La modification discrète du Code Frontières Schengen par le règlement 2016/1624 relatif au corps européen de garde-frontières: comblement d’une lacune ?

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON ODYSSEUS NETWORK BLOG  (17/11/16)

By Nuno Piçarra, Universidade Nova de Lisboa & European University Institute.

 

Le Conseil des ministres a adopté le 11 novembre 2016 une nouvelle décisionpermettant à cinq Etats Schengen de prolonger pour trois mois supplémentaires des contrôles aux frontières intérieures en cas de circonstances exceptionnelles. Cette décision faisant suite à celle du 12 mai 2016 qui avait autorisé ces contrôles pour six mois pose question au regard d’une modification de sa base juridique, à savoir, l’article 29 du Code Frontières Schengen (CFS, règlement 2016/399 du 9 mars 2016). En effet, le paragraphe 1er de cet article a été modifié récemment par l’article 80 du règlement 2016/1624 du 14 septembre 2016 relatif au corps européen de garde-frontières et de garde-côtes.

L’article 29 CFS qui établit une procédure spécifique de réintroduction temporaire du contrôle aux frontières intérieures « en cas de circonstances exceptionnelles mettant en péril le fonctionnement global de l’espace sans contrôles aux frontières intérieures » a été, avant sa modification, la base légale de la décision d’exécution 2016/894 du 12 mai 2016. Par cette décision, le Conseil a, après avoir imputé à la Grèce des manquements graves persistants liés au contrôle de ses frontières extérieures mettant en péril le fonctionnement global de l’espace Schengen, recommandé à l’Autriche, à l’Allemagne, au Danemark, à la Suède et à la Norvège de maintenir des contrôles à certaines de leurs frontières intérieures pour une durée maximale de six mois à compter du 12 mai 2016. Conformément à l’article 29 CFS, le Conseil ne peut pas recommander aux autres État membres de réintroduire temporairement le contrôle aux frontières intérieures sans imputer de tels manquements à au moins un État Schengen. Les doutes concernant la légalité de cette décision ont déjà été examinés dans ce blog (Nuno Piçarra, « Rétablissement des contrôles… »).

Dans sa version initiale, l’article 29, paragraphe 1er, comportait une lacune que la crise de l’asile a rendue manifeste. En effet, s’agissant, pour le Conseil, de recommander « en dernier recours » « à un ou plusieurs États membres de décider de réintroduire le contrôle à toutes leurs frontières intérieures ou sur des tronçons spécifiques de celles-ci », la disposition en question ne faisait pas de distinction entre, d’une part, les « manquements graves persistants dans l’exécution du contrôle aux frontières extérieures », susceptibles d’être prévenus et évités par le biais d’une « diligence moyenne » de la part de l’État concerné et, d’autre part, les manquements qui, ne pouvant pas être contrôlés par un État en raison de la spécificité et de la disproportion de la pression migratoire à ses frontières extérieures, s’apparentent à de la force majeure. Cela ne préjuge pas de la question différente – et préalable – de savoir si, dans une telle hypothèse, compte tenu de ses obligations en matière de protection internationale « notamment en ce qui concerne le non-refoulement », l’État concerné devrait, ou non, appliquer les règles du CFS dont la violation est considérée comme constitutive de tels manquements.

En bref, selon la version antérieure de l’article 29, paragraphe 1er, de tels manquements, quelle qu’en fût la cause, permettaient au Conseil de recommander aux États Schengen de réintroduire temporairement les contrôles aux frontières intérieures. Une fois appliquée, une telle recommandation pouvait, à la limite, impliquer la suspension de l’État concerné de « l’espace sans contrôle aux frontières intérieures ».

L’article 80 du règlement 2016/1624 a introduit dans le paragraphe 1er de l’article 29 CFS deux nouveaux fondements pour le déclenchement de la « procédure spécifique » que cette disposition prévoit. Ces fondements s’ajoutent aux « manquements graves persistants liés au contrôle aux frontières extérieures visés à l’article 21 » CFS. La présente contribution commence par identifier ces deux nouveaux fondements (1), en les soumettant à une appréciation critique afin de savoir s’ils comblent la lacune détectée dans la version antérieure de l’article 29, paragraphe 1er (2). In fine, elle répondra à la question de savoir si, au cas où la nouvelle version de l’article 29, paragraphe 1er, aurait déjà été en vigueur le 12 mai 2016, la décision d’exécution du Conseil aurait pu avoir le même contenu à l’égard de la Grèce (3).

1. Les nouveaux fondements pour la réintroduction temporaire du contrôle aux frontières intérieures conformément à l’article 29 CFS

Le nouveau paragraphe 1er de l’article 29 CFS renvoie à l’article 19 (« Situation aux frontières extérieures nécessitant une action urgente »), paragraphe 1er sous a) et b), du règlement 2016/1624.

Le premier fondement sous a) vise l’État Schengen qui, à la suite d’une évaluation considérant que ses frontières sont vulnérables, ne se conforme pas à une décision du Conseil définissant les mesures qui doivent être mises en œuvre d’urgence par l’Agence européenne de garde-frontières et ne coopère pas avec celle-ci. Une telle décision est adoptée parce que l’État concerné n’a pas pris auparavant les mesures nécessaires conformément à une décision de l’Agence et a rendu le contrôle aux frontières extérieures « à ce point inefficace que le fonctionnement de l’espace Schengen risque d’être compromis ». Les mesures définies par le Conseil sont donc des « mesures d’atténuation de ces risques » provoqués par l’État concerné.

Le second fondement sous b) pour que le contrôle aux frontières intérieures puisse être réintroduit conformément à l’article 29 CFS vise l’État membre « confronté à des défis spécifiques et disproportionnés aux frontières extérieures » qui ne se conforme pas à une décision du Conseil définissant les mesures qui doivent être mises en œuvre par l’Agence et ne coopère pas avec celle-ci. Une telle décision est adoptée parce que l’État concerné soit (i) n’a pas demandé un appui suffisant à l’Agence (lancement d’opérations conjointes et d’interventions rapides aux frontières extérieures ou création d’équipes d’appui à la gestion des flux migratoires), soit (ii) tout en ayant demandé cet appui, « ne fait pas le nécessaire pour mettre en œuvre les mesures prévues ». Ces comportements de l’État concerné étant susceptibles de rendre « le contrôle aux frontières extérieures à ce point inefficace que le fonctionnement de l’espace Schengen risque d’être compromis », les mesures définies par le Conseil constituent des « mesures d’atténuation de ces risques ».

Les deux catégories de décisions du Conseil prises en vertu de l’article 19, paragraphe 1er, du règlement 2016/1624 doivent constituer « une réponse unifiée, rapide et efficace au niveau de l’UE » (considérant n° 28 de ce règlement). Les mesures que le Conseil peut définir en vue d’atténuer la mise en péril du fonctionnement global de l’espace Schengen sont énoncées au paragraphe 2 de l’article 19 : (i) organisation et coordination des interventions rapides aux frontières et déploiement des équipes européennes de garde-frontières et de garde-côtes, issues de la réserve de réaction rapide, ainsi que des équipes européennes de garde-frontières et de garde-côtes supplémentaires, le cas échéant ; (ii) déploiement des équipes de garde-frontières et de garde-côtes dans le cadre des équipes d’appui à la gestion des flux migratoires dans les « zones d’urgence migratoire » (hotspot areas); (iii) coordination des activités pour un ou plusieurs États membres et pays tiers aux frontières extérieures, y compris des opérations conjointes avec des pays tiers voisins ; (iv) déploiement d’équipes techniques ; (v) organisation des interventions en matière de retour.

Conformément au paragraphe 3, c’est au directeur exécutif de l’Agence qu’il revient de (i) déterminer les mesures devant être prises pour l’exécution de la décision du Conseil et (ii) en accord avec l’État concerné, établir un plan opérationnel et le lui transmettre. L’Agence doit déployer sans retard, et en tout état de cause dans un délai de cinq jours ouvrables à partir de l’établissement du plan opérationnel, les équipements techniques nécessaires et le personnel nécessaire, issu de la réserve de réaction rapide.

Enfin, si l’État concerné ne se conforme pas, dans un délai de trente jours, aux décisions du Conseil prises en vertu de l’article 19, paragraphe 1er et ne coopèrent pas avec l’Agence, la Commission peut déclencher la procédure prévue à l’article 29 CFS.

2. Appréciation critique du nouvel article 29, paragraphe 1er, CFS

Les deux nouveaux fondements prévus à l’article 29, paragraphe 1er, CFS ont en commun le fait qu’ils présupposent des situations de vulnérabilité aux frontières extérieures des États concernés qui sont susceptibles de les empêcher d’appliquer le CFS sans un appui de l’UE et en particulier de l’Agence. Dans le premier cas, cette vulnérabilité est constatée à la suite d’une évaluation effectuée en vertu del’article 13 du règlement 2016/1624 relatif au corps européen de garde-frontières. Dans le second, la vulnérabilité est la conséquence du fait que l’État concerné est « confronté à des défis spécifiques et disproportionnés aux frontières extérieures», selon l’expression introduite par l’article 19, paragraphe 1er, sous b), du même règlement.

La fausse neutralité du mot « défi » surprend, d’autant plus que le 1erconsidérant du règlement 2016/1624 se réfère expressément soit à des « flux migratoires sans précédent vers le territoire de l’Union », soit à des « flux croissants de migration mixte ». Quoi qu’il en soit, l’introduction d’un concept identifiant aux frontières extérieures des situations qui échappent au contrôle d’un État, voire relèvent de la force majeure et exigent une action urgente de l’Agence, est susceptible de combler la lacune détectée et doit donc être saluée.

Dans l’hypothèse prévue au paragraphe 1er, sous a), de l’article 19 du règlement 2016/1624, l’intervention de l’Agence ne peut avoir lieu qu’après la constatation d’une triple défaillance de la part de l’État concerné : (i) dans un premier temps, ses équipements techniques, systèmes, moyens, ressources, infrastructures et personnel qualifié, nécessaires pour le contrôle aux frontières extérieures, ont été jugés insuffisants à la suite d’une évaluation de l’Agence concluant à une situation de vulnérabilité ; (ii) dans un deuxième temps, l’État concerné ne s’est pas conformé à une recommandation du directeur exécutif de l’Agence énumérant les mesures correctives nécessaires pour éliminer les vulnérabilités détectées ; (iii)dans un troisième temps, l’État concerné ne s’est pas conformé à la décision de l’Agence énumérant les mesures correctives.

