Brexit: the Prime Minister sets the wrong course

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Steve Peers

Today’s speech by Prime Minister Theresa May gave a number of indications as to the government’s intentions as regards implementing Brexit. Overall, while the speech contained some welcome parts, it made fundamentally the wrong decision about the country’s future.

Welcome parts of the speech

The welcome parts of the speech include the argument that it ‘remains overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed’. Indeed, any ‘unravelling’ of the Union between these neighbouring states is not in the economic or security interests of the UK. Her suggestions about what the EU should do next contain much common sense – although it is doubtful that the remaining EU is very interesting in listening to the leader of a country that is intending to leave. In particularly, her complaints about too much ‘uniformity’ and not enough ‘diversity’ will strike some as bizarre – coming from a country with opt-outs on the single currency, Schengen, justice and home affairs (and previously social policy) plus a budget rebate.

The commitment to retain status for EU citizens in the UK is not new, but still welcome. It is disappointing however that there was no commitment to entrench their rights unilaterally, as recently proposed by a group of Leave and Remain supporters in a British Future report. There could be compromise ways to address this: publishing a draft Bill to this effect, or entrenching the rights in law conditional on EU reciprocity. One can only hope that the issue will be addressed at an early stage of the negotiations.

The interest in continued collaboration on research, police cooperation and foreign policy is also welcome, since the UK still has joint interests with other Member States in these fields. But it is content-free: what exactly would the UK like to participate in? How does this square with her assertion that the UK will not be involved with ‘bits’ of the EU?

Single market and customs union

The Prime Minister declared her opposition to ‘partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out.’ But there is no such thing as ‘partial’ or ‘associate’ membership of the EU. May is slaying straw dragons in her own imagination here.

She goes on to confirm her opposition to single market membership (as distinct from single market access) for the UK, for several reasons. It is striking that she makes no assertion that the UK will be better off out of the single market economically. Indeed, the IFS has estimated that the UK will lose 4% of GDP if it leaves the single market without a free trade deal, due to the loss of market access that this entails. While May goes on to say that she seeks a free trade deal, this is bound to entail less trade between the UK and the EU than single market membership, as free trade deals do not remove as many non-tariff barriers as the single market rules.

So what are her reasons? One is control of immigration – and free movement of persons is a non-negotiable condition of the EU for participation in the single market.  Here she fails to consider that the European Economic Area (EEA) treaty includes a safeguard on free movement which could be invoked in order to control it. May’s description of free movement includes overstated claims about its effect on public services, ignoring the impact of limited government funding of health and education in recent years – while she cannot bring herself to mention the overall economic benefit derived from EU migrants.

Another is budget contributions. She rules out any budget contributions except for participation in individual programmes. There is no consideration of whether the EEA option – giving money directly to poorer EU countries, with more control over the spending by the contributor – would be desirable in return for increased market access.

Next, there is the role of the ECJ. May states that single market membership ‘would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country.’ Let’s not mince words: this is not true. The EEA states are not subject to the ECJ at all, but to the separate EFTA Court. That court has less jurisdiction than the ECJ, and a large number of its rulings are not binding at all. It is only obliged to follow ECJ rulings delivered before 1991.

More broadly, May states that this ‘would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all.’ Again, this is not really true. EEA members are not subject to EU rules on agriculture, foreign policy, fisheries, justice and home affairs (except via separate treaties, in part) or trade with non-EU countries – the very issue which May devotes a large part of her speech to.

This brings me to a false dichotomy on which her speech rests: that there is some sort of choice to be made between EU membership and ‘Global Britain’. In fact, barriers to trade with non-EU countries have been coming down, both due to EU membership of the WTO and due to bilateral trade deals between the EU and non-EU countries. The share of UK trade with non-EU countries has therefore been rising – as Leavers are often quick to point out. Many other EU countries trade more that the UK does with non-EU states – as May herself pointed out last year. So it’s not EU membership that significantly holds back trade with non-EU states.

It is true that inside the EU’s customs union, the UK cannot sign its own trade deals with non-EU states. But the UK could seek to remain in the single market (like Norway) but leave the customs union. Indeed, Norway and other EEA countries have a number of their own trade agreements. In effect, this would be the best of both worlds – maintaining the maximum possible access to the EU’s internal market via means of full participation, while simultaneously having the freedom to sign additional trade deals with non-EU countries.

She also argues that both sides in the referendum made clear it was about the single market. But the single market was not on the ballot paper and was not often mentioned. When it was mentioned, some Leavers, like Dan Hannan, expressly declared that single market membership would not be affected. I recall well a common cut-and-paste statement from Leave supporters in Facebook posts beginning ‘The UK will not be leaving the EEA…’. Although David Cameron stated that leaving the EU meant leaving the single market, why should anyone be bound by his falsehood? And why should one claim made during the campaign be treated as politically binding, while others – notably those which appeared on the side of a bus – are not?

As for the customs union, May proposes a ‘have your cake and eat it’ version – a special deal simplifying border crossings, while being free to sign the UK’s separate international trade deals. Time will tell if this idea interests the EU.

A transitional deal

The Prime Minister accepts that the UK cannot switch immediately to a new arrangement, but cannot bring herself to support a transitional deal, saying ‘[i]nstead, I want us to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the 2-year Article 50 process has concluded’. Such an arrangement would then be phased in. This time frame is unlikely, given that she wants a bespoke deal, involving special arrangements on customs and comprehensive free trade.  So what happens if the Brexit Fairy does not deliver by this deadline?

The role of parliament

Early on in the speech, May states that ‘the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty is the basis of our unwritten constitutional settlement’. Unfortunately, these are empty words. A Martian reading this would assume that she had gone to court to try to ensureparliamentary involvement in the triggering of Article 50 – rather than to block it.

Furthermore, her speech comes in place of any white paper or any other public consultation on the best course to follow after Brexit. She ‘concedes’ that parliament will vote on the final deal, but this is not much of a choice – a free trade deal or nothing – unless there is an option to negotiate a different deal (not enough time) or to stay in the EU on the basis of another referendum on the exit terms (ruled out by the government).  In any event, it’s not a real concession: the Constitutional Reform and Governance Actof 2010 makes a form of parliamentary control a legal requirement in principle for most treaties. She made no commitment for a full Act of Parliament to approve the final deal – even though one is required for even minor changes to EU Treaties, and even for the approval of some EU legislation.

So May seeks credit for doing something she was anyway legally required to do. In fact, she deserves blame for previously threatening to ignore the law, and even now involving Parliament as little as possible and planning to offer it a fait accompli.

As for EU legislation converted to UK law, by the future Great Repeal Bill, she states that it will only be changed ‘after full scrutiny and proper Parliamentary debate’. This sounds nice superficially, but falls short of a commitment to use Acts of Parliament on key issues. Rather it sounds like an intention to use Statutory Instruments, which can’t usually be amended by Parliament and are rarely blocked. Without a commitment to use Acts of Parliament, her guarantee to uphold workers’ rights derived from EU law is worth rather less than she suggests; and there is no such commitment as regards environmental law.

The devolved administrations

The Prime Minister states that ‘we will put the preservation of our precious Union at the heart of everything we do’ and that she will ‘strengthen our precious Union’. However, her plan necessarily rejects the detailed suggestions of the Scottish government from December (discussed here) for the future EU/UK trade relationship.  So not only is the Scottish (and Northern Irish) public’s view on the desirability of Brexit is overridden, but also the Scottish government’s later views on how Brexit should take place are ignored. The Scottish government paper can hardly be ‘considered’ if it has already been overruled.

There’s a pledge not to weaken existing powers of devolved bodies, but there will surely be battles ahead over which level of government should exercise powers over devolved competences returned from the EU.  Conversely, there’s no suggestion of any granting any additional devolved powers, which might have been appropriate to address the obviously highly divergent views of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. There’s another pledge to maintain the Common Travel Area between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but this is content-free.

