Arguments in the referendum challenge now available

Rosalind English

This post originally appeared on the UK Human Rights Blog, and is reproduced here with permission and thanks.

The imminent  litigation concerning the government’s response to the Brexit vote is much anticipated. The skeleton arguments have now been filed. The High Court has just resisted an application for partial redaction of the arguments, so they are open for public perusal.

A quick reminder of what this is all about:

In R (on the Application of Gina Miller) and others v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union the claimants seek a declaration that it would be unlawful for the defendant secretary of state or the prime minister on behalf of HM Government to issue a notification under Article 50 (TEU) to withdraw the UK from the EU without an act of parliament authorising such notification.

Here is the  skeleton argument from one of the groups supporting that case (People’s Challenge), and here are the Government defendants’ grounds of resistance

Prerogative Power

People’s Challenge

The triggering of Article 50 requires a prior step: the decision to withdraw from the EU in response to the referendum result. It is only once this decision is taken that it can be notified to the European Council.

This first step cannot be made as an exercise of the royal prerogative, which is the power of the government to take action without consulting parliament.  This power has been weakened over time – mainly whittled away by parliamentary legislation – and is so residual now that it cannot be exercised to implement Brexit. Consequently, the executive does not have power to decide that the UK should withdraw from the EU, and without putting the matter to vote in Parliament, ministers cannot notify the European Council of any such decision to withdraw.

Because parliament brought us into the UK, only parliament can authorise a decision to leave.

Since the prerogative forms part of the common law,  the courts have jurisdiction to determine the extent of this power in accordance with ordinary judicial review principles.

Government

Prerogative powers cannot be reduced by implication. In any event, withdrawal from the EU by governmental fiat has not been prohibited by any statute.

The Act that parliament passed to authorise the referendum was predicated on the “clear understanding” that the government would respect the outcome, and this is a lawful and constitutional step. Parliament has a role, but only in the negotiations following the decision to leave, not in the taking of the decision itself, which follows the outcome of the referendum. That is for the government, under its prerogative treaty making powers.

The referendum result cannot be attacked in the way the challengers contend; the vote concerned the decision to leave the EU. As articulated, this result should be given effect by use of prerogative powers.

Courts have no more power to adjudicate on the decision to withdraw from the EU as they did on the decision to join it. This is now, and was then, a matter of “highest policy reserved to the Crown”. Treaty-making, with the European Union or any other body, is not generally subject to parliamentary control. Continue reading

The TTIP Negotiations Innovations: On Legal Reasons for Cheer

Elaine FaheyDr Elaine Fahey

By now, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment (TTIP) negotiations have undergone a marathon 14 rounds of negotiations after 36 months of talks, despite Brexit and the tumultuous US presidential elections standing in the back drop. The political mood on either side of the Atlantic is still challenging to say the least. And after EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) being proposed for recently as a mixed agreement meaning that many national parliaments will vote on it (not being an exclusive EU only agreement as anticipated), the legal context of free trade with Europe just got trickier.

The TTIP negotiations have generated fears about the transfer of authority to a new living entity as a form of global governance. Yet by opting for public institutions and institutionalisation within TTIP, there is a shift towards transparency and the ‘governability’ of global governance. Even if it fails – and there is a reasonable chance that it may not survive the US elections – there are a whole host of positives to be found within the TTIP negotiations. They can be viewed as innovative attempts to right the wrongs of global governance. They may well inspire future developments and are worthy of a brief analysis.

This post focusses upon the latest developments as to TTIP’s institutions in the latest texts released in mid-July.