Ce dispositif passe toutefois sous silence la question importante de savoir si l’État concerné est objectivement à même de prendre les mesures correctives qui sont exigées de lui à la suite de l’évaluation de l’Agence, ou, en amont, s’il était objectivement à même de se doter de l’équipement, du personnel et des ressources nécessaires, compte tenu notamment de la dimension de ses frontières extérieures et/ou de sa situation géographique. Une telle omission ne constitue pas forcément une négligence coupable de l’État défaillant. Elle peut en effet renvoyer à une impossibilité objective, en particulier en cas de « défis spécifiques et disproportionnés à ses frontières extérieures », rendant indispensable une intervention de l’Agence à ce stade.

Ce n’est que dans un quatrième temps que l’Agence doit intervenir moyennant une décision du Conseil qui définit son mandat. L’intervention a pour but de remédier aux défaillances de l’État concerné susceptibles de compromettre le fonctionnement de l’espace Schengen. Dès lors que le paragraphe 10 de l’article 19 du règlement 2016/1624 envisage ouvertement l’hypothèse que l’État concerné ne se conforme pas à la décision du Conseil et donc décide de ne pas coopérer avec l’Agence, il est logique que, dans une telle hypothèse, le Conseil puisse recommander aux autres États Schengen de réintroduire le contrôle aux frontières intérieures avec l’État concerné, conformément à l’article 29 CFS.

Le second nouveau fondement pour déclencher la procédure spécifique de l’article 29 CFS est marqué par une présence plus immédiate de l’Agence, à laquelle tout État Schengen « confronté à un défi spécifique et disproportionné à ses frontières extérieures » doit demander le plus tôt possible des mesures d’appui suffisant (lancement d’opérations conjointes et d’interventions rapides aux frontières extérieures ou création d’équipes d’appui à la gestion des flux migratoires).

Par définition, un État est « confronté à des défis spécifiques et disproportionnés à ses frontières extérieures » lorsqu’il n’est pas à même d’y faire face sans l’appui de l’Agence. Dans cette hypothèse, le but de l’intervention de l’Agence est précisément d’éviter que l’État concerné n’atteigne une situation où le contrôle aux frontières extérieures est rendu à ce point inefficace que le fonctionnement de l’espace Schengen risque d’être compromis. Toutefois, s’agissant d’entreprendre les actions nécessaires pour l’exécution pratique des mesures d’appui adoptées par l’Agence, on ne saurait exclure de prime abord une situation où l’État concerné se trouverait dans l’impossibilité objective de le faire.

Pour toutes ces raisons et à l’instar de ce qui a été conclu à propos du premier fondement sous a) de l’article 19, paragraphe 1er, si le règlement 2016/1624 envisage expressément l’hypothèse que l’État concerné décide de ne pas se conformer à la décision du Conseil et de ne pas coopérer avec l’Agence (article 19, paragraphe 10), il est logique que le Conseil puisse également recommander aux autres États Schengen de réintroduire le contrôle aux frontières intérieures avec l’État concerné, conformément à l’article 29 CFS.

C’est précisément ici qui se trouve la raison pour laquelle la modification de l’article 29, paragraphe 1er, CFS introduite par l’article 80 du règlement 2016/1624 n’était pas comprise dans la proposition de la Commission du 15 décembre 2015 (COM(2015) 671).

En effet, dans l’économie de cette proposition, ni l’article 12 (« évaluation de la vulnérabilité »), ni l’article 18 (« situation aux frontières extérieures nécessitant une action urgente ») n’envisageaient la possibilité qu’un État Schengen décide de ne pas se conformer à la décision du directeur exécutif de l’Agence « exposant les mesures correctives nécessaires », qualifiées de contraignantes, ou à la décision de la Commission définissant les mesures à mettre en œuvre par l’Agence si un État ne prend pas ces mesures « en cas de pression migratoire disproportionnée aux frontières extérieures, rendant le contrôle aux frontières extérieures à ce point inefficace que le fonctionnement de l’espace Schengen risque d’être compromis ». Selon l’article 18, paragraphe 6, de la proposition de la Commission, l’État concerné « se conforme à la décision de la Commission et, à cet effet, coopère immédiatement avec l’Agence et prend les mesures nécessaires pour faciliter la mise en œuvre de ladite décision et l’exécution pratique des mesures exposées dans ladite décision et dans le plan opérationnel convenu avec le directeur exécutif ». Ce plan exigeait, toutefois, l’accord de l’État concerné, ce qui entravait le droit d’intervention de l’Agence (v. Jorrit Rijpma « The Proposal for a European Border and Coast Guard: evolution or revolution in external border management? », study for the LIBE Committee, 2016, p.18).

Quoi qu’il en soit, la proposition de la Commission impliquait que l’Etat membre ne se conformant pas à cette décision tombe notamment sous le coup de la procédure en manquement. A cette solution « supranationale », le Conseil et le Parlement ont préféré la solution plutôt « intergouvernementale » du nouvel paragraphe 1er de l’article 29 CFS.

Enfin, l’examen complet du second nouveau fondement sous b) de l’article 19 du règlement 2016/1624 visant le déclenchement de la procédure de l’article 29 CFS exige sa délimitation vis-à-vis du fondement relatif aux « manquements graves persistants liés au contrôle aux frontières extérieures visés à l’article 21 » CFS. Une telle délimitation pourrait s’avérer difficile de prime abord. En effet, ainsi que le démontre le cas de la Grèce, l’article 29 CFS, dans sa version antérieure, lui a été appliqué lorsque cet État Schengen se trouvait manifestement « confronté à des défis spécifiques et disproportionnés à ses frontières extérieures », pour utiliser l’expression de l’article 19, paragraphe 1er , sous b), du règlement 2016/1624.

Il ne s’ensuit pourtant pas que le nouveau fondement ait un effet de consomption sur le seul que prévoyait l’article 29 CFS avant d’être modifié par le règlement 2016/1624. Dans sa nouvelle version, les manquements graves persistants dans l’exécution du contrôle aux frontières extérieures devraient se circonscrire à ceux susceptibles d’être objectivement évités par une action diligente de la part de l’État concerné agissant seul, c’est-à-dire aux manquements indépendants des « défis spécifiques et disproportionnés aux frontières extérieures ».

Le nouveau paragraphe 1er de l’article 29 CFS peut certes être considéré comme un « signe concret de solidarité envers la Grèce, en contribuant à une solution de la crise à ses frontières extérieures à court terme », par le biais d’une intervention décisive de l’Agence à laquelle la Grèce n’aurait en principe aucun intérêt à s’opposer. Il s’agit toutefois d’une solution temporaire, dès lors que les instruments que l’Agence peut mobiliser à cette fin sont conçus comme temporaires par le règlement 2016/1624 (v. Philippe De Bruycker, « The European Border and Coast Guard : A new model built on an old logic »,European Papers, vol. 1, 2016, No 2, p. 567).

3. La décision d’exécution 2016/894 du 12 mai 2016 au regard du nouvel article 29, paragraphe 1er, CFS

Le constat qui vient d’être établi mène à la question de savoir si, au cas où le nouvel article 29, paragraphe 1er, CFS eût été en vigueur le 12 mai 2016, ladécision d’exécution 2016/894 recommandant à cinq États Schengen de maintenir le contrôle aux frontières intérieures, aurait pu avoir le même contenu à l’égard de la Grèce. La réponse est assurément négative.

En effet, la Grèce étant manifestement « confrontée à des défis spécifiques et disproportionnés aux frontières extérieures », le seule reproche qui pourrait, le cas échéant, lui être adressé en vertu du nouveau paragraphe 1er de l’article 29 CFS devrait forcément se référer au fait que cet État ne se serait pas conformé à une décision du Conseil adoptée en vertu de l’article 19, paragraphe 1, sous b), du règlement 2016/1624. Selon cette dernière disposition, le premier reproche susceptible d’être formulé à un État Schengen « confronté à des défis spécifiques et disproportionnés à ses frontières extérieures » est l’absence de demande de mesures d’appui à l’Agence.

Or, dans le cas d’espèce, il est constant que la Grèce a demandé le 3 décembre 2015 à Frontex le déploiement d’une assistance opérationnelle rapide sous la forme d’équipes européennes de gardes-frontières et d’équipement. Cette demande a été approuvée le 10 décembre et les opérations ont eu lieu entre le 28 décembre et le 26 mars 2016 (voyez la décision d’exécution de la Commission du 24 février 2016 arrêtant une recommandation sur les mesures spécifiques à prendre en République hellénique – C(2016)1219, considérant nº 8). Toutefois, selon la Commission elle-même, Frontex “a demandé aux États membres de fournir 743 agents invités pour travailler à la frontière extérieure de la Grèce alors qu’à ce jour, seuls 447 d’entre eux ont été envoyés” (voy. COM(2015) 673, final, p. 6). Res ipsa loquitur quant à la mesure de la solidarité manifestée envers la Grèce par l’ensemble de ses partenaires Schengen…

Par conséquent, il faudrait constater que la Grèce n’avait pas fait le nécessaire pour mettre en œuvre les mesures d’appui demandées à l’Agence, rendant le contrôle aux frontières extérieures à ce point inefficace que le fonctionnement de l’espace Schengen risquerait d’être compromis, pour que le Conseil puisse adopter une décision sur la base de l’article 19, paragraphe 1er, recensant les mesures nécessaires et exigeant la coopération de la Grèce. Une fois cette décision adoptée, il faudrait alors prouver que la Grèce ne s’y est pas conformée, n’ayant pas coopéré avec l’Agence, pour que finalement la Commission puisse déclencher la procédure de l’article 29 exclusivement basée sur le fait que la Grèce ne s’est pas conformée à une décision du Conseil prise en vertu de l’article 19, paragraphe 1, sous b), du règlement 2016/1624.

Pour toutes ces raisons, dans le cadre du nouveau paragraphe 1er de l’article 29 CFS, il semble impossible d’imputer à la Grèce manifestement confrontée à des « défis spécifiques et disproportionnés à ses frontières extérieures », au sens de l’article 19, paragraphe 1er, sous b), du règlement 2016/1624, des manquements graves persistants liés au contrôle de ses frontières. Cela signifie que le Conseil n’aurait pas pu  recommander le maintien du contrôle aux frontières intérieures au-delà du 12 mai 2016.

Toutefois, ainsi qu’il a été signalé au début, le Conseil vient d’adopter  le 11 novembre une nouvelle décision d’exécution recommandant aux mêmes cinq États Schengen de prolonger le contrôle à certaines frontières intérieures pendant une durée maximale de trois mois. Le fait qu’il a basé cette proposition sur l’article 29 CFS tout en faisant table rase de la modification dont le paragraphe 1er a fait l’objet alors que celle-ci s’avère d’une importance certaine dans ce contexte, ne peut que susciter la perplexité…

Continue reading “La modification discrète du Code Frontières Schengen par le règlement 2016/1624 relatif au corps européen de garde-frontières: comblement d’une lacune ?”

The EU and Poland: Giving up on the Rule of Law?

