‘Inside’ the European Parliament’s Closed Reading Rooms: Transparency in the EU


by Dr Vigjilenca Abazi (Assistant Professor of European Law Maastricht University)

What do documents about negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), oversight of the EU’s Food Safety Authority or Tax-Justice have in common? In order to access these documents, (selected) Members of the European Parliament are requested to attend closed reading rooms. This blog post discusses how an exception to open parliamentary oversight is increasingly becoming a regular institutional practice and questions its spillover effect on requests for public access to documents.


As the wording suggests, ‘closed reading rooms’ are meetings that take place behind closed doors with the purpose of reading certain sensitive documents, particularly EU official secrets. Documents are distributed at the beginning of the meeting and collected again at the end; documents may not be copied by any means, such as photocopying or photographing; no notes may be taken; and the minutes of the meeting cannot make any mention of the discussion of the item containing official secrets (Art. 6, Interinstitutional Agreement between the European Parliament and the Council of 12 March 2014).

Closed reading rooms are an exception to generally open meetings and discussions of the European Parliament. This practice emerged with the introduction of rules on EU official secrets and specifically the Interinstitutional Agreement of 2002 between the European Parliament and the Council concerning European Parliament’s access to sensitive information in the field of security and defence policy (see Art. 3 and Annex, second paragraph). The rationale of what this Agreement called ‘secured room’ was to make sensitive documents available for purposes of parliamentary oversight without ‘risks’ of public disclosure or possible leaks, i.e. unauthorised disclosure of documents.

Initially, this practice was mostly confined to the area of security and defence for documents classified as official secrets. Yet, with the expansion of rules on EU official secrets to areas well beyond security and defence to ‘activities in all areas that require handling classified information’ via a Council Decision on official secrets in 2013, the use of closed reading rooms by MEPs to access sensitive documents became an increasing practice.

Closed Oversight

At first glance, closed reading rooms, or more generally ‘closed oversight’ (as I have elaborated in-depth in this recent article), might seem an inevitable institutional practice when dealing with official secrets and certainly this is not an issue confined to the EU, but a much wider world practice of oversight (e.g. see here for a recent report). Yet, the following salient questions arise:

Is it possible to keep account of closed oversight?

Accountability does not stop with executive institutions. It is equally important that oversight actors, such as the European Parliament, have appropriate institutionalised processes of keeping track of documents that have been reviewed, that meeting minutes reflect at least in some broad sense what has been discussed when official secrets are involved, or any other means that leave a traceable mark of institutional oversight having taken place. As the current procedure of getting access to official secrets stands (see above section on ‘background), it seems that keeping (some sort of public) track of the oversight process is deeply challenging.

To what extent intra/inter institutional rules alter primary law oversight architecture?

Another disconcerting aspect to closed oversight is the way it has been developed, i.e. mostly through rules of procedure and inter-institutional agreements. Indeed, EU institutions in line with primary law have clear prerogatives to make arrangements for their cooperation and to set out their rules of procedure (see respectively Art. 295 TFEU, Art. 240(3) TFEU). However, it remains to be more critically discussed whether this route of designing how oversight will take place in practice follows the constitutional principle of openness in the EU in full spirit and to what extent it alters the process of oversight in EU.

Does recent case law offer insights on closed oversight? 

In a series of recent cases, the CJEU has clarified the relevance, scope and procedural aspects of institutional access to information by the European Parliament in the context of international negotiations (see previous EU Law Analysis blogs here and here). However, case law does not address the manner in which these documents should be read and importantly, primary law only refers that accessibility to information is ‘immediately and fully’ (see Art. 218(10) TFEU) with no further details as to how access ought to be organised.

What about public deliberation?

A crucial role for the European Parliament as the direct representative of citizens (Art. 10 TEU) is to provide a link between what takes place in Brussels and what citizens know. But actively creating space for public deliberation and prompting public debate on issues that are overseen behind closed doors remain yet to be delivered by the European Parliament.

Spillover Effect Even to Public Access to Information?

Recently four MEPs filed a public access request to the European Food Safety Authority to gain access to unpublished studies determining the carcinogenicity of glyphosate on basis of which EFSA made its assessments. EFSA was not immediately open to provide public access to these studies. Remarkably, in its response, EFSA offers a ‘physical reading room’ for the MEPs to read these studies and reasons that the owners of these studies seem open to sharing the studies in this manner.

In other words, the EFSA is offering the MEPs a closed room to read the studies as a response to a public access request that should result in making the documents public, not only for these four MEPs but also for the general public. It should be stressed that the EU public access to documents regime does not foresee ‘physical reading rooms’ and indeed that would be contrary even to its rationale of granting the widest possible public access to documents. It seems that in the eyes of EFSA, a closed reading room offers a ‘solution’ to the potential unwillingness of the authors of these studies to disclose the documents. Yet, this possibility is also completely outside the legal contours of public access to information. Legally, authors of these studies do not have a veto on whether the studies would be public and certainly do not have prerogatives to decide how public access to documents should be organised in practice.

The EFSA response is ongoing and the four MEPs have still not received access to all requested documents. Yet, beyond this case, is the practice of closed reading rooms expanding not only toinstitutional access but also to public access to documents? This is a issue that we should continue to examine more closely.

CS and Rendón Marín: Union Citizens and their Third-Country National Parents – A Resurgence of the Ruiz Zambrano Ruling?


by Maria Haag, PhD Researcher, European University Institute (Florence, Italy) & Michigan Grotius Research Scholar, University of Michigan Law School (Ann Arbor, Michigan)


Five years ago, the CJEU delivered its infamous Grand Chamber decision in C-34/09Ruiz Zambrano. It held that “Article 20 TFEU precludes national measures which have the effect of depriving citizens of the Union of the genuine enjoyment of the substance of the rights conferred by virtue of their status as citizens of the Union” (para 42, emphasis added). This ‘genuine enjoyment’-protection had two consequences. First, Union citizens could rely on Article 20 TFEU against their Member State of nationality without having previously made use of their rights to free movement and thus bypassing the Court’s general lack of jurisdiction in ‘purely internal’ situations. Secondly, Member States were precluded from denying a right of residence to third-country national (‘TCN’) parents or caretakers of minor citizens of that Member State, as these children would otherwise be forced to leave the territory of the EU and thus no longer able to make use of the rights granted by Union citizenship.

Shortly after the delivery of this ground-breaking judgment, the Court of Justice proceeded to interpret Ruiz Zambrano very narrowly in a series of cases (C-434/09McCarthy, C-256/11 Dereci and Others, C-40/11 Iida, C-356&357/11 O. and S., C-87/12Ymeraga and Others, C‑86/12 Alokpa and Moudoulou and C-115/15 NA) leading many to wonder about the original significance of the Ruiz Zambrano decision. In contrast to Ruiz Zambrano, these subsequent cases mostly concerned the significance of Article 20 TFEU in a host Member State. The Court held that the applicants fell outside the scope of Article 20, even if they had never moved to another Member State, i.e. had been born in a Member State other than their Member State of nationality and had never left. The most recent cases – C-304/14 CS and C-165/14 Rendón Marín – however, Ruiz Zambrano decision, fully address the right under Article 20 TFEU in the home Member State. On the 13th of September 2016, the Grand Chamber delivered these two decisions in which it considered the effect of a criminal record of a TCN parent on his or her derived residence right under Article 20 TFEU and to what extent this right can be derogated on grounds of public policy or public security.

C-304/14 CS: facts and judgment

The case in CS concerned a Moroccan national, who resided in the UK together with her British national son. In 2012, she was convicted of a criminal offence and given a prison sentence of 12 months. Following her conviction, she was notified of her deportation liability. Her subsequent application for asylum was denied. Upon her appeal, the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) found that her deportation would violate her child’s rights under Article 20 TFEU. The Home Secretary was granted permission to appeal this decision before the Upper Tribunal, which asked the CJEU, under which circumstances the expulsion of a TCN caretaker of a Union citizen could be permitted under EU law and whether Article 27 and 28 of the Directive 2004/38 (the ‘citizens’ Directive’, which sets out the main rules on EU citizens who move to another Member State) had any effect in this case.

In its two-part decision, the Court firstly answered the question whether a TCN parent of a Union citizen has a derived right of residence in the home Member State under Article 20 TFEU and, secondly, if such a right can be limited on grounds of public policy or public security.

The Court first firmly restated its holding in Ruiz Zambrano. It explained that Article 20 TFEU “precludes national measures which have the effect of depriving Union citizens of the genuine enjoyment of the substance of the rights conferred by virtue of their status as Union citizens” (para 26; citing Ruiz Zambrano para 42). Furthermore, this means that “a right of residence must … be granted to a third-country national who is a family member of [a minor Union citizen] since the effectiveness of citizenship of the Union would otherwise be undermined, if, as a consequence of refusal of such a right that citizen would be obliged in practice to leave the territory of the European Union as whole” (para 29). CS thus had a derived right of residence under Article 20 TFEU in her son’s home Member State.

Secondly, the Court held that, as a general rule, such a derived residence right can be derogated for reasons of public policy or public security: “where the exclusion decision is founded on the existence of a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to the requirements of public policy or of public security … that decision could be consistent with EU law” (para 40, emphasis added). However, a deportation decision cannot be made “automatically on the basis solely of the criminal record of the person concerned” (para 41). Thus the UK legislation at issue, which obliges the Home Secretary to make a deportation order of any non-national who is sentenced to a period of imprisonment of 12 months or more, establishes “a systematic and automatic link between the criminal conviction of a person … and the expulsion measure” (para 44) and therefore violates EU law. Instead, it is for the national courts to weigh up “the personal conduct of the individual concerned, the length and legality of his residence on the territory of the Member State concerned, the nature and gravity of the offence committed, the extent to which the person concerned is currently a danger to society, the age of the child at issue and his state of health, as well as his economic and family situation” (para 42, emphasis added).

Furthermore, derogations for reasons of ‘public policy’ or ‘public security’ must be interpreted strictly and decisions are subject to review by the EU institutions (para 37). Lastly, and most notably, the assessment of the individual situation must take account of the principle of proportionality and the rights protected in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘CFREU’), especially Article 7 on the right to respect of private and family life and Article 24(2) on the obligation of consideration of the child’s best interests (paras 48 and 49).

C-165/14 Rendón Marín: facts and judgment

The facts in Rendón Marín are very similar to the ones in CS and essentially raise the same question, presumably why the Court decided these cases on the same day and why Advocate General Szpunar did not give separate opinions in these cases, but combined the two. Rendón Marín concerned a Colombian national father, who lived in Spain together with his Spanish national son and his Polish national daughter. His application for a residence permit was rejected due to his criminal record. The crucial difference between the facts of the two cases is that Mr Rendón Marín has a Union citizen daughter who lives in a host Member State and a son who lives in his home Member State. There thus exists a cross-border element in the situation of his daughter, but not in his son’s (For further discussion on the cross-border element, see C-200/02Zhu and Chen, especially para 19.).

The part of the Court’s decision concerning the son’s circumstances – a Spanish national in Spain – is almost identical to the Court’s judgment in CS. In fact, some of the paragraphs can be found in exactly the same wording in both decisions (the two cases also had the same rapporteur, Allan Rosas). Interestingly, the Court in Rendón Marínmentioned the possibility of moving to Poland, as this is the Member State of nationality of Mr Rendón Marín’s daughter. Whilst the Court noted the applicant’s objection that the family had no ties to Poland, it did not go into this discussion. (See, in contrast, footnote 109 in Advocate General Szpunar’s Opinion in CS and Rendón Marín. For more on this, see also Advocate General Wathelet’s Opinion in NA, paras 112-117.) Here the Court simply holds that “it is for the referring court to check whether … the parent who is the sole carer of his children, may in fact enjoy the derived right to go with them to Poland and reside with them there” (para 79, citing Alokpa and Moudoulou paras 34-35). The Court therefore did not deny that moving to Poland could be a possible solution in case of the father’s deportation from Spain.

As for the legal status of the daughter, the Court held that, as a Polish national and Union citizen, she could rely on Article 21 TFEU and the Directive 2004/38 to grant her a right of residence in Spain (para 44). Furthermore, the Court stated that if the daughter fulfils the conditions laid down under Article 7(1) Directive 2004/38 (i.e. having sufficient resources and comprehensive health insurance) then the derived right of residence of Mr Rendón Marín, her father and sole caretaker, cannot be refused (para 53). Whilst this derived right of residence can be limited for reasons of public policy or public security (para 57), EU law precludes such limitations on “grounds of a general, preventive nature” (para 61). Instead, it is for the national courts to do a similar weighing-up exercise as laid out in CS (see Rendón Marín, paras 59-66). Derogations from derived rights of residence on the basis of Article 20 TFEU and Article 21 TFEU thus presumably have to withstand the same test.


After a longer period of silence on this issue, the Court in these cases seems at the very least willing to explore the scope of Ruiz Zambrano. (The Court should soon decide another case, Chavez-Vilchez, which raises some further important questions about the scope of that judgment). The two recent judgments, whilst they in some sense appear to diminish the scope of Ruiz Zambrano even further, can also be seen as a restatement of the fundamental significance of the original judgment.

The cases following the Ruiz Zambrano decision made it very clear that protection under Article 20 TFEU is only applicable to a very small number of people in “very specific situations” (Rendón Marín para 74; CS para 29): essentially only to minors who reside with their TCN parents in their home Member State. CS and Rendón Marín both confirm this, but also clarify that a very high level of protection is granted to those Union citizens who fall within the scope of the ‘Ruiz Zambrano-protection’. In fact, the substantive protection against expulsion is equivalent to that of EU citizens (and their family members) who move to another Member State (the Court refers to concepts found in the EU citizens’ Directive and its predecessors, as well as relevant case law), although it is not clear if the same procedural protection applies.

