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Home International Organisations Archive for category "Court of Justice of the European Union"

Is Ukraine a “Stranger” to the EU? OPAL Case

Published on August 28, 2017        Author: 

In their recent contribution to the Global Trust Working Paper Series, Professor Eyal Benvenisti and Dr. Sivan Shlomo Agon raise one conspicuous, though rarely asked, question within a broader topic of state sovereignty in a globalised world. They wonder how sovereign decision-making powers can be restrained in the face of interests of “strangers”, i.e. third countries, as well as natural and legal persons, to which the effects of national policies “radiate” without allowing them to hold the decision-makers politically accountable. The authors make the first proposition that:

“international courts can and in fact do play a role in promoting the duties of states towards strangers affected by their policies, thereby alleviating some of the democratic and accountability deficits associated with globalization” (p.2).

Their second proposition is that international courts have developed ways to account for the “interests of affected others from within and outside” their host systems. Both propositions are then tested against the ample practice of the WTO dispute settlement system.

The article echoes well in the universe of “global administrative law” (GAL), i.e. a normative paradigm promoted by Professor Benvenisti which introduces practices of accountability (transparency, good process, reasoned decision-making, and basic legality) in what would otherwise be a non-democratic process of global administration. (For early conceptualizations of GAL, see the EJIL’s symposium issue).

The article is also provocative as it resonates far beyond the ambit of the WTO law. The present note offers to look for the advanced propositions in a group of energy-related cases currently pending before the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU).

Admittedly, international energy law is rarely scanned for general international law trends and patterns. This may be due to the highly technical complexity of the underlying field of study, combined with the traditional view of energy as a nation state prerogative (recall General Assembly resolution 1803 (XVII) of 14 December 1962 “Permanent sovereignty over natural resources”). Yet, the intensity of present-day energy cooperation, spurred by critical socio-economic and even geopolitical needs, has effectively isolated exclusively national areas of regulation (e.g., access to upstream energy resources) and produced a layer of new, inherently international rules of community building. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Turning of the Tide against ISDS?

Published on May 19, 2017        Author: 

The Court of Justice for the European Union fired a significant shot at investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) this week, and the result is likely to be much more than just a flesh wound. In deciding that the European Union did not have exclusive competence to enter into agreements including ISDS clauses, the Court made it significantly more likely that the EU would jettison these clauses from its Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and seek to conclude separate, parallel agreements dealing with dispute resolution. Along with a series of other developments, this may mark a turning of the tide against the inclusion of ISDS clauses in trade and investment agreements.

Background to the European Court’s Opinion

This week’s landmark case concerned the European Union’s competence to enter into the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. This is a newer style FTA that, in addition to covering classic trade issues, like reductions in customs duties, includes provisions on a range of other trade-related matters, such as intellectual property protection, investment, public procurement, competition and sustainable development. This FTA also included investor-state arbitration.

The question that the Court had to grapple with was whether the European Union had exclusive competence to enter into such agreements, or whether this competence was shared between the EU and the Member States (or even fell within the exclusive competence of the Member States), at least with respect to certain issues. The European Commission and Parliament wanted EU exclusive competence, but this received pushback from many of the Member States.

In many ways, the Court handed a significant victory to the European Union on these issues. Going further than had been suggested by the Advocate General’s Opinion in that case, the Court found that the European Union had exclusive competence over almost all aspects of the EU-Singapore FTA, which paves the way for them to enter into such agreements without requiring the approval of all of the Member States. But this general ruling was subject to two notable exceptions. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Brexit Bill and the Law of Treaties

Published on May 4, 2017        Author: 

As has been widely reported in the media (e.g. The Guardian, the BBC), the House of Lords reached two main legal conclusions in its March 2017 report on Brexit and the EU budget:

  1. Article 50 TEU allows the UK to leave the EU without being liable for outstanding financial obligations under the EU budget and related financial instruments, unless a withdrawal agreement is concluded which resolves this issue.(para. 135).
  2. The jurisdiction of the CJEU over the UK would also come to an end when the EU Treaties ceased to have effect. Outstanding payments could not, therefore, be enforced against the UK in the CJEU. (para. 133).

The UK government appears to have adopted a similar position on the Brexit bill as the House of Lords. The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published an account of a ‘disastrous Brexit dinner’ at the end of April 2017 between UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in which PM May reportedly argued that the UK does not owe anything to the EU upon its departure. The fact that this dinner conversation was leaked led to strong criticism, particularly in the UK as the campaign for the general election in June is currently underway (see for example here and here).

On 3 May 2017, the UK’s Brexit Secretary David Davis in a TV interview emphasized that he had not seen any official figure of the EU’s demands, and left open room for compromise:

[The UK] have said we will meet our international obligations,  but there will be our international obligations including assets and liabilities and there will be the ones that are correct in law, not just the ones the Commission want.

However, he indicated that the UK would not pay €100 billion upon leaving the EU.

The Commission’s draft negotiating directives for Article 50 negotiations with the UK, published later on the same day, emphasize the need for a ‘single financial settlement’ of the UK’s financial obligations as a member ‘in full’ – referring to it as a ‘settling of accounts’, rather than ‘punishment’. In February, the EU Commission claimed that the UK owes the EU around €60 billion as a result of its EU membership since 1973 Read the rest of this entry…

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The Right to Religious Freedom and the Threat to the Established Order as a Restriction Ground: Some Thoughts on Account of the Achbita Case

Published on March 23, 2017        Author: 

On March 15, 2016, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) heard two different cases, the case of Achbita and that of Bougnaoui. As noted here, while both cases had the wearing of the Islamic headscarf at work as a common factual background, the legal questions asked were different. The Achbita case, referred to the ECJ by the Belgian Cour de Cassation, concerned Achbita’s dismissal from work as a receptionist. The dismissal took place after she refused to comply with a prohibition to wear the Islamic headscarf when dealing with customers. The Bougnaoui case, referred by the French Cour de Cassation, focused on a similar dismissal after she refused to abide by her boss’ demands and take off her Islamic headscarf, following the relevant wishes expressed by one of the enterprise’s clients. Nevertheless, the two courts brought different questions before the ECJ for a preliminary ruling. The Belgian supreme administrative court asked the ECJ whether such a ban from wearing the headscarf at work constituted direct discrimination. Its French counterpart focused on the client and whether his will not to have services provided by an employee wearing a visible religious symbol or attire contravened EU law.

