The (UK) White Paper on the Great Repeal Bill: Invasion of the Parliamentary Control Snatchers


Professor Steve Peers

Yesterday’s White Paper for the forthcoming Great Repeal Bill outlines the key elements of the domestic law aspects of the process of the UK leaving the EU. It indicates broadly how the future proposal for a Bill will do two main things: (a) convert existing EU law applied in the UK to UK law including, in some cases, law of the devolved bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland); and (b) provide for a process of amending ex-EU law in future.

While the White Paper has thought some issues through in detail, there are some key points on which it is either vague or unconvincing (or both). In particular, it contains no real detail or substantiated argument on the most important issue: the power of the executive to amend laws without an Act of Parliament.

Converting EU law

The White Paper confirms that the UK will continue to apply EU law until Brexit Day – which will be March 29, 2019, unless (a) the EU/UK withdrawal agreement specifies otherwise, or (b) the EU and UK agree to extend this date, or (c) the UK rescinds its notification to withdraw from the EU (if that is legally possible). It also confirms the intention to remove the European Communities Act – the main Act of Parliament that gives effect to EU membership in UK law – as of that date.

But it seeks to retain in force the EU rules which apply in the UK as of that date, subject to amendments (as discussed below).  The EU rules in question are directly-applicable Regulations and EU Treaty provisions, as well as Directives which were already transposed into UK law by using the European Communities Act. Also, the Treaties will remain relevant for the interpretation of ex-EU legislation which was initially based on them (para 2.10).

What about the EU courts? Here the White Paper draws a distinction. On the one hand, post-Brexit laws will not be subject to the jurisdiction of the EU Court, and the UK’s courts will not be obliged to take ECJ rulings into account (presumably they could choose to do so, however). On the other hand, ex-EU laws will still have to be interpreted by reference to pre-Brexit case law of the EU courts, to ensure certainty. There’s no reference to post-Brexit case law, but again presumably the UK courts could choose to consider it.

The latter rule will not be absolute, however: pre-Brexit ECJ case law will have the same binding effect as UK Supreme Court judgments, and so the Supreme Court could overrule those judgments in the same limited circumstances in which it can (and rarely does) overrule itself. It will of course be possible for Parliament to overturn ECJ case law by amending the legislation, and the government hints that it might want to consider clarifying the circumstances in which the Supreme Court could overturn prior ECJ rulings.

A similar distinction arises as regards the supremacy of EU law: the EU court rule that EU law takes precedence over any conflicting national law, so the latter has to be disapplied by national courts in the event of any conflict. The supremacy rule will not apply to post-Brexit UK legislation, but it will still apply to pre-Brexit UK laws that conflict with ex-EU law.

Despite the general conversion of EU law, the White Paper insists on an exception for the EU Charter of Rights.  In that case, the ex-EU legislation will be interpreted after Brexit by the ‘rights underlying’ the Charter (ie the ECHR and other international treaties which the UK has signed), rather than the Charter itself.

Amending ex-EU law

Obviously the body of ‘ex-EU’ law will not remain unchanged forever. The White Paper discusses the process by which it can be changed in future. There are two key issues here. First, will any changes be the responsibility of the Westminster Parliament or government, or the parliaments and executives of the devolved bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? Secondly, within Westminster, what changes will be subject to Acts of Parliament, and what will be subject to delegated powers conferred upon the executive?

On the first point, the White Paper is vague about exactly what powers will be exercised by the devolved administrations, and this is likely to be a highly contested issue in practice.

On the second point, the distinction between Acts of Parliament and executive powers is important because an Act of Parliament allows for extensive public discussion and parliamentary scrutiny, whereas an act of the executive (usually in the form of ‘Statutory Instruments’) is subject to limited public or parliamentary involvement. For instance, there is far less time for discussion, and no prospect of tabling amendments.

The White Paper starts by mentioning some possible delegated powers for the Great Repeal Bill that will surely be uncontroversial. For instance, it refers to the references in ex-EU law to ‘EU law’, powers of the EU institutions, or information sharing with the EU. Since most of these references will be redundant (except possibly as regards continued sharing of police information, as the White Paper notes), there are limited policy choices to be made when replacing them. So there can be little objection in principle to the executive using such powers.

However, there is a further category of changes to EU law which will be more substantive. The White Paper gives a non-exhaustive list of cases where the government thinks it should have delegated powers: where a policy might change in light of the Brexit talks with the EU; where a policy changes as a direct consequence of leaving the EU; and where the level of detail is ‘not appropriate’ for an Act of Parliament.

More generally, the government argues that these powers must be widely defined and must apply not only to ex-EU law converted into EU law, but also Acts of Parliament linked to EU membership. The power for the executive to amend Acts of Parliament is controversial, and such clauses are widely known as ‘Henry VIII clauses’. Although the House of Lords Constitution Committee had previously argued that there should be extra powers of parliamentary scrutiny in this context, the government implicitly rejects this view.


The overall objective of ensuring legal continuity by retaining pre-Brexit EU law in force is logical, and the White Paper has thought many of the details through. It makes sense to ensure that legal continuity as much as possible by creating a distinct body of ex-EU law, where a form of the principle of supremacy still applies and ECJ judgments remain binding, subject to the rare case that the UK Supreme Court might want to overturn.

However, some of the detail has not been considered: what about future ECJ case law? What about cases concerning EU law in the UK pending in the UK courts or the EU courts on Brexit Day? What if a condition of ensuring market access to the EU after Brexit is to take relevant EU court case law ‘into account’? (Note that this falls short of making those judgments binding, and is even an even longer way from retaining the supremacy of EU law over national law). What about the domestic legal impact of any alternative court or dispute settlement system that might rule on UK/EU disputes after Brexit?

The hostility to the EU Charter forms an exception to the rule that prior EU law continues to apply, and raises much legal uncertainty. Does it also mean that ECJ rulings referring to the Charter should be ignored, at least to the extent that they refer to the Charter? Since many such rulings refer to other EU laws and interpret them in light of the Charter, there will in effect be an odd requirement to keep following part of a ruling but not all of it. But this will be like trying to remove an egg from an omelette, because the judicial reasoning on the Charter and the EU legislation is intertwined.

To some extent, this effect will be limited by the requirement to interpret the ex-EU law in light of the ‘underlying rights’ instead of the Charter. But what does this mean in light of the government’s intention to repeal the Human Rights Act, and replace it with a British Bill of Rights? What if the ECJ’s interpretation of the Charter was arguably more ambitious in a particular case than the relevant ‘underlying rights’ in the Charter? What if the relevant ‘underlying rights’ are set out in a human rights treaty which the UK has not ratified, or not made part of its domestic law? And there is no mention of the pre-Charter case law of the ECJ on human rights as ‘general principles of law’; what happens then?

Moving on to the amendment process, the White Paper’s initial examples of very technical changes to ex-EU laws that the government might wish to make are frankly misleading. For the White Paper then goes on to refer to a non-exhaustive list of broad discretionary powers which the government wants to make changes to the statute book in light of talks with the EU, to make consequential changes to policies or to fill in details of laws.

As drafted, these powers are potentially nearly limitless. They could, for instance, be used to adopt every detail of future policies on agriculture, fisheries, trade with non-EU countries or extradition to the EU without full parliamentary scrutiny or public discussion, because each of these are areas where the new laws could be regarded as changes consequential to leaving the EU.

So how should Parliament limit government powers? It will be hard to avoid conferring some substantive delegated powers on the government, as the time frame to implement a Brexit agreement with the EU (or the absence of one) before the likely Brexit Day of March 29, 2019 might be tight. On the other hand, there might be several months to spare, or there might be a transitional agreement keeping EU law in force for some time, so giving Parliament more time to act.

The best way forward is to rule certain issues off-limits entirely, particularly issues where EU law provides for essentially domestic legal harmonisation: for instance employment law, environmental law, consumer law, discrimination law. In those areas there is generally no reason why the law necessarily has to change if the UK leaves the EU, because the relevant laws are not usually about cross-border matters. (There are exceptions, like European Works Councils or carbon trading laws).

In other substantive areas, where there is a direct link with leaving the EU, Parliament should be given a right to rule on whether the conditions for conferring delegated powers on the government are met. Effectively it could decide whether the trigger for those powers had to be pulled due to lack of time or not. (Thanks to Professor Tammy Hervey for a version of this idea). There could be particular limits on the power of the executive to amend Acts of Parliament.

Also, the government could be pressed to make more effort to table Acts of Parliament well in advance of Brexit Day on the planned changes to some key areas, for instance agriculture and fisheries, to enable full parliamentary scrutiny. In particular, the planned customs bill could include rules setting out the domestic legal framework for UK’s post-Brexit international trade law (more on that specific issue another time).

Finally, on the issue of devolved assemblies, it is striking that the Brexit Minister’s foreword to the White Paper talks generally about a “significant increase in the decision-making power” of the devolved bodies, but the actual White Paper then does not give any detail of this. On the other hand it does go into some detail about the powers which can’t be conferred upon devolved assemblies, due to an intention to ensure a UK-wide single market.

Maybe we need a short, simple phrase to refer to the promise of devolved powers which is not then substantiated by any detail. Might I suggest…“the Vow”.

Judicial control of EU foreign policy: the ECJ judgment in Rosneft


Two takes on ECJ ruling in Rosneft, on the challenge to EU sanctions against the Russian oil company.

Stian Øby Johansen, PhD fellow at the University of Oslo Faculty of Law*

Yesterday (March 28th) the Court of Justice of the European Union (the CJEU) delivered its judgment in the long-awaited Rosneft case (C-72/15, ECLI:EU:C:2017:236). The judgment clarifies some aspects of the CJEU’s jurisdiction over the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Moreover, it is an important precedent in the field of EU sanctions law generally, and also resolve some questions of interpretation that are particular to the Russian sanctions.