The Court certainly does not exclude the possibility that “in exceptional circumstances” (CS para 50) a criminal and dangerous parent who poses a threat to a Member State’s public policy or public security could be deported. Even if this means that his or her Union citizen children are forced to leave EU territory and thus deprived of the genuine enjoyment of their EU citizenship rights. Nevertheless, the Court insists on a very stringent test before such a decision can be taken.

Most notably, the Court refers to the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and stresses the fact that a deportation decision needs to take account of Article 7 and Article 24(2) of the Charter (see CS paras 36 and 48; Rendón Marín paras 66 and 85). In Dereci, the Court had previously held that “if the referring court considers … that the situation of the applicants in the main proceedings is covered by European Union law, it must examine whether the refusal of their right of residence undermines the right to respect for private and family life provided for in Article 7 of the Charter” (Dereci, para 72). In that case the Court had decided that the circumstances fell outside the scope of EU law, and that it was therefore beyond its jurisdiction to consider a violation of the Charter. In both CSand Rendón Marín, the Court found that the applicants’ circumstances fell within the scope of EU law and thus that the Charter applied.

It is also interesting to compare the protection granted in C-135/08 Rottmann against the deprivation of the legal status of Union citizenship altogether and the protection granted in CS and Rendón Marín against being deprived of the genuine enjoyment of the Union citizenship rights by means of a parent’s expulsion to a non-EU state. Whereas in Rottmann, the Court held that a decision to withdraw someone’s nationality needs to respect the principle of proportionality (Rottmann, para 59), in CS and Rendón Marín it established a list of criteria that need to be observed. Curiously, the Rottmann-test therefore appears to be narrower than the one established in CS and Rendon Marin, even if the potential outcome in circumstances like Rottmann, i.e. statelessness, might be much more serious for the individual concerned.

In its decision in CS, the Court cites the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in Jeunesse v the Netherlands. The EU Court states in paragraph 49:

“[A]ccount is to be taken of the child’s best interests when weighing up the interests involved. Particular attention must be paid to his age, his situation in the Member State concerned and the extent to which he is dependent on the parent (see, to this effect, ECtHR, 3 October 2014, Jeunesse v. the Netherlands, CE:ECHR:2014:1003JUD001273819, §118).”

Jeunesse v. the Netherlands, which was decided by the Strasbourg court in 2014, concerned a Surinamese national, who lived with her Dutch national husband and children in the Netherlands without a valid residence permit. The applicant argued that the refusal to allow her to reside in the Netherlands infringed her right to respect of her family life under Article 8 ECHR. The facts of this case are very similar to the ones inDereci, in which the Court of Justice held that such a denial of residence right did not conflict with EU law. The ECtHR, however, came to the conclusion that the Dutch authorities had failed “to secure the applicant’s right to respect for her family life as projected by Article 8 of the Convention” (Jeunesse v the Netherlands, §122).

So what does the reference to this judgment mean? First and foremost, the CJEU clarifies and stresses the utmost importance of taking account of the children’s best interests in these deportation decisions. Secondly, it signals the Court’s commitment to taking the fundamental rights of those who fall within the Ruiz Zambrano-protection very seriously.

Finally, the fact that the Court treats the situation of the daughter and the son separately in Rendón Marín reaffirms the Court’s findings in previous cases that a Union citizen in a host Member State first has to rely on Article 21 TFEU before Article 20 can be applied. In the NA judgment, which the Court delivered at the end of June 2016, it held that one first has to examine whether the citizen and their TCN caretaker have a right of residence under secondary EU law. Only if there is no such right, can Article 20 TFEU apply.

The NA case concerned a Pakistani national mother who lived in the UK with her German national children where she was refused a right of residence. The Court decided that because it had already held that both the children and their TCN mother had a right of residence in the host Member State under Article 12 of Regulation No. 1612/68 (paras 52-68), which guarantees children of current and former workers the right to access to education in the host Member State, with corollary residence rights for those children and their parents (for more, see CJEU decisions in C-480/08 Teixeiraand C-310/08 Ibrahim). Article 20 TFEU did not confer a right of residence in the host Member State. It is clear that the protection under Article 20 TFEU is one of last resort. Whilst the Court in NA and Rendón Marín does not directly rule out the possibility that the Ruiz Zambrano-protection might apply in a host Member State, it now almost seems impossible. It appears that that protection can only be granted by the home Member State.

Bailouts, Borrowed Institutions, and Judicial Review: Ledra Advertising


by Alicia Hinarejos, Downing College, University of Cambridge; author of The Euro Area Crisis in Constitutional Perspective 

One of the features of the response to the euro area crisis has been the resort to intergovernmental arrangements that largely avoid judicial and parliamentary control at the EU level. The paradigmatic example has been the European Stability Mechanism(ESM), created by the euro area countries in order to provide financial assistance to countries in difficulties, subject to conditionality. The ESM was created through the adoption of an international agreement, the ESM Treaty; it is an intergovernmental mechanism created outside the framework of the EU, but with significant links to it. Most importantly, the ESM ‘borrows’ two EU institutions, namely the Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB), in order to carry out its functions. (Those two bodies, along with the International Monetary Fund, constitute the so-called ‘Troika’ which oversees the controversial bail-out processes).

The nature of the ESM and the way it operates raises important questions regarding judicial protection. As mentioned above, ESM financial assistance is granted after strict conditions have been negotiated and agreed in a Memorandum of Understanding. These conditions typically require the Member State in receipt of assistance to adopt ‘austerity’ reforms that have an impact on its citizens—understandably, these citizens may wish to challenge the validity of these conditions, often questioning their compliance with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

In Pringle, the Court stated that Member States were not within the scope of application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights when creating the ESM, or presumably when acting within its framework. This meant that their actions could not be reviewed for accordance with the Charter (although they can still be reviewed in national courts for compliance with purely national law, or in the European Court of Human Rights for compliance with that treaty). This, however, left open the question of whether, or in what form, the Charter applied to the EU institutions—the Commission and the ECB—when operating under the ESM. This is the question that the Court of Justice had to answer in the Cyprus bailout cases (Ledra Advertising and Mallis).

Cyprus wrote to the Eurogroup in 2012 to request financial assistance, and it was in receipt of ESM assistance from 2013 until 2016. The country had to recapitalize its biggest bank and wind down its second. The Memorandum of Understanding stipulated that bondholders and depositors would bear part of the cost. As a result, the applicants suffered substantial financial losses and turned to the EU courts: first to the General Court, and then on appeal to the Court of Justice. They were challenging the validity of the Memorandum of Understanding (Ledra Advertising), as well as a Eurogroup statement that referred to the conditions attached to the bailout (Mallis); they also asked for damages. In their view, the involvement of EU institutions—the Commission and the ECB—in the adoption of these measures meant that it should be possible for individuals to challenge their validity at the EU level; they also argued that these institutions’ involvement should trigger the EU’s non-contractual liability.

The General Court dismissed all complaints as inadmissible. It decided that neither the Memorandum of Understanding nor the Eurogroup statement could be the subject of an action for annulment; the former because it is not a measure adopted by an EU institution, the latter because it is not intended to produce legal effects with respect to third parties. It considered that the involvement of the Commission and the ECB in the adoption of these measures was not enough to attribute authorship to them, or to trigger the non-contractual liability of the Union.

The Court of Justice agreed, in part, with the General Court: neither the Eurogroup statement (Mallis) nor the Memorandum of Understanding (Ledra Advertising) can be the object of an action for annulment. The Court insisted again on its finding in Pringlethat ESM acts fall outside the scope of EU law; the involvement of the Commission and the ECB does not change this, and is not enough to attribute authorship of these acts to them for the purposes of judicial review.

Yet the Court goes on to reveal a twist in Ledra Advertising: even if they are not its authors, the involvement of the Commission and the ECB in the adoption of an ESM Memorandum of Understanding may be unlawful, and thus able to trigger the non-contractual (damages) liability of the EU. The Commission, in particular, retains its role as ‘guardian of the Treaties’ when acting within the ESM framework. As a result, the Commission should not sign an ESM act if it has any suspicions as to its accordance with EU law, including the Charter.

The Court repeated the usual rules for the EU institutions to incur non-contractual liability: (a) they must have acted unlawfully, (b) damage must have occurred, and (c) there must be a causal link between the unlawful act and the damage. Not just any unlawful act gives rise to damages liability: there must be ‘a sufficiently serious breach of a rule of law intended to confer rights on individuals’. While the right to property enshrined in the Charter was a ‘rule of law intended to confer rights on individuals’, that right is not absolute: Article 52 of the Charter allows interference with some Charter rights. Applying that provision, the Court came to the conclusion that the measures contained in the Memorandum did not constitute a disproportionate and intolerable interference with the substance of the applicants’ right to property, given ‘the objective of ensuring the stability of the banking system in the euro area, and having regard to the imminent risk of [greater] financial losses’.

So individuals can challenge the EU institutions’ bailout actions by means of an action for damages (non-contractual liability), but not by means of an annulment action. It is useful to remember that the rules on access to the EU courts as regards those two types of remedy are quite different. The standing rules are more liberal for damages actions: it’s sufficient to allege that damages have been suffered as a result of an unlawful act by the EU, whereas it’s much harder to obtain standing to bring annulment actions. The time limits are more liberal too: individuals have five years to bring damages cases, but only two months to bring actions for annulment. On the other hand, the threshold to win cases is much higher for damages cases: any unlawfulness by the EU institutions leads to annulment of their actions, but only particularly serious illegality gives rise to damages liability.

In any case, we know from the Court’s ruling that breaches of at least some Charter provisions within the ESM framework could potentially give rise to damages liability. In the anti-austerity context, it should be noted that social security and many social welfare claims fall within the scope of the right to property, according to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. In the case at stake, the Court did not discuss the proportionality of the interference with the applicant’s rights at much—or any—length, but it is clear that future applicants will face an uphill struggle.

On the whole, Ledra Advertising is a welcome change from other cases concerning measures adopted as a result of a bailout, where the Court’s approach had been to deny the existence of any link to EU law. Indeed, it seems unavoidable that the EU should bear the appropriate degree of responsibility when allowing its EU institutions to operate within the ESM framework. This is not to say that it will be easy for individuals to be awarded damages; as this case illustrates, the threshold is extremely high. Moreover, while a significant aspect of the role of the EU institutions within the ESM has been clarified, questions remain concerning the judicial and democratic accountability of this mechanism. Overall, however, Ledra Advertising is a step in the right direction.

Un commissaire britannique à la sécurité de l’Union européenne : le bon endroit, au bon moment, pour la bonne personne ?

PUBLISHED ALSO ON GDR  – English version will follow


La semaine dernière, la procédure de nomination de Sir Julian King en tant que nouveau commissaire en charge de la « sécurité de l’Union » a franchi l’obstacle de l’audition au Parlement européen. Par une large majorité de 394 membres pour contre 161 voix, le Parlement, qui est consulté en cas de démission d’un commissaire en vertu de l’article 246 TFUE, a donné son aval. Le 19 septembre 2016, le Conseil, en accord avec le président de la Commission, a donc nommé Sir Julian King, en remplacement de Jonathan Hill qui avait démissionné le 25 juin, ce pour la durée du mandat de la Commission restant à courir, c’est-à-dire jusqu’au 31 octobre 2019.

Auparavant, le 12 septembre, les trois heures d’audition du futur commissaire devant la Commission Libe ont été l’occasion de réfléchir à la nature et à la signification de ce choix pour le bon fonctionnement de l’Espace de liberté, sécurité et justice de l’Union européenne.

1. L’audition devant la Commission Libe

« A vaincre sans péril, on triomphe sans gloire », la citation du Cid vaut particulièrement en matière européenne. Il était facile de deviner que l’avis des coordinateurs politiques de la Commission Libe serait positif. Les échanges par écrit de questions/réponses diverses recoupaient en effet l’attitude largement positive des principaux groupes politiques du Parlement. Le détail de l’audition permet cependant de comprendre le climat dans lequel elle s’est déroulée (pour les documents de référence et la webstream de l’audience, voir ici et ici ).

L’habileté du candidat, d’abord, toute diplomatique, a été saluée par tous. Ambassadeur en poste à Paris, ayant travaillé à la représentation permanente britannique et dirigé un cabinet de commissaire, sa connaissance des dossiers de l’Union est évidente et incontestable. Il a donc eu beau jeu de séduire, en esquivant les questions délicates relatives au Brexit ou à l’accord PNR avec le Canada tout en assumant ses convictions pro-européennes : « j’ai plaidé résolument en faveur de la position du gouvernement britannique durant la campagne référendaire. J’ai toujours été fier d’être britannique et fier d’être européen, et je n’y vois aucune contradiction. Mais le 23 juin, une majorité de mes compatriotes ont décidé qu’ils voulaient quitter l’Union et nous devons respecter ce choix ».

Sur le fond et sans surprise ici non plus, dans sa déclaration d’ouverture à l’audition Sir Julian King a présenté huit points qui sont en fait un mantra récurrent des diverses communications de la Commission relatives à la sécurité intérieure, des positions du Conseil européen et des rapports du coordinateur de la lutte antiterroriste.