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OPINION: REFERRING BREXIT TO THE COURT OF JUSTICE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION: WHY REVOKING AN ARTICLE 50 NOTICE SHOULD BE LEFT TO THE UNITED KINGDOM

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW BLOG (NOVEMBER 14, 2016)
By Oliver Garner
An Encore to (R)Miller from the Court of Justice?

There is a potential European encore to the constitutional drama of the UK High Court decision in R(Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The judgment found that the UK government cannot trigger Article 50 TEU without Parliament’s involvement. The government has already indicated its intention to appeal directly to the UK Supreme Court (UKSC). Certain commentators in the media have picked up on the possibility that the Supreme Court could refer (certain aspects of) the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). This has been referred to as ‘the constitutional equivalent of breaking the space-time continuum’.

Of course, as the reaction to the judgment in (R)Miller has shown, the UK media are not afraid of exaggeration. The first and most important thing to reiterate is that the CJEU could not act as the final constitutional arbiter of the question in the case of whether the UK government may use the royal prerogative to give notice under Article 50 TEU. The EU law clause is clear that the condition for the decision to withdraw is ‘accordance with [the] constitutional requirements’ of the Member State. Therefore, the final decision on the substance of whether these requirements have been fulfilled will always be for that Member State’s highest judicial authority. Instead, the possibility of a referral to the Court of Justice in the case concerns one specific aspect of the withdrawal clause: whether the notification to the European Council of an intention to withdraw under Article 50(2) is revocable. The silence of the clause can be seen to constitute a ‘gap’ in the law.

However, this post will argue that it is not necessary for the Court of Justice to prove an authoritative determination on this question of EU law in order for the UK Supreme Court to decide the specific question of UK constitutional law in the (R)Miller adjudication. Therefore – in the specific case of (R)Miller  – the UK court is under no obligation under Article 267 TFEU to refer the question to the Court of Justice of the European Union. The post will go on to consider the hypothetical situations in which there may be such an obligation to refer, and will suggest how the Court of Justice should determine the question in such a scenario.

The argument for an UKSC obligation to refer under Article 267 TFEU

Dr. Albert Sanchez-Graells has provided a robust argument for why the UK Supreme Court will be under an obligation in EU law to submit a reference under Article 267 TFEU. He states that legally a failure to refer could leave the United Kingdom exposed to infringement proceedings by the Commission. The fact that the explosive political consequences of the Commission embarking on such a proceeding makes this course highly unlikely does not change the legal reality. However, on this purely legal question, I would argue contra Sanchez-Graells that the UK Supreme Court does not need to interpret whether Article 50 enables or does not enable revocation of a notification in order to reach a decision on the specific question in the case of whether the United Kingdom’s constitutional requirements for withdrawing from the European Union have been fulfilled.

At paragraph 10 of Thursday’s judgment, the High Court outlined that it was ‘common ground between the parties …[that] a notice under Article 50(2) cannot be withdrawn, once it is given’. As an initial point, therefore, it could be argued that the question of revocability will not come up for determination before the Supreme Court as neither party will raise the argument. However, Dr Sanchez-Graells argues that when the case reaches the Supreme Court on appeal ‘[e]ven if the parties do not challenge or even raise to the UKSC’s consideration the matter of the (ir)reversibility of an Article 50 notification, it is a logical given that the UKSC needs to take a stance on this point in order to be able to rule on the case’. He grounds this on the requirements of the CILFIT test: accordingly the UKSC will be under an obligation to refer unless (i) the question raised is irrelevant; (ii) the EU provision in question has already been interpreted by the Court; or (iii) the correct application of EU law is so obvious as to leave no scope for any reasonable doubt.

Following Sanchez-Graells’ argument, it seems clear that requirements (ii) and (iii) of the CILFIT test are not fulfilled: Article 50 TEU has never been interpreted by the court, and the silence on revocability means that there is reasonable doubt as to its application. However, I would challenge Sanchez-Graells’ statement that ‘it is inconceivable…to argue that the…(ir)revocability of a notice under (Article 50) is irrelevant for the adjudication of this case’. In formalistic terms, it could be argued that the appellants (the government) and the respondents (the initial claimants) proceeding on the assumption that notice under Article 50 TEU is irrevocable means precisely that the question is not relevant for the adjudication of the specific question in the case. However, even if this position were changed and the government argued that notice was revocable, for the purposes of UK constitutional law the consequences remain binary: if notice is not revoked then the salient consequences determining the question as outlined by the High Court will proceed; if notification were revoked then such consequences would not occur. This does not change the determination of the prior question of how exactly such notification may be achieved. Indeed, the fact that the ‘adjudication of this case’ concerns such questions of the internal constitutional requirements of the United Kingdom shows that the question does not yet fall within the scope of the Court of Justice’s interpretative authority because the relevant EU law – Article 50 – has not yet been activated.

The Activation of the Court of Justice’s Interpretative Authority

I would respectfully disagree with Dr Sanchez-Graells’ initial assumption that, before the activation of Article 50, it is necessary that the CJEU provides an answer to the question of revocation. To explain this, we can reverse the analogy of statutes such as the UK’s European Communities Act 1972 acting as a ‘bridge’ to activate the direct effect of EU law in the national order (as most recently reiterated by the High Court’s decision in (R)Miller at paragraphs 37-54). The notification by a Member State of its intention to withdraw from the European Union under Article 50(2) TEU can similarly be understood as a ‘bridge’ from the internal constitutional order that activates the EU procedural law outlined in the rest of Article 50. The chronology is that a Member State decision is made at the purely internal level to withdraw; this withdrawal is then communicated to the Union by the bridging communicative act of the government giving notice to the European Council; consequently, this triggers the procedural EU law regulating the conditions of withdrawal.

Building upon this, a hypothetical situation can be posed to illustrate the situation in which the UK’s highest judicial authority would be under an obligation to refer under Article 267 TFEU. If the United Kingdom, having already triggered Article 50 TEU, make a unilateral attempt to revoke this notice, and this exercise of prerogative power were submitted to judicial review before the UK courts, then a substantive interpretation of EU law would be necessary to determine the question in the case. Consequently, in such a hypothetical case, the UK court would arguably violate its obligations under Article 267 TFEU if it failed to refer the substantive question of whether revocation is allowed under Article 50 TEU to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

I would accept that in this hypothetical situation it is necessary as a matter of EU law for the Court of Justice to have the final interpretative authority over the legal ‘gap’ concerning revocation of notification found in Article 50. However, I would argue that the most desirable way in which the Luxembourg Court could exercisethis authority would be to decide that the question of revoking notification falls under the constitutional requirements of the Member State. Just as Article 50(1) specifies that a decision to give notification falls under these requirements, so too should a decision to reverse this process. This would provide a coherent symmetry between the procedures for giving notification and withdrawing notification.

Of course, if negotiations of a withdrawal treaty are at an advanced stage then this could lead to a great deal of political upheaval. However, such upheaval cannot function as a reason for the Court of Justice to find such a revocation to be inconsistent with EU law –  particularly with regard to the silence of Article 50 on the issue. This position is supported by the argument of Lord Kerr – one of the drafters of Article 50 TEU – that notification is revocable. He argues that if a country were to decide during exit negotiations that they wished to halt the withdrawal process then “everybody would be very cross about it being a waste of time…but legally they couldn’t insist that you (the withdrawing state) leave”. Consequently, my argument is that procedurally the Court of Justice must be the final arbiter of this particular issue of Article 50. However, on the substantivequestion, once the national court has fulfilled its obligation under Article 267 TFEU to refer, the CJEU should fill the legal gap by determining that revocation of an Article 50 notice is a matter for the internal constitutional requirements of the withdrawing Member State.

Conclusions: No Obligation to Refer, but One Final Twist?

In the present proceedings in (R)Miller, I would argue that the UK Supreme Court is not under an obligation to refer the question of the revocability of a notice under Article 50 TEU to the Court of Justice of the European Union. This is because determining the substantive answer to this gap in the EU law found in Article 50 TEU is irrelevant for the national court to determine the answer to the UK constitutional law question of whether the requirements for withdrawing from the European Union have been fulfilled.

However, the situation changes if Article 50 has been triggered and the question of whether this notification can be revoked comes before the UK Courts. In such a situation, the obligation to refer the question to the Court of Justice of the European Union would bite as this concerns a directly relevant substantive interpretation of EU law. If this situation were to arise, my personal opinion is that it would be desirable for the Court of Justice to determine effectively that revocation of notification is permissible in EU law if such revocation is in accordance with the constitutional requirements of the withdrawing Member State.

Therefore, moving back to the present litigation, in the unlikely event that the UK Supreme Court does exercise its discretion to refer the question of revocation to the Court of Justice, I would hope that the Luxembourg court shows the adjudicative wisdom to find that the question is not relevant to the determination of the present case. However, as a final twist, in the unlikely event that a reference is indeed submitted by the UK Supreme Court in December then the Court of Justice could pre-empt the hypothetical situation that I propose above. The Luxembourg Court could outline in obiter dicta that, if the question of revocation is directly on point in the future, then it is a question for the national judicial authority to decide. Consequently, if the direct question of revocation of Article 50 TEU ever does come before a UK Court, they could proceed to judgment on the question without a reference. This would be justified in EU law on the basis that requirement (ii) of the CILFIT test has been fulfilled by the Court of Justice’s prior obiter dicta interpretation. Therefore, I would maintain that if  the Court of Justice is ever called upon to provide an answer to the question it should find that the final substantive decision of whether an Article 50 notification can be revoked should be left to the internal constitutional requirements of the United Kingdom.

To summarise:
(1) The UKSC in the (R)Miller appeal will not be obliged under Article 267 TFEU to refer the question to the CJEU of whether revocation of an Article 50 TEU notice is possible because under requirement (i) of the CILFIT test this question is not relevant to determine the case;

(2) In contrast, if after Article 50 TEU is triggered the question of revocation came before the UKSC, then it would be under an obligation to provide a reference as the question would now be directly relevant to determining the case;

(3) Finally, in the unlikely event that the CJEU does consider that the question of revocation is ‘necessary to enable it to give judgment’ and it exercises the discretion under Article 267 TFEU to refer to the Court of Justice then the Luxembourg Court could pre-empt the hypothetical situation outlined above by providing an interpretation of whether revocation is possible under Article 50 TEU.

Continue reading “OPINION: REFERRING BREXIT TO THE COURT OF JUSTICE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION: WHY REVOKING AN ARTICLE 50 NOTICE SHOULD BE LEFT TO THE UNITED KINGDOM”

Human Rights and the European Arrest Warrant: Has the ECJ turned from poacher to gamekeeper?

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

Steve Peers*

From its panicked conception in the febrile months following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) has been the flagship of EU criminal law. Replacing traditional extradition law with a fast-track system which scraps most of the traditional restrictions on extradition, it has alarmed critics concerned by miscarriages of justice, but thrilled supporters who welcomed the speedier return to justice of a greater number of fugitives.