In this blog post I will focus on what the judgment in Rosneft adds to the existing case-law on the review of CFSP decisions. Thus, I will not be discussing any of the more specific questions of EU sanctions law nor summarize the full 197 paragraph judgment. For those looking for a quick summary of the case, I refer to the succinct post by Maya Lester QC at the Sanctions Law blog.

CFSP sanctions: decisions and implementing regulations

I have already sketched out the background of the case in considerable detail in a blog post I wrote here following the oral hearing, and I co-wrote a blog post (with Alexander Arnesen) on Verfassungsblog on the Opinion of Advocate General Wathelet.  I will not repeat all this background here. But there is a couple of details that are essential to understanding the issue at hand here and the Rosneft judgment more broadly.

Recall that EU law sanctions (also known as “restrictive measures”) are enacted through a two-step process. First, the Council adopts a decision under TEU Title V, Chapter 2. This decision is then implemented in Union law (and thus domestically in the EU member states) by virtue of a regulation adopted under TFEU article 215. In the case of the Russia sanctions, as in most sanctions regimes, the wording of the respective decisions and regulations are virtually identical.

The use of two legal instruments with different legal bases — one decision with a CFSP legal basis, and one regulation with a legal basis in the TFEU — complicates matters when it comes to the jurisdiction of the CJEU. With regard to the regulation, the judgment in Rosneft confirms the obvious: any regulation adopted on the basis of the TFEU article 215 is within the jurisdiction of the CJEU (Rosneft paras 105-106). That is so irrespective of whether the regulation merely restates the decision.

On the other hand, the decision is a act adopted under the CFSP. The CFSP treaty provisions and acts adopted under them are carved out of the CJEU’s otherwise general jurisdiction over Union law (see TEU article 24 and TFEU article 275). To this carve-out there are two exceptions, a.k.a  claw-backs: the CJEU has jurisdiction to monitor compliance with TEU article 40 and to decide on the legality of decisions concerning “restrictive measures against natural or legal persons” (emphasis added). As I will come back to, both claw-backs were at play in Rosneft.

The remainder of this blog post focuses on the CJEU’s jurisdiction over such CFSP decisions, notably on the clarifications and contributions the Rosneft judgment offers to the ever-expanding case law in this field. (Key judgments in the previous years that have discussed these issues include Case C-155/14 P H v. Council et al  [2016], Case C‑439/13 P Elitaliana SpA v. EULEX Kosovo [2015], and Opinion 2/13 EU Accession to the ECHR [2014].)

The general scope of the CJEU’s jurisdiction over CFSP decisions

With regard to the general scope of the CJEU’s jurisdiction over CFSP decisions, the Rosneft judgment further cements the approach that has emerged in the case-law over the last couple of years.

First, the limitations on the CJEU’s jurisdiction and the two claw-backs explicitly provided for in TEU article 24(1) and TFEU article 275(2) have to be taken seriously. In relation to CFSP acts, the CJEU only has jurisdiction to (1) monitor compliance with TEU article 40, and (2) decide on the legality of restrictive measures against natural or legal persons. (Rosneft para 60.)

Second, while recognizing the explicit limitations on its jurisdiction in the treaties, the CJEU reiterates that those limitations must be interpreted narrowly (Rosneft para 74-75). Or, put differently, the provisions clawing back jurisdiction must be interpreted expansively.

What is new in Rosneft is the application of these starting points to a new issue: do the claw-backs apply in the context of preliminary rulings? This question must be answered separately for the each claw-back provision (Rosneft para 61).

Preliminary rulings and the legality of CFSP decisions in light of TEU article 40

One of the easier questions before the CJEU in Rosneft was whether the validity of CFSP decisions in light of TEU Article 40 could be determined in a preliminary ruling. The identical claw-back provisions in TEU Article 24(1) and TFEU Article 275(2) simply provide that the CJEU has jurisdiction to “monitor compliance with Article 40 [TEU]”.

There is nothing to suggest that such monitoring may only happen e.g  in actions for annulment. In other fields of EU law, it has long been clear that the CJEU has jurisdiction to declare Union acts invalid in preliminary rulings (see e.g. Case 314/85 Foto-Frost [1987]). Thus, due to the lack of an express and specific limitation, the CJEU concluded that its jurisdiction extended also to monitoring compliance of CFSP decisions with TEU article 40 in preliminary rulings (Rosneft paras 62-63).

Preliminary rulings and the legality of CFSP decisions concerning restrictive measures

The key jurisdictional question that the Grand Chamber had to deal with in Rosneft was whether it had jurisdiction to decide on the validity of a CFSP targeted sanctions decision in a preliminary ruling procedure. Due to the CFSP carve-out and the peculiar wording of the claw-back provision for restrictive measures in TEU article 24(1) and TFEU article 275(2), there has been significant uncertainty as to the correct answer to this question.

The relevant part of TEU article 24(1) reads as follows (emphasis added):

“The [CJEU] shall not have jurisdiction [over the CFSP], with the exception of its jurisdiction […] to review the legality of certain decisions as provided for by the second paragraph of Article 275 of the [TFEU]”.

The relevant part of TFEU article 275(2) reads as follows (emphasis added):

“the Court shall have jurisdiction […] to rule on proceedings, brought in accordance with the conditions laid down in the fourth paragraph of Article 263 of this Treaty, reviewing the legality of decisions providing for restrictive measures against natural or legal persons [adopted under the CFSP]”

In other words: TEU article 24(1) limits the jurisdiction to “certain decisions as provided for” by TFEU article 275(2), which in turn refers to “proceedings” that are “brought in accordance with the conditions laid down” in TFEU article 263(4). The latter provision provides that actions for annulment can be brought against acts of the EU institutions before the CJEU:

“Any natural or legal person may […] institute proceedings against an act addressed to that person or which is of direct and individual concern to them and does not entail implementing measures.”

The combined text of these provisions arguably suggests that the jurisdiction to determine the validity of CFSP targeted sanctions decisions only extends to actions for annulment brought by individuals. TFEU Article 263(4) ostensibly provides for the institution of proceedings for annulment; the types of acts that may be annulled are listed in TFEU Article 263(1)-(2). Conversely, then, the CJEU would lack jurisdiction to determine the validity of such a decision in a preliminary ruling. Against this, one may argue that jurisdiction to rule on the validity of Union acts is inherent to the complete system of legal remedies that the Union treaties establish.

How to solve this conundrum? AG Wathelet essentially suggested that the Court should interpret TFEU article 275(2) in the context of TEU article 24(1). In particular, he emphasized the use of the term “certain decisions” in TEU article 24(1), which suggest that the reference in TFEU article 275(2) to TFEU article 263(4) concerns the type of act (“restrictive measures”), and not the type of proceedings (i.e. actions for annulment). See AG Wathelet in Rosneft, para 61 et seq. Consequently, the validity of CFSP decisions can be determined in any kind of proceedings — also in preliminary rulings.

A further point is that the French language version of TFEU article 275(2) differs from the English in a crucial respect. It provides that the CJEU has jurisdiction “pour controller la légalité de certaines decisions visées à l’article 275, second alinéa  [TFUE]”. This seems to suggest an interpretation in line with that of AG Wathelet. Although  AG Wathelet does not discuss the language discrepancy directly, French is the “langue de travail” at the CJEU, and one may speculate that AG Wathelet relied more heavily on the French version of the treaty text than the English.

In Rosneft the CJEU reaches the same conclusion as AG Wathelet; the CJEU has jurisdiction to determine the validity of CFSP decisions in preliminary rulings. In doing so, the CJEU recognizes the textual discrepancy between the otherwise identical claw-back provisions in TFEU article 275(2) and TEU article 24(1), but not (explicitly) the linguistic discrepancy  However, it is slightly more careful than AG Wathelet in grounding its argument in other sources than (con)text — perhaps because the Court is indeed aware of the discrepancy between the language versions.

There are in particular two supporting arguments that the CJEU relies on. First, it puts forward a systemic argument. According to the CJEU, it is “inherent” in the Union’s “complete system of legal remedies or procedures that persons bringing proceedings must, when an action is brought before a national court or tribunal, have the right to challenge the legality of provisions contained in European Union acts” (Rosneft paras 67-68).

Second, the CJEU  emphasizes the fundamental rights dimension of judicial protection (Rosneft paras 69-75). As usual in cases on jurisdiction on CFSP acts, it refers in passing to the concept of the “rule of law” (Rosneft para 72). But it also refers extensively to article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (Rosneft paras 73-74). While the Charter has been mentioned in passing before in cases concerning CFSP decisions (notably in Case C-455/14 P H v. Council et al. [2016]), the emphasis has usually been on the nebulous concept of the rule of law. In Rosneft we see the reverse: an emphasis on the fundamental right of effective judicial protection, which is laid down in positive primary law in CFR article 47.

The conclusion that the CJEU draws is thus built on a principled and even more solid ground than that of AG Wathelet. The question of whether the validity of CFSP decisions can be determined in preliminary ruling proceedings must therefore be regarded as settled following the Rosneft judgment.

Graham Butler, Assistant Professor of Law, Aarhus University, Denmark


The Question


Can the Court of Justice of European Union (‘the Court’) assert jurisdiction and provide a national court with an interpretation of Union law in a case referred to it from a national court under an Article 267 TFEU preliminary reference, when the subject matter is in regard to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)? This was one of a number of questions referred to the Court of Justice from the High Court of England and Wales in Rosneft (C-72/15). This week, the Court meeting in a Grand Chamber formation, answered this jurisdictional question in the affirmative. Given the significance of this judgment for the law of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), and previous discussion of the Opinion of the Advocate General in 2016, yesterday’s judgment was hotly anticipated given its implications for the ‘specific rules and procedures’ that are applicable to the law of CFSP. As the Court continues in a line of case law to clarify its jurisdiction in CFSP, it is ultimately a question of constitutional importance for the Union’s external relations.

