This week a vacancy was announced at the General Court which readers of this blog may be interested in. A selection exercise is to be run to identify the next UK representative of the General Court of the European Union on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The intent to apply deadline is Monday 2 February; more information is available via the link.
Speakers at this prestigious event include Advocate General Julianne Kokott from the European Court of Justice. Details of the programme and booking information are available here.
Mackenzie Stuart Lecture 2015: Anthony Gardner, US Ambassador to the EU
Thursday 29th January 2015, University of Cambridge
The topic for this years’ Mackenzie Stuart Lecture is Facing Legal Challenges in U.S. – EU Relations. For more information and booking please visit the website.
Round table discussion on Benefits and EU law
The City Law School is hosting a debate on Monday 26th January organized under the aegis of the Jean Monnet Chair in European Law. More information (including the speakers’ biographies) is available here.
If your organisation is hosting an event that you think our readers would be interested in, please get in touch.
Dr Albert Sanchez Graells, School of Law, University of Leicester
In its judgment of 14 January 2015 in Eventech (C-518/13, EU:C:2015:9), the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) ruled on the preliminary question referred by the Court of Appeal (England and Wales) in the Addison Lee “taxis in bus lanes” case [as part of the challenge of the High Court’s decision in Eventech Ltd (R on the application of) v Parking Adjudicator (2012)  EWHC 1903 (Admin)]. The CJEU decided that allowing London taxis (black cabs) to use bus lanes while prohibiting private hire vehicles (PHVs) from doing so does not appear to involve State aid. While the Eventech judgment leaves a minimum scope for the Court of Appeals to find differently in view of the specific facts of the case and the parts of the file not referred to the CJEU, this is most likely the end of the dispute.
The decision comes at a time when the regulation of the taxi sector is under significant pressure due to the political and economic waves that sharing economy initiatives (such as Uber) create – or, in the words of AG Wahl in the Eventech Opinion, “taxis and PHVs are engaged in fierce competition with each other across Europe, and London is not the only city where conflicts have arisen” (EU:C:2014:2239, para 2). This is a sector where competition rules have always been difficult to enforce due to the heavy regulation to which it is subjected (OECD, Competition Roundtable on ‘Taxi Services: Competition and Regulation’, 2007). Some claim that it is a sector ripe for proper deregulation and liberalisation, while others claim the opposite [for recent discussion, see L Eskenazi, ‘The French Taxi Case: Where Competition Meets—and Overrides—Regulation’ (2014) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice, and Publicpolicy.ie, The Taxi Market in Ireland: To Regulate or Deregulate? (2014)]. The discussion on the State aid implications of certain privileges derived from such regulation in crisis, and particularly the privileged use of bus lanes, added one layer of complication that the CJEU seems to have been keen on taking off the table.
The legal dispute in front of the CJEU can be condensed to opposing views on whether allowing black cabs to use bus lanes while prohibiting PHVs from doing so infringed the prohibition in Article 107(1) TFEU. It can be further narrowed down to the two key issues of whether this policy involves a commitment of State resources and whether it confers on taxis a selective economic advantage. Both elements need to be present for the prohibition of Article 107(1) TFEU to apply. The CJEU found in the negative on both aspects and determined that the practice of permitting, “in order to establish a safe and efficient transport system, black cabs to use bus lanes on public roads during the hours when the traffic restrictions relating to those lanes are operational, while prohibiting minicabs from using those lanes, except in order to pick up and set down passengers who have pre-booked such vehicles, does not appear, though it is for the referring court to determine, to be such as to involve a commitment of State resources or to confer on black cabs a selective economic advantage for the purpose of Article 107(1) TFEU” (C-518/13, para 63).
In my view, the Eventech judgment is criticisable in both areas. It fails to address the issues of economic advantage and selectivity in a functional manner—not least because the analysis of the selectivity of the measure ultimately relies on an assessment of ‘equality’ or ‘comparability’ of the legal position of black cabs vis-à-vis PHVs that falls into a logic trap derived from the pre-existing regulation of black cabs. Moreover, the analysis of the element of transfer of State resources is very counterintuitive and seems to contradict both economic theory (particularly as the use of public goods is concerned) and the case law on access to essential facilities under private ownership.
