Stop bashing the EU with olive oil

Alberto Alemanno considers a tale of Euroscepticism, political opportunism and a European Commission ‘own goal’

In the aftermath of the last EU summit, one of the many provisions proposed by the European Commission within the framework of its action plan for the olive-oil sector unexpectedly gained global attention.

The provision, which had already won member states’ backing, would have required that restaurants serve olive oil in sealed, clearly labelled and non-reusable containers, instead of relying on refillable containers. The UK’s prime minister, echoed by his Dutch counterpart, publicly attacked the Commission’s adopted proposal by dismissing it as “exactly the sort of area that the European Union needs to get right out of”. While Dacian Cioloş, the European commissioner for agriculture, initially defended the proposal as a way to promote quality olive oil and to protect consumers from fraud, he rapidly withdrew the measure, declaring that the ban was “not formulated in such a way as to assemble widespread support”. Continue reading

Nudging Europe: Why the European Commission should include behavioural insights in the design of regulatory proposals

Alberto Alemanno

In recent years, findings in behavioural sciences have highlighted the complex cognitive framework in which people make decisions. In particular, behavioural economics, by refuting the neoclassical assumption of human full rationality, has revealed a set of psychological biases capable of explaining why too often people make choices that seem to go against their best interests. Thus, for instance, owing to the tendency of people to stick to the default option, inertia and ‘default rules’ have a large effect on the outcomes for society: unless you are automatically enrolled in a savings plan, you are unlikely to opt in. Framing and presentation can also influence individual behaviour: when patients are told that 90% of those who have a certain operation are alive after three years, they are more likely to have the operation than when they are told that after three years 10% of patients are dead. In other words, choices are not only made on the basis of the expected outcome but tend to be affected by how they are framed. Similarly, information that is vivid and salient can have a greater impact on behaviour than information that is statistical and abstract: pictorial warnings on tobacco products produce greater dissuasive effects than text warnings. Finally, in multiple areas, individual behaviour is largely influenced by the perceived behaviour of other people. In particular, perception of what is the social norm in a given community may affect risk-taking, vis-à-vis – for instance – tobacco, drug and alcohol consumption.

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Let’s make the European Courts tweet! Why the Court of Justice should embrace social media

Alberto Alemanno.

Following in the footsteps of the US Supreme Court, the UK Supreme Court (SC) signed up for Twitter on February 1.  It was first used to live-tweet coverage of the new justice Lord Reed’s swearing-in ceremony, and the SC has been tweeting since then about the cases it hears in an effort to increase transparency in the legal system.

@UKSupremeCourt is run by the SC’s communications team, who promise 2-3 tweets each week on cases, judgments, and any corporate announcements from the SC. The SC’s Twitter policy can be found here. This short document spells out how often the SC will tweet on average, its rules on @replies, and why they will not follow you back if you follow them.

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The Microban judgment – Expanding Access to Justice in Europe

Alberto Alemanno

Delivered on October 25 2011, the Microban judgment, by defining the new category of challengeable acts laid down by the Lisbon Treaty, softens the locus standi of individuals in front of EU Courts.  As such, it is of considerable importance for practitioners of EU law.


Under settled case law, access to justice is one of the constitutive elements of a European Union based on the rule of law. According to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), this is guaranteed in the treaties through establishing a ‘complete system of legal remedies’ designed to permit the CJEU to review the legality of measures adopted by the EU institutions. Yet, in the framework of the action for annulment, the conditions for legal standing have historically been restrictive, which has led many to question the ‘completeness’ of the EU judicial system. While an individual may lodge a complaint against an act that is specifically addressed to him (e.g. a decision finding anticompetitive behaviour), he could not challenge an act of which he was not the addressee unless he could show that the act was of individual and direct concern to him. In particular, the concept of ‘individual concern’ was construed very narrowly: the applicant had to show that he was affected by the measure in question just as if he had been the express addressee. This interpretation meant in practice that, besides a few exceptions, a complainant could contest the validity of general legislative measures, such as a regulation or a directive, in so far as they are typically designed to create general rules aimed at an indefinite number of addressees.

To mitigate the ensuing situation of ‘denial of justice’ caused by the restrictive rules on standing, the CJEU systematically held that the preliminary reference procedure under Article 267 TFEU (ex Article 234 EC) could adequately complement the action for annulment, in that it allowed individuals the opportunity to challenge the validity of measures adopted by EU institutions in front of national courts. However, as illustrated by judicial practice, this approach failed to recognize that, in the absence of implementation measures, the parties were often unable to initiate national court proceedings aimed at eventually triggering a request for a preliminary reference on the validity of the EU measure in question.

The Lisbon Treaty seemed to address this loophole in the EU ‘complete system of legal remedies’: the provision setting out the annulment action was modified such that Article 263(4) TFEU now allows individuals standing to challenge ‘regulatory acts’ which are of ‘direct concern’ to them and ‘do not entail implement measures’. However, in the absence of a definition of this expression, the precise meaning of this additional category of acts that are subject to judicial review by individuals was unclear.  We have had to wait until October 25, 2011 to obtain from the General Court of the European Union (GCEU) a first definition of this new category of challengeable acts.

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