Case C-364/13 – Patentability of embryonic stem cells and parthenotes: Inherently Uncertain?

plomerAurora Plomer

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’) [2013] 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).

Continue reading

Opinion 2/13 on EU Accession to the ECHR: The CJEU as Humpty Dumpty

Aidan O’Neill QC

‘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 [2014] 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 [2008] ECtHR 73250/01 (Fifth Section, 9 September 2008) and Connolly v 15 Member States of the European Union [2008] 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 [2013] ECR II-nyr [2014] 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 [1991] 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 [2011] 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 [1996] 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

Article 1

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.

 Article 2

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.

Article 3

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.

Conclusion

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.

Opinion 2/13 on Accession of the EU to the ECHR – Luxembourg has spoken

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.

A Tale of Two Referendums

Aidan O’Neill QC

Reflecting on the French Revolution in the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

This passage may serve equally well as a description of the competing claims that were made by the opposing sides in this year’s Scottish independence referendum.

The pro-independence campaign claimed that voting for an independent Scotland would open the way to the best of times, to the age of wisdom, to the epoch of (self)-belief, to the season of Light, to the spring of hope, in which Scots would have had everything before them and which would lead directly to an earthly (Caledonian) paradise.

The pro-union campaign, in response, struck a primarily negative note, seeming unable to find the words to sing the virtues of a British union continuing into the future.   Instead, they said that an independent Scotland would open the doors to the worst of times, that voting in favour of separation would be an act of foolishness and of self-delusion which the voters in Scotland would live to regret in a winter of despair, with nothing before them but a road paved with good intentions and broken dreams.

I fear that similarly competing and irreconcilable claims will be made by the opposing sides in the campaign around the anticipated referendum on the United Kingdom’s continuing membership of the European Union, following the coming general election.   Those wishing the UK to break from the EU will doubtless extol the mythic virtues and heroic vigour of Albion unbound. Those advocating the UK’s continued membership of the EU – like those who campaigned for Scotland’s to stay in the (British) Union – will find it difficult to articulate a positive vision of Europe which will resonate with (particularly English) voters and will, instead, fall back on emphasising the economic dangers and market uncertainties which will come with our “turning our back on Europe” and falling prey to those vices etymologically associated with island life: isolationism and insularity. Continue reading

Review: EU Law and Integration: Twenty Years of Judicial Application of EU Law, José Luís Da Cruz Vilaça

Joelle Grogan, University of Oxford

EU Law and Integration is a collection of articles written by the author over the course of his eminent career as an academic, an Advocate General, the first President of the Court of First Instance (now the General Court), and now as a Judge at the Court of Justice of the European Union. Some of the contributed articles have been translated from their original language of publication, while others have been written with collaborators. Divided into sections broadly concerning EU constitutional law; the judicial structure of the EU; judicial protection of individuals; competition and state aid; and more general studies in law and economic integration in the EU, this volume has a very broad scope.

As a judge, and an academic, the author provides practical insight as well as keen analysis into the areas of the law upon which he focuses. Articles concerning the judicial architecture of the Union provide some of the most interesting reading in the volume. Writing the Foreword to the book, the Vice-President of the Court of Justice of the EU, Koen Lenaerts, aptly refers to this section as the ‘cornerstone’ of the volume. The author’s analysis of the problems facing the Court of First Instance in its first year has particular historical value and relevance, as he was the founding President of the Court. It is interesting to read – with hindsight – of the first struggles of the Court in terms of administration and the preparation of rules of procedure. The author’s rationalisation of the relatively long length of CFI judgments is illustrative of how the Court of First Instance viewed its duties with regard to the appellate jurisdiction of the Court of Justice. The concluding perspectives on the future of judicial architecture of the EU are also interesting as the author advocated incremental, rather than radical, changes in the judicial system, and the reader is sometimes left to wonder what conclusions he would make in light of the Lisbon Treaty reforms (and whether they were not reforms in name only), and the push towards judicial networking.

Seminal cases concerning economic integration feature prominently in the work, and readers are well advised to read the author’s consideration of the impact of the Pfizer case on the Precautionary Principle in EU law. The author illustrates the early caution show by the Courts which clearly advocated a prudential approach as regards determining the risks for human and animal health, and the environment. While the author acknowledges that this judicial approach probably did not pave the way to the ultimate systemic application of the principle, it did clearly foreshadow it. Readers, however, might be curious as to how the author would consider the Precautionary Principle’s current status under Article 191 TFEU, which does not feature in the republished 2004 article.