The finding that State resources are not involved is partial and flawed
Following the Opinion of AG Wahl, the CJEU engages in a rather counterintuitive approach to the issue of the transfer of State resources, which focusses on whether the State is forfeiting revenue by not charging black cabs for access to the bus lanes or by not imposing fines on them when they use the bus lanes, as it does with PHVs (judgment, paras 36-46). This approach comes from the AG Opinion, where he had decided to assess the question from the perspective of the regulatory powers of the Member State and fundamentally concluded that, in the exercise of those regulatory powers, there is no obligation to impose a charge for access to public infrastructure (Opinion, paras 24-35). Continue reading
We’re delighted to announce that regular contributor Dr Iyiola Solanke has joined the blog as a full editor. In addition to writing articles on discrimination law ranging from the recent CJEU decision in Kaltoft on weight discrimination to equality of treatment in free movement to spousal reunion, Dr Solanke is a Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Leeds and is widely published. Her biography is available on the Editors page.
This case was referred from the High Court R (on the application of McCarthy and ors.) v the Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 3368 (Admin), and considered the applicability of Directive 2004/38 to situations not traditionally falling within the concept of a Union citizen moving to another Member State, and derivative rights for third-country family members.
The O and B decision of the CJEU had addressed some issues in relation to the rights of TCN family members of EU citizens residing in their home Member State, and this case sought to address the issue of what can be required of third-country national family members of EU citizens entering the UK.
Mr McCarthy is a dual UK/Irish national, his wife is a Colombian national, and their daughter is also a dual UK/Irish national. Mr McCarthy has lived in Ireland for 52 years, only residing in the UK for six years, from 1967 – 1973. The family has lived in Marbella, Spain since May 2010 where they own a property; they also own a house in the UK, to which they regularly travel. Mrs McCarthy has to travel to Madrid to renew her family permit every time she wishes to travel to the UK with her family. She has been refused permission to board flights to the UK when she has presented her residence card without the family permit.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department issued guidance to carriers to discourage them from transporting TCNs who are not in possession of a residence permit issued by the UK authorities. Under section 40 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, a carrier who fails to meet that requirement is required to pay a ‘charge’.
The Advocate General’s Opinion
AG Szpunar gave his Opinion on 20th May 2014, and argued that the provisions of Directive 2004/38 should apply by analogy to the current situation, which involved visits to the UK, where Mr McCarthy is a national, rather than to a Member State of which he was not a national. The Advocate General advised the Grand Chamber that the UK is in breach of free movement law in relation to the requirement of the family visa In addition to residence card, and that the UK’s Frontier Protocol did not give it an opt out in relation to restricting fundamental free movement principles. Continue reading
In its recent Opinion 2/13 the Luxembourg Court found that plans for the EU to accede to the ECHR are not compatible with Union law as it currently stands. This ruling has been critically received, including on this blog (see here (Lock), here (Besselink), here (Michl), here (Douglas-Scott), here (Peers) and here (O’Neill)). The immediate focus has been on how the Opinion should be evaluated as a matter of Union law and followed up inside the EU. To that effect it has been suggested that the draft accession treaty would need renegotiation, or that a text with Treaty status (a Protocol) should be added to the existing EU Treaty texts which would themselves be left intact. Are other options available too in Brussels, for example freezing accession ambitions for a while or changing existing Treaty texts?
Clearly, no matter what solution is eventually found, it will (once again) take years. This raises another important prior question: what is the Strasbourg Court likely to do until an EU accession solution 2.0, or any EU-internal alternative is in place? In particular, will Opinion 2/13, and its revealing reasoning for how the Luxembourg Court currently views the place of human rights protection in Union law and the leeway that Member States have in diverting from Union law if their ECHR obligations so require, have implications for the Strasbourg Court’s “EU approach” (see here and here for its own factsheets regarding its general approach and that in Dublin cases)? This contribution offers some first reflections on moving on in Strasbourg and Brussels.
The Opinion: first a step back
It is quite understandable that the Luxembourg Court’s ruling has met with considerable disappointment. It has been suggested that it has prioritised the protection of its own position over EU human rights protection. But, taking a step back, perhaps this time there was actually (also) a veritable case for “blaming Brussels” too. For were the instructions laid out in the Treaty and the Protocols sufficiently clear to begin with? Is it at heart at all possible to establish independent external judicial review, apparently for reason that human rights protection was felt not to be properly safeguarded in the existing set-up (article 6 TEU), without redistributing competences to the disadvantage of the Luxembourg Court (Protocol 8)? In other words, if the whole point of accession actually was to change something in the institutional design of the EU, the make-up of legal remedies and even the way in which Union law had been interpreted so far by the Luxembourg Court, why not state that more clearly from the outset? From that perspective the Opinion by the Court may be a reflection of the convoluted drafting of the EU accession instructions by the Herren der Verträge.