In short, there’s nothing here to ‘strengthen’ the Union at all. Its ‘preservation’ depends solely upon the continued argument that Scotland would be worse off outside the UK’s economic union – while simultaneously maintaining that the UK is better off outside the European version of the same.

Unity and Brexit

The Prime Minister declares that the referendum ‘victors have the responsibility to act magnanimously’, and the losers to accept the result. But she has not shown the slightest magnanimity in her speech today. She dismisses the arguments for staying in the single market made by those – like the Scottish government – who sought to remain in the EU but who believe that single market membership would be a reasonable compromise for a badly divided country.

More broadly, her emollient tone today cannot erase the memory of her conference speech in October – full of sneering references to ‘citizens of the world’ and the dreaded ‘liberal elites’ (cue the Star Wars Imperial March music). It’s a strange world in which Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson – graduate of Eton and Balliol College – dismisses people like me – the grandson of a miner, the son and stepson of factory workers – as part of the ‘elite’.

Still less can her speech erase the memory of her Lord Chancellor failing in her statutory duty to defend the independence of the judiciary from screeching headlines about the ‘Enemies of the People’. And if she really believed in magnanimity in concrete terms, she could have announced a unilateral decision to let EU citizens stay in the UK.

Conclusion

Some of the Prime Minister’s speech is valuable – setting the right overall tone on relations with the EU, implicitly rejecting the more harmful ‘WTO-only’ option, and eschewing (hopefully genuinely) future derision of the 48% who took a different point of view in the referendum. But ultimately she has made the wrong decision on single market participation, putting politics ahead of the country’s economic interests. And key parts of the speech are vague, incorrect, misleading, hypocritical or fantasist. Perhaps we were better off with ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

TELE2 SVERIGE AB AND WATSON ET AL: CONTINUITY AND …RADICAL CHANGE

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EUROPEAN LAW BLOG  (JANUARY 12, 2017)
By Orla Lynskey

 

Introduction

The CJEU delivered its judgment in Tele2 Sverige AB and Watson on 21 December 2016. The Court had been asked by a Swedish and British court respectively to consider the scope and effect of its previous judgment in Digital Rights Ireland (discussed here). The judgment reflects continuity in so far as it follows in the line of this, and earlier judgments taking a strong stance on data protection and privacy. Yet, the degree of protection it offers these rights over competing interests, notably security, is radical. In particular, the Court unequivocally states that legislation providing for general and indiscriminate data retention is incompatible with the E-Privacy Directive, as read in light of the relevant EU Charter rights. While the judgment was delivered in the context of the E-Privacy Directive, the Court’s reasoning could equally apply to other EU secondary legislation or programmes interpreted in light of the Charter. This judgment will be a game-changer for state surveillance in Europe and while it offered an early Christmas gift to privacy campaigners, it is likely to receive a very mixed reaction from EU Member States as such. While national data retention legislation has been annulled across multiple Member States (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Germany and Romania), this annulment has been based on an assessment of the proportionality of the relevant measures rather than on a finding that blanket retention is per se unlawful. For those familiar with the facts and findings, skip straight to the comment below.

Facts

The preliminary ruling stems from two Article 267 TFEU references regarding the interpretation of the Court’s judgment in Digital Rights Ireland (henceforth DRI). The first, Tele2 Sverige AB, was a Swedish reference resulting from the refusal by Tele2 Sverige (a Swedish electronic communications provider) to continue to retain electronic communications data following the finding in DRI that the Data Retention Directive was invalid. A dispute regarding the interpretation of DRI ensued and the Swedish Justice Minister commissioned a report to assess the compatibility of Swedish law with EU law and the ECHR. This report concluded that DRI could not be interpreted as prohibiting general and indiscriminate data retention as a matter of principle, or as establishing criteria – all of which must be fulfilled – in order for legislation to be deemed proportionate. Rather, it held that it was necessary to conduct an assessment of all the circumstances in order to determine the compatibility of Swedish legislation with EU law. Tele2 Sverige maintained that the report was based on a misinterpretation of DRI. Given these differing perspectives, the referring court asked the Court to give ‘an unequivocal ruling on whether…the general and indiscriminate retention of electronic communications data is per se incompatible with Articles 7 and 8 and 52(1) of the Charter’ [50].

The second preliminary reference (Watson) arose before the Court of Appeal in the context of applications for judicial review of the UK’s Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) on the grounds that this Act was incompatible with the EU Charter and the ECHR. It was disputed before the national court whether DRI laid down ‘mandatory requirements of EU law’ that national legislation for communications data retention and access must respect. The domestic referring court suggested that it was appropriate to distinguish between legislation governing retention, and legislation governing access. DRI was confined to an assessment of the former as it assessed the validity of the Data Retention Directive, which excluded provisions relating to data access. The latter, provisions on data access, must be subject to a distinct validity assessment in light of their differing context and objectives, according to the referring court. The Court of Appeal did not however deem the answer to this question obvious, given that six courts in other EU Member States had declared national legislation to be invalid on the basis of DRI. It therefore asked the Court to consider whether, firstly, DRI lays down mandatory requirements of EU law that would apply to the regime governing access to retained data at national level. It also asked whether DRI expands the scope of the Charter rights to data protection and privacy beyond the scope of Article 8 ECHR. The Watson reference was dealt with pursuant to the expedited procedure provided for in Article 105(1) of the Court’s Rules of Procedure and joined to the Tele2 Sverige reference for oral arguments and judgment.

Findings of the Court

The Scope of the E-Privacy Directive

The Court examined, as a preliminary point, whether national legislation on retention and access to data fell within the scope of the E-Privacy Directive. Article 15(1) of that Directive provides for restrictions to certain rights it provides for when necessary for purposes such as national security and the prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offences. Article 15(1) also allows for the adoption of data retention legislation by Member States. However, Article 1(3) of that Directive states that the Directive will not apply to, amongst others, ‘activities concerning public security, defence, State security (…) and the activities of the State in areas of criminal law’. There is thus an apparent internal inconsistency within the Directive.

To guide its findings, the Court had regard to the general structure of the Directive. While the Court acknowledged that the objectives pursued by Articles 1(3) and 15(1) overlap substantially, it held that Article 15(1) of the Directive would be deprived of any purpose if the legislative measures it permits were excluded from the scope of the Directive on the basis of Article 1(3) [73]. Indeed, it held that Article 15(1) ‘necessarily presupposes’ that the national measures referred to therein fall within the scope of that directive ‘since it expressly authorizes the Member States to adopt them only if the conditions laid down in the directive are met’. [73]. In order to support this finding, the Court suggests that the legislative measures provided for in Article 15(1) apply to providers of electronic communications services [74] and extend to measures requiring data retention [75] and access to retained data by national authorities [76]. It justifies this final claim – that the E-Privacy Directive includes data access legislation – on the (weak) grounds that recital 21 of the directive stipulates that the directive’s aim is to protect confidentiality by preventing unauthorised access to communications, including ‘any data related to such communications’ [77]. The Court emphasises that provisions on data access must fall within the scope of the Directive as data is only retained for the purpose of access to it by competent national authorities and thus national data retention legislation ‘necessarily entails, in principle, the existence of provisions relating to access by the competent national authorities to the data retained’ [79]. The Court also noted that the Directive requires providers to establish internal procedures for responding to requests for access based on the relevant provisions of national law [80].

