Adieu and Farewell to the Data Retention Directive

Anita PicAnita Davies

The European Union is all too often portrayed as a creature defined by over-regulation – be it the infamous “bendy banana” rules or the great chocolate debate. It is easy (and sometimes politically convenient) to forget that the EU and CJEU can serve to protect individuals from overt (and covert) state regulation. As of a CJEU decision this week to annul the Data Retention Directive (2006/24/EC), it will be very difficult for the Home Secretary, Teresa May, to push through the Communications Data Bill (also known as the “Snooper’s Charter”).

The bill was abandoned in May 2013 following opposition from the Lib Dems, but has shown signs of resurfacing. The bill would give police and security services access, without a warrant, to details of all online communication in the UK – such as the time, duration, originator and recipient, and the location of the device from which it was made. The bill depends however, on operators being obliged to store customers’ details and records. The data retention directive obliged companies to retain data and information of citizens using electronic communications networks – but now that it has been annulled the responsibility of operators to retain data is far more ambiguous.

The CJEU decision resulted from proceedings taking place in Ireland and Austria – where challenges had been mounted regarding the legality of national legislative and administrative measures concerning the retention of data. The Court ruled on Wednesday that the purpose of the Data Retention Directive, i.e. ensuring that communications data was available in order to investigate and fight serious crime, was compatible with the European Rights framework. However, the Directive itself entailed a wide-ranging and particularly serious interference with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data (Articles 7 and 8 of the CFREU), without that interference being limited to what was strictly necessary.

The Court noted that the data being retained enabled:

“very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of the persons whose data has been retained, such as the habits of everyday life, permanent or temporary places of residence, daily or other movements, the activities carried out, the social relationships of those persons and the social environments frequented by them” [§27].

Given the potential conclusions the Court found that:

“The EU legislation in question must lay down clear and precise rules governing the scope and application of the measure in question and imposing minimum safeguards so that the persons whose data have been retained have sufficient guarantees to effectively protect their personal data against the risk of abuse and against any unlawful access and use of that data” [§54].

The Directive lacked such precise rules and appropriate safeguards.

In particular the Court objected to the fact that the Directive did not discriminate between individuals. The Directive covers all individuals, all means of electronic communication and all traffic data without any differentiation, limitation or exception being made in the light of the objective of fighting against serious crime. The Directive also fails (somewhat surprisingly given its purpose) to define the notion of “serious crime”. The Court found that the data retention period (6 to 24 months) was too generic and that the Directive did not require that the data be retained within the EU itself. Continue reading

Case Comment: CD v ST and Z v A Government Department & Ors (C-167/12 and C-363/12)

Michèle Finck, University of Oxford

Human procreation is not longer what it used to be. While medical research has created a number of mechanisms that allow people to engage in sexual intimacy without a resulting pregnancy, it also allows those wishing to procreate but who are unable to do so biologically to have children. IVF and surrogacy in many ways challenge our conception of human procreation. Naturally, the law needs to adapt to these changes.  Surrogacy in particular however raises a number of value-laden questions, which complicates the law’s response to these medical avenues. It is thus not surprising that no homogenous position exists between Member States on this issue.

In the CD and Z cases, the CJEU had to pronounce itself on how to reconcile surrogacy with an existing legal framework on maternity leave that did not account for motherhood resulting from that mechanism. More precisely, it was faced with the question of whether a mother who did not give birth to her own child, born via a surrogate, has a right to maternity leave under EU law. Family law is not a EU competence. Maternity leave is, however, regulated by the Pregnant Workers Directive (PWD) and some aspects arising out of motherhood and employment are addressed by the Sex Discrimination Directive. In Mayr, the CJEU had already clarified that the Sex Discrimination Directive is applicable to workers undergoing IVF that have not yet been successful.

In CD and Z, the Grand Chamber established that, as a matter of EU law, only women who themselves give birth to the child can benefit from maternity leave. Two Advocates General, Wahl and Kokott, issued opinions and came to opposed conclusions. The Court followed Advocate General Wahl in its judgment. Applying Mayr, it found that the PWD only applies to women who are in fact pregnant. The Sex Discrimination Directive was found not to be applicable either as the commissioning mother of a surrogacy agreement would be in the same position as a commissioning father. Having found that the question fell outside of the ambit of EU law, the CJEU also found the Charter of Fundamental Rights to be inapplicable. In the Z judgment, the CJEU further clarified that the Framework Equality Directive and its provisions on disabilities do not apply to women unable to become or carry out a pregnancy as the directive only targets disabilities that render a worker’s involvement in professional life more burdensome, which is not the case for medical conditions that prevent women from getting pregnant or carrying out a pregnancy. Continue reading