Despite qualms by national constitutional courts, the ECJ has long been insouciant about the human rights critique of the EAW. It dismissed a challenge to the validity of the EAW law on human rights grounds, and (in effect) ridiculed a national court which asked if it was possible to refuse to execute an EAW due to human rights concerns, answering a ‘straw man’ argument the ECJ invented instead of the serious questions sent by the other court. In its Melloni judgment, the ECJ placed a ceiling on the application of national human rights protection to resist execution of an EAW; but it never enforced a corresponding floor for those rights. Again and again, the Court ruled that national courts could only refuse to execute EAWs on the limited grounds expressly mentioned in the EAW law, instead focussing exclusively on the need to make the EAW system as effective as possible.

However, since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, this staunch approach has been mitigated by the adoption of six new EU laws on various aspects of fair trial rights– five of which also confer procedural rights on fugitives challenging the application of an EAW. (On the implementation of the first two of these laws, see the report just adopted by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency). In the last year, the ECJ has begun to interpret these laws (see the judgments in Covaci, Balogh and Milev).

But even apart from these fair trials laws, the ECJ in the last eighteen months has begun to show a striking concern for ensuring at least some protection for human rights within the EAW system. Last year, in Lanigan (discussed here), the Court ruled that if a fugitive was kept in detention in the executing State while contesting an EAW there, the limits on the length of detention in extradition cases set out in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) apply, by virtue of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

This spring, the ECJ turned its attention to detention conditions in the Member State which issued the EAW. Following soon after concerns expressed by the German constitutional court on these issues (discussed here), the ECJ ruled in Aranyosi and Caldaruru that the German authorities, when executing EAWs issued by Hungary and Romania, had to consider concerns raised by the fugitives about prison overcrowding in those countries, which had led to ECtHR rulings finding violations of Article 3 ECHR (freedom from torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment). The national court had to apply a two-step procedure in such cases, assessing whether there was a) a systemic failure to ensure decent prison conditions in those States, and b) a ‘real risk’ that the individual fugitive would be subject to such conditions if the EAW was executed.

What if these tests were satisfied? The ECJ was unwilling to backtrack from its position that the list of grounds to refuse to execute an EAW set out in the EAW law is exhaustive. Instead, it ruled that the executing State’s authorities had to postpone execution of the EAW until the situation in the issuing State had improved. (The EAW law is vague about grounds for postponing the execution of an EAW, and the ECJ had already ruled in Lanigan that the deadlines to execute an EAW set out in the law could, in effect, be ignored if necessary). If the fugitive was detained in the executing State in the meantime, the limits on detention set out in Lanigan applied, with the additional proviso that a fugitive could not be detained indefinitely pending execution of an EAW. (In the later case of JZ, the ECJ aligned the definition of ‘detention’ in the EAW with the ECtHR case law on this issue).

This was only the beginning of the ECJ’s scrutiny of issuing States’ laws and practice in the EAW context. In Bob-Dogi, the Court ruled that Hungary could not simply issue EAWs as a stand-alone measure, with no underlying national arrest warrant, inter alia because the purpose of requiring the prior issue of a national arrest warrant was to ensure the protection of the suspect’s fundamental rights. The previously paramount objective of efficiency of the EAW system – which would obviously have dictated the opposite conclusion – was mentioned only in passing. Moreover, the Court side-stepped its prior refusal to accept additional grounds for refusal to execute an EAW, concluding that the EAW had not been validly issued in the first place.

Next, in Dworzecki, the ECJ insisted that a Member State issuing an EAW following a trial held in absentia had to have made proper efforts to find the fugitive before the trial. In this case, the law expressly allows for non-execution of the EAW.

Finally, in a trilogy of cases decided last week, the Court ruled that issuing Member States don’t have full discretion to decide what a ‘judicial authority’ is, for the purpose of issuing EAWs. The concept extended beyond judges to include those administering the justice system, such as Hungarian prosecutors (Ozcelik). However, it does not extend to the Swedish police (Poltorak), or to officials in the Lithuanian justice ministry (Kovalkovas). (British readers may wish to compare these rulings to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Assange case).

Again, as in the Bob-Dogi judgment, the Court side-stepped the ‘exhaustive grounds for non-execution’ problem which it had previously created for itself, by ruling (in Poltorak and Kovalkovas) that the relevant EAWs had never been validly issued at all. Also, in an interesting use of ‘soft law’, the Court ruled that Sweden and Lithuania could not argue that those invalid EAWs should remain valid for a limited period until they changed their laws, since the Council had warned them back in 2007 in an evaluation report that these practices infringed the EAW law. Criminal defence lawyers – and justice ministry officials – may want to look at the Council evaluations of all Member States in detail in this light, since they contain many other criticisms of national implementation of the EAW.

Comments

Has the Court turned from poacher to gamekeeper of human rights in the EAW context? Certainly there are still many concerns about miscarriages of justice as regards the EAW (see the Fair Trials website, for instance). But the rulings suggest a significant change of direction, which addresses some concerns and may have opened up the door to addressing others. What might explain this turn-around?

One factor may be the ruling of the German constitutional court on detention conditions in the EAW context, although it’s notable that the ECJ was never previously receptive to constitutional courts’ concerns about the EAW. Another factor may be a willingness to compromise after the ECJ’s controversial ruling on EU accession to the ECHR, in which it lambasted the draft accession treaty for (among other things) not taking sufficient account of the ECJ’s case law on mutual recognition in Justice and Home Affairs matters, which only allowed for human rights to trump mutual recognition in ‘exceptional’ cases. It’s possible that having marked its territory in that judgment, the ECJ felt it could relax and adopt a more flexible approach of its own volition (and under its own control), which might facilitate discussions on renegotiation of the accession agreement.

Another aspect of the background to this case law may be concerns about the adequate protection of human rights and the rule of law in a number of Member States. The formal process for sanctioning or warning Member States about such concerns is set out in Article 7 TEU, but the EU is unwilling to use it at the moment. The preamble to the EAW law says that the EAW system can only be fully suspended as regards an entire Member State if Article 7 is invoked. The ECJ clocked that provision in Aranyosi and Caldaruru, but then concocted the compromise position of postponing execution of EAWs in individual cases until concerns about detention conditions could be addressed: a measured, individualised solution for these particular human rights problems with the EAW.

Furthermore, the guarantee of judicial control of the issue of EAWs in recent judgments is expressly justified by reference to ‘the separation of powers which characterises the operation of the rule of law’. Despite the reluctance of the EU to chastise Member States for systematic concerns about the rule of law, the CJEU’s rulings at least ensure that any general human rights concerns are addressed at the level of application of EU legislation.

Indeed, these recent judgments might not be the end of the story: they can fuel arguments for the postponement or invalidity or EAWs due to other human rights concerns too. In particular, fugitives could argue that the prospect of long pre-trial detention in another Member State is also a reason to postpone execution of an EAW – although this argument is only coherent if the fugitive is not being detained in the executing State in the meantime. Already the Aranyosi and Caldaruru judgment raises awkward questions about how to judge what happens in another Member State’s prisons – so much so that the German courts have referred the Aranyosi case back to the CJEU with further questions.  Postponing the execution of an EAW does not, by itself, tackle the underlying problem of prison overcrowding, and it leads to the risk that those who have committed crimes may consider moving to another Member State to increase their odds of enjoying de facto impunity for them.

This strengthens the case for EU legislative intervention as regards prison conditions and length of pre-trial detention in the EAW context. The Commission issued a Green Paper on this issue back in 2011, and Member States were not enthusiastic. But the Commission has indicated in light of the recent rulings that it may make a proposal in future. (See also the new report of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency on these issues). This would be a good opportunity to make further reforms to the EAW system, to require a proportionality check before issuing EAWs in the first place – so that no one is subject to an EAW for the theft of a piglet, or someone else’s beer at a house party – and to build in more frequent use of European Supervision Orders (a form of ‘Euro-bail’), the EU laws on transfer of prisoners and sentences, and the use of modern technology to conduct more criminal proceedings with the virtual (but not the physical) presence of the suspect (see generally the Ludford report on possible reforms of the EAW system). There is a better balance between effective prosecutions and human rights concerns waiting to be struck.

WHY AN APPEAL OF THE HIGH COURT PARLIAMENTARY APPROVAL BREXIT JUDGMENT WILL BRING THE LITIGATION TO THE CJEU?

Original published here 

by DR ALBERT SANCHEZ-GRAELLS

The High Court has today issued its Judgment in the dispute about the UK Parliament’s necessary approval of a Brexit notification–see R (Miller) -V- Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2016] EWHC 2768 (Admin). It has ruled that such Parliamentary approval is indeed required as a matter of UK constitutional and public law. The Government has already announced that it will appeal this decision to the UK Supreme Court (UKSC). The implications of such an appeal are important and need to be carefully considered. One such possible consequence is that the appeal (indirectly) brings the case to the docket of the  Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

In my view, an appeal of the High Court’s Judgment before the UKSC will indeed trigger a legal requirement under EU law for the UKSC to send a reference for a preliminary ruling to the CJEU. I have rehearsed most of my arguments on twitter earlier (see here and here) and this posts brings them together.

Basic EU Law Background

Article 267(1)(a) TFEU establishes the monopoly of interpretation of the CJEU and it indicates the Court shall have jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings concerning the interpretation of the Treaties. Article 267(2) then goes on to enable the domestic courts of the Member States to issue request preliminary rulings from the ECJ where questions of interpretation of EU law are raised before them and they consider that a decision on the question is necessary to enable them to give judgment. However, that discretion of domestic courts to request preliminary rulings from the CJEU does not apply to the courts or tribunals of a Member State against whose decisions there is no judicial remedy under national law. In that case, Article 267(3) indicates that where a question on the interpretation of EU law is raised, the highest court  shall bring the matter before the CJEU.

The uncertainties surrounding the interpretation of Art 50 TEU before the High Court

One of the extremely complex issues concerning the UK’s potential withdrawal from the EU following the Brexit vote of 23 June 2016 concerns the interpretation of Article 50 TEU (on this, see here). One of the difficult sub-questions concerns the (ir)reversibility of an Art 50 TEU trigger notification. This is an essential element for an assessment of the UK’s constitutional requirements for the delivery of such notification, as the High Court’s Judgment makes clear.

Indeed, as a preliminary issue, in today’s Judgment, the High Court has addressed the problematic interpretation of Art 50 TEU. Unanimously, the High Court has indicated that “Important matters in respect of Article 50 were common ground between the parties: (1) a notice under Article 50(2) cannot be withdrawn once it is given …” para [10]; and that “Once a notice is given, it will inevitably result in the complete withdrawal of the United Kingdom from membership of the European Union and from the relevant Treaties at the end of the two year period, subject only to agreement on an extension of time …” para [11].