Donc, peu de choses nouvelles en définitive si ce n’est une référence intéressante à l’article 4 du traité sur l’Union, qui fut modifié à la dernière minute pour prendre en compte une ligne rouge du gouvernement britannique dans la négociation sur le traité. Pour Julian King, « in today’s world, security of one Member State is the security of all. Article 4 of the Treaty is clear: national security remains the sole responsibility of Member States. But they cannot address alone threats which are transnational ». Implicitement, l’intervention de l’Union en matière sécuritaire est ici légitimée …

Approfondir ce débat aurait sans aucun doute été instructif afin de mieux cerner le contenu réel de la déclaration du futur commissaire, de deviner sa vision de la « sécurité nationale » et dans quelles conditions une menace peut donc être considéré comme « transnationale», légitimant éventuellement une intervention de l’UE. On sait à cet égard que le coordinateur de la lutte antiterroriste a souvent insisté pour distinguer ce qui relève du « national » et de « l’interne », qui ne sont pas synonymes. D’un côté, la « sécurité intérieure » pourrait être un domaine de « compétence partagée » qui, en cas de menace transnationale, peut justifier et même exiger une intervention de l’Union «  dans les domaines de criminalité particulièrement grave ayant une dimension transfrontière résultant du caractère ou des incidences de ces infractions ou d’un besoin particulier de les combattre sur une base commune » visés par l’article 83 TFUE. De l’autre côté, la « sécurité nationale » est plutôt jusqu’à présent un concept beaucoup plus limité, axé sur la protection de l’Etat lui-même et justifiant de ses services de renseignement.

La commission LIBE connaît bien ces concepts, le Royaume Uni n’ayant pas hésité à invoquer la « sécurité nationale » (et non sa « sécurité intérieure ») pour justifier dans les années 2000 sa participation à Echelon ou, plus récemment, l’activité de la NSA au Royaume-Uni comme dénoncé par Edward Snowden.

Au delà, le propos du candidat ne s’est guère écarté des orientations dessinées dans la Communication de la Commission relative à la mise en œuvre du programme européen de sécurité (COM (2016) 230) et il demeure donc très convenu, à quelques remarques près. On notera cependant, à propos du PNR, l’opinion ouvertement critique du futur commissaire faisant état de la capacité de seulement 2 ou 3 Etats membres à établir les PIU (Passenger Information Unit) indispensables au fonctionnement du système …

Sur ces bases, prendre du recul par rapport à l’aspect procédural de cette nomination conduit à s’interroger sur la portée d’une telle nomination.

2.  La nomination d’un commissaire britannique à la Sécurité intérieure de l’Union

Deux questions surgissent immédiatement à l’esprit : existe-t-il aujourd’hui une nécessité de procéder à une telle nomination et, si oui et de façon un plus malicieuse, le choix d’un ressortissant britannique était-il le plus adapté, dans le contexte actuel ?

1.  L’encombrement du domaine institutionnel de la sécurité

Les questions de sécurité intérieure sont déjà largement couverts au plan institutionnel dans l’Union, comme l’audition de Sir Julian King le démontre aisément.

Au sein de la Commission, tout d’abord, puisque, malgré le découpage actuel discutable des porte-feuilles en deux grands domaines, Justice /Affaires intérieures qui amalgame malheureusement les questions migratoires et sécuritaires, le président a jugé utile d’en consacrer un troisième, largement entendu et sans que sa lettre de mission clarifie beaucoup les choses .

Aujourd’hui, on peut ainsi recenser sur ce champ : le premier vice-président Timmermans (en charge de la coordination des politiques sécuritaires européennes au regard des droits fondamentaux), le Haut Représentant et vice présidente de la Commission, Federica Mogherini ( en charge de la sécurité extérieure et de la défense), le commissaire Avramopoulos titulaire du portefeuille « Affaires intérieures » comportant notamment la lutte contre le terrorisme et la coopération policière) et, last but not least, la commissaire Jourová en charge de la coopération judiciaire en matière pénale dont nul ne semble beaucoup se préoccuper aujourd’hui …

Comme si l’embouteillage n’était pas suffisant, il faut ajouter à ce constat la place prépondérante des ConseilsJAI et, dans une moindre mesure Affaires étrangères, ainsi que, surtout, le rôle particulier réservé aucoordinateur de l’UE pour la lutte contre le terrorisme depuis les attentats de Madrid. A n’en pas douter, le mandat du nouveau commissaire recoupe le champ d’activité de ce coordinateur, rattaché à l’autre branche de l’exécutif. Pour faire un compte exact de l’encombrement, on mesurera la schizophrénie du système en rappelant le rôle d’impulsion dévolu au Conseil européen et les prétentions de son Président actuel à exercer cette fonction d’initiative.

Dans ces conditions, il aurait pu être judicieux de s’interroger sur la valeur ajoutée réelle d’une telle superposition de responsabilités. On aurait ainsi pu imaginer de confier aux parlements, européen et nationaux, le soin d’évaluer l’intérêt d’une nouvelle figure institutionnelle, sur la base de l’expérience et d’une analyse des faiblesses de la politique anti-terroriste de l’UE sur le terrain. Si, récemment, EUROPOL s’était avancé à soutenir une telle évaluation, aucune voix en revanche ne s’est élevée dans l’Union ou les Etats membres pour la réclamer. Le bilan de l’Union en matière de lutte anti-terroriste ne justifierait-il pas qu’elle se livre à un exercice que le Congrès des États-Unis a immédiatement lancé, dans des circonstances similaires, après le 11 Septembre ? Est-il vraiment inutile de vouloir tirer les leçons des échecs du passé immédiat ?

L’articulation de l’intervention des différents protagonistes en matière de sécurité intérieure demeure donc une question posée ouvertement. Elle pourrait se focaliser autour de la place que les Etats membres et le Haut représentant accepteront ou pas de consentir à Sir Julian King dans le train de la lutte contre le crime, celle de la locomotive ou du wagon de queue. En particulier sur le front extérieur où l’on sait que l’essentiel des enjeux de la sécurité intérieure de l’Union se dessine et se joue en pratique. La lecture de la lettre de mission adressée par le président de la Commission n’aide guère à y répondre pas davantage que le site, toujours exclusivement anglophone, du portefeuille Home Affairs de la Commission : Sir King y figure désormais en médaillon avec l’actuel titulaire Dimitris Avramopoulos…

Un défi de taille attend pourtant le nouveau commissaire à « la sécurité de l’Union », celui de la gestion des « l’agenciarisation » des politiques sécuritaires, dont les composantes interviennent à des titres divers, d’Europol et Eurojust à Eurosur et Frontex nouvelle version. Ce n’est un secret pour personne que le succès croissant de ces organismes repose en partie sur le fait que, grâce à eux, les États membres ont été en mesure de construire des circuits administratifs parallèles, sans contrainte excessive ni contrôle réel par le Comite pour la Sécurite intérieure (COSI) ou les parlements européens et nationaux, sans parler de leurs propres ministres.

L’absence de leadership fort de la Commission l’explique largement, dans le contexte d’une « lisbonnisation » de ces outils encore particulièrement en retard. On sait aussi que l’argument classique de l ‘ « indépendance » de ces agences masque en réalité l’omniprésence des Etats membres dans leurs conseils d’administration. D’où une forte tendance dans ces agences JAI à développer avec succès la « décision politique » dont la Commission se désintéresse au lieu d’en rester à un rôle, plus simple mais correspondant aux traités, de « mise en œuvre de la politique », comme il se doit dans une Union européenne régie par la primauté du droit et par les principes démocratiques.

Quoi qu’il en soit, au total, il ne sera pas facile pour ce nouvel acteur de trouver son chemin au cœur de ce paysage encombré même si l’histoire récente nous a malheureusement enseigné que, en cas d’attentat terroriste, la scène se vide et que personne ne se précipite plus devant les caméras ou dans les enceintes parlementaires pour expliquer que rien n’avait été prévu et pour quelles raisons nul ne s’en sent responsable…

2.  Un commissaire britannique à la sécurité 

Quoi que l’on enseigne dans les Facultés de droit sur l’indépendance des commissaires et la rupture de leurs liens avec leurs Etats d’origine comme avec le monde socio-professionnel, les choses sont un peu plus complexes que les affirmations de principe. L’actualité le démontre aujourd’hui amèrement à la Commission. Le contexte du Brexit autorise donc à s’interroger sur l’opportunité  de confier ce nouveau porte-feuille à un ressortissant britannique, notamment parce que la durée indispensable à l’installation d’un tel poste lui fera inévitablement défaut, dans la perspective d’un départ britannique futur.

La question ne touche en rien, évidemment, aux compétences personnelles du nouveau titulaire qui sont aussi manifestes que ses qualités humaines, ce dont témoigne la lecture de son audition. Pas davantage que ne se pose celle de la légitimité de la présence d’un commissaire britannique au sein de l’exécutif communautaire, jusqu’au retrait effectif du Royaume Uni. Bien au contraire. Elle repose simplement sur un constat objectif, relevant de la science administrative et trop éclatant pour s’expliquer uniquement par une coïncidence : l’espace de liberté, sécurité et justice a une forte, le mot est faible, tradition de présence et d’influence des hauts fonctionnaires britanniques, aussi inexplicable soit-elle quant on sait l’opposition résolue de leur Etat d’origine à la construction de cet espace. Qui plus est à des moments clés de cette construction.

De Sir Fortescue à la fin des années quatre vingt dix à Jonathan Faull au début des années 2000, de la direction d’Eurojust à celle d’Europol, le moins que l’on puisse en dire est que, pour un Etat en situation d’opt-out répété, son influence a été omniprésente … Sûrement faut-il d’ailleurs voir là une coïncidence regrettable dans le fait que, Europol mis à part, ce ne sont pas les années où le dynamisme et la clarté ont caractérisé l’action de l’Union … En d’autres termes, la réticence devant l’action législative et les schémas d’intégration n’était pas simplement une question de culture, donnant la priorité à l’action opérationnelle pour éviter de s’engager au plan européen. Elle marquait aussi une préférence à peine dissimulée pour l’intergouvernementalisme et, en fin de compte, les Etats étant incapables de décider efficacement, pour l’immobilisme. Il est permis de s’étonner que la Commission ait été contaminée par ce virus.

Trop visible pour être innocente, cette stratégie va buter dans les prochains mois sur un double obstacle. Juridique d’abord, avec l’obligation, enfin, d’assumer la pleine entrée en vigueur du  traité et de sa Charte des droits fondamentaux et l’expiration en 2015 d’une période de transition qui a d’ailleurs vu le Royaume Uni exercer un « opt-in/opt-out » préfigurant la situation actuelle… Factuel ensuite, la vague terroriste et la crainte grandissante des opinions publiques interdisant que cette politique de l’encéphalogramme plat à la Commission puisse durer.

Le défi du nouveau commissaire devrait donc être d’élever l’ambition de l’Union dans ce domaine. Deux dossiers permettront de tester sa réelle détermination.

Celui de l’évaluation, d’abord, qui fait cruellement défaut aujourd’hui, évaluation de ce qui n’a pas fonctionné dans la politique de lutte contre le terrorisme, non seulement au niveau européen mais au niveau national. Ce n’est qu’après une analyse sérieuse, totalement absente de la directive antiterroriste actuellement sur la table des institutions, qu’il sera possible de crédibiliser et de renouveler le cadre législatif de la coopération judiciaire en matière pénale et policière. Y compris en s’aventurant sur le terrain de la mise en cause des Etats membres défaillants.

Celui d’une proposition emblématique, ensuite, celle du futur Parquet européen. Le nouveau commissaire sera-t-il plus allant que son Etat d’origine à ce propos, par exemple en s’inscrivant dans la lettre et l’esprit de l’article 86 TFUE, c’est-à-dire en poussant à élargir le champ des compétences de ce Parquet à la criminalité transnationale, à donner sa véritable place à Eurojust et à accepter que le rôle d’Europe en subisse les conséquences ?

Wait and see …

The Court of Justice and EU Foreign Policy: what jurisdiction should it have?


Luigi Lonardo, PhD student, King’s College London

The second paragraph of Article 24(1) Treaty on the European Union explains that “the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is subject to specific rules and procedures”, and ends with the rather explicit sentence “the Court of Justice of the European Union shall not have jurisdiction with respect to these provisions”.

Lawyers are currently discussing whether the sentence “the CJEU shall not have jurisdiction” means “the Court has some jurisdiction”. Seriously. AG Wahl elegantly phrased it this way: “The main question could be framed as follows: does the exclusion from the CJEU’s jurisdiction cover, in principle, all CFSP acts or only certain categories of CFSP acts?” (Case C‑455/14 P H v Council and Commission AG Opinion, Par 52).

The question is of fundamental constitutional importance because an answer will enable lawyers to understand with clarity what EU foreign policy acts are excluded from the Court’s judicial review – a legal issue that the Court has not yet had the opportunity to adjudicate upon. While Art 19 TEU confers on the Court jurisdiction to ensure that in the interpretation and application of the Treaties the law is observed, Article 24, as recalled, introduces an exception. The scope of this exception, however, has not been fixed. In Case C- 658/11 the Court said that the exception “must be interpreted narrowly” because it introduces an exception from a general rule (par 70). In Opinion 2/13 (on ECHR accession), it only concluded, without further specification, that “as EU law now stands, certain acts adopted in the context of the CFSP fall outside the ambit of judicial review by the Court of Justice” (par 252). To further complicate the issue, however, Article 24 TEU also introduces an exception to the exception: the Court has jurisdiction to monitor compliance with Article 40 TEU (the division between foreign policy and other EU measures) and to review the legality of sanctions.

So, when does the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) have jurisdiction? Two cases may offer guidance with respect to this issue. One case, H v Council and Commission, was decided by the Court in July, and another, Rosneft, is currently pending.