This absence of reference to the Lisbon Treaty reforms leads to an issue the reader may experience with this collection. Republished material can seem out-dated, especially in the fast-evolving European Union. Analysis and insight, while apt, would have benefitted in some articles from an updated account, or at least reference to the current situation. The cases analysed in this book, while seminal (for example Keck and Mithouard, Azores, and Alpine Investments) have had a new life in the courts which is not addressed by the book, leaving the reader at some points feeling as if they are missing part of the story. One further example of this is that ‘current case law’ of state aid relates to cases from, at the most recent, 2006. The absence of important reforms to the law over the last five years, most notably in light of Lisbon, also do not feature at all in the book, which can appear odd to the contemporary lawyer. Continue reading

Events: Human Rights Week 2014 at Matrix Chambers

Matrix is putting on two events in Human Rights Week (w/c 8th December) designed to celebrate Human Rights Day, held annually on the 10th December 2014 by the UN.

Tuesday 9 December, 6.30pm

‘Are international institutions and international law practices encouraging or stifling the private sector’s approach to diversity and female inclusivity?’

As part of a week-long, profession-wide series of events put together by The Law Society to celebrate Human Rights Day, Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and Matrix Chambers invite you to a panel discussion by leading academics and legal and business professionals on gender and female inclusivity. Given the gender equality and inclusivity obligations in international treaties, such as the UN Charter, and the role of international institutions in underpinning international relations and many of these international law obligations, the lack of visible commitment or tangible progress concerning women is surprising. Are there lessons to be learnt from the private sector? If so, why?

The panel (including Matrix’s Karon Monaghan QC and Professor Christine Chinkin) will explore this topic by looking at the constitution and operation of a number of international institutions and international law practices, and current experience in the private sector.

There will also be an exhibition of photographs from PhotoVoice’s Voice of Freedom project, which supports women who have been trafficked to express themselves through photography, and to play an active role in campaigning against modern day slavery.

This event is taking place at BLP. For booking details, please visit the Law Society’s website.

Wednesday 10 December, 5pm

Twitter Q&A with Hugh Southey QC, ‘Should everyone be entitled to Human Rights?’ Get involved by following @MatrixChambers. Send your questions in advance to 1Marketing@matrixlaw.co.uk and we will be sure to get them answered for you.

For more information on other events taking place within the legal profession during Human Rights Week, please visit the Law Society website, and for more information on Human Rights Day, please visit the UN website.

 

EU Free Movement as a Legal Construction – not as Social Imagination

Daniel Thym

Monetary union demonstrates that some EU projects are realised without preparation for all eventualities. In the case of the euro, the financial crisis revealed lacunae in the field of economic and budgetary supervision, which the euro countries had to bridge through the introduction of new instruments. In the case of Union citizenship the legal gaps are less dramatic, but nonetheless visible – in particular with regard to access to social benefits for persons who do not work. It was these uncertainties that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) had to confront in the Dano judgment of last Tuesday. It opts for a surprisingly conventional solution, which abandons earlier attempts to conceive of Union citizenship as a projection sphere for political visions of a good life and just society.

The European Court of Justice as Legal Technician

A reminder of the debate about the Free Movement Directive demonstrates the absence of clear political guidance. Initially, the EU Commission had suggested to lay down explicitly that Union citizens who do not work should not have access to social benefits during the first five years of their stay in another EU country (Art. 21.2). It later abandoned the project after the ECJ had ruled in Grzelczyk that similar provisions on study grants do not pre-empt recourse to the Treaty guarantee of non-discrimination. As a result, the final version of the Free Movement Directive reiterated existing Treaty rules, whose precise bearing for people like Ms Dano remained unclear. Otherwise put, there was never a positive political agreement at EU level on the status of Union citizens who do not work. This shifted the responsibility upon judges to resolve open questions.

Judges in Luxembourg used this room for manoeuvre for progressive decisions on various occasions. Judgments such as Grzelczyk, Martínez Sala, Collins, Trojani, Bidar, Vatsouras and Ruiz Zambrano constitute the most ambitious and tantalising line of case law in recent memory. They are characterised by an attempt to breathe life into the abstract Treaty provisions on Union citizenship by granting equal access to social benefits for various categories of economically inactive citizens irrespective of the limits laid down in secondary legislation. It would have been possible for the Court to decide the Dano case differently under recourse to the argumentative arsenal of these judgments.