Looking at the state of affairs from another perspective, perhaps the fact that it is now “back to the drawing board” is also a unique second (or third) chance to ask the basic prior question of the Lisbon Treaty text: quite how can the application of an EU internal human rights document (the Charter) that the Luxembourg Court is under an obligation to apply, be combined with external judicial review by the Strasbourg Court of the EU’s (including the Luxembourg Court’s) performance with regard to the ECHR, if that ECHR and the way in which it is interpreted are themselves part (but only part) of the normative content of the Charter? This is not an easy one. A binding Charter and EU accession, it should be remembered in this context, were initially alternative solutions to “fill the EU human rights gap”. Only later did they become cumulative elements in the EU treaties, as a “solution” without a prior problem analysis justifying this double-headed approach. Yet, curiously, given the great stress accorded to EU accession so far their development has somehow remained unconnected. Additional instructions on how to dovetail their two separate logics may be unavoidable.
Then Opinion 2/13 itself. In fact, by the standards of any Court ruling, it offers a surprisingly candid, concise and (mostly) clear analysis. Some of us may not like what we read, and some cross-translation from Union law to human rights law expertise may be required to clarify its full significance, but it is extremely helpful for considering future directions in Strasbourg and Brussels. In particular the reasoning under the headings “preliminary considerations” (par. 153-177) and “the specific characteristics and the autonomy of EU law” (par. 179-200) is revealing in a number of different respects, including with regard to
- the Court’s extension of its Melloni-reasoning to ECHR Member States’ freedom to go beyond what is required by ECHR minimum norms, as well as further (unstated) implications of this reasoning with regard to interpreting the Charter and the ECHR side-by-side, and
- the Full Court’s approach to mutual trust in the EU in the light of EU Member States’ parallel ECHR commitments, and its reference to the 2011 Luxembourg Grand Chamber ruling in NS.
These two elements will be briefly highlighted below. I agree with Scheinin that in thinking about responses to the Court’s Opinion it seems more fruitful to consider these (and many other relevant) elements of the analysis rationally, in the light of the broader questions of post-Lisbon Union human rights protection architecture, rather than being stuck in disappointment for too long. Continue reading
Over the last two to three decades the prevalence of overweight and obese people has become a major public health issue across countries, age-groups, class, race and ethnicity. As long ago as 2003, research estimated that 61% of Americans were overweight, and 20% were obese. In 2006, the OECD ranked Britain’s overweight and obesity rate (62%) as the worst in Europe and the third-worst in the world, behind Mexico (69.5%) and the U.S (67.3%). In 2008, more than 1.4 billion adults were overweight, including over 200 million obese men and nearly 300 obese million women. More than 40 million children under the age of five were overweight in 2011. Children and adults are getting fatter.
The rise in body size is a public health issue because of its cost: medical experts link numerous ailments to excess weight, such as diabetes, angina, osteoarthritis, stroke, gout, gall bladder disease, breast cancer, cancer of the colon and ovarian cancer. Overweight and obese people are said to be more prone to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic depression and many other life threatening conditions. An overweight child is likely to become an overweight adult. The cost to the public purse could be billions of pounds.
The CJEU has now confirmed that obesity is also a matter for equality law. EU law does not formally prohibit fattism – like other public health issues, this remains within the competence of the member states – but in the first case of its kind, the CJEU decided that discrimination on the grounds of obesity can fall within the disability strand of the Equal Treatment Directive 2000/78. This was stated in answer to questions arising before a Danish court during a case concerning the weight of a childminder.
Mr Kaltoft was hired by the Municipality of Billund in 1998 on a permanent contract as a childminder. He was obese at the time of his initial employment and, despite periods of weight loss, remained such throughout his 15 years in this post. From March 2010, he appeared to be under informal review, being visited by his boss and asked about his weight. During 2010, when the number of children in Billund fell, he was given fewer children to look after. That same year, he was chosen to be dismissed. When Kaltoft asked why he was the only childminder to be dismissed, he was told it was due to his decreased workload. Kaltoft was convinced that it had something to do with his weight.