On Mach 14, 2017, almost a year after the hearing of the cases, the ECJ issued its judgments (here and here). In the case of Achbita, the ECJ ruled that employers, coming to pursue a policy of political, philosophical and religious neutrality, have the right to prohibit their workers from adhering to a specific religious dress code or from wearing at work visible religious symbols. On the contrary, in the Bougnaoui case, the court’s holding was that employers cannot discriminate between employees who wear religious symbols and those who do not, due to a customer’s demand. Accordingly, while the Bougnaoui judgment closes the door to any potential restricton of religious expression at work, this is not the case with the Achbita one. The latter can be seen as introducing a possible infringement on religious freedom even if the Court ruled that employers have the option and not the obligation to impose such a ban on visible religious symbols. Through the granting of such an option, the ECJ sends the message that an individual cannot cite religious beliefs in order not to comply with generally set applicable norms.

This has been palpably demonstrated in domestic jurisprudence on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, in the Employment Division v. Smith, the U.S. Supreme Court held that two Native Americans had been justifiably dismissed from their work after the ingestion of peyote, a powerful entheogen. The fact that their religious beliefs sanctioned such an ingestion was not a valid ground for them to contravene the laws of the State of Oregon which prohibited possession and use of the particular substance. Similarly, in the case of Bull v. Hall, the UK Supreme Court held that the religious beliefs of a hotel keeper could not justify discrimination against same-sex couples and justify a policy according to which the hotel suites destined for married couples would be given only to heterosexuals. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Constitutional Frontiers of International Economic Law

Published on March 9, 2017        Author: 

The End of Mega-Regionalism?

The future of ‘mega-regionals’, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), has become doubtful since President Trump took office. Through decisions, such as the withdrawal from TPP, he is putting his rhetoric to ‘Make America Great Again’ in action. Yet, the idea to put national values first is not, I argue in a recent issue of the Journal of World Investment and Trade, so different from opposition to mega-regionals elsewhere. Both the ‘new America’ and opponents to mega-regionals in Europe speak in favor of disengaging from mega-regionals and replacing them with action by the nation state. At the same time, rejecting mega-regionals will result in sticking with the existing international institutional infrastructure that is widely regarded as insufficient to effectively regulate globalization for the better.

Despite similarities in their effects, there are important differences across the Atlantic. In the European Union, opposition most vocally comes from the left, not from the right. It also does not come from an elected executive, but from large numbers of citizens and opposition parties, as well as a smaller number of Member States, or even sub-divisions of Member States – think of Wallonia. And it is couched in entirely different vocabulary: Rather than speaking the language of nationalism and protectionism, opposition in the EU invokes constitutional values and rights – namely democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights – which are leveraged against mega-regionals and the institutions they come with, notably investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) and regulatory cooperation.

Increasing Involvement of Constitutional Courts

Couching opposition to mega-regionals in constitutional language has important consequences: It brings in a different set of actors, namely constitutional courts. Following earlier examples in Latin America, the 13 October 2016 ruling of the German Constitutional Court on an application for an injunction against the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) brought by some 120,000 individuals is likely just the first of many court rulings in which international economic law encounters its constitutional frontiers head-on. Read the rest of this entry…

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Headscarves and the Court of Justice of the European Union: Two Opposing Opinions

Published on August 1, 2016        Author: 

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has to decide on two cases on the wearing of Islamic headscarves at work. Both concern headscarves, which cover the hair and neck, but which leave the face free. The cases were heard together on the 15 March 2016 and the Advocate General’s (AG’s) opinions have been issued, so now it is up to the CJEU to decide. But this is not made easier because the two opinions (one by AG Kokott and the other by AG Sharpston) seem to contradict each other in a number of ways. This post will consider the difference in the interpretation of ‘genuine and determining occupational requirements’. Both cases concern discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief contrary to Directive 78/2000/EC. Article 4(1) of this Directive determines that:

Notwithstanding Article 2(1) and (2), Member States may provide that a difference of treatment which is based on a characteristic related to any of the grounds referred to in Article 1 shall not constitute discrimination where, by reason of the nature of the particular occupational activities concerned or of the context in which they are carried out, such a characteristic constitutes a genuine and determining occupational requirement, provided that the objective is legitimate and the requirement is proportionate.

This article thus creates an exception to the prohibition of discrimination in situations where having a protected characteristic is a genuine and determining occupational requirement, provided that the objective is legitimate and the requirement is proportionate. For example, a Catholic school can require a teacher of religious studies to be Catholic.

The first case (Samira Achbita and Centrum voor gelijkheid van kansen en voor racismebestrijding v. G4S Secure Solutions NV), referred by the Court of Cassation in Belgium, concerns a Muslim woman, who worked for G4S as a receptionist and who was permanently contracted out to a third party. She informed G4S that she wanted to start wearing an Islamic headscarf and was told that this was against the employer’s strict neutrality rule in the workplace. When she refused to take off her headscarf at work, she was dismissed. Read the rest of this entry…

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