That did not happen. For more than a decade, the ECJ had ignored the arguments put forward by his most outspoken academic critic, Kay Hailbronner – but they now dominate its reasoning on why citizens like Ms Dano cannot claim social benefits. This presents us with a noteworthy shift of emphasis from a promise of equality inherent in EU citizenship towards the ‘limitations and conditions’, which primary law had always provided for (Art. 21.1 TFEU). Judges abandon the aspirational underpinning of the citizenship concept to the benefit of conventional doctrinal arguments such as the wording or the systematic structure. In short, the Court turns into a legal technician.

Anuscheh Farahat criticises the Court’s outcome and, yet, she follows a similar path as the ECJ, when she argues that the technical rules on inter-state social security coordination mandated a different outcome. It is not convincing to maintain that this specialised field of secondary law should have defined the answer, not least since doing so would have required the Court to disconnect the interpretation of the non-discrimination principle in Article 4 of Regulation (EC) Nr. 883/2004 from primary law. A fundamental question, such as this one, should be answered primarily on the basis of the EU Treaties and the citizenship concept – even by those who disagree with the Court’s conclusion.

It seems to me that the outcome of the Dano case is no coincidence. Judges in Luxembourg are not autistic and listen to the general political context. The Pringle judgment on the compatibility of the ESM Treaty with the rules on monetary union was a case in point – and the same held for the Förster ruling, in which the Court shied away from open conflict with the EU legislator, when it accepted a five-year waiting period for access to study grants for incoming EU students in line with the Free Movement Directive. The Grand Chamber deciding the Dano case will have considered potential implications of its judgment for the overall support for the integration project at a time, when eurosceptic political parties are on rise across the continent, not only in the United Kingdom. Continue reading

The End of Free Movement of persons? The CJEU Decision in Dano

Dr Iyiola Solanke

In January 2014, I wrote a post discussing the plans of the UK Coalition government to withhold some benefits from ‘jobless’ EU migrants. I suggested that this group would be hard to define and that the most obvious persons to fall into this category would be those who are not only unemployed but also for some reason unemployable, such as Wadi Samin, an Austrian army veteran deemed permanently unable to work due to ill health. In Dano, the Grand Chamber of the CJEU seems to have confirmed that this is indeed the case. This decision has been welcomed by leaders including but not limited to David Cameron. However, it does not place major new restrictions on the right of free movement – rather it provides a welcome affirmation of the existing restrictions in the Treaties and secondary legislation. It does this by establishing that ‘sufficient resources’ in Article 7 of the Citizenship Directive refers to ‘own’ resources.

Ms Dano grew up in Romania but migrated to Germany where her 2-year old son, Florin, was born in 2009. Both are Romanian nationals. She settled in Leipzig with her sister and was issued with a permanent residence card in July 2011. She received no support from the child’s father but in addition to help provided by her sister, Dano received child benefit for her son, as well as an additional amount in maintenance payments. (totalling around EUR 317 per month). In 2011 she applied for a series of basic provision benefits (‘Grundsicherung’) provided under German legislation to jobseekers – subsistence benefit (‘existenzsichernde Regelleistung’) for herself, social allowance (‘Sozialgeld’) for her son as well as a contribution to accommodation and heating costs. This application was refused, as was a second application in 2012. An administrative challenge to the 2012 decision, based on Article 18 and 45 TFEU, failed. It was held that she was not eligible to receive these benefits under the relevant German legislation (Paragraph 7(1) of SGB II and Paragraph 23(3) of SGB XII).

She subsequently brought an action before the Social Court in Leipzig, challenging the refusal to grant these basic benefits. The Leipzig Court, although it agreed with the decision under appeal, was unsure that the German provisions were compatible with EU law, in particular the general principle of non-discrimination resulting from Article 18 TFEU, the general right of residence resulting from Article 20 TFEU and Article 4 of Regulation No 883/2004. It therefore referred four questions to the CJEU.

Question 1: the scope ratione personae of Article 4 Regulation No 883/2004

The first question concerned the scope ratione personae of Article 4 Regulation No 883/2004, which replaced Regulation No 1408/71 from 1 May 2010.  Article 4, headed ‘Equality of treatment’, provides:

‘Unless otherwise provided for by this Regulation, persons to whom this Regulation applies shall enjoy the same benefits and be subject to the same obligations under the legislation of any Member State as the nationals thereof.’