There are two ways of interpreting the High Court’s dealing with the argument on irreversibility of an Art 50 notification. First, that the High Court takes this approach in para [11] because it is common ground between the parties ex para [10]–what I would call the UK procedural approach. Second, that the High Court has of its own interpreted an Art 50 notification to be irreversible ex para [11], which happens to align with the common position of the parties in para [10]–what I would call the EU substantive interpretation approach.

The UK procedural approach is saved by the High Court’s discretion under Art 267(2) TFEU to consider that the interpretation of Art 50 TEU is actually not necessary for it to adjudicate the matter at hand because this is not part of the controversy between the parties. However, the EU substantive interpretation does trigger some issues because, having recognised the interpretation of Art 50 TEU as an important aspect for the adjudication of the case, the High Court should not have taken it upon itself to interpret it and should rather have requested a preliminary ruling from the CJEU. However, unless under a very expansive interpretation of the principle of sincere or loyal cooperation in Art 4(3) TEU, this does not amount to a breach of EU law.

The uncertainties surrounding the interpretation of Art 50 TEU before the UK Supreme Court

Now, in case of an appeal of the High Court’s decision before the UKSC, in my opinion, the referral to the CJEU is legally unavoidable (I will not deal for now with arguments of judicial politics or pragmatic views on the UKSC’s likely course of action). Even if the parties do not challenge or even raise to the UKSC’s consideration the matter of the (ir)reversibility of and Article 50 notification, it is a logical given that the UKSC needs to take a stance (even if implicit) on this point in order to be able to rule on the case. If it quashes the High Court’s decision, it needs to clarify the points of law which the High Court would have gotten wrong–one of which concerns the irrevocability of an Art 50 notification. if it upholds the High Court’s decision, it is (implicitly) accepting the assumption that an Art 50 notification is irrevocable. Either way, the UKSC cannot escape a substantial (implicit) consideration of the interpretation of Article 50.

In my view, this engages the UKSC’s obligation to request a preliminary ruling from the CJEU under Article 267(3) TFEU and not doing so triggers a risk of infringement of EU law by the UK due to the acts (or omission, in this case) of its highest court.

Semi-Advanced EU Law Background

The UKSC’s obligation to request a preliminary reference from the CJEU is controlled by the so-called CILFIT test, which establishes that “a court or tribunal against whose decisions there is no judicial remedy under national law is required, where a question of [EU] law is raised before it, to comply with its obligation to bring the matter before the Court of Justice, unless it has established that the question raised is irrelevant or that the [EU] provision in question has already been interpreted by the Court or that the correct application of [EU] law is so obvious as to leave no scope for any reasonable doubt. The existence of such a possibility must be assessed in the light of the specific characteristics of [EU] law, the particular difficulties to which its interpretation gives rise and the risk of divergences in judicial decisions within the [EU]” (283/81, EU:C:1982:335, para 21).

What does this mean for the UKSC in the Brexit litigation in case of appeal?

In short, my understanding of the CILFIT test is that a highest court of a Member State (the UKSC) must request a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of the Treaties to the CJEU and has no discretion not to do so unless: (a) the question is (objectively) irrelevant for the adjudication of the case, or (b) the provision has already been interpreted by the CJEU, or (c) there is no scope for reasonable doubt in the interpretation of the provision. None of these apply in the specific case of the Article 50 litigation.

First, it is inconceivable to me to argue that the interpretation of Art 50 and the (ir)revocability of a notice under it is irrelevant for the adjudication of this case. A different issue would be whether the UKSC could pragmatically sidestep the need to engage in that interpretation, either by presuming its content (the EU substantive interpretation approach mentioned above), or by insisting on the fact that it is common ground to the parties to the litigation and, therefore, the issue of the (ir)revocability of the notification is not (formally, explicitly) raised before it (the UK procedural approach.

However, in my opinion, neither of these avoidance strategies would meet the basic requirements of good faith in the interpretation of the CILFIT test, coupled with Article 4(3) TEU, which requires the domestic court to assess the need to request a preliminary ruling “in the light of the specific characteristics of [EU] law, the particular difficulties to which its interpretation gives rise and the risk of divergences in judicial decisions within the [EU]“. The interpretation of Article 50 TEU is, to put it simply, the most relevant EU constitutional law issue since the OMT litigation and one of the top, if not the top, EU constitutional law issue since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. Engaging in semantics in the analysis of the first prong of the CILFIT test against this background (ie, stretching the narrow interpretation “irrelevant”) seems to me logically and legally unacceptable.

Second, it is plain that Art 50 has not been interpret by the CJEU yet. And, thirdly, it is also plain that there is scope (massive scope, a gaping hole) for reasonable doubt in the interpretation of Article 50 TEU. Thus, the so-called acte claire doctrine (ie the counterbalance of the CILFIT test) simply does not apply here.

Overall, in my opinion, the UKSC has an absolute and inexcusable obligation to request a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of Article 50 TEU from the CJEU the moment the appeal against the High Court’s Judgment (eventually) reaches its docket. Otherwise, the UKSC risks triggering an infringement of EU law and eventually creating liability in damages under the Kobler / Traghetti del Mediterraneo strand of case law on State liability. Again, I am not dealing with the arguments on the likelihood of an actual infringement case brought forward by the European Commission, or the CJEU’s eventual decision. I am, for now, simply stressing the state of EU law, which the UKSC would be well advised to bear in mind and uphold, unless it aims to contribute to the deterioration of the rule of law in the UK and the EU (which is something that keeps me awake at night).

Brexit: can the ECJ get involved?

ORIGINAL TEXT PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Steve Peers

Today’s ruling by the High Court requires the government to obtain approval from Parliament if it wishes to trigger ‘Article 50’, ie the process of withdrawing from the European Union. This short post won’t focus on the national constitutional law issues, but on the process of possible involvement of the EU courts in Brexit disputes.

The government has announced its intention to appeal today’s ruling to the Supreme Court. Some have suggested that the case might then be ‘appealed’ to the ECJ, but this misunderstands the judicial system of the European Union. There is no ‘appeal’ from national courts to the ECJ. Rather a national court may suspend proceedings and ask the ECJ some questions relating to EU law that the national court believes it needs the answers to. After the ECJ gives the answers to those questions, the national court resumes its proceedings and gives its judgment in light of them. The ECJ normally takes about 16 months to give a ruling, although it could (and probably would) fast-track a case raising fundamental questions about Brexit.

What EU law questions arise in this case? The obvious one is whether a notification to leave the EU under Article 50 of the TEU can be revoked once it is given. This is relevant because at the heart of the UK case is a dispute about the ‘royal prerogative’, ie the underlying powers of the UK executive. The royal prerogative allows the executive to conduct international relations, including decisions relating to international treaties. But prior case law makes clear that the prerogative cannot extend to taking away rights conferred by Parliament. The High Court has ruled today that this is what would happen if the executive invoked Article 50, since rights are conferred by the European Communities Act.

Yet logically if an Article 50 notification is revocable, then the decision would arguably not as such necessarily lead to the removal of rights conferred by Parliament. Only the subsequent failure to revoke it would. The High Court assumed in its judgment that the notification was not revocable, but that’s only because the parties agreed on this. The claimants agreed that an Article 50 notification was irrevocable because otherwise it would have weakened their case. The government agreed, perhaps because it would have been politically awkward to argue the opposite.

But it’s not up to parties in a national proceeding to decide on what the correct interpretation of EU law is. Article 267 TFEU says that final national courts must send questions of EU law to the ECJ if necessary to give judgment. So the Supreme Court may decide that it wants to have this question answered.

The revocability of Article 50 is not just an issue in this litigation. It’s a broader political issue, since some politicians would like there to be another referendum before the UK fully leaves the EU, once the public knows the terms of exit. That’s only a feasible suggestion if it is possible to revoke an Article 50 notification once it’s made, given that the EU refuses to discuss the terms of exit with the UK until that notification is made.

What if the Supreme Court decides not to refer to the ECJ – is that the end of the matter? Not quite. Since the ECJ judgment in Kobler, it’s established that a Member State can be liable in damages if its supreme court gets EU law wrong without asking the ECJ questions about it. So individuals could go to a lower UK court claiming damages on this basis, and the lower court might deem it necessary to clarify the point by asking the ECJ about revocability, perhaps ordering the government not to make the Article 50 notification in the meantime.

There are several other possibilities for Brexit issues to come before the CJEU. It might be disputed what could be included within the scope of an Article 50 withdrawal agreement, and in particular whether this must be separate from a treaty on the post-Brexit EU/UK relationship. There might be other issues about that latter treaty; some say that the EU legally cannot negotiate one until the UK has fully left. Many say that the UK cannot negotiate trade deals with non-EU countries until it has left.

How could such issues reach the Court? Article 218 TFEU allows it to rule on future treaties between the EU and non-EU states, so in principle could be used. Any Member State, or the EU Commission, Council or Parliament, could invoke it. A lot of issues arise here, though. Does Article 218 apply to Article 50 at all – since the UK hasn’t left yet, and Article 50 only refers to some parts of Article 218? Is it too soon (for now) to ask about future treaties between the UK and EU, given that notification and negotiations haven’t happened yet?

Alternatively, Article 273 TFEU allows Member States to bring a dispute with each other about issues related to EU law to the CJEU by special agreement. However, the UK would have to be willing to use this provision, and it would have to find another Member State to agree to do so, in order to bring issues before the ECJ.

Other issues may arise about Brexit, even in other Member States’ national courts. An Irish court has already ruled that European Arrest Warrants issued by the UK are still valid in light of Brexit. But this issue is likely to keep arising. UK citizens living in the EU (and vice versa) might want to litigate the argument that they cannot lose their EU citizenship.

In any event, the status of British goods, services and citizens in the remaining EU will doubtless be raised in the EU courts after Brexit, either by means of interpreting EU/UK treaties and/or autonomous EU laws (governing non-EU migration, for instance).

It’s probably only a matter of time before some aspect of the Brexit issue gets decided by the EU courts; and there’s no small irony in that prospect.

BREXIT : UK High court says parliament must vote on triggering article 50

FULL TEXT HERE

Summary of the court judgement

A guide to EU procedures for the conclusion of international trade agreements (EP Briefing)

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED HERE

by  Laura Puccio (European Parliament Members’ Research Service)

SUMMARY

The European Union (EU) was the world’s biggest exporter and importer of goods and services in 2015, representing 32.51 % of global trade in goods and services. The USA and China, meanwhile, accounted for 12.01 % and 10.68 % respectively. The EU has been negotiating trade agreements since the 1970s, then as the European Communities. Over time it has diversified its trading partners, and is now negotiating trade agreements with partners from every continent. The content of trade agreements has also evolved as EU trade competences have developed. The EU is currently in the process of amending and modernising some of its older trade agreements and is working on some of the most ambitious trade agreements since its inception (such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the USA).The Lisbon Treaty modified both the EU’s competences in trade and the procedure for concluding trade agreements, giving a stronger role to the European Parliament. This briefing looks at how trade negotiations are conducted and concluded in the EU, and discusses some of the key issues in the current EU trade policy debate.