The compatibility of ‘general and indiscriminate’ data retention with EU law

The Court then moved on to consider the most important substantive point in the judgment: the compatibility of ‘general and indiscriminate’ data retention with the relevant provisions of EU law. It began by recalling that the E-Privacy Directive’s overarching aim is to offer users of electronic communications services protection against the risks to fundamental rights brought about by technological advances [83]. It emphasised, in particular, the general principle of confidentiality of communications in Article 5(1) of the Directive and the related safeguards for traffic data and location data (in Articles 6 and 9 respectively), [85-87]. While the Court acknowledged that Article 15(1) of the Directive allows for exceptions to these principles by restricting their scope, it held that this provision must be interpreted strictly. It clearly stated that Article 15(1) cannot permit the exception to the Directive’s confidentiality obligation to become the rule, as this would render the confidentiality obligation meaningless [89].

The Court also emphasised that according to Article 15(1)’s wording it must be interpreted in light of general principles of EU law, thus including the fundamental rights in the EU Charter [91]. The Court noted, with reference to its previous case-law, the importance of the fundamental rights engaged in the current context, namely the right to privacy (Article 7), the right to data protection (Article 8) and the right to freedom of expression (Article 11) ([92]-[93]). The limitations on the exercise of these Charter rights are echoed in the E-Privacy Directive, recital 11 of which states that measures derogating from its principles must be ‘strictly’ proportionate to the intended purpose, while Article 15(1) itself specifies that data retention should be ‘justified’ by reference to one of the  objectives stated in Article 15(1) and be for a ‘limited period’ [95]. In considering whether national legislation complies with these requirements of strict necessity, the Court observed that ‘the legislation provides for a general and indiscriminate retention of all traffic and location data of all subscribers and registered users relating to all means of electronic communication’ and that the retention obligation on providers is ‘to retain the data systematically and continuously, with no exceptions’ [97].

Having established the scope of the retention obligation, the Court emphasised the revealing nature of this data and recalled its finding in DRI that the data ‘taken as a whole, is liable to allow very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of the persons whose data has been retained’ [98]. The Court also stated that the data provides the means of profiling the individual concerned and – importantly – that the information is ‘no less sensitive having regard to the right to privacy, than the actual content of the communications’ [99]. The Court held that general and indiscriminate data retention legislation entailed a particularly serious interference with the rights to privacy and data protection and that the user concerned is, as a result, likely to feel that their private lives are the subject of constant surveillance [100]. It could also, according to the Court, affect the use of means of electronic communication and thus the exercise by users of their freedom of expression [101]. The Court therefore held that only the objective of fighting serious crime could justify national data retention legislation [102].

While the Court acknowledged that the fight against serious crime may depend on modern investigative techniques for its effectiveness, this objective cannot in itself justify the finding that general and indiscriminate data retention legislation is necessary for this fight against crime [103]. It noted in particular that such legislation applies to persons for whom ‘there is no evidence capable of suggesting that their conduct might have a link, even an indirect or remote one, with serious criminal offences’ and that no exception is made for those whose communications are subject to professional secrecy [106]. As a result of these failings, the Court held that the national legislation exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered justified under Article 15(1), read in light of the Charter [107].

The Court did not go so far as to deem all data retention unlawful however. It highlighted that Article 15(1) does not prevent a Member State from introducing legislation that would facilitate targeted retention of traffic and location data for the preventive purpose of fighting serious crime. Such legislation must however be limited to what is strictly necessary in terms of the categories of data retained; the means of communication affected, the persons and the period of time concerned [108]. In particular, such legislation should indicate ‘in what circumstances and under which conditions’ a data retention measure could be adopted as a preventive measure [109]. The Court also emphasised that while the precise contours may vary, data retention should meet objective criteria that establish a connection between the data to be retained and the objective pursued [110]. The national legislation must therefore be evidence-based: this objective evidence should make it possible to ‘identify a public whose data is likely to reveal a link, at least an indirect one, with serious criminal offences’ [111].

Mandatory Requirements of DRI?

Having established the incompatibility of generalised data retention legislation with EU law, the Court then went on to consider whether EU law precludes national data retention and access legislation if that legislation:

  • does not restrict access solely to the objective of fighting serious crime;
  • does not require access to be subject to prior review by a court or independent body
  • and, if it does not require that the data should be retained within the EU [114].

The Court reiterated an early finding that access to retained data must be for one of the exhaustive objectives identified in Article 15(1) of the E-Privacy Directive, and that only the objective of fighting serious crime would justify access to retained data [115]. Such legislation must also set out clear and precise rules indicating when and how competent national authorities should be granted access to such data [117]. The Court also held that national legislation must set out the substantive and procedural conditions governing access based on objective criteria [118-119]. Such access can, ‘as a general rule’ be granted only ‘to the data of individuals suspected of planning, committing or having committed a serious crime or of being implicated in one way or another in such a crime’ [119]. Access to the data of others might exceptionally be granted where, for instance, vital national interests are threatened by terrorist activities, if there is objective evidence to reflect the effective contribution access to such data could make [119]. As a result, access to retained data should, with the exception of cases of validly established urgency, be subject to a prior review by a court or an independent administrative authority at the request of the competent national authorities [120]. These competent national authorities must also notify the persons affected by the data access, under the applicable national procedures, as soon as such notification no longer jeopardises the investigations. The Court highlighted that such notice is necessary to enable these individuals to exercise their right to a legal remedy pursuant to the Directive and EU data protection law [121].

On the issue of data security, the Court held that Article 15(1) does not allow Member States to derogate from the Directive’s data security provisions, which require providers to take appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure the effective protection of retained data. The Court held that a particularly high level of data security was appropriate given the quantity and nature of the data retained and the riskiness of this operation. It therefore held that the national legislation must provide for the data to be retained within the EU, and for the irreversible destruction of the data at the end of the data retention period [122]. Member States must also ensure that an independent authority reviews compliance with EU law, as such independent control of data protection compliance is an essential element of the right to data protection set out in Article 8(3) Charter. The Court emphasised the link between such independent supervision and the availability of a legal remedy for data subjects [123]. The Court therefore concluded that national legislation that did not comply with these conditions would be precluded pursuant to Article 15(1) as read in light of the Charter [125]. However, it was for the relevant national courts to examine whether such conditions were satisfied in the present case [124].

Finally, in relation to the UK Court of Appeal’s query regarding the relationship between the EU Charter rights to data protection and privacy and Article 8 ECHR, the Court held that the answer to this question would not affect the interpretation of the E-Privacy Directive and thus matter in these proceedings [131]. It recalled its settled case-law that the preliminary reference procedure serves the purpose of effectively resolving EU law disputes rather than providing advisory opinions or answering hypothetical questions [130]. This did not however prevent it from offering a sneak preview of its thinking on this matter. It emphasised that, while the EU has not acceded to the ECHR, the ECHR does not constitute a formally incorporated element of EU law. It did however note that Article 52(3) seeks to ensure consistency between the Charter and the ECHR without adversely affecting the autonomy of EU law. EU law is not therefore precluded from providing more extensive protection than the ECHR. The Court added that Article 8 of the Charter concerns a fundamental right which is distinct from that enshrined in Article 7 and which has no equivalent in the ECHR. Therefore, while the Court did not answer the question of which offered a wider scope of protection, it did confirm the distinctiveness of these two rights.

Comment

The Tele2 judgment represents a rupture with the past in one very significant way: the Court, for the first time, unequivocally states that blanket data retention measures are incompatible with EU law, read in light of the Charter. This radical finding is likely to receive a mixed reaction. For instance, in the UK some will lament that this judgment comes too late to have influenced the passage into law of the UK’s new data retention legislation, the Investigatory Powers Act, 2016. This legislation – which allows for bulk interception and hacking, amongst other things – should now be found to be incompatible with EU law, with all of the post-Brexit implications for ‘adequacy’ this may entail (also here). Others, such as the UK’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation – David Anderson QC – have expressed regret. Anderson QC suggests that:

‘Precisely because suspects are often not known in advance, data retention which is not universal in its scope is bound to be less effective as a crime reduction measure.  In addition, a person whose data has not been retained cannot be exonerated by use of that data (e.g. by using location data to show that the person was elsewhere).’