His trade union brought an action before the District Court seeking compensation for him, arguing that he had been subjected to weight discrimination. The Danish court stayed proceedings to ask the CJ four questions, of which only the first and fourth were answered: whether it is contrary to EU law (for example Article 6 TEU on fundamental rights) for a public-sector employer to discriminate on grounds of obesity in the labour market; and whether obesity could be deemed to be a disability covered by Directive 2000/78/EC.
The first question was dealt with relatively swiftly: the Fourth Chamber of the Court of Justice did not emulate the boldness of the Grand Chamber in Mangold but citing Chacon Navas and Coleman declared that ‘EU law must be interpreted as not laying down a general principle of non-discrimination on grounds of obesity as such…’. The Fourth Chamber then considered whether obesity is a disability. Its reasoning began from the purpose of Directive 2000/78: to set out a ‘general framework for combating discrimination, as regards employment and occupation, on any of the grounds referred to in that article, which include disability.’ It then noted the meaning of direct discrimination in this Directive and its scope of application – per Article 3(1)(c) it covers all persons in the public and private sectors, and all phases of employment including dismissals. Citing HK Danmark and Glatzel, where the CJ – taking inspiration from the EU ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – stated that
53…the concept of ‘disability’ must be understood as referring to a limitation which results in particular from long-term physical, mental or psychological impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers
It concluded that in order to be compatible with Directive 2000/78, the concept of ‘disability’ a)‘must be understood as referring not only to the impossibility of exercising a professional activity, but also to a hindrance to the exercise of such an activity’  and moreover that b) the concept had to be open-ended in relation to the ‘origin of the disability’  – it could not be dependent upon ‘the extent to which the person may or may not have contributed to the onset of his disability.’  Thus while obesity itself is not a ‘disability’ within the meaning of Directive 2000/78 , it decided that obesity could be covered by the concept of ‘disability’ in that Directive where
- ‘the obesity of the worker concerned entails a limitation which results in particular from physical, mental or psychological impairments that in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers, and the limitation is a long-term one, obesity can be covered by the concept of ‘disability’ within the meaning of Directive 2000/78.
- Such would be the case, in particular, if the obesity of the worker hindered his full and effective participation in professional life on an equal basis with other workers on account of reduced mobility or the onset, in that person, of medical conditions preventing him from carrying out his work or causing discomfort when carrying out his professional activity.
It was left for the Danish court to decide whether, despite the fact that he was able to work effectively for 15 years as a childminder, his obesity during his term of employment nonetheless limited Kaltoft in the way envisaged by the EU concept of ‘disability’. He would then have to prove that his dismissal was because of his obesity. Continue reading
On 18th December 2014, the Grand Chamber of the CJEU revisited the scope of the moral exclusion on industrial and commercial uses of “human embryos” in Article 6(2) (c) in Directive 98/44/EC on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions (Biotech Directive) and held that the exclusion does not cover unfertilized human eggs produced by parthenogenesis (parthenotes).
The referral followed the refusal of the UKIPO to grant two national patents to International Stem Cell Corporation (‘ISCO’)  EWHC 807 (Ch) on the ground that the patents fell within the definition of the term ‘human embryo’ adopted by the Grand Chamber in Brüstle (EU:C:2011:669) . The first patent, GB0621068.6, entitled “Parthenogenetic activation of oocytes for the production of human embryonic stem cells” covered both the methods for producing pluripotent human stem cell lines from parthenogenetically-activated oocytes and the stem cell lines themselves. The second application GB0621069.4 , entitled “Synthetic cornea from retinal stem cells” similarly included claims to methods and ‘product-by-process’. The UKIPO applied the Grand Chamber’s reasoning in Brustle that parthenotes were ‘capable of commencing the process of development of a human being just as an embryo created by fertilisation of an ovum can do so’ and therefore fell within the meaning of paragraph 36 of the judgment in Brüstle (C‑34/10, EU:C:2011:669). ISCO appealed on the grounds that, according to current scientific knowledge, mammalian parthenotes can never develop to term because, in contrast to a fertilised ovum they do not contain any paternal DNA, which is required for the development of extra-embryonic tissue (para 17). In this light, the High Court of Justice (England & Wales), Chancery Division (Patents Court), decided that the appeal “raised a question of considerable importance. What is meant by the term “human embryos” in Article 6(2)(c) of the Biotech Directive? In particular, what was meant by the CJEU in Brüstle by the expression “capable of commencing the process of development of a human being”? Does that contemplate the commencement of a process which must be capable of leading to a human being? Or does it contemplate the commencement of a process of development, even though the process cannot be completed, so that it is incapable of leading to a human being?” (At para. 3).