On the institutional side of things, the EU’s most recent proposal of 14 July 2016 has undergone some considerable changes to appease European critics. The latest TTIP EU-proposed text still features a Joint Committee, comprised of the US Trade Representative and an EU Commission at the apex of TTIPS’s Regulatory Cooperation. The Committee would possess considerable supervisory and legally salient interpretive powers about TTIP’s proposed 30 chapters. But is more executive than supranational in nature and this matters to the US. The executive dominance of the EU’s proposed Institutional chapter as of July 2016  is apparent (Article X. 2) – because it would provide for powers to supervise and guide activities, adopt rules, adopt interpretations about the agreement and act subject to transparency and openness principles- between levels of Government essentially. The Joint Committee would principally work with Specialised Committees (e.g. market access, services …) and Working Groups but can be perceived as a great empowerment of the European Commission, arguably moving far beyond its institutional and constitutional functions.

However, it is importantly now heavily ‘tempered’ by a number of other bodies, actors and entities that align with more European than American ideals.  Above all, binding duties of cooperation and participation along wide transparency and equal access are ‘latecomers’ to the negotiations – and heavily Americanised ideas of Administrative law (e.g. ‘notice and comment’). They are important in so far as they mitigate critique of earlier drafts as to closed-decision-making practices. Thus firstly, the Joint Committee is ‘tempered’ by a Regulators Forum which would discuss regulatory cooperation between regulators, holding public sessions. The Transatlantic Legislators Dialogue (TLD) next envisaged within the new text would be comprised of EU and US parliamentarians and has already been part of several decades of EU-US relations. Nonetheless, although lacking any significant powers, as has always been the case with the TLD, it could further foster the parliamentary dimension of cooperation. In the text, the Civil Society forum would also be provided for to ensure a balance number of interests is displayed, along with a Domestic Advisory Body independent representatives of civil society, whose participation is to be facilitated. Although a lot of functional overlap is apparent from this version of the text, it is an important state of affairs. For example, ironically, the harshest criticism of the latest draft of institutional set up is that it contains too much participation or too many bodies and actors – and this criticism comes directly from the TTIP’s institutionalised Advisory Body, itself supposed to represent civil society. Previous version of the text failed to provide adequate assurances concerning the place of parliamentary sovereignty and civil society. And so on balance, on can see its virtues emerging as a broadly open and truly participatory idea of transnational cooperation with considerable control and input given to elected representatives. Continue reading

10 (pro-EU) reasons to be cheerful after Brexit

Cormac Mac Amhlaigh

As the dust continues to swirl around the momentous Brexit referendum result a month ago (and doesn’t show any signs of settling anytime soon) I suspect many EU sympathisers will be somewhere in the middle of the various stages of the Kübler-Ross Grief cycle: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. So, somewhat incongruosly, are the ‘leavers’. Whereas there are almost as many emotions being experienced on all sides as there are potential options on what will happen next both in terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU as well as the future of the EU itself, in this post I want to set out a number of (pro-EU) reasons – some obvious, some optimistic, others wildly speculative – to be cheerful amidst the uncertainty created by the Brexit vote.