The Commission gets the point – but not necessarily the instruments

european-union-flags-at-t-0021Jan-Werner Müller

This week the European Commission issued a Communication about a new framework for protecting the rule of law within EU Member States.[1]  Is this the long hoped for mechanism that allows the EU to deal with internal threats to liberal democracy (the democratic deficits within Member States, so to speak) effectively?  The clear-cut answer is: yes and no.  The Commission has evidently understood that attempts systematically to undermine rule of law principles require a different response than individual infringement proceedings.  Depending on the circumstances, a structured process of naming and shaming which is now available to the Commission might work.  But if it doesn’t, then the Commission will remain just as helpless as before: no new sanction mechanisms are envisaged (and, to be fair, none might be feasible without treaty change).  In that sense, the new framework formalizes — or, in the words of Commission President Barroso, “consolidates” – the Commission’s de facto approach in recent years.  This is not a trivial achievement; and it’s probably the most the Commission could do on the basis of existing law and with available institutions such as the Fundamental Rights Agency.  It may well deter some governments.  But for illiberal national politicians determined to go head to head with the Commission, there is in the end still only Article 7 TEU – and that remains as difficult to put into effect as before.

The Commission’s initiative comes against the background of threats to liberal democracy in Hungary and Romania since about 2010 — and an acute sense among many observers (and also among political actors) that the Union has been ill-equipped to deal with a challenge one might call “constitutional capture.”  Constitutional capture is different from pervasive corruption (a major problem still in Bulgaria and Romania, for instance); but it is also different from individual rights violations, grave as the latter might be.  Constitutional capture aims at systematically weakening checks and balances and, in the extreme case, making genuine changes in power exceedingly difficult.  Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán actually passed a new constitution for his country (a case of formal constitutional capture); his Romanian counterpart Victor Ponta, in the summer of 2012, blatantly tried to disable checks and balances (the constitutional court in particular) to get rid of his political arch-enemy, the President of Romania (this being a matter of attempting an informal constitutional capture).

In both cases, the Commission got into a direct confrontation with the respective national governments.  While the EU arguably helped to avoid the worst, the experience seemed to point to a significant weakness of the Commission as a guardian of the treaties: it could take governments to court for individual infringements of EU law, but it proved incapable of addressing systematic attempts to undermine the rule of law.  In some cases, it could not “read” certain laws for what they were, but had to reinterpret them in an EU framework such that their real political meaning was officially missed.  When Orbán’s government effectively decapitated the Hungarian judiciary by drastically lowering the retirement age of judges, the EU sued Hungary for age discrimination.  Brussels won its case, but the judges were never re-instated; the political situation remained more or less as Orbán’s government wanted it.       Continue reading

Does Germany need a political questions doctrine?

CormacCormac Mac Amhlaigh

The German Federal Constitutional Court’s (GFCC) recent decision on the (il)legality of the ECB’s bond-buying practices is the latest in what can only by now be described as a slew of cases from the Court since its 2009 Lisbon decision on questions which involve the German basic law but have an arguably disproportionate reverberation across Europe and particularly the European integration project. In fact, the OMT the decision itself, whereby the Court expressed doubts about the legality of the ECB’s bond-buying practices, but before making a definitive determination on the question, made a preliminary reference on the question to the CJEU, in a sense represents the making good on previous promises by the Court in Maastricht, Lisbon and Honeywell, where it threated to monitor the activities of the European institutions to ensure that they did not stray beyond the powers bestowed upon them in the treaties, and thereby vicariously break the German Constitution, (Maastricht and Lisbon) but would make a preliminary reference to the CJEU for its input into whether the activities of EU institutions are lawful before making a final determination on the point itself. (Honeywell)

The OMT decision has attracted much commentary and criticism in both the media and the blogosphere which I will not add to it here. Nor will I try to predict the future as to what Luxembourg’s response will be, nor Karlsruhe’s response to Luxembourg’s response (although it will be interesting to see what Luxembourg makes of a preliminary reference from a national Court which comes with a threat to ignore its opinion attached).  Rather, this latest case in the recent slew, and the occasion of the first preliminary reference from the GFCC in the fifty plus years of European integration, gives occasion, I think, to critically reflect upon the Court’s approach to politically sensitive issues involving the European integration process. 