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’
Lewis Carroll: Chapter 6 of Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there (1871)
The Human Rights Gap in the EU
The European Court of Human Rights noted in Cooperatieve Producentenorganisatie van de Nederlandse Kokkelvisserij UA v Netherlands (2009) 48 EHRR SE18 (non-admissibility decision of the ECtHR, 20 January 2009):
“The European Community has separate legal personality as an international intergovernmental organisation (see Article 281 of the EC Treaty, quoted above). At present, the European Community is not a party to the Convention … The application is therefore incompatible with the provisions of the Convention ratione personae within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 of the Convention in so far as the applicant association’s complaints must be understood as directed against the European Community itself (see Confédération française démocratique du travail v The European Communities, alternatively: their Member States a) jointly and b) severally, no 8030/77, Commission decision of 10 July 1978, Decisions and Reports (DR) 13, p 235) and must be rejected pursuant to Article 35 § 4.
Although the European Court of Human Rights is thus prevented from deciding issues of EU law (Jeunesse v. France  ECHR 12738/10 (Grand Chamber, 3 October 2014) at para 110) or from examining the procedure of the CJEU directly in the light of the requirements of the ECHR (notably Article 6(1) ECHR), the possibility for an indirect Strasbourg review of the Convention compatibility of the CJEU’s procedures arises from the degree to which the Strasbourg Court considers that the events complained of in any application engage the responsibility of all or any of the individual Member States which are also all contracting parties to the Council of Europe. This is, perhaps, a less than satisfactory solution, certainly for the Member States who might find themselves saddled with responsibility by the European Court of Human Rights for procedures and proceedings before the CJEU over which, as individual States, they have no direct control and little influence (see Boivin v France and 33 other Member States of the Council of Europe  ECtHR 73250/01 (Fifth Section, 9 September 2008) and Connolly v 15 Member States of the European Union  ECtHR 73274/01 (9 December 2008)) should the Strasbourg Court come to the view that the procedures of the CJEU did not provide ‘equivalent protection’ to that directly guaranteed under the Convention.
The Agreement on the Accession of the EU to the ECHR
After largely secret negotiations (see Case T-331/11 Besselink v. Council of the European Union 12 September  ECR II-nyr  1 CMLR 28) negotiations between the two European (EU and Council of Europe) institutions on the accession of the EU to the ECHR successfully ended on 5 April 2013 and a concluded agreement was reached on how the EU – and EU law – could be integrated within the Strasbourg system for the protection of European human rights (See the Fifth Negotiation Meeting between the CDDH Ad Hoc Negotiation Group and the European Commission on the Accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights, Final Report to the CDDH, April 5, 2013, 47+1(2013)008, available here.
This agreement made provision to allow for the involvement of the EU institutions in all cases where an application to the Strasbourg court alleged that a provision of EU law is incompatible with the ECHR. In effect, the agreement setting up of some kind of “preliminary reference downward” from the Strasbourg Court to the CJEU, in applications from individuals complaining of an incompatibility between EU law and the ECHR, so as to allow the CJEU to exercise an “internal review” on the issue before the European Court of Human Rights exercises its “external review” under the Convention. Article 3(6) of Draft revised agreement on the accession of the European Union to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (June 2013) provided as follows:
“6. In proceedings to which the European Union is a co-respondent, if the Court of Justice of the European Union has not yet assessed the compatibility with the rights at issue defined in the Convention or in the protocols to which the European Union has acceded of the provision of European Union law as under paragraph 2 of this article, sufficient time shall be afforded for the Court of Justice of the European Union to make such an assessment, and thereafter for the parties to make observations to the Court. The European Union shall ensure that such assessment is made quickly so that the proceedings before the Court are not unduly delayed. The provisions of this paragraph shall not affect the powers of the Court.”
In such proceedings contracting States to the ECHR were to have the same opportunity as member State of the EU to submit written observations to the Court of Justice on the proper disposal of the matter by the Luxembourg Court. The Draft declaration by the European Union to be made at the time of signature of the Accession Agreement.