  1. It is worth reminding ourselves that (a version of) the EU existed before the UK joined in 1972 (with Denmark and Ireland) and it will survive its withdrawal. Brexit will not have the same effect as one of the founding six, and particularly say Germany or France, leaving the bloc.
  1. The feared domino effect of other Member States agitating to leave has not transpired. Indeed post-Brexit opinion polls have shown a bounce in support for the EU in other EU Member states since Brexit.
  1. Even were an in/out referendum to be held in another EU Member state, there are good reasons to believe (barring unforeseeable ‘exogenous shocks’) that a majority would not vote to leave. No other EU Member State has a national media so relentlessly hostile to the EU as the UK. The UK’s top-two selling national newspapers (with a combined circulation as much as the next three put together) are rabidly anti-EU and a study released during the referendum campaign found that even the UK’s supposedly ‘neutral’ state broadcaster, the BBC, had been overwhelmingly negative about the EU over the past fifteen years. Against this heavily Eurosceptic background, there was still only 3% difference between leave and remain in the referendum result. This augurs well for an EU referendum in an EU Member state with a less hostile media.
  1. The referendum and its aftermath has increased curiosity, interest and knowledge about the EU and what it does among many previously disinterested EU citizens. Most obviously in the UK where google reported a sharp rise in searches asking was ‘What is the EU?’, albeit that this was after the polls had closed. Admittedly, much of this knowledge and information is starting from a pretty low base but any improvement has to be a good thing for the EU.
  1. Ever since the last British government passed the EU Act 2011, which requires referendums in the UK on certain future reforms at EU level, future EU reform would have been considerably hamstrung by the UK through the floating of a ‘referendum veto’ at every turn in negotiations.   An actual referendum on future EU reform, even reform which would have been disproportionality advantageous to the UK, would have been very unlikely to succeed given the general eurosceptic feeling in the UK as exemplified in the Brexit referendum result. Future negotiations would therefore have involved even more protracted wrangling over EU reform than is usually the case, with increasingly less patience with the UK among other EU Member States. In the Brexit result, future EU reform has dodged a considerably large UK-shaped bullet allowing for better reform at the EU level at a time when it needs to be efficient and decisive in the face of the many issues it currently faces.
  1. The Brexit vote has put EU legitimacy back on the agenda (again!). It provides a useful time to reflect on the broader legitimacy of the EU, particularly from the viewpoint of citizen knowledge about, and engagement with, the EU. Vital lessons can be learned from the way in which the EU was presented as well as misrepresented in the Brexit campaign debates and the extent to which EU questions tend to be dominated by domestic political concerns. This should feed into analysis and reflection on the never-ending project that is the enhancement of the EU’s legitimacy. Furthermore, unlike the high-stakes, pressure-cooker atmosphere of the eurocrisis, the Brexit vote has been followed by an important ‘cooling down’ period (helped considerably by Cameron’s decision not to push the Art. 50 button on his resignation) which allows for more probing and searching analysis into these big questions and better solutions to be developed.

Continue reading

Political Reductionism at its Best: Some Considerations on the EU Institutions’ Response after the UK Referendum

Giuseppe-MartinicoGiuseppe Martinico

This post first appeared on the Verfassungsblog; it is reproduced here with kind permission.

Colleagues have already commented upon the response of the EU institutions to the outcome of the referendum held on 23 June, stressing the rushed and populist attitude shown by the Commission and the EU Parliament, referring, for instance, to the exclusion of the UK from the “informal” meeting of the European Council held on 29 June and to the way in which Juncker made a joke of Nigel Farage, asking why he was in the European Parliament after the UK vote.

However, there is another episode which is very telling, about the respect shown by the “political class” towards Art. 50 of the TEU and, in general, other relevant norms to be taken into account independently from the activation of the exit procedure, like, for instance Art. 4.2 TEU demanding equal treatment of the Members States and respect of their national identity and constitutional structure.

Continue reading

The EEA Agreement and the ‘Norway option’: integration without co-determination

Henrik Nordling Henrik Nordling[1]

The result of the UK’s EU referendum has thrown the EEA Agreement to the forefront as a potential template for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. The term ‘Norway option’, under its various guises, is steadily referenced to as a potential compromise. However, Norway’s relationship with the EU is relatively complex: Norway has adopted about ¾ of the EU legislation of that of an ‘ordinary’ EU Member State, but does not have any powers of determination in the EU legislative process. Norway benefits from the advantages of being part of the internal market, but does not get to decide on the rules which govern it – only adhere to them. Nonetheless, Norway is not bound by some of the EUs most hotly debated policy areas, such as agriculture, fisheries and home affairs.