The Advocate General (here; and commentary here) had similarly noted that data retention could help competent authorities ‘examine the past’ [AG, 178]. He had refused to declare general retention measures per se unlawful, preferring instead to assess the compatibility of data retention legislation against strict proportionality requirements [AG, 116]. His approach could therefore be said to be more nuanced and systematic than that of the Court. While examining proportionality stricto sensu he concluded that it would be for national courts to weigh the benefit of ‘examining the past’ with the potential it would provide for authorities to abuse this power by using metadata to catalogue entire populations, noting that evidence of abuses had been put before the Court [AG, 259-260]. This evidence before the Court might help to refute the critique that the Court should have focused on the actual harm of communications metadata retention ‘and sought to avoid assertions based on theory or informal predictions of popular feeling’.

Blanket retention was not the only important point on which the Court and the Advocate General departed. The Advocate General explicitly claimed that DRI set out mandatory requirements [AG, 221] while the Court did not. The Advocate General was also more stringent than the Court by requiring that data is retained in the relevant Member State [AG, 241] while the Court opted for the marginally more realistic requirement that data is retained in the EU. The Advocate General did not, however, consider Article 15(1) a derogation to the E-Privacy Directive (and therefore not a provision that required strict interpretation). The Court did not however engage with his elaborate reasoning on this point [AG, 106-115]. The Court did however confirm that competent national authorities must notify persons affected by data access as soon as such notification no longer jeopardises the investigation [121]. This significant procedural right is likely to play an important role in acting as a check on abusive access requests.

Perhaps the only fly in the ointment for the digital rights groups that intervened before the Court is the Court’s seemingly uncritical endorsement of geographic and group profiling. It does this when it emphasises that there should be relationship between the data retained and the threat, for instance when the data pertains to a ‘geographic area’ [108]. The ethical and social issues such profiling may entail would require further consideration. The Court appears to recognise this by suggesting that such profiling would need to be strictly evidence-based ([111]). Should generalised retention measures be replaced by ad hoc location-based retention measures, the legality of the latter would itself be the subject of much controversy.

Verfassungsblog :The Hungarian Constitutional Court and Constitutional Identity

 ORIGINAL PUBLISHED HERE

by 

  1. Independently from this procedure, the Hungarian government, right after its Slovakian counterparts’ submission also challenged the quota decision before the European Court of Justice. This procedure is still pending, but the ECJ in its decision won’t take into account neither the text of the Hungarian constitution, nor the domestically binding interpretation of it by the Constitutional Court.
  2. Case C-208/09, Sayn-Wittgenstein, para 86.
  3. See for instance Case C-135/08, Janko Rottmann (2009) OJ C 113, 1.5.2010.
  4. See these matters mentioned in P. Faraguna, ’Taking Constitutional Identities Away from the Courts’, Brook. J. Int’l L. Vol. 41:2. 2016. 491, at 506-508.
  5. In May 2015, a few days after many hundreds of refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean Viktor Orbán announced that ‘We need no refugees’.
  6.  Some critics of the historical constitution even raise the possibility that the Court might consider the Hungarian Jewish laws, first of such acts in Europe outside of Germany, as part of it.
  7.  See I. Császár, B. Majtényi, ’Hungary: The Historic Constitution as the Place of Memory’, M. Suksi, K. Agapiou-Josephides, J-P. Lehners, M. Nowak (eds.) First Fundamental Rights Documents in Europe, Cambridge: Intersentia, 2015. 57-69.

 

Threat to Human Rights? The new e-Privacy Regulation and some thoughts on Tele2 and Watson

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Matthew White, Ph.D candidate, Sheffield Hallam University

Introduction

In a follow-up to last Christmas’s post, on 10 January 2017, the European Commission released the official version of the proposed Regulation on Privacy and Electronic Communications (e-Privacy Regs). Just as the last post concerned the particular aspect of data retention, this post will too.

Just as the former leaked version maintained, the proposal does not include any specific provisions in the field of data retention (para 1.3). This paragraph continues that Member States are free to keep or create national data retention laws, provided that they are ‘targeted’ and that they comply with European Union (EU) taking into account the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and its interpretation of the e-Privacy Directive and the Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR). Regarding the CJEU’s interpretation, the proposals specifically refers to Joined Cases C-293/12 and C-594/12 Digital Rights Ireland and Seitlinger and Others, and Joined Cases C-203/15 and C-698/15 Tele2 Sverige AB and Secretary of State for the Home Department. Aspects of the latter case is the focus of this post; the case itself has been thoroughly discussed by Professor Lorna Woods.

So, when is the essence of the right adversely affected?

Before discussing certain aspects of Tele2 and Watson, it is first important to draw attention to the provision which enables data retention in the new e-Privacy Regs. Article 11 allows the EU or its Member States to restrict the rights contained in Articles 5-8 (confidentiality of communications, permissions on processing, storage and erasure of electronic communications data and protection of information stored in and related to end-users’ terminal equipment). From Article 11, it is clear that this can include data retention obligations, so long as they respect the essence of the right and are necessary, appropriate and proportionate. In Tele2 and Watson the CJEU noted that any limitation of rights recognised by the CFR must respect the essence of said rights [94]. The CJEU accepted the Advocate General (AG)’s Opinion that data retention creates an equally serious interference as interception and that the risks associated with the access to communications maybe greater than access to the content of communications [99]. Yet the CJEU were reluctant to hold that data retention (and access to) adversely affects the essence of those rights [101]. This appears to highlight a problem in the CJEU’s reasoning, if the CJEU, like the AG accept that retention of and access to communications data is at least on par with access to the content, it makes little sense to then be reluctant to hold that data retention adversely affects the essence of those rights. The CJEU does so without making any distinction or reasoning for this differential treatment, and thus serves to highlight that perhaps the CJEU themselves do not fully respect the essence of those rights in the context of data retention.

The CJEU’s answer seems only limited catch all powers

The thrust of the CJEU’s judgment in Tele2 and Watson was that general and indiscriminate data retention obligations are prohibited at an EU level. But as I have highlighted previously, the CJEU’s answer was only in response to a very broad question from Sweden, which asked was:

[A] general obligation to retain traffic data covering all persons, all means of electronic communication and all traffic data without any distinctions, limitations or exceptions for the purpose of combating crime…compatible with [EU law]?

Therefore, provided that national laws do not provide for the capturing of all data of all subscribers and users for all services in one fell swoop, this may be argued to be compatible with EU law. Both the e-Privacy Regs and the CJEU refer to ‘targeted’ retention [108, 113]. The CJEU gave an example of geographical criterions for retention in which David Anderson Q.C. asks whether the CJEU meant that ‘it could be acceptable to perform “general and indiscriminate retention” of data generated by persons living in a particular town, or housing estate, whereas it would not be acceptable to retain the data of persons living elsewhere? This is entirely possible given the reference from Sweden and the answer from the CJEU. In essence the CJEU have permitted discriminatory general and indiscriminate data retention which would in any event respect the essence of those rights.