 

In this briefing:

1.Background
2.Negotiations
3.EU competences, mixed agreements and the legal basis for Council decisions regarding trade agreements
4. Signature and provisional application
5. Conclusion of trade agreements

Background

In 2015, the EU-28 was the largest global exporter and importer of goods and services, representing 32.51 % of total world trade in goods and services (Source: World Bank data), while the US and China represented 12.01 % and 10.68 % respectively.
The EU has been negotiating trade agreements since the 1970s, back then as the European Communities. Originally focused on European, African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) and Mediterranean trade partners, the EU now negotiates with partners on every continent. From the point of view of substance, the content of trade agreements has evolved, from mainly agreements on trade in goods, instituting free trade areas, to agreements including WTO+ commitments1 in a wide range of areas (such as services, intellectual property rights, investment and regulatory cooperation). The EU has started a great number of negotiations in order either to modernise older agreements (such as those with Mediterranean countries and with Mexico and Chile), or to negotiate new bilateral agreements with Asian, Oceanic and North American partners, as well as to advance the multilateral trading system (through the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) or the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) for instance).
The evolution in the content of trade agreements reflects that of EU competences in trade, but has raised several questions as to whether the more recent agreements fall entirely within EU competence and, consequently, whether ratification at national level is required. Moreover, growing criticism and political debate at national level have raised some procedural issues, such as whether an individual EU Member State can stop EU negotiations, and what happens if one Member State does not ratify a trade agreement.
The procedures for concluding international agreements are mainly set out in Article 218 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). In the case of trade agreements, rules are also to be found in the specific provisions of Article 207 (TFEU) dealing with common commercial policy and any other article mentioned as a legal basis in the Council decisions to sign and to conclude a given trade agreement.

Figure 1: State of play of EU trade relations

eu-trade

Source: European Commission, DG Trade, 2016.

EPRS      EU procedures for conclusion of international trade agreements

treatiesworkflow1

Negotiations

 TTIP negotiations: can a single Member State stop the negotiations?

The negotiating directive establishing the Commission negotiating mandate for TTIP was adopted by the Council on 17 June 2013, launching the negotiations. The EU and the USA concluded the 15th round of negotiations in October 2016.

At the end of August 2016, the French minister for foreign trade expressed his government’s wish to request a halt in the TTIP negotiations at the informal Council meeting of 22-23 September. Member States are divided on the issue and 12 Member States clearly expressed their opposition to the French proposal. After the meeting on 23 September, the Slovak Prime Minister declared that the TTIP negotiations would continue but that it was unrealistic to finalise an agreement before the end of US President Barack Obama’s term in office.

The Council can withdraw or suspend the negotiating mandate for a trade negotiation but only on the basis of Article 218 TFEU, which requires a qualified majority (see below for details of the Council’s voting procedure). In general, the Council always tries to take decisions by consensus (i.e. with the agreement of all parties) if the decision concerns shared competences.

Before negotiations begin, the Commission first holds a public consultation and conducts what is known as a scoping exercise. The scoping exercise is a series of informal dialogues with the other country (or countries, if the agreement is inter-regional) on what could be the broad lines of the content of the negotiations between the parties.

If after the scoping exercise the Commission considers it appropriate to open negotiations on a trade agreement with the country/countries, it then makes recommendations to that end to the Council on the basis of Article 207(3) TFEU. The Council must give a green light to the start of the negotiations by adopting a decision on the basis of Articles 207(3) and 218(2) TFEU. The Council also issues a negotiating mandate detailing the area in which the Commission is authorised to negotiate.

Under Article 207(3) TFEU, the Commission is in charge of conducting negotiations, reporting to the Council’s Trade Policy Committee (TPC). The negotiating team is led by a chief negotiator and includes experts covering all the topics of the negotiation. While the Commission’s DG Trade takes the lead, experts may come from other DGs within the Commission. Negotiations are conducted in rounds, but meetings and contacts between lead negotiators and experts continue outside these. In its guide to trade negotiation procedures, the Commission considers the duration of negotiations to be two to three years on average. The negotiations are conducted on the basis of multiple and specific negotiating directives that the Council issues on the basis of Articles 207 and 218 TFEU. These frame the position that the EU must hold during the negotiations.

With TTIP, the Commission began publishing the EU’s text proposals online; these are the EU’s proposals for the drafting of concrete provisions within the various chapters of the agreement. The text proposals that the Commission drafts must be agreed with the Council before they can be tabled for discussions with the other party (parties) to the negotiations.

Often forgotten but fundamental, Article 207(3) makes the Council and Commission jointly responsible for ensuring that the agreement negotiated is compatible with internal EU policies and rules.

The European Parliament’s role in negotiations

While the European Parliament has no formal role in starting and conducting trade negotiations, the TFEU imposes a duty of information: the European Parliament must be informed immediately and fully at all stages of the procedures. Moreover, the fact that the European Parliament has to give its consent at the end of the negotiations, has made it necessary to discuss some EU positions in the negotiations with the European Parliament first, in order for the Commission to verify the existence of political support. The Commission therefore reports regularly to both the European Parliament and the TPC. While it has no legal obligation to do so, Parliament will often signal its political position by issuing a resolution. In the past, the European Parliament has adopted resolutions on the opening of negotiations, either prior to or after the issuing of the negotiating mandate These resolutions give an initial sense of Parliament’s political stance on the negotiations, and set out the main concerns that Parliament wants the Commission to include or exclude from the scope of the negotiations (e.g. the resolution adopted on TTIP in 2013). EP resolutions can be issued during the negotiations in order for Parliament to give the Commission recommendations on the future development of the negotiations (e.g. the resolution adopted on TTIP in 2015). The Commission is not legally bound to follow the EP’s recommendations but given that EP consent is needed to adopt the agreement, it does take them into account when devising the EU positions and discussing them with the Council or the other party.

Ex ante sustainability impact assessments during the negotiations have become the norm for all major multilateral and bilateral EU trade negotiations since 1999, when the EU began incorporating the concept of sustainable development into the definition and planning of its trade policy. Sustainability impact assessments (SIAs) comprise a consultation process and analysis by independent organisations (think-tanks or universities) to assess the potential economic, social, human rights and environmental impacts that a trade agreement could have. SIAs are carried out after the scoping exercise, as the latter defines the scope of the negotiations and will indirectly define the SIA’s coverage.

When negotiations reach the final stage, i.e. parties have agreed in principle on a single text, the European Parliament and Council are informed and legal scrubbing starts to ensure that the text is legally coherent. Some minor changes may still occur at this stage. Once legal scrubbing is complete, the text is initialled, i.e. the chief negotiators from each party place their initials on every page of the agreement to signify that this is the agreed text. Initialling does not amount to the text being legally binding. In order to enter into force an agreement must be signed and ratified. To start such a procedure, the EU needs to define the legal basis for the trade agreement, which determine who has competence in the EU to ratify the treaty.

EU competences, mixed agreements and the legal basis for Council decisions regarding trade agreements

The various types of EU competence and their implications for trade agreements

The EU is based on the principle of conferral; in other words the EU acts within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the Treaties. There are different types of competence that can influence the way in which procedures for concluding an agreement unfold. These are: exclusive competences,2 shared competences3 and concurrent competences.4 Whenever an international agreement includes shared competences or concurrent competences or Member States’ competences, then the agreement is said to be ‘mixed’. Whenever a trade agreement also contains provisions belonging to shared competences, it is concluded as a mixed agreement. While for agreements falling under exclusive EU competence the EU ratification procedure (explained below) is sufficient to ensure the entry into force of the agreement, mixed agreements must be ratified by EU Member States in accordance with their domestic ratification procedures. Domestic procedures vary from Member State to Member State. In federal Member States, ratification procedures also involve approval by the chamber of the national parliament representing the regions (such as the Bundesrat in Germany) or the approval of the regional and community parliaments (as in the case of Belgium), whenever competences of sub-federal entities are concerned by the agreement. While mixed agreements concluded by the EU and only some EU Member States (called partial or incomplete mixity) do exist, trade agreements concluded as mixed agreements (such as association agreements) require the participation of all Member States.

The evolution of trade competences and recent EU trade agreements

The common commercial policy (CCP), which defines EU trade policy, has always been an exclusive competence of the EU, however the content of the CCP has evolved over time. While services and intellectual property rights were originally considered shared competences, the Lisbon Treaty includes all services and commercial aspects of intellectual property rights within the CCP’s scope (Article 207(1) TFEU).

Article 207(1) TFEU also introduces foreign direct investment to the list of CCP competences. This evolution in the scope of CCP has led the Commission to consider whether it can conclude that some trade agreements focusing on purely commercial matters (including investment provisions) fall under exclusive EU competence. The argument of the Commission is contested by most Member States who consider that those agreements must be concluded as mixed. The main controversy between the Council and the Commission concerns whether investment now falls under exclusive EU competence. On the one hand, Member States consider that CCP covers only foreign direct investment (FDI) and not portfolio investments. However the Commission derives an implicit exclusive competence on portfolio investments from third countries from a rule in the internal market prohibiting the introduction of barriers at Member State level to capital flows and payments from third countries. For that reason the European Commission asked for an opinion of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) to decide on the nature of the EU competence to conclude the EU-Singapore agreement. A hearing has been held and the opinion is expected for either late 2016 or early 2017. The CJEU opinion will formally only affect the EU-Singapore agreement, but could influence the choice of the competence (exclusive or mixed) for other agreements (such as the EU-Vietnam agreement).

The concept of mixity in EU agreements and the choice of legal basis

The decision with respect to the mixed character of an agreement depends on the legal basis given to that agreement, which also defines the main competences involved. When the Commission proposes a Council decision to sign, conclude or provisionally apply a Treaty, it must also propose a legal basis, which will define the nature of the agreement (exclusive or mixed). The legal basis is usually discussed with Member States and it is normally in the Commission’s interests to agree with the Member States on this point.

The Council can always modify the Commission proposal in accordance with Article 293(1) TFEU, which requires unanimity. A proposal can remain blocked if the Council decides not to act. This can happen in situations where the Council is divided on the issue of legal basis (i.e. no unanimity is reached to modify the Commission proposal), and it cannot reach a qualified majority (or unanimity, depending on the procedure required by the legal basis in the original proposal) to pass the act as is. In that case, the Commission can modify its proposal at any time in order to unblock the situation (Article 293(2) TFEU).