H v Council

In H, an Italian magistrate sought annulment, before the General Court (Order in H v Council and Others, T‑271/10), of the decision of a Head of an EU Mission established under CFSP. The contested decision concerned the transfer of H, a seconded Legal Officer of the EU Police Mission in Sarajevo, to the post of Prosecutor in another regional office of the same country. The General Court (GC) held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the complaint and therefore found that the action was inadmissible. The GC reasoned that the exclusion of jurisdiction under Art 24(1) TEU only encounters two exceptions: monitoring compliance with Article 40 TEU (ie the division of competence between CFSP and non-CFSP external measures) and the review of the legality of sanctions under the second paragraph of Article 275 TFEU.

The General Court took the view that the appellant’s situation did not fall under one of the exceptions to the general rule that EU Courts do not have jurisdiction in CFSP matters (it was not, therefore, one of the two “exceptions to the exception”). The General Court considered that the contested decisions were adopted by the Head of Mission pursuant to powers that had been delegated to him by the Italian authorities. It thus concluded that it was for Italian courts to review the legality of the contested decisions and to hear the action for damages. It finally added that, should the Italian court having jurisdiction consider the contested decisions unlawful, it could make that finding and draw the necessary conclusions, even with respect to the very existence of those decisions.

The applicant appealed the decision before the ECJ. Applicant, Council, and Commission all wanted to set aside the GC’s order, albeit each for different reasons, which will be briefly outlined below with regards to the issue of the extent of the Court’s jurisdiction on CFSP matters.

The position of the Applicant

The Applicant took the view that the exclusion of the Court’s jurisdiction does not cover merely administrative measures (such as the decision at stake in the present case) but only the acts provided for in Article 25 TEU: general guidelines, decisions on actions and positions to be taken by the EU (and implementation thereof), and acts of systemic cooperation between Member States

The position of the Council

Par 32 of the Advocate General opinion explains that “The Council is of the view that the statement of reasons in the order under appeal does contain two legal errors. First, in deciding to relocate H, the Head of Mission did not exercise powers delegated to him by the Member State of origin, but by the competent EU institution (the Council itself). Second, the national court hearing the case does not have the power to annul the act challenged. Nevertheless, those errors do not — in the opinion of the Council — invalidate the conclusion reached by the General Court”

The position of the Commission

The Commission argued that the Court lacks jurisdiction only on acts that are “expression of sovereign foreign policy”, thus leaving the Court empowered, for example, to review the lawfulness of (a) acts of implementation, or (b) adopted in the framework of the CFSP when the alleged invalidity stems from a possible infringement of non-CFSP provisions. The Commission took the view, nonetheless, that the contested decision was not an implementing act.

The findings of the Court

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the Court reversed the order of the GC and found that the circumstance that the decision was a CFSP measure “does not necessarily lead to the jurisdiction of the EU judicature being excluded” (par 43).

The Court interpreted the exclusion of jurisdiction very narrowly. It gave a systematic reading of the general provisions of EU law (Article 2) and of CFSP (Articles 21 and 23 TEU) to recall that the EU is founded, in particular, on the values of equality and the rule of law ( Segi and Others v Council; Opinion 2/13). It stated that “The very existence of effective judicial review designed to ensure compliance with provisions of EU law is inherent in the existence of the rule of law (Schrems)” (par 41).

In the current case, the Court considered that the decision of the Head of Mission was subject to legal scrutiny because under Article 270 TFEU the EU judicature has jurisdiction to rule on all actions brought by EU staff members having been seconded to the EUPM. They remain subject to the Staff Regulations during the period of their secondment to the EUPM and, therefore, fall within the jurisdiction of the EU judicature, in accordance with Article 91 of those regulations (even though H was seconded by a Member State, the two situations were considered similar). The decision of the Head of Mission was considered to be merely “staff management”.

Therefore, the Court concluded, “the scope of the limitation, by way of derogation, on the Court’s jurisdiction, which is laid down in the final sentence of the second subparagraph of Article 24(1) TEU and in the first paragraph of Article 275 TFEU, cannot be considered to be so extensive as to exclude the jurisdiction of the EU judicature to review acts of staff management relating to staff members seconded by the Member States the purpose of which is to meet the needs of that mission” (par 55).

The ECJ concluded that “[the] jurisdiction stems, respectively, as regards the review of the legality of those acts, from Article 263 TFEU and, as regards actions for non-contractual liability, from Article 268 TFEU, read in conjunction with the second paragraph of Article 340 TFEU, taking into account Article 19(1) TEU and Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union” (par 58). It therefore referred the case back to the GC.


A similar question recurs in Rosneft, the first request ever for a preliminary ruling on a CFSP act, currently pending before the Court. The case stems from a Russian gas company, Rosneft, challenging sectorial measures (not target sanctions) prohibiting EU natural or legal persons, from engaging in contractual relations with certain Russian state-owned companies and banks, and from providing such companies and banks access to financial markets.

A central question is the admissibility, as discussed at the hearing and in paragraphs 32-76 of AG Wathelet’s opinion.

The AG believes that the measure can be reviewed if it meets these cumulative two conditions: if (a) it relates to Articles 23 to 46 TEU (the foreign policy rules) and or EU acts adopted on the basis of those provisions; and if (b) its substantive content also falls within the sphere of CFSP implementation.

The first condition is derived, for Wathelet, from the consideration that the last sentence of the second subparagraph of Article 24(1) TEU excludes the Court’s jurisdiction only ‘with respect to these provisions’, and the reference thus made is to Chapter 2 of Title V of the EU Treaty, entitled ‘Specific provisions on the common foreign and security policy’, of which Article 24 forms part.

In the AG’s opinion, in particular, the court should have jurisdiction to hear actions for annulment and preliminary rulings on decisions providing for restrictive measures against natural or legal persons adopted by the Council on the basis of Chapter 2 of Title V of the EU Treaty – and not, therefore, regulations implementing them. For the AG, therefore, the Court has jurisdiction, but the challenged decision, to the extent that it is directly addressed to Rosneft, is not invalid. The very long opinion explains in detail why, but here we limit the scope of the analysis to the question on jurisdiction.


Judicial protection and uniformity of interpretation of EU law

The decision of the ECJ in H should be welcomed because it avoids the potential deterioration of the protection of fundamental rights which would derive from each national court being able to monitor CFSP decisions in the absence of a centralised mechanism. If national Courts had jurisdiction when the CJEU does not, this might lead to diverging and potentially even conflicting interpretations of the same CFSP measure.

Uniformity of interpretation of EU law would be further guaranteed if the Court affirmed jurisdiction to hear requests for preliminary rulings (and AG Walthelet in paras 61-62 of his opinion in Rosneft suggests that the Court can rule on CFSP preliminary rulings). The importance of judicial dialogue between the CJEU and national courts has been repeatedly affirmed in the Court’s case law (Opinion 1/09; CILFIT; Adeneler; Kamberaj). Moreover, absence of the Court jurisdiction to hear on preliminary rulings would be at issue with the third paragraph of Article 267 and the CILFIT doctrine.

The prohibition of judicial dialogue and cooperation between national and EU courts in CFSP may very well be a breach of the right to effective judicial remedy as enshrined in Article 47 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Article 47 Charter creates what has been described as a “composite, coherent, and autonomous” standard of EU judicial protection. Pursuant to Article 19(1) TEU, national Courts shall provide remedies sufficient to ensure effective legal protection in the fields covered by Union law, with the standard set and as determined by the CJEU (which has the final saying on interpretation and application of the Treaties). Completely excluding the Court’s jurisdiction from an area of EU law such as CFSP would seriously hinder the system of judicial protection (see to a similar effect  Gestoras Pro Amnistía and Others v Councilpar 53; Segi and Others v Council par 53).

Even though it is left to the discretion of national courts to decide whether to make a reference for a preliminary ruling as well as the questions to be referred, completely ruling out the opportunity for an applicant (or the national court) to make such a request may indeed be against Article 47 Charter. All the more so if one accepted the reading proposed by the Council in its appeal in H, that is, that the national court does not have the power to annul the CFSP decision. This would leave a legal vacuum in the annulment of the provision (unlike what happened in C-583-11 Inuit, where the Court found that existence of alternative legal remedies allowed for a restrictive rule on judicial remedy).

Political questions doctrine

The preferable option seems to be that only genuinely political acts of CFSP cannot be subject to the Court’s substantial judicial review, although the Court should be able to monitor compliance with the procedural rules of the Treaty and compliance with fundamental human rights. This position is very similar to that expressed by the Commission in H, where it said that only sovereign acts of foreign policy cannot be scrutinised by the Court – without saying anything of formal control.

In H, the Court seemed to conclude that if there was any other reason for the which the Court should have jurisdiction, that reason takes precedence over the exclusion of Article 24, and then the Court does have jurisdiction. This is too broad an understanding of the Court’s powers.

In its judgment in Manufacturing Support & Procurement Kala Naft v Council, the CJEU ruled that it does not have jurisdiction on a CFSP provision which is not a restrictive measure against natural or legal persons pursuant to Article 275 TFEU, and the substantial result might be similar in Rosneft (par 85 AG opinion).

For the reasons explained above, the Court should accept the request on the preliminary ruling in Rosneft, but should then take the opportunity to draw a clear distinction: on one hand, (a) EU acts which are purely political and diplomatically sensitive acts of sovereign foreign policy; on the other hand, (b) all remaining CFSP decisions, all acts of implementation, and provisions of general application.

On (a), which I submit should be assessed on a case by case basis and on their substantial content: the Court should recognise it lacks power of judicial review. Those acts, determined with a “substance over form” rule (see Les Verts par 27; AG Wathelet seems to be taking this position in paras 49-50 of his opinion in Rosneft; see alsoGestoras Pro Amnistía and Others v Council par 54; Elitaliana v Eulex Kosovo par 48-49) will have too indirect an effect on individuals (as the case law on Article 263(4) TFEU now stands)

Such acts also have such a discretionary content that courts should defer to the decision of the political actors who adopted them. The latter element, which American constitutional lawyers refer to as the “political question doctrine” is present in many jurisdiction (see par 52 AG Opinion in Rosneft): deference toward the so called “actes de gouvernement”. The Commission proposed this thesis in its written submission and at the oral hearing in Rosneft. The “political question doctrine” is the attitude of courts not to review issues which are inherently political, are best left to the discretion of the actor who took the decision, and are ultimately non-justiciable.

In the leading case on the issue, Baker v Carr, the US Supreme Court held that a question is eminently political if it presents some characteristics such as “a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department”, or “an unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made”. While in some cases involving foreign policy decisions the need for adherence to a political decision is evident (ie the ECJ could hardly decide that the EU cannot prohibit commerce with certain Russian companies involved in Crimea at all), arguably the retention of CFSP provisions in the TEU, the preference for intergovernmental institutions in that domain, the scant role of the European Parliament in the decision-making process, not to mention the exclusion of the Court’s jurisdiction, all militate in favour of a strong constitutional preference for CFSP to be resolved by purely political departments. The doctrine could very well be embraced for the first time by the ECJ in deciding Rosneft.

On the other hand, as regards category (b), which includes the case of the “decision on staff management” in H, the Court should exercise its powers of judicial review.

Barnard & Peers: chapter 24

Is the EU planning an army – and can the UK veto it?



by Steve Peers

Is the EU planning to create an army? If so, can and should the UK veto it – up until Brexit? The issue has been much debated in recent days. But this is the classic example of a debate that has created much heat but shed little light. The purpose of this post is to clear up misunderstandings. In short, the recently announced plans do not amount to an EU army – and so the UK is not able to veto the EU’s plans.


Initially, the EU’s foreign policy had little to do with defence, in deference to Irish neutrality and the UK’s strong support for NATO. This has changed gradually over the years as the Cold War ended, US troops left Europe, and the parallel non-EU defence organisation (the Western European Union) was wound down.

Since the Treaty of Lisbon, the rules on EU defence policy are set out in Articles 42-46 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). I have included the full text of these Articles in an Annex to this post. The starting point (Article 42(1)) is that the EU has an ‘operational capacity’ to use on non-EU missions ‘for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security’, consistently with the UN Charter, as explained further in Article 43. These actions shall use ‘capabilities provided by the Member States’, meaning that they each retain their own armed forces. There’s a reference to using ‘multinational forces’ too (Article 42(3)), but it’s clear that it’s optional both to set up such forces and to contribute them to support the EU defence policy.

However, there is also a long-term objective. Article 42(2) TEU says that the EU includes ‘the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy’, which ‘will lead to a common defence’. But this policy must ‘respect’ the obligations of those Member States who are parties of NATO, and be ‘compatible’ with NATO policy. Equally it ‘shall not prejudice the specific character’ of some Member States’ defence policy: this is an oblique reference to neutrality. (Six Member States are neutral).

Most importantly, it will only happen when the European Council (consisting of Member States’ presidents and prime ministers) ‘acting unanimously, so decides’.  That decision then needs to be ratified by Member States ‘in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.’ For the UK, that would require a referendum, as set out in section 6(2) of the European Union Act 2011. It would need a referendum in Ireland too, since Article 29(4)(9) of the Irish Constitution rules out Irish participation in an EU common defence, and the Irish Constitution can only be amended by referendum.  Other Member States may also have stringent constitutional requirements to this end.