To a student or teacher of British constitutional law, with its (however threadbare) doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, one never ceases to be amazed by the extent to which the GFCC gets its hands dirty by wading into the heart of German political life, adjudicating upon high-profile and sensitive political issues such as the conduct of German foreign policy and the management of security threats, to the point of second-guessing the activities of the executive and legislature.  This fearless attitude to the separation of powers has resulted in some remarkable decisions in the past (see Franck for an excellent overview), and some, quite frankly, dubious political theory on the part of the court which was on full display in its Lisbon decision.    However, what stands out is the fact that Court seems to unquestioningly assume the propriety of its activities and the complete absence of any doctrine or criteria to filter out particular controversies which may be judged too politically sensitive for the Court to make a ruling.  Courts in many (if not most) other jurisdictions, tend to side-step heavily political matters through the savvy use of admissibility requirements such as rules on locus standi or the development of judicially fashioned doctrines on ‘political questions’ or justiciability. Continue reading

Barking vs. Biting: Understanding the German Constitutional Court’s OMT reference … and its implications for EU Reform

lindsethProf. Peter Lindseth

I find myself in familiar territory.  Just as with the ESM Ruling of September 2012, some of the insta-commentary on a decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court (GFCC) on the Eurozone crisis calls for a response. At issue in September 2012 was the claim that the GFCC’s refusal to issue a preliminary injunction against the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) was evidence of “the Court’s weakness in EU matters.” At issue now is the idea that the Court’s decision this past Friday to refer a question to the CJEU – on the compatibility of the ECB’s OMT program with the treaties – is somehow an “abdication,” indeed “nothing less than a surrender of sovereignty by Germany’s highest court.”

Commentators much closer to as well as more knowledgeable of these matters have already weighed in on this over-reaction. I’d still like to offer some additional reflections, not merely to add what I hope will be some context to Friday’s decision, but also to shed some light on the Court’s strategy in the “game” in which it inescapably finds itself. Finally, I’d like to suggest that the Court’s ruling has major implications for the process of EU reform that David Cameron has been struggling to energize. As I’ll explain in the conclusion to this post (apologies in advance for its length), it is hard to envision any outcome of Friday’s decision that will not compel the Angela Merkel’s government to undertake reform, including treaty changes.  This presents an opportunity for the British government but only if it’s prepared to accept that European reform must include not merely “less” Europe, but also “more,” including possibly an expanded mandate for the ECB to explicitly embrace OMT.

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Jobless EU migrants and housing benefit

Dr Iyiola Solanke

According to reports from the BBC, ‘jobless migrants from within the European Union will be denied access to housing benefit from April this year’. Housing benefit is an ‘in –work’ benefit which provides support with rent for those who are unemployed or on a low income. As it is means tested, it may not cover all rent costs. It is administered through local councils to private and social landlords. Universal credit[1] will replace housing benefit in 2015. Before then, both Home Secretary Theresa May and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith intend to introduce plans to ‘prevent exploitation of the UK welfare system’ by ‘jobless’ EU migrants.

Research[2] suggests that EU migrants are less likely than UK nationals to claim any form of benefits so the prevention of exploitation by targeting EU migrants is questionable. Furthermore, who are the jobless EU migrants – are they a composite group? Finally, as these measures will not apply to jobless nationals, would such action be compatible with EU law? There is indeed little free movement for jobless migrants under EU law[3] but when is an EU migrant ‘jobless’?

The ‘Jobless’

Focusing on the ‘jobless’ draws a broad distinction between this group and EU migrant ‘workers’: the former have few rights under EU law while the latter have many. Article 45 TFEU provides free movement to workers within the EU. A worker under EU law is a person who is employed: in Lawrie Blum and Collins the CJEU defined a worker as a person who provides services under direction of another for remuneration. The work itself must constitute a ‘genuine economic activity’: in Steymann the provision of maintenance tasks for was seen as such whereas in Bettray work conducted as part of a rehabilitation scheme was not. The number of hours worked and level of salary are irrelevant to the definition.[4]

The Citizenship Directive (CD) adopted in 2004 guarantees migrant EU workers and other ‘qualified persons’[5] equal treatment with nationals in the territory of a host member state. Migrant EU workers benefit from non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality – they and their family members are to be treated in the same way as any national worker, in relation to work, education and access to benefits. Conditions for this equal treatment are set out in Chapter III of the CD. Continue reading

Nintendo vs Modchips: Score Draw in the CJEU

Angus MacCulloch

The Court of Justice of the EU handed down its judgment in Case C-355/12 Nintendo v PC Box on 23 January 2014. It is the first of two cases concerning the legality of modchips for videogames consoles to come before the Court (Case C-458/13 is remains pending). The judgment doesn’t finally decide on the legality of modchips, but it sets out the factors that courts across Europe should address when deciding on an individual device’s legality.