 Understanding the political and legal implications of the legal basis: the case of CETA

There were divergent opinions on whether the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement negotiated between the EU and Canada should be concluded as a mixed agreement. The Commission considered that CETA fell under exclusive EU competence as in the case of the EU-Singapore agreement. The Commission was reported therefore to favour the idea of submitting a Council decision on CETA as an EU-only agreement with CCP as the sole legal basis. However, after discussing the matter informally with the Member States, the Commission ultimately decided to submit it as a mixed agreement. (See also: W. Schöllmann, Is CETA a mixed agreement?, EPRS ‘at a glance’ note, July 2016)

Signature and provisional application

Once the Council has adopted the decision to sign the treaty, a date for its signature can be chosen. In practice, for mixed agreements, the EU and the Member States sign the treaty simultaneously. Signature signals the intention to conclude, it does not conclude the agreement as such.

The possibility for an international treaty to apply provisionally under EU law is set out under Article 218(5) TFEU, which provides for the Council decision on provisional application to be taken simultaneously with the Council decision to sign the treaty.

In theory, under Article 218(5) TFEU, the decision on provisional application can take place even before the treaty is concluded at EU level, i.e. before the EP gives its consent and the Council adopts the decision to conclude the treaty in accordance with Article 218(6). However, in practice (since the South Korea FTA),5 provisional application is enforced only after hearing the European Parliament’s position on the agreement or even only after the European Parliament has given its consent to conclusion. Consequently, the Commission normally submits the draft decisions to the Council simultaneously: the draft decision to sign, that to provisionally apply the treaty and one for the conclusion of the treaty.

CETA: provisional application

Provisional application of CETA will be effective from the first day of the month after the parties have notified each other that they have completed the domestic procedures necessary for provisional application. The procedure in the EU is contained in Article 218(5) TFEU. In line with EU practice, the decision on the provisional application of CETA, if adopted by the Council, will be applied only after the EP has taken a position on the agreement.

The main discussions in Council concerning the provisional application of CETA focus on its scope. The draft Council decision on provisional application of CETA, submitted by the Commission, does not refer to any specific provisions, thus provisional application would refer to the whole treaty.

In order to modify the scope of this decision, the Council needs to act by unanimity (pursuant to Article 293(1) TFEU) or has to agree with the Commission that it submit a new proposal for a Council decision. Furthermore, partial provisional application requires the agreement of Canada. Indeed under Article 30(7)(3)(b) CETA, Canada can object to partial provisional application of the treaty and either decide not to allow provisional application of the treaty or to propose unilaterally to exclude equivalent provisions from provisional application.

While a decision on the matter is yet to be reached, a proposal was circulated in the Council on 5 October 2016. This would exclude, inter alia, part of the investment and financial services chapters. It also requires provisional application of sustainable development chapters, as only provisions falling under EU competences, as these do, can be provisionally applied.

The provisional application of mixed agreements negotiated by the EU takes place, however, before the completion of ratification procedures at the Member State level. This makes sense as the entire rationale of provisional application is to allow for application while waiting for the completion of the ratification procedure. However provisional application under Article 218(5) TFEU can only be granted for provisions relating to EU competence and cannot include Member State competences unless all the Member States have agreed to it separately. Decisions on the provisional application of a mixed agreement in its entirety usually include a statement clarifying that Member States have given their agreement with respect to their competences.

Conclusion of trade agreements

For trade agreements, the special procedure under Article 218(6) TFEU is applied. This procedure requires the European Parliament’s consent.6 Once Parliament has given its consent, the Council can then adopt a decision to conclude the agreement following the procedure and voting rules set out in Article 218(6) and Article 218(8) TFEU respectively. As mentioned above, mixed agreements also require the agreement to be ratified at national level by Member States. In the case of mixed agreements, the treaty enters into force only when the non-EU trade partner, the EU and all Member States have exchanged ratification instruments.

Voting procedure in the Council

Voting procedure in Council under Article 218(8) TFEU

EU-Ukraine Association Agreement: provisional application and ratification procedure

The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, negotiated between 2007 and 2012, has been partly provisionally applied since 2014, while the provisional application of the commercial part of the Association Agreement began on 1 January 2016. The provisional application currently applies only to EU competences. In order to enter fully into force, the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, being a mixed agreement, requires the ratification procedure to be complete at EU and also at Member State level. At EU level, the EP has given its consent for the Council to conclude the agreement in two different resolutions (one covering treatment of third-country nationals and one covering the other provisions). The Council is waiting for the Member States to finalise the ratification process in order to formally adopt its decision on the conclusion of the agreement. All Member States, with the exception of the Netherlands, have ratified the Treaty.

The Netherlands held an advisory referendum on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement on 6 April 2016, which yielded a negative result (over 61 % of the voters rejected the ratification of the Association Agreement (AA) between the EU and Ukraine, though turnout was low, at only 32 %). The referendum was an advisory referendum and as such has not put an end to the ratification procedure in the Netherlands. However, should the Netherlands notify its intention not to ratify the agreement, this would then signify that the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement could not enter into force in its present form. Under Article 25 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, provisional application can only remain pending the entry into force of a treaty. If ratification fails and entry into force of the treaty becomes impossible, provisional application would also have to be lifted. Suspension of the provisional application would have to be carried out in accordance with Article 218(9) TFEU and the notification procedure under Article 486(7) of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. As has been done in the past, the Commission could argue on the basis of the duty of cooperation that the provisional application, which concerns EU competences only, should be maintained in order to allow renegotiation and to find a mutually acceptable solution.

The voting rule for Council decisions is contained in Article 218(8) TFEU. It refers to the Council voting procedure throughout the entire process of negotiating and concluding international agreements under Article 218 TFEU. These voting rules therefore apply equally to Council decisions taken pursuant to Article 218(5) TFEU in order to sign and provisionally apply a treaty, and to Council decisions taken pursuant to Article 218(6) TFEU to conclude an agreement. Although in practice the Council tries to take all decisions regarding shared competences on the basis of the ‘common accord’ of all Member States (i.e. by consensus), the voting procedure under the TFEU does not depend on the nature of the agreement but on the competences and legal basis upon which the agreement is adopted.

Article 218(8) TFEU states that qualified majority must be used throughout international agreement negotiation and conclusion procedures. There are some exceptions to this qualified majority rule; these include the following situations or agreements.

  • Fields for which unanimity is required for the adoption of a Union act: Any measure which requires unanimity for the purpose of EU internal legislation, will also require unanimity for any decisions taken under Article 218 TFEU. In practice, this rule provides for parallel decision-making on external policy and EU internal legislative procedures. This rule on parallelism ensures that the EU internal legislation procedure requiring   unanimity   for   certain   measures   is   not circumvented by the conclusion of similar measures within an international agreement under Article 218 TFEU.
  • Association agreements
  • Agreements referred to in Article 212 TFEU (i.e. economic, financial and technical cooperation arrangements) with states that are candidates for accession
  • Accession of the Union to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.7

The parallel internal and external decision-making provided for under Article 218(8) TFEU requires analysis of all fields mentioned in the legal basis chosen for the decisions to sign and conclude the agreement in order to understand which voting rule applies.

The trade legal basis under Article 207 TFEU and its voting procedure

The relevant rules for common commercial policy agreements and measures always include Article 207(4) TFEU (in addition to other legal bases, such as the transport legal basis in CETA). Article 207(4) TFEU normally requires qualified majority but it specifies that the Council must take its decision by unanimity for the following measures.

  • In the field of trade in services and the commercial aspects of intellectual property, as well as foreign direct investment, where such agreements include provisions for which unanimity is required for the adoption of internal rules: this is another formulation of the parallelism between internal and external decision-making procedures in order to avoid circumvention of unanimity in the internal rules via external relations agreements. However, the impact of this provision may be rather limited. There are few internal legal bases requiring unanimity in these fields. Article 118 TFEU requires unanimity only for regulations establishing language arrangements for European intellectual property rights, whereas qualified majority remains the rule under the same Article 118 TFEU for measures establishing the creation of measures for the ‘uniform protection of intellectual property rights throughout the Union and for the setting up of centralised Union-wide authorisation, coordination and supervision arrangements’.8 Other internal market provisions requiring unanimity include: Article 113 TFEU on tax harmonisation, Article 115 TFEU on approximation of laws and Article 64(2) TFEU on the introduction of restrictions to capital movements.9 If the agreement in question incorporates provisions covering one of these types of measure then unanimity will be required.
  • Unanimity is also required for EU actions in the field of trade in cultural and audiovisual services where there is a risk of prejudicing the Union’s cultural diversity. Again this provision has a rather limited impact on the conclusion of trade agreements. Unanimity only applies if there are measures related to trade in cultural and audiovisual services and where there is risk of prejudicing the Union’s cultural The EU has sometimes omitted the field of cultural and audiovisual services from negotiations in its entirety (exception culturelle) as is the case for TTIP (where the audiovisual sector is excluded from the negotiating mandate). Other agreements include a protocol on cultural cooperation aiming for instance to implement, in the context of those agreements, the Unesco Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Still, even in those agreements where provision is made for cultural cooperation, cultural and audiovisual services are carved out from the services commitments or are included in specific reservations so that there can be no risk of prejudicing cultural diversity.
  • Unanimity is also required for EU actions in the field of trade in social, education and health services where there is a serious risk of disturbing the organisation of these services at national level. These social, education and health services are subject to several reservations in the Treaties so as to prevent trade agreement commitments from having any negative impact on them.

Main references

Devuyst, Youri, ‘European Union Law and Practice in the Negotiation and Conclusion of International Trade Agreements’, Journal of International Business and Law, 12: 259 (2013)
Eeckhout, Piet, EU External Relations Law, Oxford University Press, 2011
Hillion, Christophe, Koutrakos, Panos, Mixed Agreements Revisited, Hart Publishing, 2010
Koutrakos, Panos, EU International Relations Law, Hart Publishing, 2015Endnotes
1 WTO+ commitments are commitments in trade agreements that go beyond those made at the WTO. In some literature a distinction is made between commitments in trade agreements that extend liberalisation commitments already existing at WTO level (WTO+) and commitments that deal with issues not covered by WTO law (WTO extra).
See: H. Horn, P. C. Mavroidis and A. Sapir, ‘EU and US Preferential Trade Agreements’, in Preferential Trade Agreements: A Law and Economics Analysis, Kyle W. Bagwell, Petros C. Mavroidis (eds), Cambridge University Press, 2011.
2 Exclusive competences of the EU signify a complete transfer of competences from the Member States to the EU; the existence of an EU exclusive competence means that Member States cannot act on their own unless an EU regulation allows for Member State actions.
3 Shared competences are competences that fall within the remit of both the EU and the Member States. EU action in these competences pre-empts any action on the part of the Member States, in other words, Member States cannot act unilaterally if action is being undertaken at EU level.
4 Concurrent competences are EU competences to support, coordinate or supplement Member States’ action; these EU competences co-exist with Member States’ competences.
5 Youri Devuyst, ‘The European Parliament and International Trade Agreements: Practice after the Lisbon Treaty’, in The European Union in the World: Essays in honour of Marc Maresceau, I. Govaere, E. Lannon, P. Elseweghe and S. Adam (eds), Martinus Nijhoff Publisher, 2014.
6 Parliament gives its consent in accordance with Rules 108 and 99 of its Rules of Procedure.
7 The Court of Justice of the European Union issued an opinion in 2014 on the draft agreement for EU accession to the ECHR, considering it not in line with EU law.
8 On the relevance or not of this provision to the decision-making procedure under Article 218(8) TFEU, see C Pitschas, ‘Economic Partnership Agreement and EU trade policy: objectives, competences, and implementation’, in J. Drexl, EU bilateral trade agreements and intellectual property for the better or worse, H. Grosse, R. Khan, S. Nadde-Phlix (eds)
Springer, 2013, p. 222.
9 See also: Panos Koutrakos, EU International Relations Law, Hart Publishing, 2015, p. 135.