“Upon its accession to the Convention, the European Union will ensure that:
a) it will request to become a co-respondent to the proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights or accept an invitation by the Court to that effect, where the conditions set out in Article 3, paragraph 2, of the Accession Agreement are met;
b) the High Contracting Parties to the Convention other than the member States of the European Union, which in a procedure under Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union are entitled to submit statements of case or written observations to the Court of Justice of the European Union, be entitled, under the same conditions, to do so also in a procedure in which the Court of Justice of the European Union assesses the compatibility with the Convention of a provision of European Union law, in accordance with Article 3, paragraph 6, of the Accession Agreement.”
The subordination of the Court of Justice to the European Court of Human Rights?
It is clear that the intention of the parties to this agreement was to give the European Court of Human Rights jurisdiction in cases to which the EU is party so as to close the perceived human rights gap. This means, of course, that the decision of the Strasbourg Court would become binding as a matter of international law on EU institutions, including the CJEU.
Going by its past case law, it was always clear that the Court of Justice would have a problem with any agreement which results in it being subordinated to any other court. In its Opinion 1/91 Re a Draft Treaty on a European Economic Area  ECR I-6079, the Court of Justice vetoed the establishment of an EEA court hierarchy to provide a system of judicial supervision over the whole EEA beyond the EU. The proposed new court structure consisted of an independent EEA Court, functionally integrated with the ECJ, and an EEA Court of First Instance. The new EEA courts were to consist of a number of judges from the ECJ and the CFI sitting together, with judges appointed from the various EFTA Member States. The Court of Justice found that such a system of judicial supervision proposed under the draft EEA Treaty was not lawful on the grounds, inter alia, that the proposed system of EEA courts might undermine the autonomy of the EU legal order in pursuing its own particular objectives, going so far as to claim (at paras 70–71):
“Article 238 of the EEC Treaty [now, after amendment, Art 218 TFEU] does not provide any basis for setting up a system of courts which conflicts with Article 164 of the EEC Treaty [now, after amendment, Art 19(1) TEU] and, more generally, with the very foundations of Community law. For the same reasons, an amendment of Article 238 in the way indicated by the Commission could not cure the incompatibility with Community law of the system of courts to be set up by the agreement.” (emphasis added).
And in its Opinion 1/09 Re draft agreement on the European and Community Patents Court  ECR I-1137 the Court of Justice states (at para 89):
“[T]he envisaged agreement, by conferring on an international court which is outside the institutional and judicial framework of the European Union an exclusive jurisdiction to hear a significant number of actions brought by individuals in the field of the Community patent and to interpret and apply European Union law in that field, would deprive courts of Member States of their powers in relation to the interpretation and application of European Union law and the Court of its powers to reply, by preliminary ruling, to questions referred by those courts and, consequently, would alter the essential character of the powers which the Treaties confer on the institutions of the European Union and on the Member States and which are indispensable to the preservation of the very nature of European Union law. Consequently, the CJEU (Full Court) gives the following Opinion: the envisaged agreement creating a unified patent litigation system (currently called “European and Community Patents Court”) is not compatible with the provisions of the EU Treaty and the FEU Treaty.”
The decision in Opinion 2/13
A hearing before the CJEU seeking its Opinion on the compatibility of this draft agreement with the requirements of EU law was heard in Luxembourg in the first half of 2014. In its Opinion 2/13 which was issued on 18 December 2014 the EU Court of Justice sitting as a Full Court has rejected the legal submissions of the Commission, the Council, the European Parliament and the 24 Member States who submitted observations to it (only Croatia, Luxembourg Malta Slovenia failed to take part in this procedure) and has ruled that
“the agreement on the accession of the European Union to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is not compatible with Article 6(2) TEU or with Protocol (No 8) of the Treaty on European Union on the accession of the Union to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.”
The relevant Treaty provisions
The relevant Treaty provisions to this Opinion 2/13 are as follows:
Article 6(2) TEU
2. The Union shall accede to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Such accession shall not affect the Union’s competences as defined in the Treaties.
This provision was inserted into the Treaties by the Member States after the Court of Justice declared in its Opinion 2/94 Re Accession by the EU to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms  ECR I-1759 that it was not competent for the EU to accede to the ECHR without specific Treaty provision to this effect.
Against that background, Article 6(2) TEU might have been understood as a provision intended by the Member States, as Masters of the Treaties, to alter the constitutional law of the EU and to stipulate as a matter of law, contrary to the Court of Justice’s expressed concerns, that the accession of the EU to the ECHR (which all the Member States wished for) would not affect EU competences as defined in the Treaties. Instead the Court of Justice appear to have interpreted Article 6(20 TEU more along the following lines:
“If, in the opinion of the Court of Justice, the accession of the Union to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms shall affect the Union’s competences as defined in the Treaties, then the EU cannot accede to the ECHR.”