What happens in the meantime, before this rather mythical notion of a common defence is achieved? Article 42(3) says that Member States must ‘undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities’. A ‘European Defence Agency’ (see further Article 45) is set up to this end. It’s possible for a group of Member States to take on an EU-wide task (Article 42(5), as set out in more detail in Article 44). Member States have an obligation of ‘aid and assistance’ to each other, if one of them is ‘the victim of armed aggression’, in accordance with the UN Charter (Article 42(7)). Finally, certain Member States which meet higher standards as regards their ‘military capabilities’ and ‘which have made more binding commitments to one another in this area with a view to the most demanding missions shall establish permanent structured cooperation’ within the EU (Article 42(6), referring to Article 46).

New EU plans

What are the EU’s new military plans? Some newspapers and commentators have referred to plans for an ‘EU army’, which at first sight implies a ‘common defence’. In turn, the UK’s defence minister is quoted as saying he would veto these plans, as long as the UK is part of the EU.

As we saw above, any Member State can indeed veto an EU ‘common defence’. But still, it’s striking to hear a supporter of the Leave side acknowledge that the UK can veto an EU army, since many of them suggested during the referendum campaign that this scary prospect was unavoidable if the UK remained part of the EU. Having said that, there’s a misunderstanding here. According to the information available, the proposal is not to create an EU army, and therefore the UK can’t veto it.

In fact, the ‘State of the Union’ speech by Commission President Juncker proposed four things: a joint headquarters for EU military missions; common procurement to save on defence costs; a Defence Fund for the EU defence industry; and the development of ‘permanent structured cooperation’, as referred to briefly above (and see below). It did not propose merging armies to create a common army. Some press reports suggest that the recent EU summit discussed a ‘common military force’, but the ‘Declaration’ and ‘Road Map’ issued after the summit make no mention of such a thing.

So what exactly is ‘permanent structured cooperation’? It’s described in Article 46 TEU, as well in as a Protocol attached to the Treaties. Article 46 sets out the process: it’s set up by willing Member States only. Any unwilling Member States can simply choose not to take part. There’s no veto on setting it up, but that’s because participation is voluntary. Member States can join once it’s underway – and leave at any time, with no conditions attached. If more EU policies were this flexible, EU participation would be less controversial – although in a post-truth world some people would undoubtedly deny that those policies were flexible in the first place. (If the current EU plans go ahead, I expect to read somewhere that the soldiers are inspired by Hitler, and armed with Muslamic ray guns).

As for the substance of ‘permanent structured cooperation’, it’s explained fully in the Protocol (also reproduced in the Annex).  The criteria to join are development of defence capacities, and in particular supplying forces to support EU operations within a short period. Participating countries must aim to achieve approved levels of domestic spending, align their equipment and operability of their forces, fill capability gaps, and take part in joint procurement. That’s significant – but that’s it. It’s not an EU army.


Plans can always change. But the recent Commission plans, and the EU summit declaration, don’t amount to an EU army.  And if there’s no EU army, the UK can’t veto one.  It’s arguable whether a veto threat is a good negotiating strategy; but it’s indisputable that an empty threat is simply ridiculous.

A more rational approach to the issue would be to acknowledge (as a number of calmer voices on the Leave side have advocated) that the UK and the EU might well benefit mutually from continued defence and foreign policy cooperation after Brexit. In that light, the best way for the UK to spend its remaining time as an EU Member State as regards defence issues is to offer constructive criticism of the EU plans – and align that with sensible proposals for how post-Brexit EU/UK cooperation could go forward in this field.

Barnard & Peers: chapter 24


Annex – Treaty on European Union, defence clauses

Article 42

  1. The common security and defence policy shall be an integral part of the common foreign and security policy. It shall provide the Union with an operational capacity drawing on civilian and military assets. The Union may use them on missions outside the Union for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. The performance of these tasks shall be undertaken using capabilities provided by the Member States.
  2. The common security and defence policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides. It shall in that case recommend to the Member States the adoption of such a decision in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.

The policy of the Union in accordance with this Section shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States and shall respect the obligations of certain Member States, which see their common defence realised in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), under the North Atlantic Treaty and be compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework.

  1. Member States shall make civilian and military capabilities available to the Union for the implementation of the common security and defence policy, to contribute to the objectives defined by the Council. Those Member States which together establish multinational forces may also make them available to the common security and defence policy.

Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities. The Agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments (hereinafter referred to as “the European Defence Agency”) shall identify operational requirements, shall promote measures to satisfy those requirements, shall contribute to identifying and, where appropriate, implementing any measure needed to strengthen the industrial and technological base of the defence sector, shall participate in defining a European capabilities and armaments policy, and shall assist the Council in evaluating the improvement of military capabilities.

  1. Decisions relating to the common security and defence policy, including those initiating a mission as referred to in this Article, shall be adopted by the Council acting unanimously on a proposal from the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy or an initiative from a Member State. The High Representative may propose the use of both national resources and Union instruments, together with the Commission where appropriate.
  2. The Council may entrust the execution of a task, within the Union framework, to a group of Member States in order to protect the Union’s values and serve its interests. The execution of such a task shall be governed by Article 44.
  3. Those Member States whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments to one another in this area with a view to the most demanding missions shall establish permanent structured cooperation within the Union framework. Such cooperation shall be governed by Article 46. It shall not affect the provisions of Article 43.
  4. If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.

Commitments and cooperation in this area shall be consistent with commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which, for those States which are members of it, remains the foundation of their collective defence and the forum for its implementation.

Article 43

  1. The tasks referred to in Article 42(1), in the course of which the Union may use civilian and military means, shall include joint disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and assistance tasks, conflict prevention and peace-keeping tasks, tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peace-making and post-conflict stabilisation. All these tasks may contribute to the fight against terrorism, including by supporting third countries in combating terrorism in their territories.
  2. The Council shall adopt decisions relating to the tasks referred to in paragraph 1, defining their objectives and scope and the general conditions for their implementation. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, acting under the authority of the Council and in close and constant contact with the Political and Security Committee, shall ensure coordination of the civilian and military aspects of such tasks.

Article 44

  1. Within the framework of the decisions adopted in accordance with Article 43, the Council may entrust the implementation of a task to a group of Member States which are willing and have the necessary capability for such a task. Those Member States, in association with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, shall agree among themselves on the management of the task.
  2. Member States participating in the task shall keep the Council regularly informed of its progress on their own initiative or at the request of another Member State. Those States shall inform the Council immediately should the completion of the task entail major consequences or require amendment of the objective, scope and conditions determined for the task in the decisions referred to in paragraph 1. In such cases, the Council shall adopt the necessary decisions.

Article 45

  1. The European Defence Agency referred to in Article 42(3), subject to the authority of the Council, shall have as its task to:

(a) contribute to identifying the Member States’ military capability objectives and evaluating observance of the capability commitments given by the Member States;
(b) promote harmonisation of operational needs and adoption of effective, compatible procurement methods;

(c) propose multilateral projects to fulfil the objectives in terms of military capabilities, ensure coordination of the programmes implemented by the Member States and management of specific cooperation programmes;
(d) support defence technology research, and coordinate and plan joint research activities and the study of technical solutions meeting future operational needs;
(e) contribute to identifying and, if necessary, implementing any useful measure for strengthening the industrial and technological base of the defence sector and for improving the effectiveness of military expenditure.

  1. The European Defence Agency shall be open to all Member States wishing to be part of it. The Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall adopt a decision defining the Agency’s statute, seat and operational rules. That decision should take account of the level of effective participation in the Agency’s activities. Specific groups shall be set up within the Agency bringing together Member States engaged in joint projects. The Agency shall carry out its tasks in liaison with the Commission where necessary.

Article 46

  1. Those Member States which wish to participate in the permanent structured cooperation referred to in Article 42(6), which fulfil the criteria and have made the commitments on military capabilities set out in the Protocol on permanent structured cooperation, shall notify their intention to the Council and to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

    2. Within three months following the notification referred to in paragraph 1 the Council shall adopt a decision establishing permanent structured cooperation and determining the list of participating Member States. The Council shall act by a qualified majority after consulting the High Representative.

    3. Any Member State which, at a later stage, wishes to participate in the permanent structured cooperation shall notify its intention to the Council and to the High Representative.

The Council shall adopt a decision confirming the participation of the Member State concerned which fulfils the criteria and makes the commitments referred to in Articles 1 and 2 of the Protocol on permanent structured cooperation. The Council shall act by a qualified majority after consulting the High Representative. Only members of the Council representing the participating Member States shall take part in the vote.
A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(a) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

  1. If a participating Member State no longer fulfils the criteria or is no longer able to meet the commitments referred to in Articles 1 and 2 of the Protocol on permanent structured cooperation, the Council may adopt a decision suspending the participation of the Member State concerned.

The Council shall act by a qualified majority. Only members of the Council representing the participating Member States, with the exception of the Member State in question, shall take part in the vote.
A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(a) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

  1. Any participating Member State which wishes to withdraw from permanent structured cooperation shall notify its intention to the Council, which shall take note that the Member State in question has ceased to participate.
  1. The decisions and recommendations of the Council within the framework of permanent structured cooperation, other than those provided for in paragraphs 2 to 5, shall be adopted by unanimity. For the purposes of this paragraph, unanimity shall be constituted by the votes of the representatives of the participating Member States only.



HAVING REGARD TO Article 42(6) and Article 46 of the Treaty on European Union,
RECALLING that the Union is pursuing a common foreign and security policy based on the achievement of growing convergence of action by Member States;
RECALLING that the common security and defence policy is an integral part of the common foreign and security policy; that it provides the Union with operational capacity drawing on civil and military assets; that the Union may use such assets in the tasks referred to in Article 43 of the Treaty on European Union outside the Union for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter; that the performance of these tasks is to be undertaken using capabilities provided by the Member States in accordance with the principle of a single set of forces;
RECALLING that the common security and defence policy of the Union does not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States;
RECALLING that the common security and defence policy of the Union respects the obligations under the North Atlantic Treaty of those Member States which see their common defence realised in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which remains the foundation of the collective defence of its members, and is compatible with the common security and defence policy established within that framework;

CONVINCED that a more assertive Union role in security and defence matters will contribute to the vitality of a renewed Atlantic Alliance, in accordance with the Berlin Plus arrangements;
DETERMINED to ensure that the Union is capable of fully assuming its responsibilities within the international community;
RECOGNISING that the United Nations Organisation may request the Union’s assistance for the urgent implementation of missions undertaken under Chapters VI and VII of the United Nations Charter;

RECOGNISING that the strengthening of the security and defence policy will require efforts by Member States in the area of capabilities;
CONSCIOUS that embarking on a new stage in the development of the European security and defence policy involves a determined effort by the Member States concerned;
RECALLING the importance of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy being fully involved in proceedings relating to permanent structured cooperation,
HAVE AGREED UPON the following provisions, which shall be annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union:
Article 1
The permanent structured cooperation referred to in Article 42(6) of the Treaty on European Union shall be open to any Member State which undertakes, from the date of entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, to:
(a) proceed more intensively to develop its defence capacities through the development of its national contributions and participation, where appropriate, in multinational forces, in the main European equipment programmes, and in the activity of the Agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments (European Defence Agency), and
(b) have the capacity to supply by 2010 at the latest, either at national level or as a component of multinational force groups, targeted combat units for the missions planned, structured at a tactical level as a battle group, with support elements including transport and logistics, capable of carrying out the tasks referred to in Article 43 of the Treaty on European Union, within a period of 5 to 30 days, in particular in response to requests from the United Nations Organisation, and which can be sustained for an initial period of 30 days and be extended up to at least 120 days.
Article 2
To achieve the objectives laid down in Article 1, Member States participating in permanent structured cooperation shall undertake to:
(a) cooperate, as from the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, with a view to achieving approved objectives concerning the level of investment expenditure on defence equipment, and regularly review these objectives, in the light of the security environment and of the Union’s international responsibilities;

(b) bring their defence apparatus into line with each other as far as possible, particularly by harmonising the identification of their military needs, by pooling and, where appropriate, specialising their defence means and capabilities, and by encouraging cooperation in the fields of training and logistics;
(c) take concrete measures to enhance the availability, interoperability, flexibility and deployability of their forces, in particular by identifying common objectives regarding the commitment of forces, including possibly reviewing their national decision-making procedures;
(d) work together to ensure that they take the necessary measures to make good, including through multinational approaches, and without prejudice to undertakings in this regard within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the shortfalls perceived in the framework of the ’Capability Development Mechanism’;
(e) take part, where appropriate, in the development of major joint or European equipment programmes in the framework of the European Defence Agency.
Article 3
The European Defence Agency shall contribute to the regular assessment of participating Member States’ contributions with regard to capabilities, in particular contributions made in accordance with the criteria to be established, inter alia, on the basis of Article 2, and shall report thereon at least once a year. The assessment may serve as a basis for Council recommendations and decisions adopted in accordance with Article 46 of the Treaty on European Union.

Frontières de l’Union : chronique d’une « recommandation » annoncée ou la flétrissure


par Nuno Piçarra, Omnia, Université de Lisbonne

Le 12 mai 2016, le Conseil a adopté la décision d’exécution 2016/894 « arrêtant une recommandation relative à la réintroduction temporaire du contrôle aux frontières intérieures en cas de circonstances exceptionnelles mettant en péril le fonctionnement global de l’espace Schengen » (ci-après, « décision d’exécution »). Celle-ci se base notamment sur l’article 29 du Code frontières Schengen (ci-après, « CFS ») qui prévoit une « procédure spécifique » tendant à la réintroduction d’un tel contrôle. C’est la première fois que cette procédure, ajoutée au CFS par le règlement n°1051/2013, trouve à s’appliquer.