Data retention is our cake, and only we can eat it

A final point on Tele2 and Watson was that the CJEU held that national laws on data retention are within the scope of EU law [81]. This by itself may not raise any concerns about protecting fundamental rights, but it is what the CJEU rules later on in the judgment that may be of concern. The CJEU held that the interpretation of the e-Privacy Directive (and therefore national Member State data retention laws) “must be undertaken solely in the light of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Charter” [128]. The CJEU has seemingly given itself exclusive competence to determine how rights are best protected in the field of data retention. It is clear from the subsequent paragraph that the CJEU seeks to protect the autonomy of EU law above anything else, even fundamental rights [129]. This is despite the ECHR forming general principles of EU law and is mentioned in Article 15(1) (refers Article 6(3) of the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) specifically referring to the ECHR as such). Article 11 of the e-Privacy Regs refers to restrictions respecting the ‘essence of fundamental rights and freedoms’ and only time will tell whether the CJEU would interpret this as only referring to the CFR. Recital 27 of the e-Privacy Regs just like Recital 10 and 30 of the e-Privacy Directive refers to compliance with the ECHR, but as highlighted previously, Recitals are not legally binding.

Is the CJEU assuming too much?

A further concern, is that had the European Commission added general principles of EU law into Article 11, the CJEU may simply have ignored it, just as it has done in Tele2 and Watson. The problem with the CJEU’s approach is that it assumes that this judgment offers an adequate protection of human rights in this context. The ECHR has always been the minimum floor, but it appears the CJEU wants the CFR to be the ceiling whether it be national human rights protection, or protection guaranteed by the ECHR. What if that ceiling is lower than the floor? The AG in Tele2 and Watson stressed that the CFR must never be inferior to the ECHR [141]. But I have argued before, the EU jurisprudence on data retention is just that, offering inferior protection to the ECHR, and the qualification by the CJEU in Tele2 and Watson does not alter this. This position is strengthened by Judge Pinto De Albuquerque in his concurring opinion in the European Court of Human Rights judgment in Szabo. He believed that:

[M]andatory third-party data retention, whereby Governments require telephone companies and Internet service providers to store metadata about their customers’ communications and location for subsequent law-enforcement and intelligence agency access, appeared neither necessary nor proportionate [6].

Of course, Judge Pinto De Albuquerque could have been referring to the type of third party data retention which requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to intercept data from Over The Top (OTT) services, but his description is more in line with data retention of services’ own users and subscribers.

Conclusions

Although the CJEU has prohibited general indiscriminate data retention, the CJEU does not seem to have prevented targeted indiscriminate data retention. If the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) were to ever rule on data retention and follow its jurisprudence and the opinion of Judge Pinto De Albuquerque, this may put EU law in violation of the ECHR. This would ultimately put Member States in a damned if they do, damned if they do not situation, comply with the ECHR, and violate EU law autonomy; comply with EU law and violate the ECHR. When the minimum standards of human rights protection in this context are not adhered to, because of EU law, the ECHR should prevail. As anything less is a threat to human rights, meaning that the (even if well intentioned) CJEU can also be.

Expulsion of seriously ill migrants: a new ECtHR ruling reshapes ECHR and EU law

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Dr Lourdes Peroni*, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Ghent University Human Rights Centre (ECHR aspects) and Professor Steve Peers (EU law aspects)

In what is possibly one of the most important judgments of 2016, Paposhvili v. Belgium, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has memorably reshaped its case law on when Article 3 ECHR (which bans torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment) applies to the expulsion of seriously ill migrants. In a unanimous judgment, the Court leaves behind the restrictive application of the high Article 3 threshold set in N. v. the United Kingdom and pushes for a more rigorous assessment of the risk of ill-treatment in these cases. For us at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, it was a thrill to intervene as a third party in such an important case. In our third party intervention we submitted that Paposhvili offered a unique opportunity to depart from the excessively restrictive approach adopted in N. We are delighted that the Grand Chamber has seized the opportunity to re-draw the standards in this area of its case law in a way that does fuller justice to the spirit of Article 3.

This main part of the post addresses the ECtHR’s interpretation of the ECHR in Paposhvili, while in the Annex to this post, Steve Peers considers its application within the scope of EU law.

The ECHR judgment

Mr. Paposhvili, a Georgian national living in Belgium, was seriously ill. He claimed that his expulsion to Georgia would put him at risk of inhuman treatment and an earlier death due to the withdrawal of the treatment he had been receiving in Belgium (for more on the facts, see my previous post). He died in Belgium last June, while his case was pending before the Grand Chamber. The Court did not strike his application out of the list. It found that “special circumstances relating to respect for human rights” required its continued examination based on Article 37 § 1 in fine ECHR (§ 133). The Court held that there would have been a violation of Article 3 if Belgium had expelled Mr. Paposhvili to Georgia without having assessed “the risk faced by him in the light of the information concerning his state of health and the existence of appropriate treatment in Georgia.” It found a similar violation of Article 8 if Belgium had expelled him without having assessed the impact of his return on his “right to respect for his family life in view of his state of health.”

Opening Up “Other Very Exceptional Cases”

The Chamber judgment in Paposhvili followed N. and Yoh-Ekale Mwanje v. Belgium where the Court had taken into account that “the applicants’ condition had been stable as a result of the treatment they had been receiving, that they were not ‘critically ill’ and that they were fit to travel” (§ 119). The Chamber thus concluded that though Mr. Paposhvili suffered from “a fatal and incurable disease … his conditions are all stable and under control at present; his life is therefore not in imminent danger and he is able to travel” (§ 120).

As readers might remember, the N. Grand Chamber established that removing a non-national suffering from a serious illness to “a country where the facilities for the treatment of that illness are inferior to those available in the Contracting State may raise an issue under Article 3, but only in a very exceptional case” (§ 42). The Grand Chamber concluded that the applicant’s circumstances in N. were not exceptional, as found in D. v. United Kingdom (§ 42). D was critically ill, close to death, and had no prospect of medical care and family support in his home country. The N. Grand Chamber, however, left a window open: it did not exclude that “there may be other very exceptional cases where the humanitarian considerations are equally compelling” (§ 43, emphasis added).

In our third party intervention, we argued that being medically stable and fit to travel as a result of the treatment received should not be a determining criterion in allowing an expulsion. We respectfully invited the Court to develop a less extreme approach, one that considered the difference between applicants’ suffering in the sending state and the suffering they would face in the receiving state. The aim, we submitted, should be to determine whether the reduction of applicants’ life expectancy and the deterioration of their quality of life would be such as to reach the level of severity required by Article 3. The applicant argued that his expulsion to Georgia would place him at risk of “a severe and rapid deterioration in his state of health leading to his swift and certain death” (§ 148). He asked the Court “to go beyond its findings in N. v. the United Kingdom” and to define “a realistic threshold of severity that was no longer confined to securing a ‘right to die with dignity’” (§ 149).

The Paposhvili Grand Chamber enters through the window N. left open. It notes that since N. no other “very exceptional cases” had been found (§ 178). It importantly recognizes that the application of Article 3 only to persons close to death has deprived those whose condition was less critical but who were still seriously ill from “the benefit of that provision” (§ 181). In a pivotal paragraph, the Grand Chamber considers

… that the “other very exceptional cases” within the meaning of the judgment in N. v. the United Kingdom (§ 43) which may raise an issue under Article 3 should be understood to refer to situations involving the removal of a seriously ill person in which substantial grounds have been shown for believing that he or she, although not at imminent risk of dying, would face a real risk, on account of the absence of appropriate treatment in the receiving country or the lack of access to such treatment, of being exposed to a serious, rapid and irreversible decline in his or her state of health resulting in intense suffering or to a significant reduction in life expectancy. The Court points out that these situations correspond to a high threshold for the application of Article 3 of the Convention in cases concerning the removal of aliens suffering from serious illness (§ 183). Emphasis added.