Ambiguity of the Treaties: Jurisdiction


Rosneft concerns the EU’s restrictive measure regime, more popularly known as sanctions. The governance scheme surrounding sanctions is a developed body of case law, in which individuals subject to them have the possibility to challenge them directly before the EU’s General Court, the administrative court of the Union. Given that the locus standi (standing) of taking actions to the Court is a narrow right, the use of preliminary references, otherwise known as referrals from national courts, also functions as an indirect means for legal entities to access the Court for adjudication on matters of Union law. What makes the Rosneft case noteworthy, in comparison to other aspects of CFSP and sanctions case law, is that it is the first case on the Court’s jurisdiction to rule on sanctions not taken directly to the EU General Court. Rather, the Rosneft case arrived at the Court of Justice through the preliminary reference procedure from a national court, in this case, the High Court of Justice (England and Wales) in the United Kingdom, upon the basis of Article 267 TFEU.

Sanctions have a peculiarity in their procedural sense. Firstly, it requires a CFSP Decision, done on an Article 29 TEU legal basis. Secondly, a subsequent Regulation is decided upon an Article 215 TFEU legal basis, which allows sanctions to be implemented throughout the Union. Accordingly, in Rosneft, on the table was Council Decision 2014/512/CFSP, Council Decision 2014/659/CFSP, and Council Decision 2014/872/CFSP (collectively, ‘the Decision’). Furthermore, there was Regulation 833/2014, Regulation 960/2014, and Regulation 129/2014 (collectively, ‘the Regulation’). The Decision taken by the Council, where Member States as a general rule act unanimously, were directly in response to the alleged actions of Russia in Ukraine. Substantively, the applicant contested the implementation measures by way of Regulation taken by the British Government as a result of the CFSP Decision, of which it too was part of, on the grounds that it contained ambiguities. Accordingly, the substantive question was whether the CFSP Decision was one the one hand sufficiently clear, or on the other, imprecise?

In Rosneft, both the Decision and accompanying Regulation were challenged. Yet, it is unclear whether the Court has the jurisdiction to fully answer the questions asked of it, given the first legal act is adopted on a CFSP legal basis (the Decision), and the second legal act on a non-CFSP legal basis (the Regulation). The Court’s jurisdiction in the latter is undisputed given its adoption on Article 215 TFEU, however, much more speculative and up for question is the Court’s jurisdiction on the Decision, given its adoption on a CFSP legal basis. Prior to recent treaty revision, questions surrounding the Court’s jurisdiction rumbled for decades. However, the Treaty of Lisbon, saw a flipping effect, in that jurisdiction of the Court was to be assumed, unless specifically derogated from by the Treaties. One of these derogations was acts adopted upon a CFSP legal basis, which is elaborated in Article 24(1) TEU and Article 275 TFEU.

Firstly, Article 24(1) TEU, inter alia, states that, ‘The Court of Justice of the European Union shall not have jurisdiction with respect to these provisions [CFSP], with the exception of its jurisdiction to monitor compliance with Article 40 of this Treaty and to review the legality of certain decisions as provided for by the second paragraph of Article 275 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.’ Secondly, Article 275 TFEU states that the Court has the jurisdiction to, ‘…rule on proceedings, brought in accordance with the conditions laid down in the fourth paragraph of Article 263 of this Treaty, reviewing the legality of decisions providing for restrictive measures against natural or legal persons adopted by the Council on the basis of Chapter 2 of Title V of the Treaty on European Union.’

This consequently points to Article 263 TFEU and its fourth paragraph stating, ‘Any natural or legal person may, under the conditions laid down in the first and second paragraphs, institute proceedings against an act addressed to that person or which is of direct and individual concern to them, and against a regulatory act which is of direct concern to them and does not entail implementing measures.’ The first and second paragraphs in Article 263 TFEU do not appear to envisage the possibility for the Court to have the ability to answer questions on preliminary references from national courts. The leading academic material of EU procedural law previously acknowledged that the Court ‘may afford possibilities’ in this area (Lenaerts et al. 2014:458), recognising that it is by no means a settled question. This is, until the right opportunity arose to address it, which was Rosneft.

So what did the Advocate-General say firstly? AG Wathelet said the Court did have the jurisdiction to answer the substantive questions of it by the national court. Yet how did he reach this view in light of the treaties, and their apparent formulation to exclude the Court in such matters? Whilst acknowledging the Court’s jurisdiction in CFSP matters appears to be limited by Article 24(1) TEU and Article 275 TFEU ‘at first sight’ (para. 39), he skirted a narrow interpretation of Article 263 TFEU and its apparent lack of foresight for seeing preliminary references in the equation. For the aforementioned Article 24(1) TEU and Article 275 TFEU, it can be assumed there was there a need for them to have the intended same effect. However, they are worded differently, and thus, the Advocate-General said, might put out the ‘false impression’, that the Court had no jurisdiction. Thus, he said, the two articles enable the Court ‘to review the compliance with Article 40 TEU of all CFSP acts’, (para. 65), regardless of what way the question ends up at the Court, that is, through a direct action, or a preliminary reference.

The Opinion of the Advocate-General is a demonstrative example of how the restatement of certain constitutional provisions within primary law have the ability to be read differently, despite the intentions of the drafters may have been for such restatements to have the same meaning. Given this part of the Opinion of the Advocate-General on jurisdiction, which was non-binding, what did the Court say, and did it reach the same conclusion?


In the judgment issued on 28 March 2017, the Grand Chamber, before going onto matters of substance, had to handle the important question of jurisdiction, and furthermore grapple with the admissibility of the question of jurisdiction. The Council had queried whether the questions referred by the national court could have been answered in respected of the Regulation alone (non-CFSP), rather than contesting the validity of Decision (CFSP) (para. 48). Thus, along this line of thinking, the Court would then not have to assert any jurisdiction on the CFSP legal basis, for which the Council has always viciously defended against any judicial incursion by the Court (Cases C-455/14 P, H v. Council; C-439/13 P Eulex Kosovo; C-263/13 TanzaniaOpinion 2/13; and C-658/11, Mauritius). The Court rejected this Council viewpoint, stating that it is up to national courts alone to ask questions of the Court on the interpretation of Union law (para. 49). The Court was therefore only in a position to not answer a reference when it fails to have a legal question in need of answering, or is only a hypothetical question (para. 50).

The Court furthermore in its judgment stated that only focusing on reviewing the legality of the Regulation (non-CFSP), and not the questions asked of it as a whole by the national court, which would not be adequately answering questions asked of it (para. 53). Moreover, despite the sharp distinction between a CFSP act and a non-CFSP act, in order to impose a sanction within the EU legal order, the Court noted that they are inextricably tied. Given how sanctions are imposed in the EU legal order, it is a perfect demonstration of the possibility of close-knit relations between CFSP and non-CFSP legal bases, given the Court in Kadi I said the link occurs when it has been made ‘explicitly’ (Joined Cases C-402/05 P and C-415/05 P, para. 202). The Court in Rosneft however hypothesized that even if the latter Regulation implementing a CFSP Decision was to be declared invalid, that would still mean that a Member State was to conform to a CFSP Decision. Thus, in order to invalidate a Regulation following a CFSP Decision, the Court would have to have jurisdiction to examine that CFSP Decision (para. 56).

Once the admissibility of the question of jurisdiction was answered, the Court progressed onto answering the jurisdictional questions raised, in which it concluded that, ‘Articles 19, 24 and 40 TEU, Article 275 TFEU, and Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union must be interpreted as meaning that the Court of Justice of the European Union has jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings, under Article 267 TFEU, on the validity of an act adopted on the basis of provisions relating to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)…’ (Ruling 1 of 3). Yet, Court’s assertion of its jurisdiction was not completely unqualified. Rather, it must be meet one of two conditions. The first condition that it may meet, is that it must relate to Article 40 TEU on the Court having the jurisdiction to determine the boundary between CFSP and non-CFSP in its border-policing role. The second condition that the Court’s allows for the assertion of its jurisdiction, is when it involves the legality of restrictive measures against natural or legal persons.

The remark on Article 40 TEU is significant from the Court (paras. 60-63). From some corners, the Court has been subject for some remarks for not properly utilising this Article for elucidating what the precise boundaries for a CFSP and non-CFSP. To date, it has shunned such possibilities provided to it to determine the fine lines of this providing, underling the fact that CFSP is an obscure area of the treaties, legally speaking. Rosneft perhaps elucidates some reasons why Article 40 TEU has not been used by the Court to date, namely that it does ‘not make provision for any particular means by which such judicial monitoring is to be carried out’ (para. 62). Thus, given this lack of guidance, the Court finds itself falling back on Article 19 TEU to, ‘ensure that in the interpretation and application of the Treaties the law is observed.’ (paras. 62 and 75).

It was advocated nearly a decade ago that rule of law concerns could be used to provide justification for the Court’s jurisdiction in CFSP cases upon a preliminary reference (De Baere 2008:186). Whilst this can be a common phrase with large recourse in a number of situations to justify Court actions, the Court instead of utilising this argument alone here (para. 72), went one-step further. alluded to the EU’s Charter on Fundamental Rights (CFR), selected Article 47 CFR, the right to an effective remedy and a fair trial, ensuring who has ‘rights and freedoms guaranteed by the law of the Union…the right to an effective remedy’. (para. 73), as a basis for clarifying this position on its jurisdiction.

From the Court’s perspective in CFSP-related cases, it certainly does not want the possibility for national courts to test the possibility for them to attempt and try invalidate Union legal acts in whatever form (paras. 78 and 79). It it long-standing jurisprudence of the Court stemming from Foto-Frost (314/85), that it alone has the ability to invalidate Union law, which the national courts cannot do. Thus, national courts only have the possibility to invalidate implementing national measures subject to their own constitutional requirements, and not the Union legal acts themselves. The most recent example of the Court clarifying (ie. extending) its jurisdiction into the CFSP arena was H v. Council (C-455/14 P). Unlike H v. Council however (Butler 2016:677 and on this blog), in which the Court asserted jurisdiction, it then proceeded to fling the substantive matter back to the General Court for adjudication. The Court here in Rosneft had to proceed and answer the substantive questions itself, which conclusively, upheld the sanctions in question.