1. La décision d’exécution 2016/894 du Conseil : recommandations et obligations pour les États Schengen concernés

Concrètement, le Conseil a recommandé qu’à partir du 12 mai 2016 et pendant une durée maximale de six mois, « des contrôles temporaires et proportionnés » soient maintenus (i) par l’Allemagne, à la frontière terrestre avec l’Autriche ; (ii) par l’Autriche, aux frontières terrestres avec la Hongrie et la Slovénie ; (iii) par le Danemark, dans les ports depuis lesquels sont assurées des liaisons par transbordeur vers l’Allemagne, et à la frontière terrestre avec l’Allemagne ; (iv) par la Suède, dans les ports situés dans les régions de police Sud et Ouest, et au pont de Öresund ; (v) par la Norvège, dans les ports depuis lesquels sont assurées des liaisons par transbordeur vers le Danemark, l’Allemagne et la Suède.

La Norvège n’étant pas un État membre de l’UE mais un « pays associé à l’application de l’acquis de Schengen », l’expression « États membres concernés » utilisée par la décision d’exécution, doit être entendue dans le sens de « États de l’espace Schengen » ou simplement « États Schengen ».

Au 12 mai 2016, les cinq États concernés effectuaient déjà des contrôles à leurs frontières intérieures en réponse, selon la décision d’exécution, « à une menace grave pour leur ordre public ou leur sécurité intérieure causée par les mouvements secondaires de migrants en situation irrégulière consécutifs aux défaillances graves dans les contrôles aux frontières extérieures. (…) ces mesures sont nécessaires et considérées comme proportionnées » (attendu 11).

Outre la recommandation de maintien du contrôle aux frontières intérieures identifiées, la décision d’exécution établit de vraies et propres obligations pour les cinq États concernés.

La première est, toutefois, d’exécution difficile voire impossible dans la mesure où, selon le texte qui l’établit, « avant de mettre en place de tels contrôles, les États membres concernés devraient procéder à des échanges de vues avec l’État (les États) membre(s) voisin(s) concerné(s) afin de s’assurer que ces contrôles ne sont effectués que sur les tronçons de la frontière intérieure où ils sont jugés nécessaires et proportionnés, conformément au code frontières Schengen ».

En fait, ce que la décision d’exécution recommande aux cinq États concernés est, non pas de « mettre en place », mais plutôt de « maintenir » des contrôles aux frontières intérieures qui ont été mis en place à partir de septembre 2015. Pour accomplir rigoureusement l’obligation dont il s’agit, il faudrait donc supprimer ou suspendre au préalable ces contrôles afin que l’« échange de vues » puisse avoir lieu avant leur mise en place. Ceci se heurterait, néanmoins, à un obstacle juridique supplémentaire : la décision d’exécution ayant été adoptée le 12 mai 2016 et devant s’appliquer à partir de cette même date, l’échange de vues préalable qu’elle impose ne sauraient s’effectuer en temps utile.

La deuxième obligation imposée aux États concernés est celle de notifier aux autres États Schengen, au Parlement européen et à la Commission « leur décision » de maintenir les contrôles recommandés. C’est, d’ailleurs, ce que prévoit l’article 29, paragraphe 2, quatrième alinéa, CFS. Toutefois, le même article prévoit également au paragraphe 3 que, « en cas de non application par un État membre de la recommandation visée au paragraphe 2, celui-ci en communique sans tarder les motifs par écrit à la Commission ».

Dès lors que la décision d’exécution reprend dans son texte la première disposition citée du CFS, elle aurait dû reprendre également la seconde, pour des raisons de cohérence et de complétude liées au principe de légalité. Et cela même si le Conseil était persuadé que, dans le cas d’espèce, aucun des États concernés ne se prévaudrait de la possibilité prévue par l’article 29, paragraphe 3, CFS pour refuser l’application de la recommandation.

Finalement, la décision d’exécution oblige chaque État concerné à « réexaminer régulièrement la nécessité, la fréquence, le lieu et la durée des contrôles, adapter ces derniers au niveau de la menace à laquelle ils visent à répondre, les supprimant progressivement s’il y a lieu (…) ». Il est ainsi rappelé que les critères fournis par les articles 26 et 30 CFS pour la prise d’une décision de réintroduction temporaire du contrôle aux frontières intérieures « sur tous les tronçons ou sur certains tronçons spécifiques » s’appliquent aussi en aval d’une telle décision.

2. La pratique de réintroduction, par les États Schengen concernés, du contrôle à leurs frontières intérieures avant la décision d’exécution

La date du 12 mai 2016 coïncide précisément avec celle à partir de laquelle l’Allemagne a cessé de pouvoir se prévaloir des dispositions du CFS qu’elle avait invoquées depuis le 13 septembre 2015 – et ce dans le contexte de la « crise des migrants et des réfugiés sans précédent » – pour réintroduire le contrôle à toutes ses frontières intérieures et en particulier à celle avec l’Autriche. L’exemple de l’Allemagne a été suivi trois jours plus tard par l’Autriche, le 12 novembre par la Suède, le 26 novembre par la Norvège et le 4 janvier 2016 para le Danemark.

Dans un premier temps, tous ces États se sont prévalus de l’actuel article 28 CFS, qui établit une procédure spécifique pour la réintroduction exceptionnelle et temporaire du contrôle aux frontières intérieures dans les cas nécessitant une action immédiate. Toutefois, en vertu du même article, la durée totale de cette réintroduction ne peut pas dépasser les deux mois.

Dans ces conditions, l’Allemagne le 14 novembre 2015, l’Autriche le 16 novembre suivant, la Suède le 9 janvier 2016, la Norvège le 15 janvier et le Danemark le 4 mars se sont prévalus des articles 25 à 27 CFS pour maintenir le contrôle à leurs frontières intérieures. Ces articles établissent les conditions et les limites à la réintroduction temporaire d’un tel contrôle en cas d’évènements prévisibles.

Le 23 octobre 2015, la Commission a émis un avis sur la nécessité et la proportionnalité du contrôle aux frontières intérieures réintroduit par l’Allemagne et l’Autriche ainsi que de ses prolongations. Ce contrôle a été considéré conforme au CFS. [C(2015) 7100]. Parmi les commentateurs, il a été relevé que l’avis de la Commission tend à assimiler le franchissement des frontières extérieures par un grand nombre de ressortissants de pays tiers à une menace pour l’ordre public et la sécurité intérieure, même si des preuves de risques liés à la criminalité organisée ou au terrorisme n’ont pas été apportées (voir Evelien Brouwer, « Migration flows and the reintroduction of internal border controls: assessing necessity and proportionality », 2015, et bibliographie y citée).

En vertu de l’article 25, paragraphe 4, CFS, la durée totale de la réintroduction du contrôle aux frontières intérieures en cas d’évènements prévisibles ne peut excéder six mois. Par conséquent, à partir du 12 mai 2016, l’Allemagne cesserait de pouvoir invoquer les articles 25 à 27 CFS pour maintenir le contrôle à ses frontières intérieures. Il en irait de même pour l’Autriche le 15 mai, pour la Suède le 9 juillet, pour la Norvège le 15 juillet et pour le Danemark le 4 août 2016.

Dans ces conditions, la seule possibilité légale pour les États concernés de maintenir le contrôle à leurs frontières intérieures est de le baser sur les articles 29-30 CFS. En effet, en vertu de ces dispositions, la durée totale de la réintroduction de ce contrôle peut être étendue à une durée maximale de deux ans (article 29, paragraphe 1, in fine).

3. L’autre État Schengen concerné par la décision d’exécution : la Grèce. Questions de légalité

La réintroduction ou le maintien du contrôle, par un État Schengen, à ses frontières intérieures conformément à l’article 29 CFS présuppose, outre une recommandation du Conseil sur une proposition de la Commission, l’imputation à un autre ou à d’autres États Schengen des « manquements graves persistants liés au contrôle aux frontières extérieures », à la suite d’une évaluation effectuée en application du règlement nº 1053/2013. Plus précisément, la première condition pour déclencher la procédure prévue à l’article 29 est la persistance de ces manquements, constatée par la Commission au terme d’un délai de trois mois à compter de la date à laquelle l’État Schengen concerné a fait rapport sur la mise en oeuvre de son «plan d’action destiné à remédier à tout manquement constaté dans le rapport d’évaluation ». Ce plan d’action, à son tour, doit être présenté dans un délai d’un mois à compter des recommandations concernant les mesures correctives des manquements en cause, adoptées par le Conseil sur une proposition de la Commission (article 21, paragraphe 3, CFS).

À cette première condition d’ordre simultanément substantiel et procédural, vient s’ajouter une deuxième, d’ordre substantiel : les « manquements graves persistants dans l’exécution du contrôle aux frontières extérieures» constatés par la Commission à l’égard d’un État Schengen doivent « mettre en péril le fonctionnement global de l’espace sans contrôle aux frontières intérieures ». En d’autres mots, ils doivent représenter « une menace grave pour l’ordre public ou la sécurité intérieure » dans cet espace ou sur certains de ses tronçons. Par ailleurs, une telle menace doit s’avérer insusceptible d’être effectivement atténuée, soit par le déploiement d’équipes européennes de gardes-frontières aux frontières extérieures de l’État Schengen en cause, soit par la présentation à Frontex des plans stratégiques basés sur une évaluation des risques, soit par toute autre mesure.

Aux termes de l’article 29 CFS, la réintroduction du contrôle aux frontières intérieures ne peut être recommandée par le Conseil qu’« en dernier ressort et à titre de mesure de protection des intérêts communs au sein de l’espace sans contrôle aux frontières intérieures » face aux manquements graves constatés. Une telle réintroduction doit être évaluée au regard de son adéquation pour « remédier correctement à la menace pour l’ordre public ou pour la sécurité intérieure au sein d’un tel espace », ainsi que de sa proportionnalité. À cette fin il doit être tenu compte, notamment, de la disponibilité de mesures de soutien technique ou financier auxquelles il serait possible de recourir ou auxquelles il a été recouru au niveau national ou au niveau de l’Union, ou à ces deux niveaux, ainsi que de l’incidence probable de la réintroduction du contrôle sur la libre circulation des personnes au sein de l’espace Schengen (article 30, paragraphe 1).

Les conditions extrêmement restrictives pour l’application de cette procédure spécifique de réintroduction ou de maintien du contrôle aux frontières intérieures portent à croire qu’une telle procédure serait surtout destinée à jouer un rôle préventif d’avertissement aux États Schengen pour qu’ils prennent effectivement au sérieux leurs obligations communes de vérification et de surveillance à leurs frontières extérieures, en abandonnant toute pratique incompatible.

Quoi qu’il en soit, l’application de l’article 29 permet de vouer un État Schengen à l’ostracisme et à l’exclusion, jusqu’à deux ans, de l’espace sans contrôle aux frontières intérieures. Il suffit que le Conseil recommande à tous les autres États Schengen de réintroduire le contrôle à leurs frontières communes avec le premier et que tous ces États décident de suivre une telle recommandation. Celle-ci jouera en pratique le rôle de mesure réactive de type sanctionnateur (voir en ce sens Henri Labayle, « Schengen : un espace dans l’impasse », Revue Europe, 2016).

Il convient de rappeler, par ailleurs, que dans le cadre du contentieux franco-italien de 2011 (concernant la réintroduction par la France des contrôles à sa frontière commune avec l’Italie, suite à l’arrivée d’un grand nombre de migrants en provenance de la Tunisie au territoire italien), le Conseil européen du 23-24 juin 2011, secondé par la Commission [COM(2011) 561 final], a proposé l’introduction dans le CFS d’une « clause de sauvegarde » d’application tendanciellement automatique « afin d’autoriser, à titre exceptionnel, le rétablissement des contrôles aux frontières intérieures en cas de situation véritablement critique, lorsqu’un Etat membre n’est plus en mesure de respecter ses obligations au titre des règles Schengen », quelle qu’en soit la cause (voir « Internal border controls in the Schengen area: Is Schengen crisis-proof? » Study for the LIBE committee, 2016, p. 23-25).

Ce n’est donc qu’en faisant une inexplicable table rase soit du contenu que peut revêtir une recommandation du Conseil basée sur l’article 29 CFS, soit des travaux préparatoires concernant cette disposition, que la Commission peut affirmer qu’une telle mesure « n’est pas une sanction à l’encontre d’un ou de plusieurs États membres, pas plus qu’elle ne vise à exclure quelque État membre que se soit de l’espace Schengen », mais simplement « une mesure visant à préserver le fonctionnement global» de cet espace [COM (2016)120 final].

L’application pratique de l’article 29 devient d’autant plus problématique que celui-ci ne fait pas une distinction que la « crise des migrants et des réfugiés sans précédent », survenue au cours de 2015, a rendu indispensable et urgente. Il s’agit de la distinction entre, d’une part, les « manquements graves persistants dans l’exécution du contrôle aux frontières extérieures », susceptibles d’être évités à travers d’une « diligence moyenne » de la part de l’État Schengen concerné et, d’autre part, les manquements du même type qui sont manifestement hors du contrôle de cet État, en raison notamment de l’ampleur, de l’intensité et de la persistance de la pression migratoire à ses frontières extérieures maritimes et terrestres, ainsi que de l’insuffisance au moins provisoirement insurmontable des moyens humains et matériels pour leur faire face.

Cette dernière situation, frôlant le cas de force majeure, a été vécue par la Grèce surtout à partir de septembre 2015 et au moins jusqu’à « la mise en œuvre initiale de la déclaration UE-Turquie du 18 mars 2016 ». Ce n’est donc nullement par hasard que la Grèce est le sixième État Schengen concerné para la décision d’exécution. Celle-ci lui impute des manquements graves persistants dans l’exécution des contrôles à ses frontières extérieures, certains desquels persistent et mettent en péril le fonctionnement global de l’espace Schengen.