This is a graceful move that softens the unduly restrictive approach that had so far been followed in cases concerning the expulsion of seriously ill migrants. Paposhvili thus comes to fill what Judge Lemmens calls a “gap in the protection against inhuman treatment” (concurring opinion in Paposhvili § 3) by including as exceptional more than just cases of imminent death. My first impression is that the Court does not formally leave behind N.’s exceptional character and the high threshold of Article 3 in cases concerning the expulsion of seriously ill non-nationals (see last sentence § 183 and Judge Lemmens’ opinion § 3). Rather, it appears to open up what in practice has resulted in a limited application of the high threshold. The commendable effect of the Court’s move is, in any event, a less extreme approach more compatible with the spirit of Article 3. Elements of both our third party intervention and the applicant’s arguments are reflected positively in the Grand Chamber reasoning in this regard.

Real Rather Than Theoretical Access to “Sufficient” and “Appropriate” Care

In our third party intervention we proposed that the risk assessment should consider the adequacy of the medical care available in the receiving state and the person’s actual access to such care. The question, we argued, is not just whether adequate treatment is generally available but, crucially, whether the available treatment would in reality be accessible to the person concerned. The applicant argued that the alleged Article 3 violation should be examined “in concreto,” taking into consideration, among other things, “the accessibility of treatment in the country of destination” (§ 139).

The Grand Chamber seizes the occasion to meticulously set out a range of procedural duties for the domestic authorities in the ECHR state parties. All these duties point in one clear direction: a more rigorous assessment of the risk as required by the absolute nature of the Article 3 prohibition (Saadi v. Italy § 128). In assessing the alleged risk of ill-treatment, the domestic authorities should verify whether the care available in the receiving state is “sufficient and appropriate in practice for the treatment of the applicant’s illness so as to prevent him or her being exposed to treatment contrary to Article 3” (§ 189, emphasis added). The domestic authorities should also consider “the extent to which the individual in question will actually have access to this care and these facilities in the receiving State” (§ 190, emphasis added). Referring to existing case law, the Court points to several factors to be taken into account: “cost of medication and treatment, the existence of a social and family network, and the distance to be travelled in order to have access to the required care” (§ 190).

Duty to Obtain Assurances from the Receiving State

With reference to Tarakhel (a 2014 ECtHR ruling on the application of the EU’s Dublin rules on allocation of asylum responsibility), our third party intervention proposed that Article 3 impose on the domestic authorities in the returning state the procedural duty to seek or obtain assurances from the receiving state that the person concerned would actually have access to the treatment s/he needed. We argued that access to appropriate medical care should not be a theoretical option, but a real and guaranteed one, and the burden of proving that such a real option exists should lie on the expelling state (on assurances and the benefits of adopting this path, see Eva Brems’ commentary on Tatar v. Switzerland).

On this point, the Grand Chamber states in paragraph 191:

Where, after the relevant information has been examined, serious doubts persist regarding the impact of removal on the persons concerned – on account of the general situation in the receiving country and/or their individual situation – the returning State must obtain individual and sufficient assurances from the receiving State, as a precondition for removal, that appropriate treatment will be available and accessible to the persons concerned so that they do not find themselves in a situation contrary to Article 3 (on the subject of individual assurances, see Tarakhel, cited above, § 120).

Conclusion

There is so much more to say about the Court’s reasoning in Paposhvili. I have highlighted some of its most remarkable Article 3 principles. Together with others, such as the one establishing when the responsibility of the returning state is engaged (§ 192), these principles firmly move a body of the Court’s case law closer to its principles on the absolute nature of the Article 3 prohibition.

*This part of the post is reblogged  from the Strasbourg Observers blog

Annex: the impact on EU law

By Professor Steve Peers

How does this judgment impact upon EU law?

First of all, it’s necessary to explain the existing EU law position, set in the Abdida and M’Bodj judgments of the ECJ, which was referred to in the ECtHR judgment (paras 120-22), and which I discussed further here. In short, ‘medical cases’ are not within the scope of EU asylum law, either as regards refugee status or subsidiary protection (M’Bodj). However, if the person concerned faces an expulsion order, then the Returns Directive applies. (Note that the latter Directive doesn’t apply to the UK, Ireland or Denmark.)

Although the Returns Directive was mainly intended to ensure removal of irregular migrants from the territory, in ‘medical cases’ (at least), as interpreted by the ECJ in Abdida, it has the opposite effect. According to the Court, the requirement in Article 5 of the Directive to ‘respect the principle of’ non-refoulement means that irregular migrants who fall outside the scope of EU asylum law but nevertheless face an Article 3 ECHR risk, as defined in the case law of the ECtHR, cannot be removed. Moreover, in further displays of legal alchemy, the ECJ ruled that the challenge to their removal must have suspensive effect, and they must receive the necessary health care and social benefits.

The ECJ has not developed this case law since, although further relevant cases are pending. In MP, the Court has been asked to clarify the line between asylum cases and medical cases, where the medical conditions are more directly linked to persecution or serious harm suffered in the country of origin. In Gnandi, it has been asked to clarify the suspensive effect of a legal challenge in medical cases, following a failed asylum application. In K.A. and others, the Court has been asked about the requirement to ‘take due account’ of family life in Article 5 of the Returns Directive; its ultimate ruling might be relevant to the ‘non-refoulement’ aspect of the same clause by analogy. Equally in Nianga the Court has been asked whether Article 5 applies to the decision to issue a return decision or removal order in the first place: a crucial point because if it does not apply, the person concerned might well fall outside the scope of EU law entirely.

What impact will the new ECtHR ruling have on the interpretation of EU law? First of all, there’s nothing to suggest it will, by itself, move the dividing line between asylum cases and medical cases, as applied by the ECJ. So we are still looking at the interpretation of the Returns Directive, if that Directive applies.

Since the ECJ committed itself to follow the case-law of the ECtHR as regards medical cases when interpreting the non-refoulement provision of the Returns Directive, it should follow that the new ECtHR ruling applies to the Directive too. Therefore this enlarges the group of people who can benefit from the specific provisions of EU law as interpreted by the ECJ, as regards suspensive effect of appeals and access to health care and social benefits.

Equally the ECtHR’s strong stress on the procedural elements of such cases logically applies by analogy to cases falling within the scope of the Returns Directive. While the ECJ in the Abdida judgment did not refer to its own jurisprudence on the right to a hearing for irregular migrants (discussed here), it is now necessary to update that approach in light of the ECtHR ruling, given the strong link which the latter judgment establishes between the procedural and substantive aspects of what I have referred to as ‘alternative protection’. The ECJ will have an opportunity to address this issue in the months to come, in the pending cases referred to above.

While the ECtHR judgment referred to a need to cooperate with the country of origin in order to check conditions there, in the EU context this might arguably in some cases entail by analogy a check on health conditions in another Member State, which would be responsible for that person under the Dublin rules. The ECJ has yet to determine how its interpretation of the Returns Directive in medical cases fits together with the application of the Dublin rules, which in principle apply if the person concerned has at one point applied for international protection (refugee status or subsidiary protection) within the EU. (Mr. Paposhvili was originally subject to the Dublin rules, but it seems that the plan to remove him to Italy pursuant to those rules petered out).

Finally, it should be noted that the ECtHR also found a breach of Article 8 ECHR (the right to family life), on similar procedural grounds. This might be relevant to interpretation of the EU’s family reunion Directive, for those who fall within the scope of that Directive and who argue on the basis of the factors to consider during expulsion proceedings pursuant to Articles 17 and 18 of that law.

THE POWER TO CONCLUDE THE EU’S NEW GENERATION OF FTA’S: AG SHARPSTON IN OPINION 2/15

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EUROPEAN LAW BLOG 

By Laurens Ankersmit

To say that the EU’s new generation of trade agreements (such as CETA and TTIP) is politically controversial is becoming somewhat of an understatement. These free trade agreements (FTA), going beyond mere tariff reduction and facilitating hyperglobalization, have faced widespread criticism from civil society, trade unions, and academics. It may come as no surprise therefore that the legal issue over who is competent to conclude such agreements (the EU alone, or the EU together with the Member States) has received considerable public attention, ensuring that the Advocate General Sharpston’s response to the Commission’s request for an Opinion (Opinion 2/15) on the conclusion of the EU-Singapore FTA (EUSFTA)  has made the headlines of several European newspapers.