In a previous post I commented on AG Sharpston’s Opinion, which was delivered in September 2013. The Court essentially adopts a similar approach, but before going into the judgment itself it is worth explaining the technology and legislation that underlies the dispute. If you have been following the case you can skip the next paragraph. Continue reading

Call for evidence: Scottish European and External Relations Committee on EU membership for an independent Scotland

Please find a link to the EER Committee’s call for views on the Scottish Government’s proposals for an independent Scotland’s membership of the European Union. The Committee is seeking views on three main themes: Scotland in the EU; the road to membership; and small states within the EU. Further details can be found on the Committee’s website.

The deadline for responses is 24 January 2014: however, if you are particularly interested in the road to membership and Scotland’s representation in the European Union, responses should be received by 16 January 2014, prior to oral evidence sessions due to take place on 23 and 30 January 2014.

Scotland’s Future in the EU

Prof. Kenneth A. Armstrong

The Scottish Government has produced its much-anticipated White Paper setting out the case for Scottish independence from the United Kingdom. In over six hundred pages, Scotland’s Future sets out the implications of independence across a spectrum of policy areas, including an independent Scotland’s relationship with the European Union. The core of the argument that is presented by the Scottish Government is for continuity of Scottish membership of the EU. Indeed, the spectre of a UK withdrawal from the EU gives added impetus to the case that is made not just for Scottish membership of the EU but for independence itself.

The White Paper is not a neutral expert analysis of the costs and benefits of Scottish independence. Rather it is a political and constitutional manifesto of the incumbent political party – the Scottish National Party – exercising power under the existing devolution settlement. Its aim is to provide greater clarity on the implications, and apparent benefits, of Scottish independence. Yet, in its analysis of an independent Scotland’s relationship with the EU, the White Paper lacks clarity and candour in three important respects:

  • Why is it right to hold a referendum on independence and not to have a referendum on whether an independent Scotland should be inside or outside the EU?
  • Why is it better to seek EU membership through a renegotiation of the treaties rather than through the normal accession process?
  • Is it self evident that a small state has greater European influence if independent compared to seeking influence via a larger state of which it is a constituent part? Continue reading

Maybe not such a global appraisal of State aid after all: CJEU backtracks from a truly economic approach (C-124/10)

Albert%20Sanchez%20Graells_mDr Albert Sanchez Graells

[ This comment originally appeared on Albert's personal blog http://howtocrackanut.blogspot.co.uk/ ]

In an interesting recent paper, Pablo Ibáñez Colomo conducts a very detailed statistical overview of State Aid Litigation before EU Courts (2004–2012) [Journal of European Competition Law & Practice (2013) doi: 10.1093/jeclap/lpt057]. One of his relevant findings is that the ‘private investor test’ and its application by the European Commission was one of the most litigated areas of EU State Aid law in that period and that [a]nnulments were more likely where the ‘private investor test’ was raised as a ground‘.

In its Judgment of 24 October 2013 in Joined Cases C-214/12 P, C-215/12 P and C-223/12 P Land Burgenland v Commission, the Court of Justice of the EU has been confronted again with the test–this time in the mirror image of the ‘private vendor test’–and, on this occasion, has upheld the approach taken by the European Commission. In my opinion, there are several passages of the Judgment that bear stressing, particularly because the CJEU is backtracking from a much more economically oriented assessment of State aid that was (at least) suggested in Commission v EDF (C-124/10 P).

The case involved the existence of State aid in the privatisation of HYPO Bank Burgenland AG, where the relevant Austrian authorities decided to sell the bank to GRAWE despite the fact that the price it offered (EUR 100.3 million) was significantly lower than the price offered by a competing Austro-Ukrainian consortium (EUR 155 million). As the CJEU explains:

The decision was based, in particular, on a [...] recommendation by HSBC  [which] essentially states that, although on the basis of the proposed purchase price the decision should be made in favour of the Consortium, it was recommended that BB be sold to GRAWE, in view of the other selection criteria, namely the reliability of the purchase price payment, the continued operation of BB while avoiding the use of Ausfallhaftung [ie the Austrian performance guarantee system for public credit institutions], capital increases and transaction security (C-214/12 P at para 9).

Not surprisngly, the Consortium challenged the decision claiming that the Republic of Austria had infringed State aid rules during the privatisation of BB and stressing that, amongst other irregularities, the tender procedure had been unfair, untransparent and discriminatory towards it–which resulted in the sale of BB not to the highest bidder, namely the Consortium, but to GRAWE.
Continue reading