À cet égard, la question essentielle de savoir si d’autres États Schengen ont pu manquer à leur devoir de solidarité vers la Grèce n’est même pas soulevée. La décision d’exécution se limite à relever que « du fait de sa situation géographique, la République hellénique est particulièrement touchée par [la crise des migrants et des réfugiés sans précédent] et a dû faire face à une augmentation spectaculaire du nombre de migrants arrivant sur les îles de la mer Égée », la zone la plus exposée (attendu 2). Le mot « spectaculaire » apparaît assez malheureux dans ce contexte. Le bon mot serait sans doute « incontrôlable ».

Cette critique d’ordre terminologique n’est sûrement pas la seule susceptible d’être adressée à la décision d’exécution, qui vise avant tout à légitimer, au regard du CFS, le maintien du contrôle, par les cinq États concernés, à leurs frontières intérieures au de-là du 12 mai 2016. Il convient surtout de vérifier si cette décision respecte intégralement les conditions prévues par l’article 29 CFS pour imputer en même temps à la Grèce des manquements graves persistants dans l’exécution du contrôle à ses frontières extérieures, représentant « une menace grave pour l’ordre public ou la sécurité intérieure» dans l’espace Schengen ou sur des tronçons de cet espace, qu’aucune autre mesure « ne peut effectivement atténuer ». Cette imputation constitue en effet une conditio sine qua non pour le maintien du contrôle aux frontières intérieures recommandé par le Conseil.

Or, c’est la décision d’exécution elle-même qui, dans son attendu 13, lance des doutes considérables à cet égard : « La République hellénique a accompli des progrès importants dans la correction de nombreux manquements que présente la gestion de ses frontières extérieures, constatés au cours de l’évaluation de novembre 2015. En outre, la mise en œuvre initiale de la déclaration UE-Turquie du 18 mars 2016 ainsi que les opérations en cours menées par Frontex et l’OTAN ont entraîné une diminution sensible du nombre de migrants en situation irrégulière et de demandeurs d’asile qui partent de la Turquie pour gagner la République hellénique. Cette réduction substantielle du flux de migrants en situation irrégulière et de demandeurs d’asile vers la République hellénique, ainsi que le soutien apporté par les agences de l’Union européenne et d’autres États membres dans les centres d’enregistrement, ont permis à la République hellénique d’améliorer sensiblement l’enregistrement des migrants en situation irrégulière et des demandeurs d’asile nouvellement arrivés » (italiques ajoutés).

Au vu de ces constatations – et si les mots employés par le Conseil ont un sens précis –, il n’est pas du tout évident que la conclusion puisse être celle qui est tirée à l’attendu 16 : « comme aucune autre mesure n’a pu effectivement atténuer la menace grave constatée, il s’ensuit que les conditions pour appliquer l’article 29 (…) en dernier recours sont remplies ». En effet, plusieurs mesures ont pu effectivement atténuer la dite « menace grave », même si, le cas échéant, elles ne l’auraient pas totalement éliminée. En tout état de cause, ce n’est pas cette dernière exigence que fait l’article 29, même si dans sa proposition de décision d’exécution [COM (2016) 275 final, p. 5] la Commission semble utiliser ces deux verbes comme synonymes.

Dans ce contexte, la décision d’exécution reproche encore à la Grèce le fait que la surveillance à sa frontière avec l’ancienne République yougoslave de Macédoine « n’est actuellement pas totalement conforme au code frontières Schengen » (attendu 14). Comment pourrait-elle l’être dans l’immédiat si ce pays tiers a carrément fermé cette frontière commune avec la Grèce pour des périodes considérables, en bloquant sur le territoire grec les migrants et requérants de protection internationale désireux de la franchir ?

Toujours selon la décision d’exécution, « Cette situation accroît le risque de mouvements secondaires de migrants vers d’autres États membres ». Toutefois, pour que « le risque persistant de mouvements secondaires de migrants en situation irrégulière » (que la décision d’exécution ne cherche même pas à démontrer,) puisse légitimer le maintien du contrôle aux frontières intérieures en cause, il faudrait également examiner au préalable, au regard du principe de proportionnalité. son « incidence probable » sur la libre circulation des personnes au sein de l’espace Schengen [article 30, paragraphe 1, lettre c), CFS]. C’est un exercice que la décision en cause a manifestement omis de faire, dans la mesure où elle a accepté sans plus les justifications fournies par les cinq États destinataires de la recommandation.

Par ailleurs, pour ce qui est de la légalité procédurale de la décision d’exécution, il semble également critiquable qu’elle ait été adoptée avant l’expiration du délai de trois mois prévu par l’article 16, paragraphe 4, du règlement nº 1053/2013 pour que, à la suite des recommandations de mesures correctives adoptées par le Conseil le 12 février 2016, la Grèce rende compte de la mise en oeuvre de son plan d’action. Ce délai expirerai précisément le 12 mai 2016. Toutefois, dès lors que la Grèce avait fait ce compte-rendu le 26 avril, la Commission a estimé qu’elle « ne devrait pas attendre l’expiration du délai de trois mois pour évaluer si, au 12 mai 2016, la situation persistera (…) ». Le 4 mai elle a présenté sa proposition de « recommandation annoncée » au Conseil.

Ces anticipations ne semblent pourtant pas compatibles au moins avec l’esprit de l’article 29 CFS – qui exige que l’État Schengen dont le contrôle à ses frontières extérieures a été considéré gravement défaillant puisse avoir une opportunité effective d’essayer de résoudre tous les problèmes jusqu’à l’expiration des délais prévus à cette fin (voir dans ce sens Steve Peers, EU Justice and Home Affairs Law, Volume I, Oxford : OUP, 2016, p. 113).

Il est certes vrai que, nonobstant la menace grave et nullement atténuée imputée illégalement à la Grèce, la décision d’exécution n’a pas recommandé aux cinq États concernés de réintroduire le contrôle à leurs frontières communes avec la Grèce, lesquelles ne comprennent pas des frontières terrestres. Cette décision ignore ainsi la relation directe établie, bien ou mal, par l’article 29 entre défaillances qualifiées dans les contrôles aux frontières extérieures d’un État Schengen et réintroduction/maintien, par d’autres, du contrôle aux frontières intérieures avec premier.

Il ne s’ensuit cependant pas que, dans cette mesure, la décision d’exécution doive être considérée aussi illégale. En effet, l’article 29 ne semble pas exiger que, en cas de constatation de manquements graves liés au contrôle des frontières extérieures, mettant en péril le fonctionnement global de l’espace Schengen, la réintroduction du contrôle aux frontières intérieures qui peut en découler, le cas échéant, doive comprendre forcément l’État qui a fait l’objet d’une telle constatation.

Quoi qu’il en soit, même si dans le cas d’espèce la Grèce n’a pas été exactement suspendue de l’espace Schengen voire vouée à l’ostracisme, il n’en reste pas moins qu’en passant, la décision d’exécution produit sur elle l’effet d’une flétrissure, avec tout ce que cela implique du point de vue de la confiance mutuelle, sans laquelle l’espace Schengen ne peut pas subsister.

Est cela le signe d’un temps où, s’agissant de la refondation de l’Union européenne souhaitée par certains, la Grèce ainsi que d’autres États membres n’auront pas de place en pied d’égalité, et la Commission, au lieu de maintenir son rôle essentiel de « gardienne des traités », assumera le rôle d’adjoint d’un Conseil « directorial » ? Ou (et) s’agit-t-il d’un signe d’un temps où l’Union européenne se permet déjà de traiter plus sévèrement les États membres dont les gouvernements ne reflètent pas intégralement des partis ouverts aux « grandes coalitions », au sens germanique de l’expression ?

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The text below is the final version of the EU Regulation on the European Border and Coast Guard as revised by the Jurist Linguists of the EU institutions. Formally adopted this week as a “corrigendum” by the European Parliament and by written procedure by the Council it will be published on the Official Journal in the coming weeks. Presented, negotiated and adopted in extremely short time ([1]) under the pressure of the European Council the new EU Regulation on the European Border and Coast Guard could be seen at the same time a main evolutionary step and a revolutionary one in the relation between the EU and its Member States in the freedom security and justice area. 

Even if the main subject of the text is the border management it covers also directly and indirectly other EU policies such as refugee law, international protection, migration and even internal and external security. Not surprisingly  such an ambitious objective was difficult if not impossible to achieve in such a short time and several commentators and representatives of the civil society have already considered (see Peers , Carrera [1], Rijpma [2], and, more recently, De Bruycker [3])  that the text on one side does not deliver what it announces and on the other side is still rooted in an old intergovernamental model. Maybe from a legistic point of view instead of bringing all these objectives in a single legislative text it would had been more elegant to focus its content only on the organisational and operational aspect of the “new” Frontex  and deal with the general framework of the integrated EU border management in the Schengen Border Code where general rules on the definition, negotiation adoption and implementation would had been better placed together with the rules on its evaluation and on the adoption of extraordinary measures in case of emergency. However these have probably been considered by the Commission legal niceties to be dealt with in times with less political pressure.. 

With so many objectives it is not surprising that the final result is far from the expectations and the text is somewhere still elusive and somewhere too detailed. It can then be interesting to  compare the negotiation position of the three institutions as it result from a very interesting Multicolumn document leaked by Statewatch during the “confidential” legislative trilogies. It shows that the European Parliament has tried to improve the original Commission proposal and has obtained some concessions from the Council but regrettably, it had lost the main targets such as the definition in codecision of the European Border Strategy (instead of a simple decision of the Agency’s Management Board) and even on the procedure to appoint of the Agency Director where its position will be to express an opinion …which can be disregarded.

Further comments will follow. EDC


[1] See the CEPS study of Sergio Carrera and Leonhard den Hertog “A European Border and Coast Guard: What’s in a name?”

[2] See Jorrit RIJPMA study for the Civil Liberties Committee of the EP “The proposal for a European Border and Coast Guard: evolution or revolution in external border management?”

[3] See Philippe DE BRUYCKER “The European Border and Coast Guard: A New Model Built on an Old Logic


It is the latest (and quite likely not the last) of a chain of legal texts by which the EU has tried in the recent years to legally frame the issue of human mobility and human security in the EU by taking in account the new legal framework after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and of the EU Charter of fundamental rights.

[1] A rather detailed and updated collection of the legislative preparatory works can be found here :  https://free-group.eu/2016/06/10/wiki-lex-the-new-eu-border-guard-proposal/

[2] As as verified by the Jurist Linguist and endorsed by the EP according to art 231 of its Rules of procedure)


REGULATION (EU) 2016/…OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of … on the European Border and Coast Guard and amending Regulation (EU) 2016/399 of the European Parliament and of the Council and repealing Regulation (EC) No 863/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council, Council Regulation (EC) No 2007/2004 and Council Decision 2005/267/EC


Having regard to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and in particular Articles 77(2)(b) and (d) and Article 79(2)(c) thereof,

Having regard to the proposal from the European Commission,

After transmission of the draft legislative act to the national parliaments,

Having regard to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee1,

Acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure2,

Whereas: Continue reading “WORTH READING : the final text of the EUROPEAN BORDER AND COAST GUARD REGULATION”

Will UK citizens have to pay to visit the EU after Brexit?


by Steve Peers

Following a Guardian article on Saturday, and the Home Secretary’s confirmation on Sunday, it’s clear that the EU is planning to institute some kind of Electronic System of Travel Authorisation (ESTA) in future, which could well apply to UK citizens visiting the EU after Brexit. I’ll examine the background, context and consequences in this post.


What is an ESTA?

First of all, let’s establish what an ESTA is not. It’s not a means of regulating longer-term migration as such, although there is an indirect link between long-term migration rules and ESTA systems, as discussed below. Rather it’s a means of regulating short-term visits for tourism or other reasons.

Nor is an ESTA a tourist visa. A lot of people have confused it with one, perhaps because a Guardian sub-editor initially put an inaccurate headline on the original story (I see the online headline has since been corrected). A tourist visa is a bigger hassle for visitors than an ESTA, since travellers must visit a consulate or pay an agency to handle their application. It entails higher fees and a longer waiting period, and probably a bigger risk of rejection.

During the Brexit referendum campaign, the prospect of a visa regime between the UK and EU was not raised by the Leave side generally. However, it was raised by a junior minister, Dominic Raab, and at the time I trashed the idea here. Since then, Theresa May has shown sufficient judgment to return Raab to the backbenches, so hopefully we have heard the last of this idea for a while.

So what is an ESTA? It’s a way of gathering travellers’ information in advance of travel, usually for citizens of countries subject to a visa waiver, for instance the USA and Japan. In fact, the best-known example of an ESTA is the American version, although there are several other countries with one.  If a traveller fails to complete an ESTA in advance of travel, they will likely be denied boarding or admission at the border.  The US version includes a fee for administration and tourism promotion. Usually the form is completed, and the fee paid, online. It’s recommended to complete the ESTA form several days in advance, although on my last trip to the USA, I did it just before dashing out of the house to catch my plane. (I am not suggesting this as best practice).

The EU context

The EU has been considering an ESTA for a while. It would form part of the Schengen system of standardised external border controls, which are paralleled by the abolition (in principle) of internal border controls between Schengen States. The Schengen states comprise all the EU countries except Ireland – although Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Croatia do not fully participate yet – plus four non-EU Schengen associates (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein).