The Opinion of Advocate General Sharpston in Opinion 2/15, delivered on 21 December, is partly sympathetic to the Commission’s arguments on EU powers, but ultimately refutes the most outlandish of the Commission’s claims to EU power vis-à-vis that of its constituent Member States. The Opinion is of exceptional length (570 paragraphs, to my knowledge the longest Opinion ever written), and contains an elaborate discussion on the nature of the division of powers between the EU and the Member States and detailed reasoning on specific aspects of the EUSFTA such as transport services, investment protection, procurement, sustainable development, and dispute settlement.

Given the breadth of the AG’s conclusions, the aim of this post is to discuss the Opinion only in relation to investment protection and to reflect upon some of the consequences for the Commission’s investment policy, perhaps the most controversial aspect of this new generation of trade agreements.

A short history of the EU’s powers in the field of investment protection

The EU’s powers in the field of investment are relatively new. Only with the Treaty of Lisbon did the scope of the common commercial policy (CCP) extend to cover ‘foreign direct investment’ (FDI), thereby putting at least part of current international investment policies within EU exclusive competence. The history of the inclusion and decades long push by the Commission to extend the EU’s trade policy to cover investment is quite interesting (see this excellent and informative contribution by Robert Basedow).

From the 1970s onwards, the Commission’s push for extending the EU’s trade powers to cover investment met with resistance from the Member States. However, in the context of the Iraq war and the constitutional momentum of the Laeken convention, delegates of the convention focussed on the reform of EU foreign policy and ignored the proposed addition of FDI to the CCP by Irish liberal-conservative MP John Bruton (Bruton was shortly thereafter appointed EU ambassador to the United States). During the subsequent Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), Member States chose not to spend their political capital on the ‘technical issue’ of FDI.

As a result, the Commission was able to claim a major victory with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty with the extension of EU trade powers to foreign direct investment. A direct consequence of this addition was that the EU now needed to be formally involved in the negotiation and conclusion of investment agreements covering foreign direct investment. This triggered the Commission’s investment policy which resulted in the inclusion of investment protection chapters in agreements such as the EUSFTA and CETA.

Leading up to the conclusion of the first new generation of trade agreements, the Commission decided it did not get enough with its extensive foot in the door in international investment policy and claimed the entirety of these investment chapters as EU-only in its request for an Opinion. As a result, the ECJ will now be required to interpret the term ‘foreign direct investment’ for the first time and clarify whether the EU’s powers in the area of portfolio investment (as opposed to foreign direct investment) also fall within the EU’s (implied) exclusive powers.

The AG’s Opinion

The nuanced Opinion of the Advocate General is certainly sympathetic to some of the Commission’s arguments, but rejects the Commission’s proposition that the EU has exclusive competence over all matters related to investment protection in the EUSFTA. I will discuss the three main issues discussed, namely:

  • The meaning and scope of ‘foreign direct investment’ in Article 207 TFEU;
  • The issue of portfolio investments as an implied exclusive power;
  • Termination of prior bilateral investment agreements by the EU.

The meaning and scope of ‘foreign direct investment’ in Article 207 TFEU

On the first issue, the Advocate General had to give meaning to the term ‘foreign direct investment’ in article 207 TFEU that has not yet been interpreted by the ECJ. The Advocate General took a contextual approach to the meaning of FDI, using the concept of ‘direct investment’ in the case-law of the ECJ in interpreting the free movement of capital provisions and OECD, IMF, and UNCTAD definitions. Accordingly, foreign direct investment is to be understood as a foreign investment ‘which serve[s] to establish or maintain lasting and direct links, in the form of effective participation in the company’s management and control, between the person providing the investment and the company to which that investment is made available in order to carry out an economic activity.’ (para. 322) The Advocate General subsequently suggested a threshold of at least 10% of the voting power as ‘evidentiary guidance’ of effective participation in the company’s management and control.

In relation to the scope of Article 207 TFEU and ‘foreign direct investment’, the AG, siding with the Commission, found that the term also covered issues that regulated the ‘post[-]establishment’ phase of investment and not merely market access of foreign direct investment.  Applying the Daichi Sankyo-test, the AG concluded that the CCP ‘covers the regulation of the protection of foreign direct investment in so far as the availability of that protection has a direct and immediate effect on whether to carry out the foreign direct investment and on the enjoyment of the benefits of that investment.’ (paras 323-336) The regulation of the post-establishment phase could not be excluded because the effectiveness of rules permitting market access of investment could be subsequently undermined if there was regulation of the post-establishment phase.

The issue of portfolio investments as an implied (exclusive) power

After having sided with the Commission, the Advocate General nonetheless rejected the Commission’s arguments in relation to portfolio investments. The Commission did not argue that portfolio investments came within the scope of Article 207 TFEU, but came up with a rather adventurous interpretation of Article 3 (2) TFEU. That article codifies the ECJ’s case-law on implied exclusive treaty-making powers, and in particular the AETR doctrine which establishes such competence if the conclusion of the agreement in question ‘may affect common rules or alter their scope’. It is commonly understood that the reference to ‘common rules’ refers to EU secondary legislation, but in the absence of any common rules in the area of portfolio investment, the Commission argued that the Treaty rules on the free movement of capital themselves could also be considered ‘common rules’ in the sense of Article 3 (2) TFEU.

The Advocate General rejected this interpretation, inter alia, because this would risk leading to exclusive competences of the EU merely because of the existence of Treaty provisions. For the AG, Article 3 (2) TFEU lays down additional grounds for EU exclusive competence other than the express exclusive powers in Article 3 (1) TFEU and therefore that ‘competence must […] stem from some other basis than the Treaties themselves’ (para. 353). Indeed, one may wonder why the Treaty drafters would have not explicitly granted the EU exclusive treaty-making powers in the field of free movement of capital if the Commission’s reasoning would be followed.

Moreover, as the AG pointed out, this would amount to allowing the EU to change the Treaties via the conclusion of an international agreement. For the AG, the purpose of Article 3 (2) cannot be to entitle the EU ‘to “affect” rules of primary EU law or to ”alter their scope” by concluding an international agreement. […] Primary law can be changed only by amending the Treaties in accordance with Article 48 TEU.’ (para. 354).

Lastly, however, the Advocate General accepted the existence of implied shared powers between the EU and the Member States in the field of portfolio investment on the basis of the free movement of capital provisions (paras. 363-370, again siding with the Commission). She based her finding on the fact that this was necessary to achieve one of the objectives of the Treaties (second ground in article 216 (1) TFEU). For the AG, it was not necessary that the EU was competent to adopt secondary legislation, but it was sufficient that the issue fell within the scope of EU law (which according to the AG it did because of Article 63 TFEU).

I am personally a bit puzzled by this finding. In my opinion, the competence to adopt secondary legislation is a prerequisite, not least in order to determine the appropriate procedure to be followed for the adoption of an international agreement (see article 218 (6-8) TFEU). After all, the doctrine of implied powers rests on the proposition that the implied powers derive from a legal basis permitting the adoption of rules without explicitly mentioning international agreements. In that sense, only article 352 TFEU would potentially be a conceivable legal basis. Article 64 (2) TFEU, for instance, provides that the EU may adopt measures ‘on the movement of capital to or from third countries involving direct investment – including investment in real estate – establishment, the provision of financial services or the admission of securities to capital markets.’ Article 64 (2) TFEU therefore relates to direct investment, not portfolio investment. While article 64 (2) TFEU covers financial services and securities to capital markets and thus may relate to portfolio investment, it does not cover all portfolio investments.