An overview of Norway’s EU relationship

The UK and Norway share a common past when it comes to the EU. In 1960 Norway and the UK were part of the seven states that founded the EFTA as an alternative to what was then the European Economic Community (EEC). Then in 1962 Norway, along with the UK, Denmark and Ireland applied to join the EEC only to be met with a resound ‘non’ from Mr De Gaulle. Although the General’s veto was aimed squarely at the Anglo-Saxons across the channel, Norway suffered collateral damage. Still, the Norwegian government continued negotiations and that were completed in 1972. Parliament was overwhelmingly in favour of joining the EEC, but the question was put to a referendum – yes one of those – and the result was a quite clear ‘no’ which caused the prime minister to resign and Norway ended up with a trade agreement with the EEC instead. History has a tendency to repeat itself. Norway then had a second referendum on EU membership in 1994, but the answer was once again No. As an aside, it is worth noting that on a regional basis the Yes vote was the clear winner in Oslo and the surrounding regions whilst No blanketed the rest of the country in both referendums.

The EEA Agreement was entered into between five EFTA States (Sweden, Austria, Norway, Iceland and Finland) and the EU Member States in 1992 and entered into force in 1994. Lichtenstein became a full participant in the EEA Agreement in 1995, and in the same year Sweden, Finland and Austria left the EFTA and the EEA to join the EU. This leaves us with today’s three remaining EEA EFTA States: Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. Switzerland, the fourth remaining EFTA State, chose to enter into a bilateral agreement with the EU.

The EEA Agreement, at its most basic level, extends the EU’s internal market to the three EEA EFTA States, granting equal rights and obligations for citizens and economic operators in the EEA. The substantive scope of the EEA Agreement thus includes, at its core, the four freedoms (goods, services, persons and capital), competition rules and State aid. In order to ensure that the internal market functions well it was also imperative to include various ‘horizontal provisions’ related to the four freedoms (such as consumer protection and environmental regulation) that serve to strengthen and support the internal market. There are also provisions relating to cooperation outside the four freedoms. These are known as ‘flanking areas’ (such as research and development, culture and education) which further strengthen the cohesion of the EEA.

However, the EEA Agreement does not cover the following EU policies: Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies, Customs Union, Common Trade Policy, Common Foreign and Security Policy, Justice and Home Affairs and Monetary Union. Although it should be noted that EU Member States have the ability to opt out of some of these policies to a certain extent.

An interesting reflection is that the relative proportion of EEA EFTA to EU Member States was 5:12 in 1992, which is considerably better than it is now at 3:28. Whether the same agreement would be reached under this constellation is not sure.

To put it simply the EEA EFTA States adopt some, but not all of the EUs rules and only within certain policy areas that are of ‘EEA Relevance’. But this divide is not as clear as it may seem when it comes to Norway, as cooperation can and does occur within policy fields that are outside the remit of the EEA Agreement. For instance, within the field of Justice and Home Affairs, Norway is a member of the Schengen area. Within the field of Foreign and Security Policy, Norway has entered into an agreement with the EU as regards EU civilian and military operations and has participated in EU-led operations in the Balkans and the Horn of Africa. Norway also participates in Europol, the European law enforcement organisation and has entered into an agreement based on the principles of the European Arrest Warrant. Norway has thus extended its cooperation with the EU to a number of areas where the two parties share common interests that are outside of the EEA Agreement.

Administration, legislation and the lack of co-determination

Administration of the EEA Agreement is shared between the EU and the EEA EFTA States. The European Commission carries out supervisory functions within the EU and the EFTA Surveillance Authority carries out the same role for the EEA EFTA States. This has led to the term ‘one agreement, two authorities’ which rings true insofar as it denotes the existence of separate supervisory organs. Nonetheless, both work together and must ensure uniform application of the EEA rules. The task of uniform interpretation within the EEA lies with the EFTA Court, which is responsible for interpreting the EEA Agreement with regard to the EEA EFTA States. Its role is similar to that fulfilled by the EU Court of Justice with regard to the EU Member States.