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Human & humanitarian smugglers: Europe’s scapegoat in the ‘refugee crisis’

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Rachel Landry, Fellow for Refugee Policy, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

In the middle of one night in January 2016, Salam Aldeen received what had now become a routine call regarding boats in distress off of the coast of Greece. Since co-founding Team Humanity, a volunteer rescue organisation, in September 2015, Aldeen had responded to distress calls from approximately 200 boats with a total of approximately 10,000 refugees on board. As per protocol, Aldeen informed the Greek coast guard that he was going out in search of the boats. Yet on this particular evening, Aldeen and the four other volunteer lifeguards with him never reached the refugees in need of rescue.

When a military ship came threateningly close to their rescue boat, they altered course and headed back to shore. Before they reached land, two military vessels and the Greek coast guard surrounded them, ultimately arresting them and confiscating their boat. Their alleged crime: human smuggling. Their actions: attempting to fulfil the widely acknowledged duty to rescue at sea. Aldeen was released from prison after paying a significant fee, but is unable to leave Greece and is required to check in weekly with the Greek authorities. He awaits trial and faces up to ten years in prison.

The arrest of Aldeen and the four volunteers is far from unique. Deeply entangled within the EU’s robust fight against human smuggling in the current ‘refugee crisis’ is the threat of criminalisation of a range of humanitarian acts, which should not be punished but rather praised. The European Commission (EC) has rhetorically acknowledged the importance of ‘avoiding risks of criminalisation of those who provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in distress’, yet the actions of individual Member States suggest otherwise.

The EC is scheduled to release a proposal by the end of 2016 to ‘improve the existing EU legal framework to tackle migrant smuggling’. As such, it has been reviewing Council Directive 2002/90/EC of 28 November 2002 defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence (Facilitation Directive), legislation that governs human smuggling in addition to other acts facilitating the transit and stay of irregular migrants. Given the much-needed review of the Facilitation Directive and the current strategy to combat abhorrent and ‘humanitarian’ acts of smuggling alike, it is a critical moment to reflect upon the moral quality and complexities of human smuggling.

I offer five observations as a preliminary framework for considering the deficiencies in the Facilitation Directive and where the boundary between blameworthy acts of smuggling and blameless acts of ‘humanitarian smuggling’ should be drawn. These observations stem from my recently published research through the Refugee Studies Centre, The ‘humanitarian smuggling’ of refugees: Criminal offence or moral obligation?

  1.       Combatting human smuggling and all humanitarian acts construed as such are in service of the larger goals of deterring and securitising irregular migration.

The EU is employing all possible tactics to deter refugees and migrants from attempting to reach its Member States’ shores – from the United Nations Security Council Resolution permitting EU security forces to intercept vessels suspected of human smuggling off the coast of Libya, to the deployment of NATO warships in the Aegean Sea, to the EU-Turkey deal to send those arriving irregularly back to Turkey. These policies of deterrence and securitisation are neither ad hoc nor unprecedented. Rather, they are integral to EU law governing irregular migrants and those who assist them.

Notably, the Facilitation Directive is first and foremost concerned with deterring irregular migration. As the first paragraph of the Directive states: ‘[o]ne of the objectives of the European Union is the gradual creation of an area of freedom, security, and justice, which means, inter alia, that illegal immigration must be combatted’. Prohibiting the facilitation of irregular entry is merely one means to combat irregular migration. As Spena argues, ‘[p]aradoxical as it may seem, in the Facilitation Directive’s approach, smuggling, as a form of facilitation, is only wrongful in an ancillary way, as if it was only a form of complicity in the real wrong which is the wrong of irregular migration’. The focus on deterring irregular migration produces a disregard for the smuggled migrants themselves, highlighted by the fact that the Directive does not define its relationship to international human rights or refugee law.

  1.     The Facilitation Directive, as transposed into national law, permits the criminalisation of genuinely humanitarian acts.  

The infringements set out in the Facilitation Directive mirror its expansive intent to sanction, most regularly through criminal law, a wide range of activities that may support irregular migration. Article 1.1.a stipulates that Member States:

shall adopt appropriate sanctions on: any person who intentionally assists a person who is not a national of a Member State to enter, or transit across, the territory of a Member State in breach of the laws of the State concerned on the entry or transit of aliens.  

Article 1.2 includes an optional ‘humanitarian clause’, which applies only to Article 1.1a such that ‘[a]ny Member State may decide not to impose sanctions…where the aim of the behaviour is to provide humanitarian assistance to the person concerned’.

The majority of Member States have transposed Article 1.1a expansively, permitting the criminalisation of a broad range of individuals facilitating irregular entry – from members of smuggling rings putting refugees in deliberate danger to volunteers rescuing refugees in peril at sea. The optional humanitarian exemption ultimately permits the criminalisation of what seems to be a limitless spectrum of activity at the national level, failing to enable subjects to orientate their behaviour accordingly and even prohibiting ethically defensible, if not praiseworthy, acts like those of Aldeen. According to a 2014 report by the Fundamental Rights Agency, the optional ‘humanitarian clause’ has been explicitly transposed in a variety of forms at the national level in only eight Member States.

  1.        The historic example of the rescue of the Danish Jews during World War II clearly illustrates, with the benefit of hindsight, the moral necessity and praiseworthiness of certain acts of smuggling.

The current ‘refugee crisis’ is regularly referred to as the largest crisis since World War II. Equally, international cooperation to resettle refugees in the aftermath of WWII is frequently invoked as a response that should be emulated today. Less frequently invoked, however, are those ‘humanitarian smugglers’known today simply as heroes – who rescued Jews from persecution long before the international community stepped in.

In 1943, 95% of the Jewish population in Denmark was able to escape deportation to concentration camps, in large part due to the collective action of fellow citizens and the Danish resistance movement. When the Nazi regime formalised the order to deport Danish Jews to concentration camps in September 1943, within two weeks Danes mobilised to successfully smuggle more than 7,200 Danish Jews and 680 non-Jewish family members to safety in Sweden, predominantly by way of Danish fishermen.

Those individuals who effectively evacuated almost the entire Jewish population out of Denmark not only made an assessment of the likely consequences and certainty of the impending harm for the Danish Jews if they did not act, but also accepted significant risks to their own lives as a result of their actions. If caught by the Nazis, those who aided and abetted Jews faced criminalisation and even possibly execution. The heroic rescue of the Danish Jews from impending deportation to concentration camp is but one reminder of the historical continuity, praiseworthiness, and unfortunate necessity of ‘humanitarian smuggling’.

  1.     The drafters of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) considered including a safeguard against penalisation for individuals assisting refugees to cross borders irregularly on humanitarian grounds.

Under certain circumstances, Article 31 of the Refugee Convention provides that presumptive refugees may cross borders irregularly and nevertheless be exempt from punishment. The drafters recognised that given the unique and vulnerable predicament of refugees, a refugee may have no choice but to cross borders irregularly and should not be penalised for doing so.

In light of the expansive scope of the Facilitation Directive and the threatened criminalisation of humanitarians like Aldeen, it may come as a surprise that some of the drafters – in particular the Swiss government – recognised that safeguards should exist not only for refugees, but also their rescuers. According to the French representative, organisations assisting refugees to reach safety were engaging in ‘an obvious humanitarian duty’. The French government was nevertheless opposed to modifying the language of Article 31, fearing it would encourage refugee organisations to become ‘organisations for the illegal crossing of frontiers’. Similarly, the United States representative acknowledged that the failure to include a safeguard for those proving humanitarian assistance to refugees irregularly crossing borders might be ‘a possible oversight in the drafting of the article’. Yet, the United States government did not support including protections for those providing assistance.

There is, of course, no safeguard for ‘humanitarian smugglers’ in the Refugee Convention. Yet, there was a recognition that governments should not – and a false assumption that they would not – criminalise those assisting refugees for humanitarian reasons.

  1.     The November 2015 landmark Supreme Court of Canada case, R. v. Appulonappa, may set a legal precedent for a more narrowly drafted smuggling offence in the Facilitation Directive to decriminalise ‘humanitarian smugglers’.

The November 2015 Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) case, R v. Appulonappa, sets a legal precedent for a narrower smuggling prohibition. The SCC ruled that its law criminalising smuggling, S. 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, was overbroad and should be ‘read down…as not applying to persons providing humanitarian aid to asylum-seekers or to asylum-seekers who provide each other mutual aid (including aid to family members)’. S. 117 is not dissimilar to Article 1.1 of the Facilitation Directive in that it theoretically criminalises anyone who facilitates irregular entry, regardless of motive or the means by which the act is carried out.

The SCC ruled that S. 117 exceeded its legislative intent of criminalising organised crime: ‘[a] broad punitive goal that would prosecute persons with no connection to and no furtherance of organised crime is not consistent with Parliament’s purpose’. Possible amendments to S. 117 may serve as a model for a more narrowly drafted prohibition that more accurately delineates between blameless and blameworthy acts of smuggling.

Conclusion

These five observations offer entry points into the moral complexities of human smuggling and the legal imperative of decriminalising humanitarian acts of the facilitation of irregular entry. Ultimately, if the EC intends to provide recommendations to amend the Facilitation Directive that reflect the need to avoid criminalising humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants, it will first need to more narrowly and clearly define acts of the facilitation of irregular entry worthy of criminalisation. The EC’s challenge lies with the fact that the primary purpose of the Facilitation Directive is to deter irregular migration and a narrower directive would ultimately undermine this objective.

In the current crisis, human smugglers – and all individuals deemed as such – have become Europe’s scapegoat. Targeting human smugglers worthy of criminalisation and those ‘humanitarian smugglers’ worthy of praise is Europe’s Band-Aid solution to a problem that can only be solved through safe and legal pathways for refugees to reach Europe.