Article 51 TEU states that “The Protocols and Annexes to the Treaties shall form an integral part thereof.” Protocol (No. 8) TEU on the EU’’s accession to the ECHR provides as follows
The agreement relating to the accession of the Union to the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (hereinafter referred to as the ‘European Convention’) provided for in Article 6(2) of the Treaty on European Union shall make provision for preserving the specific characteristics of the Union and Union law, in particular with regard to:
(a) the specific arrangements for the Union’s possible participation in the control bodies of the European Convention;
(b) the mechanisms necessary to ensure that proceedings by non-Member States and individual applications are correctly addressed to Member States and/or the Union as appropriate.
The agreement referred to in Article 1 shall ensure that accession of the Union shall not affect the competences of the Union or the powers of its institutions. It shall ensure that nothing therein affects the situation of Member States in relation to the European Convention, in particular in relation to the Protocols thereto, measures taken by Member States derogating from the European Convention in accordance with Article 15 thereof and reservations to the European Convention made by Member States in accordance with Article 57 thereof.
Nothing in the agreement referred to in Article 1 shall affect Article 344 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
Article 344 TFEU states:
“Member States undertake not to submit a dispute concerning the interpretation or application of the Treaties to any method of settlement other than those provided for therein.”
Again the Court of Justice in its Opinion 2/13 appears to have interpreted these provisions of Protocol No. 8 to mean that:
“If, in the opinion of the Court of Justice, any agreement relating to the accession of the Union to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms authorises Member States to submit a dispute concerning the interpretation or application of the Treaties to any method of settlement other than its final resolution by the “Court of Justice, then this does not provide a lawful basis for the EU to accede to the ECHR.
Effectively what we have in this Opinion 2/13 is a claim by the Court of Justice that it is Master of the Treaties and a declaration that it will refuse to recognise the lawfulness of any agreement among the Member States which might be threaten to displace the Court of Justice as the apex Court for the European Union.
The Opinion appears to be more about the Court of Justice’s fears about its constitutional position rather than about the closing of any gap in human rights protection in the EU.
The Court of Justice places great stress on the autonomy of EU law, but nowhere explains why that autonomy is threatened by the possibility of direct human rights review by the European Court of Human Rights of the action and inaction of all the EU institutions (including the CJEU) any more than the autonomy of the legal systems and constitutions of the existing contracting States of the Council of Europe is threatened or called into question by the fact that they operate under the ultimate jurisdiction supervision of the Strasbourg Court as the relevant regional international human rights court for Europe.
Notoriously, Humpty Dumpty – after re-defining the questions asked of him as meaning essentially that they were about “which is to be master – that’s all” – had a great fall and could not be put back together again. The Court of Justice, too, should remember that with hubris comes nemesis.
Today, the CJEU has delivered a bombshell. It has ruled that the draft agreement providing for the EU’s accession to the ECHR is incompatible with EU law. Specifically, according to para 258 of the Opinion, it:
“is not compatible with Article 6(2) TEU or with Protocol No 8 EU in that:
– it is liable adversely to affect the specific characteristics and the autonomy of EU law in so far it does not ensure coordination between Article 53 of the ECHR and Article 53 of the Charter, does not avert the risk that the principle of Member States’ mutual trust under EU law may be undermined, and makes no provision in respect of the relationship between the mechanism established by Protocol No 16 and the preliminary ruling procedure provided for in Article 267 TFEU;
– it is liable to affect Article 344 TFEU in so far as it does not preclude the possibility of disputes between Member States or between Member States and the EU concerning the application of the ECHR within the scope ratione materiae of EU law being brought before the ECtHR;
– it does not lay down arrangements for the operation of the co-respondent mechanism and the procedure for the prior involvement of the Court of Justice that enable the specific characteristics of the EU and EU law to be preserved; and
– it fails to have regard to the specific characteristics of EU law with regard to the judicial review of acts, actions or omissions on the part of the EU in CFSP matters in that it entrusts the judicial review of some of those acts, actions or omissions exclusively to a non-EU body.”
It has already been described as an “exceptionally poor” judgment by Prof Steve Peers. We have not yet had chance to digest it, but EUtopialaw will provide comment and analysis in the very near future. Watch this space.