In terms of legislation, the EEA Agreement adopts the principle of ‘homogeneity’ which means that the same rules and conditions apply to all economic operators within the EEA. To this end, the EEA Agreement is continuously updated and amended to mirror the current EU internal market legislation. This importantly includes the incorporation of EU secondary legislation (notably Regulations, Directive and Decisions)

Under the EU legislative process all EU Member States will have several means to influence, shape and decide on the final text. But what about Norway – as an EEA EFTA State, would it be left without a ‘say’? Well, not exactly. Through a system known as ‘decision shaping’ Norway participates in expert groups and in the preparatory work of the Commission, providing comments on green papers that are sent to the European Parliament and Council. EEA EFTA States representatives also meet with their EU counterparts in the EEA Council to provide political oversight and guidance. An EEA Joint Parliamentary Committee provides a forum for MEPs and EEA EFTA national MPs to discuss matters of joint interest. These are all different forms of indirect influence, but a crucial detail of the EEA Agreement is that it does not give the EEA EFTA States any direct involvement in the EU legislative process or decisional powers. Essentially, although Norway may have a ‘say’ it does not have a vote.

EU legislation also does not have direct effect in Norway. Rather, EEA relevant legislation will have to be ‘incorporated’ into the EEA Agreement. The task of incorporation is performed by perhaps the most central of the ‘joint’ EU/EEA bodies: the EEA Joint Committee, which incorporates EU rules by way of decision (JCD).

The process of incorporation essentially involves a dialogue between the EEA EFTA States and EFTA institutions, on the one hand, and their EU counterparts and EU institutions on the other. Each ‘side’ of the EEA Agreement must give its consent to the contemplated JCD before it can be adopted by the EEA Joint Committee. Only once a piece of secondary legislation has been incorporated does it produce effects in Norway.

A distinguishing feature of the EEA Agreement is that the EEA EFTA States have not transferred legislative powers to the EEA Joint Committee. This implies that, on occasion, the EEA EFTA States may need to obtain the approval of their national parliament in order for the JCD to be binding. This is reflected in Article 103(1) EEA and known as a ‘constitutional requirement’ which allows for the direct involvement of the EEA EFTA States’ national parliament. Ultimately, the lack of transfer of legislative power provides the EEA EFTA States with something truly unique vis-à-vis their EU counterparts: a right of reservation. In effect, an EEA EFTA State can refuse to incorporate EU legislation that is EEA relevant. This is almost never used and the consequences are unclear. Norway has used this ability only once: in regards to the Third Postal Directive in 2011. This resulted in the EU threatening to exclude Norway from parts of the single market before the Directive was finally incorporated as part of the change of Government in Norway in 2013. Continue reading

The Quest for EU Reform after Brexit: Changes to the Role and Doctrines of the European Court of Justice

juropean-justiceProf. Peter Lindseth

“What if…?” These kinds of questions may now seem pointless in the aftermath of the victory of Leave in the EU Referendum. Instead we hear ‘What’s done is done’, ‘Leave means Leave’, ‘out is out’, etc., etc., etc.

But one question has always nagged at me ever since David Cameron brought his renegotiation deal back to the UK in February: What if it included a serious commitment to alter the role and doctrines of the European Court of Justice? Would that have tipped the balance toward the Remain side? Would we have been talking instead about a 52-48 victory for Remain? Would serious ECJ reform, both institutionally and doctrinally, have been enough to peel off the likes of Boris Johnson from the Leave camp, harnessing his energies for Remain and reform?

We will never know. But the question is still of interest, if for no other reason than the remaining Member States must now seriously consider a range of EU reforms in order to prevent further contagion of the Brexit virus. As former German Constitutional Court Judge Gertrude Lübbe-Wolff said in an interview on Verfassungsblog, ‘the shock over what has happened, and the fear of further disintegration, might produce an awakening effect. So I try to remain optimistic’. This post is in that spirit.

Continue reading

Plus ça change: the legal implications of remaining within the EU

Claire Darwin - Matrix ChambersClaire Darwin, Matrix Chambers

[This article was written on 5th February 2016, and does not reflect any legal or political developments after that date].

Whilst much legal ink has been spilt on the legal implications of the UK leaving the EU (aka Brexit), remaining a member of the EU will have legal implications too. The EU referendum, currently expected to be held on 23 June 2016, will offer the UK electorate a choice between remaining within the EU on the basis of a “new settlement” hurriedly being negotiated between the UK and the 27 other EU member states, and leaving the EU forever.

