matrix is far more complex, but shall not be entered into here). In the spade of investment arbitrations brought by foreign investors, Argentina has argued that it is not liable under a range of BITs due to the defence of necessity. In regards to US investors, such arguments have fallen under both customary international law and Article XI of the Argentina-US BIT. The latter reads as follows:

‘This Treaty shall not preclude the application by either Party of measures necessary for the maintenance of public order, the fulfilment of its obligations with respect to the maintenance or restoration of international peace and security, or the protection of its own essential security interests.’

Thus far six rulings have been made on the operation of necessity under Article XI and custom. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 
Comments Off on Necessity in Investor-State Arbitration: The Sempra Annulment decision

EU denies preferences to products from Israeli settlements

Published on March 2, 2010        Author: 

Dr Lorand Bartels is University Lecturer in Law, University of Cambridge. His publications include Human Rights Conditionality in the EU’s International Agreements (2005, OUP) and Regional Trade Agreements and the WTO (co edited with F. Ortino, 2006, OUP)

The European Court of Justice decided an interesting case last week (Case C-386/08, Brita, 25 February 2010). The Hauptzollamt Hamburg-Hafen (the main customs office of the port of Hamburg) had refused to give preferential treatment under the EC-Israel Association Agreement to products manufactured by an Israeli company in the West Bank.The judgment gives the following facts:

32. The German customs authorities provisionally granted the preferential tariff applied for, but commenced the procedure for subsequent verification. On being questioned by the German customs authorities, the Israeli customs authorities replied that ‘[o]ur verification has proven that the goods in question originate in an area that is under Israeli Customs responsibility. As such, they are originating products pursuant to the [EC-Israel] Association Agreement and are entitled to preferential treatment under that agreement’.

33. By letter of 6 February 2003, the German customs authorities asked the Israeli customs authorities to indicate, by way of supplementary information, whether the goods in question had been manufactured in Israeli-occupied settlements in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. That letter remained unanswered.

34. By decision of 25 September 2003, the German Customs authorities therefore refused the preferential treatment that had been granted previously, on the ground that it could not be established conclusively that the imported goods fell within the scope of the EC-Israel Association Agreement. Consequently, a decision was taken to seek post-clearance recovery of customs duties amounting to a total of EUR 19 155.46.

One might have thought that the question would hinge on whether the origin of the products fell within the territorial scope of the EC-Israel Agreement (the ‘territory of the State of Israel’). But the Court took quite a different route. It referred to the EC-PLO Association Agreement, which provides for free trade for products from the ‘territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip’ and said:

52. Accordingly, to interpret Article 83 of the EC-Israel Association Agreement as meaning that the Israeli customs authorities enjoy competence in respect of products originating in the West Bank would be tantamount to imposing on the Palestinian customs authorities an obligation to refrain from exercising the competence conferred upon them by virtue of the abovementioned provisions of the EC-PLO Protocol. Such an interpretation, the effect of which would be to create an obligation for a third party without its consent, would thus be contrary to the principle of general international law, ‘pacta tertiis nec nocent nec prosunt’, as consolidated in Article 34 of the Vienna Convention.

Is this correct? Recognizing Israeli competence in relation to products originating in the West Bank does not amount to a denial of Palestinian competence over those products. And even if it did, it does not impose any obligation on the Palestinian authorities not to exercise this competence. They remain free to do so, if they can. So this is not entirely convincing.

The more interesting question is why the Court found it necessary to adopt this odd approach to the case. Why not just determine whether or not the West Bank is part of the ‘territory of the State of Israel’ (as did the A-G)? Could this have anything to do with possible future cases involving annexed territories?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 
Comments Off on EU denies preferences to products from Israeli settlements

The International Minimum Standard and Investment Law: The Proof is in the Pudding

Published on August 3, 2009        Author: 

A             Background

Fair and equitable treatment provisions are found in almost all bilateral and multilateral investment treaties and many international investment agreements. Throughout the course of the last decade, this treatment standard has been frequently invoked in investor-State arbitrations. Under its aegis, tribunals have developed a number of vaguely defined sub-categories, or what have been referred to as ‘facets’ or ‘components’ of the standard, such as the obligation of the State to refrain from acting in an arbitrary manner, to afford justice and due process to foreign investors, to act transparently, and to respect the legitimate expectations of the investor (see comment entitled ‘Fools Gold? Legitimate Expectations as Understood in Glamis Gold v USA). Despite such attention, the precise application of and relationship between these components remains vague and elusive.

The task of interpreting and applying fair and equitable treatment was made more complex by the following series of events.

In 1999, an American investor brought a claim under NAFTA‘s investor protection provisions. The investor alleged, inter alia, that Canada’s regulations with respect to the importation of softwood lumber violated Article 1105 of NAFTA. Article 1105(1) provides that ‘Each Party shall accord to investments of investors of another Party treatment in accordance with international law, including fair and equitable treatment and full protection and security.’ At the time of the arbitration, trends in the decisions of arbitral tribunals favoured interpreting fair and equitable treatment provisions as either an autonomous treaty provision or a standalone principle found in customary international law. The tribunal favoured the former, finding for the investor, but leaving the question of damages to be assessed at later date by a new tribunal.

Following the decision, and in a dramatic twist, the NAFTA parties issued a joint interpretive note clarifying their view of both Article 1105, and fair and equitable treatment and full protection and security. The note read as follows:

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

Ecuador Denounces ICSID: Much Ado About Nothing?

Published on July 30, 2009        Author: 

Much has been made of Ecuador’s recent withdrawal from the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (‘ICSID’). The notice has the effect of terminating the jurisdiction of the Centre effective 7 January 2010. The most reported justification for this move is the perception in many Latin American countries that international investment arbitration is biased towards investors (see comment entitled ‘International Investment Arbitration: Poisoned at the Root?‘), and more specifically, outstanding international investment claims against Ecuador in the range of $10 to $12 billion US.

However, on review of Ecuador’s international legal position, and, more specifically, international legal obligations generated by her outstanding bilateral investment treaties, it seems that withdrawal from ICSID, whilst perhaps remaining a poignant political statement, offers less than might first be thought in terms of radical change with respect to the country’s exposure to investment claims.

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 
Comments Off on Ecuador Denounces ICSID: Much Ado About Nothing?