A key feature of EU law in this area is that the Schengen system interacts with EU free movement law. So because the UK and Ireland have signed up to the free movement of EU citizens as EU Member States, their citizens are fast-tracked across the Schengen external borders. The same is true of the Schengen associates, because they have all signed up to free movement of their citizens with the EU as well.

Other non-EU citizens are subject to more intensive checks at the Schengen external border, as set out in the Schengen Borders Code. There’s a simple reason for this: they don’t have an underlying right to stay in the country, whereas citizens of EU Member States and the Schengen associates do – subject to exceptions. There are also distinctions between non-EU countries: some (like the US or Canada) have a visa waiver from the Schengen countries, while others (like India and China) don’t.

An ESTA was first discussed in a Commission discussion paper back in 2008. This was followed up by a very detailed study in 2011 which recommended against the idea, after which the Commission dismissed it.  In 2013, the Commission decided instead to propose an entry-exit system, which would record the movements of non-EU citizens (besides the Schengen associates) into and out of the Schengen external borders. Discussions on that proposal moved slowly, and the Commission proposed a new version of it in spring 2016. The intention is to agree on this system by the end of the year, although it will take several years afterward to get the system up and running in practice.

At the same time, the Commission revived talk of a possible EU ESTA, in a discussion paper on EU information systems. This excited many Member States, as can be seen by a Dutch EU Council Presidency paper published in the spring, which argued that the system could be a quid pro quo for visa waivers with countries like Ukraine and Turkey. Now the idea is on the agenda for the summit of the ‘EU27’ (ie the EU without the UK) to be held this week. It is being pushed by France and Germany in particular. Surely only a cynic would link this to the upcoming elections in those countries…


Like the entry-exit system, an EU ESTA would take some time to set up. The details of how it would work would remain to be determined: the Commission is due to make a proposal this autumn, which would then be agreed by the Council (only Schengen States get a vote, so not the UK) and the European Parliament. So it might not follow the US model exactly, in terms of fees or the link to the broader border control system, or the two-year period of validity.

For one thing, some of the EU documents suggest an EU ESTA will apply at external land borders, whereas the US system does not. Also, some EU papers suggest an ESTA will be used as a method of screening people and denying them entry in advance, while others refer to it simply as generating information for border guards to use to speed up their work. It’s not clear whether an ESTA would apply to those UK citizens who live in the EU already, if they (for instance) visited the UK and then returned to France.

But it does seem very likely that it will apply to all non-EU countries which don’t have a treaty on free movement of citizens with the EU. This would follow the existing model of the Schengen Borders Code, the Schengen Information System (which includes data on non-EU citizens to be refused entry) and the proposed entry-exit system. It’s simply common sense: fast-track entry at the border for those who are not subject in principle to immigration controls, but scrutiny at the border (or in advance of it) for those who are.

It’s been suggested that the application of an EU ESTA to the UK would be an act of ‘spite’. This is simply ridiculous. If a country leaves the EU, it leaves behind both the pros and cons of membership. In short: divorce doesn’t come with bed privileges.

Many on the Leave side argued that the UK should leave the EU and then stop applying free movement law, so that it could exercise more control over EU citizens at the border. Applying an EU ESTA to UK citizens would just be exactly the same principle in reverse. Equally UK citizens would no longer be fast-tracked at Schengen external borders, would be subject to the EU entry-exit system and (for a few) would be listed in the Schengen Information System as people to be denied entry into any Schengen State. This isn’t ‘scaremongering’: it’s simply a description of existing and proposed EU law.

So will the UK be subject to an EU ESTA after Brexit? The obvious way to avoid it (and the other forms of stepped-up border control) would be to conclude a deal on free movement of persons with the EU (this need not mean joining Schengen). Arguably even a free movement deal with derogations – for instance, limiting the numbers of EU citizens who can work in the UK in some way – could justify an exemption from stepped-up border controls, as long as those UK controls are not applied at the border. I can foresee the counter-argument that ‘the EU will never negotiate an exception to free movement of people’; but has it occurred to anyone that this might simply be a negotiating position?

If an EU ESTA does end up being applied to UK citizens, the UK could reciprocate with a system of its own, applied to EU visitors. But this doesn’t rule out some form of deal on immigration flows between the UK and the EU, which could be agreed in return for continued UK participation in the single market.  The mere existence of a UK ESTA – perhaps accompanied by some other form of immigration safeguard on EU citizens – might arguably go some way to satisfying those who want additional border controls. It could be accompanied by further mutual sharing of data on serious convicted criminals, for use in the ESTA process. Latvia’s daft decision to release a convicted murderer after only a few years in prison should not have had tragic consequences in the UK, or any other Member State.

Extradition to non-EU countries: the limits imposed by EU citizenship


Steve Peers

One of the best-known EU laws created the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), which replaced the prior rules governing extradition between Member States. But on the other hand, in principle EU law has nothing to do with extradition to non-EU countries, except where the EU has agreed a treaty on this issue (as it has with the USA and Norway and Iceland), or as regards asylum-seekers (the EU’s asylum procedures law limits their extradition to their country of origin, because it’s necessary to determine first if the country which seeks to prosecute them is in fact persecuting them).

Yesterday’s CJEU judgment in Petruhhin altered this legal position. EU law does apply to such issues, and the Court clarified some relevant issues while leaving others open. Furthermore, the judgment raises the question of future UK/EU relations on extradition following Brexit.


Extradition between the EU and non-EU countries is governed by a combination of national law and bilateral and multilateral treaties – most notably the Council of Europe Convention on Extradition, which has been ratified by all 47 European countries plus three non-EU countries. There are four further Protocols to this Convention, which have been ratified by fewer States.

A key feature of extradition law is that in principle most States will not extradite their own citizens, although within the EU, the EAW law has overruled any absolute ban on surrendering nationals as between Member States. While the refusal to extradite citizens could run a risk of impunity if those citizens commit criminal offences in another country, most States avoid that risk by extending their criminal jurisdiction to cover acts of their citizens committed outside their territory. In fact many EU laws and international treaties require States to assert such extraterritorial jurisdiction as regards specific transnational crimes.

The EAW law says a little about possible conflict between EAWs and extradition requests from third countries. It states simply that in the case of such a conflict, the national authority should decide which takes priority ‘with due consideration of all the circumstances’, including the relevant treaty and ‘the relative seriousness and place of the offences’, the relevant dates of the requests and whether the extradition request or EAW aims to obtain custody of a fugitive for trial or to serve a sentence already imposed.

This compares with the original proposal for the EAW law, which always gave priority to an EAW if the extradition request came from a country which was not party to the Council of Europe Convention. That clause was dropped following intensive lobbying from the US government, while the law was being negotiated in autumn 2001 (the EAW law was largely motivated by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, although it is not limited to terrorist offences).


The Petruhhin case concerned an Estonian citizen sought by the Russian government for prosecution for organised crime offences. He was safe from extradition to Russia as long as he stayed in Estonia, since that country will not extradite its nationals outside the EU. But at one point he was arrested in Latvia, which decided to implement the Russian request. While Latvia also refuses to extradite its own citizens outside the EU, an Estonian citizen prima facie obviously cannot rely on that protection.

So Mr Petruhhin tried to rely on his transnational form of citizenship instead, arguing that since he was an EU citizen in another Member State, he was entitled to equal treatment with Latvians – therefore protecting him from extradition from Latvia to Russia, just like them. (Logically if his argument had worked, he would also be protected from extradition from any other Member State which refuses to extradite its own citizens to Russia).

The CJEU ruled first of all that the despite the absence of EU law on this issue, the dispute fell within the scope of EU free movement law, since Mr Petruhhin was exercising free movement rights. Therefore he had a right to equal treatment with nationals of Latvia in principle. However, a breach of that equality right could be justified on the grounds of avoiding impunity from prosecution for alleged criminal offences: Latvia, like most States, extends its criminal jurisdiction to cover acts of its own citizens abroad, but not the acts of citizens of other countries abroad. This distinction between the position of Latvians and citizens of other Member States can justify different treatment as regards protection from an extradition request.

Having said that, the Court added a crucial rider. To limit the effect of its ruling upon free movement rights (the proportionality principle), it ruled that Latvia has to contact the Estonian authorities first, to see if they wish to prosecute him there on the basis of theirextraterritorial jurisdiction, before handing him over to Russia. That’s an important proviso, as many people believe they are more likely to be treated fairly in the courts of their own State. At any rate, this likely means they will have access to defence and court proceedings in their own language, with any pre-trial detention closer to friends and family.

Finally, the Court stated that any extradition to Russia was subject to the ban on torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment set out in Article 4 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which transposes the standards set out in Article 3 ECHR and the relevant case-law of the European Court of Human Rights on this issue. That means that if there’s a real risk of such treatment in Russia, the fugitive cannot be extradited there in any case. It should be noted that the Charter equally bans extradition to face the death penalty.


First of all, the Court was correct to assert the link between EU free movement law and extradition to third States, although its rather abstract reasoning could be improved upon. The best argument supporting this part of the ruling is rather that Mr Petruhhin would have been deterred from leaving Estonia for another Member State if he ran a risk of being extradited to Russia every time he left the country.

Next, would EU law also apply to cases where a Member State considers extraditing itsown citizen to a non-EU country? The question may not arise often, since as noted already, many Member States don’t do this at all. But where they do, logically the case law on citizenship of the European Union (as distinct from free movement applies). As developed since the Zambrano judgment, this prevents citizens of their own Member State from being forced outside the EU in principle, as they are thereby deprived of EU citizenship. But logically the same limits apply by analogy: extradition of citizens can be justified on grounds of preventing immunity, but that is qualified if the extraditing State subjects its own citizens to prosecution for acts committed abroad (most do, as noted already).

Third, could there be other grounds justifying extradition to a non-EU state, besides preventing impunity? This isn’t clear from the judgment. But logically the judgment would apply by analogy to cases where a fugitive has already been sentenced to a term of imprisonment. In such cases, Latvia (say) would contact Estonia to see if the latter country could take over the punishment imposed by Russia, pursuant to the Council of Europe treaty on the transfer of prisoners or another relevant international treaty.

Could there be further grounds preventing extradition to a non-EU state, besides the Charter ban on the death penalty and torture et al, and the priority for EAWs? For instance, what if the person concerned has already been tried in a Member State, or in a third State? The EU has a cross-border ban on double jeopardy, but it only applies to Member States and Schengen associates, not to countries like Russia and the USA. Extradition treaties sometimes address this issue, but don’t always cover every double jeopardy scenario. A pending case before the CJEU should clarify this issue.

Next, logically the ruling would also apply by analogy if a third Member State could apply its jurisdiction: say an Estonian in Latvia was wanted by Russia but could potentially be prosecuted or serve a sentence in France, due to an [alleged] assault against a Russian citizen in France, or a French citizen in Russia. (Some countries assert criminal jurisdiction where one of their citizens was a victim of crime).

This brings us to the issue of conflict between an EAW and an extradition request from a non-EU state. The CJEU didn’t have to comment on this issue in its judgment, because no EAW had been issued yet. But the Court’s judgment necessarily means that there is more likely to be such a conflict in future, if Estonia indeed issues an EAW. And if that happens, the new judgment implies that the open-ended conflict rule in the EAW has to give way to the primary law of the Treaties: so the Estonian EAW has to take precedence over the Russian extradition request. The Court has in effect enshrined priority for EAWs over (almost) all non-EU extradition requests, whereas the original Commission proposal, as noted above, would have given such priority only over extradition requests from non-Council of Europe states. Perhaps the Americans should also have lobbied the Court of Justice.

But then, the USA has its own extradition deal already with the EU, as noted at the outset. (The deal with Norway and Iceland has not been ratified yet). The Court says several times in its judgment that the general rules it elaborates here are without prejudice to extradition treaties concluded between the EU and third countries. Presumably it can interpret the EU/USA treaty, since it can interpret any treaties which the EU signs with non-EU states. In fact, there’s a pending case before the CJEU which asks the Court to interpret this very treaty.


This judgment is probably relevant for Brexit. The UK government has recently hintedthat it will seek some continuation of criminal law cooperation with the EU. There will be transitional issues with EAWs pending on Brexit Day, which the EU/UK withdrawal treaty concluded under Article 50 TEU will hopefully address. In fact there are already possible complications arising from Brexit in this area, as there are several challenges in Irelandto the execution of UK EAWs on the grounds that Brexit is coming. The CJEU may well be called on to address these issues even before Brexit Day.

For the position after Brexit, it’s undoubtedly possible for the EU to conclude an extradition arrangement with the UK, as the Court’s judgment actively encourages the EU to sign such treaties. In fact, the judgment might arguably be the basis of an argument for EU exclusive competence over extradition treaties with non-EU countries, on the basis that any Member State agreements would affect the operation of the EAW law, at least as regards EU citizens. That would mean that the UK could no longer sign extradition deals with individual EU countries, but only with the EU as a whole.

If no deal were reached, the UK and EU could fall back on the Council of Europe extradition Convention. But as I have noted before, this would mean far less extradition (and much slower extradition) as compared to the EAW.

If there were a UK/EU deal, Member States may still want to refuse to extradite their own citizens to the UK, as they have under the treaty with Norway and Iceland. But even if they are willing to extradite them to the UK, on whatever treaty basis, it may be arguable on the basis of the new judgment that they can’t, as long as the fugitive can be tried or serve her sentence in the remaining EU. And although the UK can still assist an EU Member State in prosecuting its own citizens, that will be far more expensive for the UK authorities than trying the person in the UK.