The Court and the Opinion of Advocate-General on its jurisdictional points can be commended for not allowing a legal lacuna to be created by further disenfranchising CFSP as a particular sub-set of Union law, and ensuring it was kept as close of the normal rules surround preliminary references as possible. Such a situation, where jurisdiction were not asserted, could have lead national courts to not send preliminary references to the Court in further questions seeking clarification on points of Union law. This potential chilling effect would most certainly hamper not just the nature of sanctions, but also the coherent interpretation of Union law as a whole, for which the Court is the ultimate adjudicator. By coming to the conclusion that the Court did have the jurisdiction, empowering itself with the ability to answer the substantive questions, AG Wathelet acknowledged he was breaking with the view of his colleague, AG Kokott, from her view provided in Opinion 2/13 on the EU’s accession to the ECHR. AG Wathelet said that without the Court having jurisdiction, it would undermine under Articles in the Treaties, namely, Article 23 TEU, which guarantees access to a Court and effective legal protection (para. 66), which albeit by an alternative method, the Court broadly arrived at the same conclusion.

Jurisdictional questions are not just inconsequential matters in the exercise of EU foreign policy, but have ramifications for EU procedural law, and the constitutional framework in which Union law operates. The Court’s judgment, clarifying jurisdiction for itself, when it was in doubt, further widens the potential for its scope for a role in EU foreign policy. Hence, how broad a deference is there at the Court to questions that ultimately hinge upon ‘sensitive’ areas of policy? Do Member States want the Court to have jurisdiction in CFSP? The Treaties do their best to prevent it, and five of the intervening six Member States and the Council in Rosneft pleaded that the Court did not have the ability to rule on the validity of CFSP acts. Yet the Court is no stranger to such questions, as it has dealt with jurisdictional questions on sensitive areas before, albeit in a slightly different context. The Area of Freedom, Security, and Justice (‘AFSJ’ or ‘Justice and Home Affairs’)). The Gestoras (C-354/04 P) and Segi(C-355/04 P) cases here provide us with suitable examples. In a pre-Lisbon context, the Court said to interpret the cases as falling outside the scope of the then Article 35(1) TEU because they were preliminary references would not be in ‘observance of the law’. Thus, the Court ruled in both Gestoras and Segi that jurisdiction for the Court in that field was permissible.

Given the Court’s judgment here in Rosneft, there is no doubt that it had to be slightly inventive to overall what was clearly a shortcoming in the drafting of the Treaties. For the Court to have not asserted jurisdiction in Rosneft would have seemed contrary to the overall premise upon which the Union is a ‘complete system of legal remedies’, which again it cited in Rosneft (para. 66), stemming from Les Verts (294/93). Do the Treaties allow vacuums to be created where judicial review is excluded, or does it by reasonable means provide for judicial review? The latter was not only an easy choice, but also the more logical one. Article 19(1) TEU states that the Court, ‘ensure that in the interpretation and application of the Treaties the law is observed’, and that, ‘Member States shall provide remedies sufficient to ensure effective legal protection in the fields covered by Union law.’

This, coupled with the Court’s own ‘Declaration by the Court…on the occasion of the Judges’ Forum organised to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome’ made the day before the Rosneft judgment was published, commenced with restating the premise that the EU is, ‘is a union governed by the rule of law’. Yet such spirited measures are always dampened by other events, and it is hardly in fitting with recent developments at the General Court. The NF and Others v. European Council cases, and the Orders by the General Court on 28 February 2017 (T-192/16, T-193/16, and T-257/16), stated that it did not have jurisdiction on the question of the legal basis upon which an ‘EU-Turkey statement’ was reached. The likelihood is therefore that such questions about the scope of the Court’s jurisdiction in non-CFSP matters will rumble on.

Whilst this Rosneft judgment has clarified the scope of the Court’s jurisdiction on preliminary reference cases dealing with CFSP-related matters, one has to ask why the litigant did not instead seek to go straight to the EU’s General Court with an action for annulment claim, seeking the annulment of the sanctions applying Union-wide. The Court said that the basis for actions for annulment through direct actions from the treaties do not constitute the only means for which sanctions are challengeable (para. 70). Thus, from this, we can deduce that Rosneft opens the basis for future forum shopping when legal entities are subjected to the Union’s comprehensive sanctions regime under the auspices of CFSP in the future.

Remaining questions on the legal limits of CFSP as a special area of area are yet to be fully answered in a categorical way. One example of such is the doctrine of primacy, with lingering questions on its applicability to CFSP. Even with this, jurisdictional questions in CFSP remain. In a recent Order of the General Court in Jenkinson v. Council (T-602/15), it found it did have the jurisdiction to deal with a staffing case stemming from a CSDP, under the wing of CFSP. This demonstrates the caution of the General Court on leading the way on jurisdictional matters, preferring to let the Court of Justice lead the way.

Nonetheless, Rosneft clarifies that CFSP is one (small) step towards wider integration with the rest of the EU legal order. Former Judge at the Court, Federico Mancini said once in a speech at the Danish Supreme Court (Højesteret) in Copenhagen that without the system of preliminary references, that the ‘roof would collapse’ (Mancini and Keeling 1991:2). Indeed, this week’s Rosneft judgment, ensuring that Article 267 TFEU preliminary references in cases involving CFSP can be heard, upholds this notion rather tightly.

Barnard & Peers: chapter 10, chapter 24

Photo credit: The Hill

Parliamentary Tracker : the EP incoming resolution on the EU-USA (so called) “Privacy Shield”…


NOTA BENE : Below the text that will be submitted to vote at the next EP plenary. As in previous occasions the text is well drafted, legally precise and it confirms the high level of  competence that the European Parliament (and its committee LIBE) has developed along the last 17 years from the first inquiry on Echelon (2000), the Safe Harbor (2000), the EU-USA agreement on PNR (since 2003 a thirteen year long lasting saga…) the SWIFT agreement (2006) …

What is puzzling are the critics raised against the  so called “adequacy finding” mechanism which empowers the European Commission to decide if a third Country protect “adequately” the EU citizens personal data. The weaknesses of the Commission face to our strongest transatlantic ally  were already very well known when recently the parliamentarians have reformed the European legal framework on data protection in view of the new legal basis foreseen by the Treaties and in the art. 7 and 8 of the EU Charter.  However the EP did’nt try to strengthen the “adequacy” mechanism by transforming it at least in a “delegated” function (so that it would had been possible for the EP to block something which could had weackened our standards).

Now the US Congress is weakening the (already poor) US data protection and the new US administration will probably go in the same direction.  It seems to me to easy  to complain now on something that you had recently the chance to fix..

Let’s now hope that the Court of Justice by answering to the request for opinion on the EU-Canada PNR agreement will give to the EU legislator some additional recommendations but as an EU citizen I would had preferred a stronger EU legislation instead of been ruled by european or national Judges…

Emilio De Capitani

B8‑0235/2017 European Parliament resolution on the adequacy of the protection afforded by the EU-US Privacy Shield (2016/3018(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–        having regard to the Treaty on European Union (TEU), the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Articles 6, 7, 8, 11, 16, 47 and 52 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,

–        having regard to Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data (Data Protection Directive)[1],

–        having regard to Council Framework Decision 2008/977/JHA of 27 November 2008 on the protection of personal data processed in the framework of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters[2],

–        having regard to Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation)[3], and to Directive (EU) 2016/680 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data by competent authorities for the purposes of the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences or the execution of criminal penalties, and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Council Framework Decision 2008/977/JHA[4],

–        having regard to the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union of 6 October 2015 in Case C-362/14 Maximillian Schrems v Data Protection Commissioner[5],

–        having regard to the Commission communication to the European Parliament and the Council of 6 November 2015 on the transfer of personal data from the EU to the United States of America under Directive 95/46/EC following the judgment by the Court of Justice in Case C-362/14 (Schrems) (COM(2015)0566),

–        having regard to the Commission communication to the European Parliament and the Council of 10 January 2017 on Exchanging and Protecting Personal Data in a Globalised World (COM(2017)0007),

–        having regard to the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union of 21 December 2016 in Cases C-203/15 Tele2 Sverige AB v Post- och telestyrelsen and C-698/15 Secretary of State for the Home Department v Tom Watson and Others[6],

–        having regard to Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2016/1250 of 12 July 2016 pursuant to Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the adequacy of the protection provided by the EU-US Privacy Shield[7],

–        having regard to Opinion 4/2016 of the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) on the EU-US Privacy Shield draft adequacy decision[8],

–        having regard to the Opinion of the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party of 13 April 2016 on the EU-US Privacy Shield draft adequacy decision[9] and its Statement of 26 July 2016[10],

–        having regard to its resolution of 26 May 2016 on transatlantic data flows[11],

–        having regard to Rule 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