Greater clarity on the settlement proposals was finally achieved on 2 February 2016, with the publication of the draft Decision of the Heads of State or Government, meeting within the European Council, concerning a new settlement for the UK within the EU (the draft Decision). Section E specifically states that the draft Decision will only take effect if the UK decides to remain a member of the EU.

The key proposals

The Draft Decision is, according to the FT, modelled on an agreement reached at a European Council meeting in Edinburgh in December 1992 whereby it was agreed that Denmark would be granted four significant exceptions from the Maastricht Treaty. That agreement was achieved by way of a binding accord signed by all Member States which the FT describes as having ‘acted like a promissory note from EU leaders’ or ‘a form of post-dated treaty change.’

Similarly, the draft Decision will not amend the EU Treaties and there are no details of any specific draft amendments to them. However, it does promise that certain matters, such as the agreement on a “multi-speed” EU, will be incorporated into the Treaties at the time of their next revision. The recital also states that the clarifications in the draft Decision will have to be taken into consideration as being an instrument for the interpretation of the Treaties. These promises and clarifications, which will be contained within a European Council decision signed by all 28 member states, will then be binding on those member states.

Treaty change is, of course, now impossible before 23 June 2016 (the likely Referendum date), since any such change would have to be ratified by national Parliaments and, in some cases, by referendums. It is unclear when the anticipated revision of the EU Treaties will happen in practice, and it may well not happen for some years.

Sovereignty and the new “multispeed” EU

The phrase “an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”, which first appeared in the 1957 Treaty of Rome, has been restrictively interpreted in the draft Decision. The draft Decision clarifies that references in the Treaties and their preambles to ever closer union should not be interpreted as an equivalent to the objective of political integration, and that they do not offer a basis for extending the scope of any provision of the Treaties or of EU secondary legislation. Further, the phrase “should not be used either to support an extensive interpretation of the competences of the Union or of the powers of its institutions as set out in the Treaties”.

The recital recognises the existence of a “multispeed” EU, whereby different member states will have different paths of integration and those that want to deepen integration will move ahead whilst respecting the rights of other member states, such as the UK, who do not. This is further recognised in Section C, which records that the references to ever closer union in the Treaties are consistent with different member states adopting different paths of integration.

The draft Decision acknowledges that the UK does not agree that further integration is inevitable or desirable.

Competence and subsidiarity

The EU legal system is based on the principle of conferral of powers, whereby the EU is only permitted to act within the limits of the competences (or powers) that have been conferred on it by the member states (Article 5, Treaty on European Union (TEU)). The principle of subsidiarity (Article 5(3), TEU) was introduced by the Maastricht Treaty in order to prevent the EU from unduly encroaching on the role of national governments in areas of shared competence. The EU is only permitted to act if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by member states, but can be better achieved at EU level.

The draft Decision reiterates the importance of the principle of subsidiarity, and explains that its purpose is to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen

In line with its emphasis on the accountability of EU institutions and the repatriation of competences, the draft Decision includes a mechanism which gives a national Parliament 12 weeks to object to draft EU legislation on the basis that it does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity; however, a significant percentage of national Parliaments will have to object for this “red card” to come into play.

Eurozone and non-euro discrimination

The UK and other EU member states outside of the Eurozone have apparently become increasingly concerned about fair treatment by the bloc of countries that have adopted the euro. The draft Decision requires countries within the Eurozone to respect the rights and competences of those member states that are outside it. It also introduces a new form of unlawful discrimination: anti-sterling discrimination! Member states will be prohibited from discriminating based on the official currency of the member state, and any discrimination will have to be justified.