Termination of prior bilateral investment agreements by the EU

The third and last issue the Advocate General addressed was the question whether the EU has the power to terminate prior Member State investment agreements with Singapore. At first glance, this question may seem a bit absurd, as the Member States and not the EU have concluded these agreements. However, the Commission had argued that such competence exists on the basis of the EU law theory of succession, according to which the EU assumes the responsibilities of the Member States for international agreements concluded by them that now fall entirely within the exclusive competence of the EU. Of course, the ECJ would only be faced with this question if it indeed follows the arguably stretched argumentation of the Commission on implied exclusive powers in the first place.

The Advocate General held that only the Member States had such powers to terminate prior BITs and that accordingly the EUSFTA should be a mixed agreement. Her argument is based on both EU and international law. In relation to EU law, Article 351 TFEU requires Member States to take all appropriate measures to eliminate any incompatibilities between pre-accession agreements (eg the Poland-Singapore 1993 BIT) and the Treaties. For the AG, Article 351 TFEU confirms that Member States remain party to such agreements and bear the responsibility for eliminating any incompatibilities. (paras. 378-389) In relation to international law, the AG could not find any legal argument that would suggest that the EU automatically succeeds to an international agreement concluded by the Member States. (paras. 391-398)

Comments

If the Advocate General’s Opinion is followed by the ECJ, the powers to conclude agreements covering investment are for all intents and purposes shared between the EU and the Member States. This may be to the dismay of proponents of agreements such as TTIP and CETA who would like to see a ‘swift’ ratification process, but one may wonder whether pushing through such controversial agreements at EU level is politically desirable for the EU in the first place. In any event, it seems plain that the issue of mixity should be guided by the constitutional principle of conferral and not by political expediency in the eyes of the proponents of such trade deals.

A final issue that is worth noting is the Advocate General’s comments on the compatibility of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in the EUSFTA with the Treaties. As I mentioned before, the Commission did not ask the ECJ to resolve this question in addition to the competence question, despite the fact that it requested this Opinion after the Court delivered its Opinion 2/13 on the draft accession agreement to the ECHR. This may suggest that the Commission’s request was borne out of political expediency seeking to expand its powers only and avoiding any legal issues that may constrain its powers. Astonishingly, however, the Commission seems to be turning the issue on its head. In his comments before the European Parliament, the Commission’s chief CETA negotiator Mauro Pettriccione’s suggests that if the ECJ does not object to ISDS in Opinion 2/15, we can assume that the ECJ considers the mechanism compatible with the Treaties (see at 12:30:30).

Advocate General Sharpston, however, was pretty clear on this issue (para. 85):

It is also important to bear in mind that the Commission’s request does not concern the material compatibility of (any part of) the EUSFTA with the Treaties. Thus, the Court is not asked to consider, for example, the compatibility of an ISDS mechanism with the Treaties. That type of dispute resolution appears not only in the EUSFTA but also in other trade and investment agreements currently negotiated or in the course of negotiation by the European Union. In the present proceedings, the issue as regards the ISDS mechanism (and other forms of dispute resolution for which the EUSFTA provides) is only the question ‘who may decide’. My analysis in this Opinion is therefore without prejudice to such issues (if any) as there may be concerning the material compatibility of the EUSFTA, including the provisions regarding the ISDS mechanism, with the Treaties.

The Commission seems all to willing to have its cake and eating it. Nonetheless, the Court’s views in this Opinion could have implications for a future request for an Opinion on the compatibility of ICS in CETA or any other FTA. If the Court takes an even wider view than the Advocate General on EU competence, this may facilitate the conclusion of agreements such as CETA as ‘EU-only’. This in turn will sideline Member States ability to make a request for an Opinion, not least because a swift ratification will ensure that the Court can no longer express itself on the issue.

New ECJ ruling on data retention: Preservation of civil rights even in difficult times!

Original published here on 22. Dezember 2016

by

Translation – German version see here.

The European Court of Justice has made a Christmas present to more than 500 million EU citizens. With its new judgment on data retention (C-203/15 of 21 December 2016) – the highest court of the European Union stresses the importance of fundamental rights. All Member States are required to respect the rights represented in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in their national legislation. The ECJ issued an important signal that can hardly be surmounted taking into account the current political discussions on internal and external threats and the strengthening of authoritarian political currents providing the public with simplistic answers to difficult questions.

The ECJ remains true to itself

The ruling of the European Court of Justice is in line with its judgment of 8 April 2014, by which the Court annulled Directive 2006/24/EC on the retention of data. The general obligation to retain traffic and location data required by this Directive was not limited to the absolutely necessary and thus disproportionate to the fundamental rights of respect for private life and the protection of personal data (Articles 7 and 8 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights).

Despite the annulment of the Data Retention Directive by the ECJ, several Member States have continued or even broadened their practice of data retention. The latter took place in Great Britain, where shortly after the ECJ ruling – in July 2014 – a new legal basis for data retention was passed, which even went beyond the abolished EC directive. According to the British Parliament’s intention to implement the so-called „Investigatory Powers Act“, the major current commitments to compulsory data storage and the supervisory powers of the security authorities are to be extended in the short term and will include web services, in particular transactions on social networks. On November 29, 2016, the upper and lower house agreed on a corresponding legal text, which is to enter into force soon after its formal approval by the Queen. In other Member States, too, there are – differently broad-ranging – legal requirements which oblige providers of telecommunications and internet services to reserve traffic and location data whose conservation is not necessary for the provision or the billing of the respective service.

European Charter of Fundamental Rights binding for national legislature

A Swedish and a British court had asked the ECJ to clarify whether the respective national regulations on the retention of data corresponded to the European legal requirements.

In its new ruling the ECJ answered this question by stating that national regulations which provide a general and indiscriminate storage of data are not in line with the EU law. A national regulation providing for the storage of traffic and location data, is to be regarded as serious interference in fundamental rights. Member States must not maintain or re-adopt rules which are based on, or even go beyond, an EU act which has been annulled on grounds of its fundamental illegality.

The provisions of EU law bind the national legislature. The EU Directive 2002/58/EC on data protection in electronic communications (the ePrivacy Directive) has to be interpreted in the light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Exceptions to the protection of personal data should be limited to the absolutely necessary. This applies not only to the rules on data retention, but also to the access of authorities to the stored data. A national provision providing for general and indiscriminate data retention which does not require a link between the data for which it is originally intended to be stored and a threat to public security, and in particular is not limiting the data on a period and / or a geographical area and / or of a group of persons which could be involved in a serious criminal act, transcends the limits of the absolutely necessary and can not be regarded as justified in a democratic society. Laws of Member States that do not meet these requirements must be abolished or amended accordingly.

With regard to the contested British and Swedish laws, the competent national courts which had appealed to the ECJ are now required to enforce the ECJ ruling in substance. However, even the parliaments and governments of the Member States are, too, responsible for reviewing and, where appropriate, correcting the relevant provisions of national law.

What happens to German data retention?

The implications of the ECJ ruling for the German data retention recently reintroduced must also be urgently examined. The retention obligations of the new German Data Retention Act remain behind the predecessor regulation, which was repealed by the Federal Constitutional Court in 2010. However, it is highly doubtful whether the provisions of the ECJ will be fulfilled by the new data retention act, since it obliges the telecommunications providers to store the data without any material restriction on a specific area or a particular risk situation.

The fact that the Federal Government or the parliamentary fractions backing them will now carry out this examination in an objective manner appears to be highly unlikely in the light of the additional powers which they have recently decided to hand over to the security authorities. In the end, the Federal Constitutional Court will probably have to ensure clarity again.

Peter Schaar (21 December 2016)