  1. whereas the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in its judgment of 6 October 2015 in Case C-362/14 Maximillian Schrems v Data Protection Commissioner invalidated the Safe Harbour decision and clarified that an adequate level of protection in a third country must be understood to be ‘essentially equivalent’ to that guaranteed within the European Union by virtue of Directive 95/46/EC read in the light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (hereinafter ‘the EU Charter’), prompting the need to conclude negotiations on a new arrangement so as to ensure legal certainty on how personal data should be transferred from the EU to the US;
  2. whereas, when examining the level of protection afforded by a third country, the Commission is obliged to assess the content of the rules applicable in that country deriving from its domestic law or its international commitments, as well as the practice designed to ensure compliance with those rules, since it must, under Article 25(2) of Directive 95/46/EC, take account of all the circumstances surrounding a transfer of personal data to a third country; whereas this assessment must not only refer to legislation and practices relating to the protection of personal data for commercial and private purposes, but must also cover all aspects of the framework applicable to that country or sector, in particular, but not limited to, law enforcement, national security and respect for fundamental rights;
  3. whereas transfers of personal data between commercial organisations of the EU and the US are an important element for the transatlantic relationships; whereas these transfers should be carried out in full respect of the right to the protection of personal data and the right to privacy; whereas one of the fundamental objectives of the EU is the protection of fundamental rights, as enshrined in the EU Charter;
  4. whereas in its Opinion 4/2016 the EDPS raised several concerns on the draft Privacy Shield; whereas the EDPS welcomes in the same opinion the efforts made by all parties to find a solution for transfers of personal data from the EU to the US for commercial purposes under a system of self-certification;
  5. whereas in its Opinion 01/2016 on the EU-US Privacy Shield draft adequacy decision the Article 29 Working Party welcomed the significant improvements brought about by the Privacy Shield compared with the Safe Harbour decision whilst also raising strong concerns about both the commercial aspects and access by public authorities to data transferred under the Privacy Shield;
  6. whereas on 12 July 2016, after further discussions with the US administration, the Commission adopted its Implementing Decision (EU) 2016/1250, declaring the adequate level of protection for personal data transferred from the Union to organisations in the United States under the EU-US Privacy Shield;
  7. whereas the EU-US Privacy Shield is accompanied by several letters and unilateral statements from the US administration explaining, inter alia, the data protection principles, the functioning of oversight, enforcement and redress and the protections and safeguards under which security agencies can access and process personal data;
  8. whereas in its statement of 26 July 2016, the Article 29 Working Party welcomes the improvements brought by the EU-US Privacy Shield mechanism compared with Safe Harbour and commended the Commission and the US authorities for having taken into consideration its concerns; whereas the Article 29 Working Party indicates, nevertheless, that a number of its concerns remain, regarding both the commercial aspects and the access by US public authorities to data transferred from the EU, such as the lack of specific rules on automated decisions and of a general right to object, the need for stricter guarantees on the independence and powers of the Ombudsperson mechanism, and the lack of concrete assurances of not conducting mass and indiscriminate collection of personal data (bulk collection);
  9. Welcomes the efforts made by both the Commission and the US administration to address the concerns raised by the CJEU, the Member States, the European Parliament, data protection authorities (DPAs) and stakeholders, so as to enable the Commission to adopt the implementing decision declaring the adequacy of the EU-US Privacy Shield;
  10. Acknowledges that the EU-US Privacy Shield contains significant improvements regarding the clarity of standards compared with the former EU-US Safe Harbour and that US organisations self-certifying adherence to the EU-US Privacy Shield will have to comply with clearer data protection standards than under Safe Harbour;
  11. Takes note that as at 23 March 2017, 1 893 US organisations have joined the EU-US Privacy Shield; regrets that the Privacy Shield is based on voluntary self-certification and therefore applies only to US organisations which have voluntarily signed up to it, which means that many companies are not covered by the scheme;
  12. Acknowledges that the EU-US Privacy Shield facilitates data transfers from SMEs and businesses in the Union to the US;
  13. Notes that, in line with the ruling of the CJEU in the Schrems case, the powers of the European DPAs remain unaffected by the adequacy decision and they can, therefore, exercise them, including the suspension or the ban of data transfers to an organisation registered with the EU-US Privacy Shield; welcomes in this regard the prominent role given by the Privacy Shield Framework to Member State DPAs to examine and investigate claims related to the protection of the rights to privacy and family life under the EU Charter and to suspend transfers of data, as well as the obligation placed upon the US Department of Commerce to resolve such complaints;
  14. Notes with satisfaction that under the Privacy Shield Framework, EU data subjects have several means available to them to pursue legal remedies in the US: first, complaints can be lodged either directly with the company or through the Department of Commerce following a referral by a DPA, or with an independent dispute resolution body, secondly, with regard to interferences with fundamental rights for the purpose of national security, a civil claim can be brought before the US court and similar complaints can also be addressed by the newly created independent Ombudsperson, and finally, complaints about interferences with fundamental rights for the purposes of law enforcement and the public interest can be dealt with by motions challenging subpoenas; encourages further guidance from the Commission and DPAs to make those legal remedies all the more easily accessible and available;
  15. Acknowledges the clear commitment of the US Department of Commerce to closely monitor the compliance of US organisations with the EU-US Privacy Shield Principles and their intention to take enforcement actions against entities failing to comply;
  16. Reiterates its call on the Commission to seek clarification on the legal status of the ‘written assurances’ provided by the US and to ensure that any commitment or arrangement foreseen under the Privacy Shield is maintained following the taking up of office of a new administration in the United States;
  17. Considers that, despite the commitments and assurances made by the US Government by means of the letters attached to the Privacy Shield arrangement, important questions remain as regards certain commercial aspects, national security and law enforcement;
  18. Specifically notes the significant difference between the protection provided by Article 7 of Directive 95/46/EC and the ‘notice and choice’ principle of the Privacy Shield arrangement, as well as the considerable differences between Article 6 of Directive 95/46/EC and the ‘data integrity and purpose limitation’ principle of the Privacy Shield arrangement; points out that instead of the need for a legal basis (such as consent or contract) that applies to all processing operations, the data subject rights under the Privacy Shield Principles only apply to two narrow processing operations (disclosure and change of purpose) and only provide for a right to object (‘opt-out’);
  19. Takes the view that these numerous concerns could lead to a fresh challenge to the decision on the adequacy of the protection being brought before the courts in the future; emphasises the harmful consequences as regards both respect for fundamental rights and the necessary legal certainty for stakeholders;
  20. Notes, amongst other things, the lack of specific rules on automated decision-making and on a general right to object, and the lack of clear principles on how the Privacy Shield Principles apply to processors (agents);
  21. Notes that, while individuals have the possibility to object vis-à-vis the EU controller to any transfer of their personal data to the US, and to the further processing of those data in the US where the Privacy Shield company acts as a processor on behalf of the EU controller, the Privacy Shield lacks specific rules on a general right to object vis-à-vis the US self-certified company;
  22. Notes that only a fraction of the US organisations that have joined the Privacy Shield have chosen to use an EU DPA for the dispute resolution mechanism; is concerned that this constitutes a disadvantage for EU citizens when trying to enforce their rights;
  23. Notes the lack of explicit principles on how the Privacy Shield Principles apply to processors (agents), while recognising that all principles apply to the processing of personal data by any US self-certified company ‘[u]nless otherwise stated’ and that the transfer for processing purposes always requires a contract with the EU controller which will determine the purposes and means of processing, including whether the processor is authorised to carry out onward transfers (e.g. for sub-processing);
  24. Stresses that, as regards national security and surveillance, notwithstanding the clarifications brought by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in the letters attached to the Privacy Shield framework, ‘bulk surveillance’, despite the different terminology used by the US authorities, remains possible; regrets the lack of a uniform definition of the concept of bulk surveillance and the adoption of the American terminology, and therefore calls for a uniform definition of bulk surveillance linked to the European understanding of the term, where evaluation is not made dependent on selection; stresses that any kind of mass surveillance is in breach of the EU Charter;
  25. Recalls that Annex VI (letter from Robert S. Litt, ODNI) clarifies that under Presidential Policy Directive 28 (hereinafter ‘PPD-28’), bulk collection of personal data and communications of non-US persons is still permitted in six cases; points out that such bulk collection only has to be ‘as tailored as feasible’ and ‘reasonable’, which does not meet the stricter criteria of necessity and proportionality as laid down in the EU Charter;
  26. Deplores the fact that the EU-US Privacy Shield does not prohibit the collection of bulk data for law enforcement purposes;
  27. Stresses that in its judgment of 21 December 2016, the CJEU clarified that the EU Charter ‘must be interpreted as precluding national legislation which, for the purpose of fighting crime, provides for the general and indiscriminate retention of all traffic and location data of all subscribers and registered users relating to all means of electronic communication’; points out that the bulk surveillance in the US therefore does not provide for an essentially equivalent level of the protection of personal data and communications;
  28. Is alarmed by the recent revelations about surveillance activities conducted by a US electronic communications service provider on all emails reaching its servers, upon request of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI, as late as 2015, i.e. one year after Presidential Policy Directive 28 was adopted and during the negotiation of the EU-US Privacy Shield; insists that the Commission seek full clarification from the US authorities and make the answers provided available to the Council, Parliament and national DPAs; sees this as a reason to strongly doubt the assurances brought by the ODNI; is aware that the EU-US Privacy Shield rests on PPD-28, which was issued by the President and can also be repealed by any future President without Congress’s consent;
  29. Expresses great concerns at the issuance of the ‘Procedures for the Availability or Dissemination of Raw Signals Intelligence Information by the National Security Agency under Section 2.3 of Executive Order 12333’, approved by the Attorney General on 3 January 2017, allowing the NSA to share vast amounts of private data gathered without warrants, court orders or congressional authorisation with 16 other agencies, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Homeland Security; calls on the Commission to immediately assess the compatibility of these new rules with the commitments made by the US authorities under the Privacy Shield, as well as their impact on the level of personal data protection in the United States;
  30. Deplores the fact that neither the Privacy Shield Principles nor the letters of the US administration providing clarifications and assurances demonstrate the existence of effective judicial redress rights for individuals in the EU whose personal data are transferred to a US organisation under the Privacy Shield Principles and further accessed and processed by US public authorities for law enforcement and public interest purposes, which were emphasised by the CJEU in its judgment of 6 October 2015 as the essence of the fundamental right in Article 47 of the EU Charter;
  31. Recalls its resolution of 26 May 2016 stating that the Ombudsperson mechanism set up by the US Department of State is not sufficiently independent and is not vested with sufficient effective powers to carry out its duties and provide effective redress to EU individuals; notes that according to the representations and assurances provided by the US Government the Office of the Ombudsperson is independent from the US intelligence services, free from any improper influence that could affect its function and moreover works together with other independent oversight bodies with effective powers of supervision over the US Intelligence Community; is generally concerned that an individual affected by a breach of the rules can apply only for information and for the data to be deleted and/or for a stop to further processing, but has no right to compensation;
  32. Regrets that the procedure of adoption of an adequacy decision does not provide for a formal consultation of relevant stakeholders such as companies, and in particular SMEs’ representation organisations;
  33. Regrets that the Commission followed the procedure for adoption of the Commission implementing decision in a practical manner that de facto has not enabled Parliament to exercise its right of scrutiny on the draft implementing act in an effective manner;
  34. Calls on the Commission to take all the necessary measures to ensure that the Privacy Shield will fully comply with Regulation (EU) 2016/679, to be applied as from 16 May 2018, and with the EU Charter;
  35. Calls on the Commission to ensure, in particular, that personal data that has been transferred to the US under the Privacy Shield can only be transferred to another third country if that transfer is compatible with the purpose for which the data was originally collected, and if the same rules of specific and targeted access for law enforcement apply in the third country;
  36. Calls on the Commission to monitor whether personal data which is no longer necessary for the purpose for which it had been originally collected is deleted, including by law enforcement agencies;
  37. Calls on the Commission to closely monitor whether the Privacy Shield allows for the DPAs to fully exercise all their powers, and if not, to identify the provisions that result in a hindrance to the DPAs’ exercise of powers;
  38. Calls on the Commission to conduct, during the first joint annual review, a thorough and in-depth examination of all the shortcomings and weaknesses referred to in this resolution and in its resolution of 26 May 2016 on transatlantic data flows, and those identified by the Article 29 Working Party, the EDPS and the stakeholders, and to demonstrate how they have been addressed so as to ensure compliance with the EU Charter and Union law, and to evaluate meticulously whether the mechanisms and safeguards indicated in the assurances and clarifications by the US administration are effective and feasible;
  39. Calls on the Commission to ensure that when conducting the joint annual review, all the members of the team have full and unrestricted access to all documents and premises necessary for the performance of their tasks, including elements allowing a proper evaluation of the necessity and proportionality of the collection and access to data transferred by public authorities, for either law enforcement or national security purposes;
  40. Stresses that all members of the joint review team must be ensured independence in the performance of their tasks and must be entitled to express their own dissenting opinions in the final report of the joint review, which will be public and annexed to the joint report;
  41. Calls on the Union DPAs to monitor the functioning of the EU-US Privacy Shield and to exercise their powers, including the suspension or definitive ban of personal data transfers to an organisation in the EU-US Privacy Shield if they consider that the fundamental rights to privacy and the protection of personal data of the Union’s data subjects are not ensured;
  42. Stresses that Parliament should have full access to any relevant document related to the joint annual review;
  43. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Commission, the Council, the governments and national parliaments of the Member States and the US Government and Congress.