Freedom of movement

The draft Decision will not impede the ability of EU citizens to move freely between member states; however, it does contain a number of measures which are intended to discourage freedom of movement within the EU by certain groups. Such measures are intended to address concerns about so-called “benefit tourism” and marriages of convenience between EU citizens and non-EU citizens. The draft Decision recognises that it is legitimate for member states to adopt measures avoiding or limiting flows of workers, provided that the flow is of such a scale that it has negative effects for both the member states of origin and the host member states.

The Draft Decision notes that the European Commission will submit proposals to amend secondary legislation (Regulation 883/2004 on the coordination of social security systems) so that child benefits can be linked to the cost of living where the child resides.

Further, the European Commission will submit proposals to amend Regulation 492/2011 on freedom of movement for workers within the Union. The latter will be amended to introduce an ‘emergency brake’, a mechanism which would allow a Member State to restrict access to its in-work benefits if an exceptional situation as regards the inflow of workers exists. It will be for the European Commission to determine whether such an exceptional situation exists.

Finally, the Draft Decision records that Member States are able to take action to address cases of contracting or maintaining marriages of convenience with third country nationals for the purpose of making use of free movement to regularise unlawful stay in a Member State.

Interestingly, the draft Decision does not contain any proposal to limit the definition of a worker (for the purposes of Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU and secondary legislation) to workers earning more than about £13,000 a year, a proposal which according to the FT is now said to be “off the table”. Nor does it make any mention of the proposal by the UK government that new EU migrants should be banned from qualifying for in-work benefits and social housing for four years after their arrival in the UK. Continue reading

House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee inquiry into the impact on EU law of repealing the Human Rights Act

Recently, the House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee has begun an inquiry into the impact on EU law of repealing the Human Rights Act.  The Sub-Committee took evidence  last week from the Professor Steve Peers, Professor Sionaidh Douglass-Scott and Dr Tobias Lock. This week, it will continue taking evidence on the following broad issues:

  1. The protection of human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and under EU law – similarities, differences, relative strengths.
  2. How would repeal of the Human Right Act and possible withdrawal from the ECHR affect a) the UK’s formal membership of the EU, b) its relationships with other EU Member States, and c) the current renegotiation of its relationship with the EU?
  3. Would repealing the Human Right Act and possible withdrawal from the ECHR a) put the UK in conflict with EU law, and b) change how EU fundamental rights are relied on and interpreted in UK courts?
  4. The EU’s accession to the ECHR.

Those giving evidence will be our very own Aidan O’Neill QC, together with The Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC and Martin Howe QC.  For those interested, the session will be streamed live via Parliament’s website.

Events: Europe’s Justice Deficit: Debate and Book Launch and a Conference on the EU and the Rule of Law

The following events may be of interest to EUtopia readers:

A debate between Justice Giuliano Amato, Constitutional Court of Italy (Former Prime Minister of Italy) and Professor Christian Joerges (Hertie School of Government)

Is the European Union a just political and legal order? Does the EU undermine the pursuit of justice by its Member States? Have scholars and policy-makers paid sufficient attention to questions of justice in the EU context?

This debate marks the launch of Europe’s Justice Deficit (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2015), co-edited by Dimitry Kochenov, Gráinne de Búrca and Andrew Williams. The three editors and numerous contributing authors to the volume will join the conversation following the debate.

June 4, 2015, London School of Economics and Political Science; 3–6pm, room 32L.G.03 (on the South side of the Lincoln’s Inn Fields), followed by a reception.

RSVP to Sarah Lee.

Monitoring and Enforcement of the Rule of Law in the EU: Rhetoric and Reality

18th of June, London (Ashurst LLP).

The conference is co-organised by Laurent Pech, Jean Monnet Chair of EU Public Law Professor at Middlesex University and the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law.

The conference aims to bring officials, practitioners and academics together to reflect on the recent mechanisms put forward by the European Commission and the Council of the EU to more effectively uphold and safeguard the rule of law within the EU. Alternative proposals for new rule of law instruments originating from other institutions, organisations and academia will also be explored.

Further information about the programme and registration can be found here.

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.