Having decided that the basic provision benefits sought were ‘special non-contributory cash benefits’ (within the meaning of Article 70(2) of Regulation No 883/2004) the Leipzig Court asked whether such benefits were covered by Article 4. The Grand Chamber confirmed that they did. Continue reading

Very private lives: “acceptable questioning” in sexual orientation asylum cases

Anita Davies

The CJEU’s judgment in the case of A, B and C is due by the end of the year. Ahead of the expected judgment, this post recaps the opinion handed down by Advocate General Sharpston in July.

In February 2014 The Guardian published details of the lines of questioning used by the UK Home Office in questioning gay and lesbian asylum seekers. The questions considered appropriate to ask vulnerable asylum seekers were shocking; including queries such as “what is it about men’s backsides that attracts you?”.

The Home Office’s prurient interest in the very private lives of asylum seekers has been attributed in part to the Supreme Court judgment in HJ (Iran) and HT (Cameroon) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] UKSC 31, where the Court found that asylum could not be refused on the basis that an individual would not face persecution due to their sexuality if they behaved with discretion when returned. The onus in questioning therefore shifted from conditions facing gay communities in the country of return to proving sexual orientation, resulting in the Home Office seeking to verify sexual orientation via intrusive questioning. Verifying sexual orientation in asylum claims is an issue that a number of EU states have sought to deal with, and Advocate General Sharpston’s opinion in ABC constitutes guidance as to what is considered acceptable questioning. However, as will be seen below, Sharpston’s opinion has to grapple with the central problem: how do you legally “verify” human sexuality? By its very nature sexuality is impossible to “prove” by reference to anything other than what an individual considers their sexuality to be.

  1. B and C were individuals who submitted asylum claims to the Netherlands authorities on the grounds of a well founded fear of being persecuted in their respective countries of origin because they were gay men. All were refused on the basis that their claims of sexual orientation were not “credible”. Two of the applicants had gone to some lengths to prove their sexual orientation: C had submitted a video depicting him performing sexual acts with a man, and A had been willing to submit to a test to prove that he was gay.

In her opinion, Advocate General Sharpston sought to set out some guidelines as to what was an appropriate method for assessing declared sexual orientation, and if the limits were different from the limits applied to an assessment of the credibility of other grounds of persecution. Sharpston recognised that an “individual’s sexual orientation is a complex matter, entwined inseparably with his identity, that falls within the private sphere of his life” [38], therefore, an applicant’s averred sexual orientation must always be the starting point in assessing a claim, however:

The competent national authorities are entitled to examine that element of his claim together with all other elements in order to assess whether he has a well-founded fear of persecution within the meaning of the Qualification Directive and the Geneva Convention.

It therefore follows ineluctably that applications for refugee status on the grounds of sexual orientation, like any other applications for refugee status, are subject to a process of assessment as required by Article 4 of the Qualification Directive. That assessment must, however, be carried out in a way that respects the individual’s rights as guaranteed by the Charter.” [48 -49]

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Booklet on the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights to asylum procedural law

Dr Iyiola Solanke

The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) is a pan-European alliance of 85 NGOs. Its purpose is the protection and promotion of the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons. Its mission is amongst the most challenging of our time: to promote the establishment of fair and humane European asylum policies and practices in accordance with international human rights law. ECRE activities include dissemination of information, monitoring of human rights violations and contribution to policy development. They also conduct legal research, most recently on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights to Asylum procedural law.

This 188-page booklet, compiled in association with the Dutch Council of Refugees and with financial support from the Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme of the European Union, draws upon the expertise of EUtopia contributor Gunnar Beck (SOAS, London) as well as Nuala Mole (AIRE Centre) and Marcelle Reneman (VU University Amsterdam). The booklet contains useful information that will increase practical understanding of the how the EU Charter applies to asylum and migration cases. As the authors state, this is important for two key reasons: not only for the proper implementation of the EU asylum acquis but ultimately to ensure that, at a time when asylum seekers, refugees and displaced persons are particularly vulnerable, ‘the rights of those seeking international protection are respected.’

A hard copy of the booklet can be obtained from Kimberly Friesen at the Dutch Council for Refugees. Alternatively, it is available online here.