[1] OJ L 281, 23.11.1995, p. 31.
[2] OJ L 350, 30.12.2008, p. 60.
[3] OJ L 119, 4.5.2016, p. 1.
[4] OJ L 119, 4.5.2016, p. 89.
[5] ECLI:EU:C:2015:650.
[6] ECLI:EU:C:2016:970.
[7] OJ L 207, 1.8.2016, p. 1.
[8] OJ C 257, 15.7.2016, p. 8.
[11] Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0233.

Parliamentary Tracker: draft Resolution winding up the (incoming) debate on “Brexit”

European Parliament 2014-2019

Plenary sitting B[8-0000/2017]


to wind up the debate on negotiations with the United Kingdom following its notification that it intends to withdraw from the European Union

pursuant to Rule 123(2) of the Rules of Procedure

on negotiations with the United Kingdom following its notification that it intends to withdraw from the European Union

Guy Verhofstadt Coordinator and Chair of the ALDE Group
Manfred Weber Chair of the PPE Group
Gianni Pitella Chair of the S&D Group
Philippe Lamberts/Ska Keller Co-Chairs of the Greens/EFA Group
Danuta Hübner Chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee

28 March 2017 Version VII

B8-XXXX/2017 European Parliament resolution on negotiations with the United Kingdom following its notification that it intends to withdraw from the European Union

The European Parliament,

– having regard to Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU),

– having regard to Articles 3(5), 4(3) and 8 TEU,

– having regard to Article 217 and 218 TFEU,

– having regard to the notification given by the UK Prime Minister on 29 March 2017 in accordance with Article 50(2) TEU,

– having regard to its resolution of 28 June 2016 on the decision to leave the EU resulting from the UK referendum,

– having regard to its resolutions of 16 February on possible evolution; of and adjustments to the current institutional set-up of the European Union, on improving the functioning of the European Union building on the potential of the Lisbon Treaty, on the budgetary capacity for the Eurozone,

– having regard to Rule 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

Whereas the notification by the United Kingdom Government begins the process by which the United Kingdom will cease to be a Member State of the European Union and the Treaties no longer to apply to it;

Whereas this will be an unprecedented and regrettable event as a Member State has never left the European Union before; whereas this exit must be arranged in an orderly fashion so as not to negatively affect the European Union, its citizens and the process of European integration;

Whereas the European Parliament represents all citizens of the European Union and will act throughout the whole process leading to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom to protect their interests;

Whereas it is the sovereign right of a Member State to leave the European Union, it is the duty of all remaining Member States to act in unity in the defence of the European Union’s interests and its integrity; whereas, therefore, the negotiations will be conducted between the United Kingdom on the one hand, and the European Commission on behalf of the European Union and its 27 Member States on the other;

Whereas negotiations on the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union will begin following adoption by the European Council of guidelines for those negotiations; whereas this resolution represents Parliament’s position for these guidelines and will also form the basis of the Parliament’s assessment of the negotiation process and of any agreement reached between the European Union and the United Kingdom;

Whereas until it leaves the European Union the United Kingdom must enjoy all the rights and fulfil all the obligations deriving from the Treaties, including the principle of sincere cooperation set out in Article 4(3) TEU;

Whereas the United Kingdom has stated in its notification of 29 March 2017 its intention to remain outside the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union;

Whereas the UK government has indicated in the same notification that its future relationship with the European Union will not include membership of the Single Market nor membership of the Customs Union;

Whereas nevertheless a continued membership by the UK of the Single Market, the European Economic Area and, or the Custom Union would have been the optimal solution for both the UK and the EU-27; whereas this is not possible as long as the UK government maintains its objections to the four freedoms and the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, refuses to make a general contribution to the EU budget and wants to conduct its own trade policy;

Whereas following the result of the referendum to leave the European Union the “United Kingdom Settlement” of February 2016 is in any case null and void in all its provisions;

Whereas the negotiations must be conducted with the aim of providing legal stability and limiting disruption, and providing a clear vision of the future for citizens and legal entities;

Whereas a revocation of notification needs to be subject to conditions set by all EU-27 so they cannot be used as a procedural device or abused in an attempt to improve the actual terms of the United Kingdom’s membership;

Whereas without a withdrawal agreement, the United Kingdom would exit automatically the Union on 30 March 2019 and this in a disorderly manner;

Whereas a large number of United Kingdom citizens, including a majority in Northern Ireland and Scotland, voted to remain in the EU;

Whereas it is especially concerned by the consequence of the UK’s withdrawal from EU on Northern Ireland and its future relations with Ireland; whereas in this respect it is crucial to safeguard peace and therefore to preserve the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, as Parliament emphasized in its resolution of 13 November 2014, that has been brokered with the active participation of the Union;

Whereas the withdrawal of the United Kingdom should compel the remaining 27 Member States of the European Union, and its institutions to better address the current challenges and to reflect on their future on their efforts to make the European project more effective, more democratic, and closer to their citizens; recalls the Bratislava roadmap as well as the resolutions of the European Parliament concerning this, the European Commission’s White Paper on the Future of Europe, the Rome Declaration of 25 March 2017 and the proposals of the High Level Group on Own Resources, which may serve as a basis for this reflection;

1. Acknowledges the notification by the United Kingdom Government to the European Council which formalises its decision to withdraw from the European Union;

  1. Calls for the negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom, foreseen in Article 50(2) TEU, to begin as soon as possible;
  1. Reiterates the importance that the withdrawal agreement and any possible transitional arrangement(s) enter(s) into force well before the May 2019 European elections;
  1. Recalls that the withdrawal agreement can only be concluded with the consent of the European Parliament, as is also the case for any possible future agreement on relations between the European Union and the United Kingdom as well as any possible transitional arrangements;

General principles for the negotiations

  1. Expects that, to ensure an orderly exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom must be conducted in good faith and full transparency; recalls that the United Kingdom will continue to enjoy its rights as a Member State of the European Union until the withdrawal agreement comes into force and will therefore also remain bound by its duties and commitments arising therefrom;
  1. Recalls that in this respect it would be contrary to EU law for the United Kingdom to begin, in advance of its withdrawal, negotiations on possible trade agreements with third countries; stresses that such an action would be in contradiction with the principle of sincere cooperation laid down in Article 4(3) TEU and should have consequences among which the UK’s exclusion from the procedures for trade negotiations laid out in Article 218 TFEU; emphasizes that the same must apply in other policy areas where the United Kingdom would continue shaping EU legislation, actions, strategies or common policies in a way that favours its own interests as a departing Member State, rather than the interests of the EU and of its Member States;
  1. Warns that any bilateral arrangement between one or several remaining Member States and the United Kingdom, that has not been agreed by the EU-27, on the issues included in the scope of the withdrawal agreement and/or impinging on the future relationship of the Union with the United Kingdom, would also be in contradiction with the Treaties; this would especially be the case for any bilateral agreement and/or regulatory or supervisory practice that would relate, for instance, to any privileged access to the Single Market for UK based financial institutions at the expense of the EU’s regulatory framework or to the status of EU citizens in the United Kingdom or vice versa;
  1. Believes that the mandate and the negotiation directives given throughout the whole negotiation process must fully reflect the positions and interests of the citizens and the Member States of the EU 27, including those of Ireland which will be particularly affected by the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU;
  1. Hopes that under these conditions the EU and the United Kingdom will establish a future relationship that is fair, as close as possible and balanced in terms of rights and obligations; regrets the decision by the United Kingdom government not to participate in the Single Market, the European Economic Area or the Customs Union; considers that a State leaving the Union cannot enjoy similar benefits as an EU Member State and announces therefore that it will not consent to any agreement that would contradict this;
  1. Reaffirms that membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union comprises acceptance of the four freedoms, jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, general budgetary contributions and adherence to the EU’ s common trade policy;
  2. Stresses that the United Kingdom must honour all its legal, financial and budgetary obligations, including commitments under the current multiannual financial framework, falling due up to and after the date of its withdrawal;
  1. Notes the proposed arrangements for the organisation of negotiations set down in the statement by the 27 Heads of State and Governments of the European Union of 15 December 2016; welcomes the nomination of the European Commission as Union negotiator and the Commission’s nomination of Michel Barnier as its chief negotiator; points out that full involvement of the European Parliament is a necessary precondition for Parliament to give its consent to any agreement reached between the European Union and the United Kingdom;

Sequencing of the negotiations

  1. Underlines that, according to Article 50(2) TEU, negotiations shall concern the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal while taking account of the framework of the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the Union;
  1. Agrees that should substantial progress be made towards a withdrawal agreement then talks could start on possible transitional arrangements on the basis of the intended framework for the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the EU;
  1. Notes that a future relationship agreement between the European Union and United Kingdom as a third country can only be concluded once the United Kingdom has withdrawn from the EU;

Withdrawal agreement

  1. States that the withdrawal agreement must be in conformity with the Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, failing which it shall not obtain the consent of the European Parliament;
  1. Is of the opinion that the agreement should address the following elements:
  • The legal status of European Union citizens living or having lived in the United Kingdom and of UK citizens living or having lived in other Member States as well as other provisions as to their rights;
  • The settlement of financial obligations between the United Kingdom and the European Union;
  • The Union’s external border;
  • The clarification of the status of the United Kingdom’s international commitments taken as a Member of the European Union, given that the Union at 27 will be the legal successor of the Union at 28;
  • The legal certainty for legal entities, including companies;
  • The designation of the Court of Justice of the European Union as the competent authority for the interpretation and enforcement of the withdrawal agreement;
  1. Requires the fair treatment of EU-27 citizens living or having lived in the United Kingdom and the UK citizens living or having lived in the EU-27 and is of the opinion that their respective interests must be given full priority in the negotiations; demands, therefore that the status and rights of European Union citizens residing in the United Kingdom and United Kingdom nationals residing in the European Union, be subject to the principles of reciprocity, equity, symmetry, non-discrimination, and the protection of the integrity of Union law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and its enforcement framework; stresses that any degradation of the right of residency before the date of withdrawal from the EU by the UK is against EU law;
  1. Stresses that a single financial settlement with the United Kingdom on the basis of the EU’s annual accounts as audited by the Court of Auditors, must include all its legal liabilities arising from outstanding commitments as well as make provision for off-balance sheet items, contingent liabilities and other financial costs that arise directly as a result of its withdrawal;
  1. Recognizes that the unique position and the special circumstances confronting the island of Ireland must be addressed in the withdrawal agreement; urges that all means and measures, consistent with European Union law and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, be used to mitigate the effects of United Kingdom withdrawal on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland; insists in this context on the absolute need to ensure continuity and stability of the Northern Ireland Peace Process and avoid the re-establishment of a hard border;

Future EU-United Kingdom relationship

  1. Acknowledges the notification of 29 March 2017 and the White Paper on “The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union”;
  1. Believes that the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom should be balanced, comprehensive and serve the interests of the citizens of both parties and will therefore need sufficient time to be negotiated; stresses that it should cover areas of common interests while respecting the integrity of EU’s legal order and the fundamental principles and values of the Union, including the integrity of the Single Market as well as decision making capacity and autonomy of the Union; notes that Article 8 TEU and Article 217 TFEU ‘establishing an association involving reciprocal rights and obligations, common action and special procedures’ could provide an appropriate framework for such a future relationship;
  1. States that, whatever the outcome of the negotiations on the future EU-UK relationship, they cannot involve any trade-off between internal and external security including defence cooperation, on the one hand, and the future economic relationship, on the other hand;
  1. Stresses that any future agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom is conditional on the United Kingdom’s continued adherence to the standards provided by the Union’s legislation and polices, in among others the fields of environment, climate change, the fight against tax evasion and avoidance, fair competition, trade and social policy;
  1. Opposes any agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom that would contain piecemeal or sectorial provisions, including with respect to financial services, providing UK-based undertakings preferential access to the Single Market and, or the Customs Union; underlines that after its withdrawal the UK will fall into the third country regime foreseen in EU legislation;
  1. Notes that if the United Kingdom requests to participate in certain EU programmes it will be as a third country including appropriate budgetary contributions and oversight by the existing jurisdiction; would welcome in this context its continued participation in a number of programmes, such as Erasmus;
  1. Takes note that many citizens in the United Kingdom have expressed strong opposition to losing the rights they currently enjoy pursuant to Article 20 TFEU; proposes that the EU-27 examine how to mitigate this within the limits of EU primary law whilst fully respecting the principles of reciprocity, equity, symmetry and non-discrimination;

Transitional arrangements

  1. Believes that transitional arrangements ensuring legal certainty and continuity can only be agreed between the European Union and the United Kingdom if they contain the right balance of rights and obligations for both parties, preserve the integrity of European Union legal order, with the European Court of Justice responsible for settling any legal challenges; they must also be strictly limited in time, and should not exceed three years, and in scope as they can never be a substitute for Union membership;

Issues for the EU-27 and EU Institutions

  1. Calls for agreement to be reached as quickly as possible on the relocation of the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency and the process of relocation to begin as soon as practicable;
  1. Points out that a review and adjustment of EU law may be necessary to take account of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal;
  1. Believes that a revision covering the last two years of the current multiannual financial framework is not required but that the impact of UK withdrawal be dealt with by means of the annual budgetary procedure; underlines that the work on a multiannual financial framework, including the question of own resources, should begin immediately among EU institutions and the EU-27;
  1. Commits itself to finalise in time the legislative procedures on the seats within the European Parliament and on the electoral procedure on the basis of its proposal under Article 223 TFEU; furthermore, and taking into account Recital P of this resolution, believes that during the negotiations on the withdrawal of, and on the establishing of a new relationship with the United Kingdom, the 27 Member States of the European Union, together with its institutions, need to strengthen the present Union and to start an in-depth interinstitutional reflection on its future;

Final provisions

  1. Reserves the right to clarify its position on EU-UK negotiations, and, where appropriate, to adopt further resolutions, also on specific matters or sectorial issues, in light of the progress or otherwise of these negotiations;
  1. Expects the European Council to take this resolution into account when adopting its guidelines defining the framework for negotiations and setting out the overall positions and principles that the EU will pursue;
  1. Resolves to determine its final position on the agreement(s) based on the assessment made in line with the content of this and any subsequent resolutions;
  1. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the European Council, the Council, the Commission, the European Central Bank, the national parliaments and the Government of the United Kingdom.

Reunifying Ireland: An EU law perspective


by Nikos Skoutaris,  (Lecturer in EU law in the University of East Anglia; website on Secessions, Constitutions and EU law).

On 23 June 2016, Northern Ireland was one of the two UK constituent nations that voted to remain in the EU. Following that, Sinn Féin has called for a referendum for the unification of Ireland and thus for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU. This discussion has intensified after the most recent Northern Ireland Assembly election where the Unionist vote was significantly reduced.

Independently of whether such development is politically prudent and/or feasible, one has to note that, legally speaking, ‘Westminster has formally conceded that Northern Ireland can secede from the United Kingdom to join a united Ireland, if its people, and the people of the Irish Republic, voting separately, agree to this.’ Section 1 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 is a rare example of a provision of a constitutional statute that explicitly recognises the right of secession of a region (see also the Good Friday Agreement). According to Schedule 1 of the Northern Ireland Act, however, such a referendum can only be organised if ‘it appears likely to [the UK Secretary of State] that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland.’ Theresa Villiers, the former Northern Ireland Secretary has made clear that, according to her, ‘there is nothing to indicate that there is majority support for a poll.

Still, if in the future, the majority of the people in Northern Ireland democratically decide to secede from the UK and join the Republic of Ireland, the EU legal order is able to accommodate such political development. The secession of Northern Ireland will not mean the creation of a new (Member-)State. Instead, it will trigger the territorial expansion of an EU Member State to which EU law already applies in accordance with Article 52 TEU. In a way, the reunification of Ireland could follow the precedent of the German reunification where the application of the acquis was extended to East Germany without an amendment of the primary legislation. The difference is that, in the case of Germany, the EU acquis did not apply at all in the East before the reunification, something that is very different with the situation in Northern Ireland.

However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has asked recently for a special provision in any Brexit deal to allow Northern Ireland to rejoin the EU should it be united with the Republic. He did so, notwithstanding the fact that a special deal for Northern Ireland is the declared goal of the UK government.

So, the question is how could such a provision look like?

Obviously, there are not many EU law provisions that regulate the (re)unification of (Member-)States. The closest example is Article 4 of Protocol No 10 on Cyprus of the Act of Accession 2003. Protocol No 10 provides the terms for the application of EU law in Cyprus given that the island had not been unified at the moment it joined the EU. In particular, it provides for the suspension of the application of the acquis in northern Cyprus, a suspension which shall be lifted in the event of a solution.

If such solution occurs in the future, Article 4 provides for a simplified procedure that enables the Union to accommodate the terms of the reunification plan. In particular, Article 4 allows the EU, by a unanimous Council Decision at a future date and in the event of reunification, to alter the terms of Cyprus’ EU accession that are contained in the Act of Accession 2003. In other words, it allows the Council to amend primary law (ie Act of Accession 2003) with a unanimous decision.

This might sound like a heresy. However, the Treaties foresee special procedures for their amendment in some cases. The best example, for the purposes of this post, is the Council decision on the basis of Article 2(2) of the 1994 Accession Treaty which adjusted the instruments of accession after Norway’s failure to ratify. Several Articles of this Accession Treaty and of the Act of Accession were amended by a Council decision while other provisions were declared to have lapsed. Thus, in that case, the Council, itself, amended primary law in a simplified procedure without any ratification of the Member States.

To the extent that the ‘Brexit’ Agreement will be considered as part of primary law, a similar provision regulating the reunification of Ireland could be included and could assist the smooth transitioning of Northern Ireland back to the EU. Of course, the question of the reunification of Ireland –as many other questions related to Brexit- is first and foremost political. It is important to point out, however, that EU law is flexible enough to accommodate such political developments.

Law Enforcement – Are the Strasbourg Court Judgments the Tip of the Iceberg?


Head of Division and Deputy to the Director, Office of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.All views expressed herein are strictly personal.

A number of reports by international human rights organisations, like CPT and Amnesty International, have recorded  numerous cases of ill-treatment, including torture, suffered by migrants while under the control of Greek law enforcement officials. Despite the frequent reporting of such incidents there have not been any major cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights (‘Strasbourg Court’ or ‘the Court’) until recently. In 2003 the first application (Alsayed Allaham), concerning the ill-treatment of a Syrian migrant by police in Athens, was lodged. The 2007 judgment against Greece in Alsayed Allaham was followed by another judgment in 2012 in the Zontul case condemning Greece once more for failing to investigate the rape of a Turkish asylum-seeking detainee by a coast guard officer in Crete. Both cases demonstrated the need for structural changes in Greek law and practice in order to eradicate impunity and ill-treatment in the law enforcement sector.

In both cases the Court found violations of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) highlighting faults in judicial and administrative proceedings. In Alsayed Allaham it was noted that the appeal court that acquitted the policeman for ill-treatment relied on testimonies of five eye-witnesses, three of whom were police officers, and gave no credit to medical reports that had verified the applicant’s injuries. In addition, no weight was given to the fact that the Head of the Greek police himself had sanctioned the two policemen involved in the applicant’s ill-treatment.

In Zontul the Strasbourg Court found that the administrative investigation and the subsequent criminal proceedings had been seriously flawed. Among the major shortcomings identified by the Court in the coast guard investigation was the failure to ensure the examination of the victim by a medical doctor despite the victim’s request and the improper recording of the victim’s statement as a ‘slap’ and ‘use of psychological violence’, instead of a rape. The sentence imposed on the officer, a suspended term of six months’ imprisonment for bodily injury and sexual dignity-related offences, was commuted to a fine of €4.40 per day of detention.

These two cases highlighted some key failings of the domestic criminal law system. First, the clemency of the criminal sanction imposed on the coast guard officer was manifestly disproportionate in relation to the gravity of the ill-treatment. It also did not demonstrate a deterrent effect nor did it provide an adequate remedy to the victim.

Second, Zontul shed light on a major flaw in Greek law and practice concerning the definition of torture in the criminal code (see more in author’s blog post). The  Court  stressed that, on the basis of its own and other international courts’ case law, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, rape with an object constitutes an act of torture and consequently a clear and substantive violation of Article 3 ECHR. However, according to Article 137A§2 of the Greek criminal code, in order for an act to be defined as torture it requires a ‘planned’ (μεθοδευμένη) infliction of severe physical, and other similar forms of pain on a person by a public official. This requirement, which does not exist in the  definition of torture contained in Article 1 of the 1984 Convention against Torture, makes prosecution and sanctioning extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The culture of impunity of ill-treatment is compounded by the enactment in recent years of a number of laws (e.g. Laws 3904/2010, 4093/2012) that aim to decongest Greek prisons by converting custodial sentences into pecuniary penalties and community service. Regrettably these laws have been applied indiscriminately to cases of ill-treatment by the police. This practice raises serious issues of compatibility with international standards, including the Strasbourg Court’s case law (e.g. Gäfgen v. Germany), according to which penalties imposed in this context should be adequate and dissuasive.

Another fault noted by the Court concerns the prescription terms for serious offences, including torture, by state officials. Because these are subject to ordinary prescription provisions, even where the Strasbourg Court finds a violation of Article 3 ECHR for torture that occurred more than 15 years earlier (as in Zontul), the offender cannot be prosecuted and sanctioned. According to the Greek code of criminal procedure, reopening a case may occur only if this could ameliorate the defendant’s position. However, under the Strasbourg Court’s case law (e.g. Yeter v. Turkey,) when a state agent is accused of crimes that violate Article 3 ECHR, the prosecution must not be time-barred and the granting of an amnesty or pardon should not be permissible.

Unfortunately, the Court in its  judgments in Alsayed Allaham and Zontul failed to highlight the potential racial bias by law enforcement officers in the ill-treatment of migrants. According to the CPT visit reports on Greece, since 1997 there has been a clear pattern of migrant ill-treatment among Greek law enforcement occasionally with flagrantly racist overtones. In addition, the yearly incidents of racist violence involving law enforcement officials, which were recorded from 2012 to 2015 by the national Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) ranged  from 11 to 31 per year, pointing to the prevalence of racist incidents in Greek territory.

Yet, Alsayed Allaham and Zontul reveal the institutionalised ill-treatment against migrants by Greek law enforcement officials. As noted in the 2015 CPT visit report on Greece, in defiance of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the national authorities consistently refuse to consider the violence of the police as a serious, systematic problem. As a consequence, the authorities have not taken adequate measures to combat it and eliminate impunity for serious human rights violations.

Evidence of the ill-treatment of migrants can also be found in the Greek Ombudsman’s reports. In 2007, for example, the annual report referred to cases of serious ill-treatment of migrants by coast guard officers. In a special report on racist violence in Greece issued in 2013 the Ombudsman noted that in 2012 their office received 17 complaints (involving migrants and a national of migrant origin) concerning inappropriate attitudes of police officers which were probably racially biased. The Ombudsman’s 2015 annual report referred to two more cases concerning the ill-treatment of five migrants following their arrest by police officers in Athens.

Three things need to change. First, Greece needs to establish an effective administrative mechanism to eradicate impunity and to provide adequate redress to all victims of ill-treatment. The latest complaint mechanism established by Law 4443/2016 is certainly a positive step. Yet it falls short of fulfilling the condition of effectiveness given the national complaint mechanisms is chaired by the Ombudsman, who is only empowered to issue non-binding reports.

Secondly, there is a need for a holistic overhaul of criminal law and practice concerning torture and other forms of ill-treatment, as well as of the relevant sentencing policy. The definition of torture contained in the Greek criminal code is in breach of international and European standards. This is one of the major reasons for the long-standing state of impunity for serious human rights violations in the country. At the same time, the criminal law provisions on prescription, conversion of custodial sentences and reopening of cases after Strasbourg Court’s judgments need to be reviewed and amended to ensure victim’s full redress.

Last but not least, particular attention needs to be given by the authorities to migrants who are easily subject to abusive behaviour, including ill-treatment, by law enforcement officials and very often remain voiceless victims. To this end, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has usefully recommended that states place law enforcement agencies under a statutory obligation to promote equality and prevent racial discrimination, including racist violence, in carrying out their functions. Enshrining this obligation in law would oblige these agencies to design and implement specific programmes, such as systematic training and awareness-raising of all staff.

In view of the above, ill-treatment of migrants in Greek law enforcement cannot but be considered as a long-standing systemic problem that calls for sustained and determined action by the state. In a rule-of-law based democracy, law enforcement officers are and should act as professional upholders of the law and providers of services to the public. A precondition for achieving this is the development of policies and practices that oblige all state agents to respect human dignity, irrespective of one’s origin and status.

(This post was first published on the blog of Border Criminologies, Oxford University. It is based on the author’s paper ‘Migrant ill-treatment in Greek law enforcement – Are the Strasbourg Court judgments the tip of the iceberg?’, available at SSRN and in the  SSRN Criminal Justice, Borders & Citizenship Research Papers Series).

What is the point of minimum harmonization of fundamental rights? Some further reflections on the Achbita case.


Eleanor Spaventa, Director of the Durham European Law Institute and Professor of European Law, Law School, Durham University

Ronan McCrea has already provided a very thoughtful analysis of the headscarf cases; this contribution seeks to complement that analysis by focusing on two issues arising from the Achbita case: first of all, the structural problems with the ruling of the Court, both in terms of reasoning and for the lack of information provided; secondly, the more general implications of the ruling for fundamental rights protections and the notion of minimum harmonization in the EU context.

It might be recalled that in the Achbita case a Muslim woman was dismissed from her employer for refusing to remove her headscarf, contrary to the employer’s policy of neutrality, which included a ban on wearing religious symbols. The case then centred on the interpretation of the framework discrimination Directive (2000/78) which prohibits, inter alia, discrimination on grounds of religion. The Belgian and French Government (which had a direct interest because of the Bougnaoui case) intervened in favour of the employee, believing that the discrimination at issue was not justified (Achbita opinion, para 63). The Court, following the Opinion of AG Kokott, found that the rules at issue might constitute indirect discrimination; that the employer’s aim to allegedly maintain neutrality was a legitimate aim as it related to its freedom to conduct a business as protected by Article 16 Charter. It then indicated that the policy was proportionate, if applied with some caveats.

The reasoning of the Court – some structural deficiencies

The headscarf cases are of fundamental importance to the European Union and to all of its citizens, not only those who practice a non-dominant religion, and as such have been widely reported even outside of the EU. One might have expected the Court to engage with a more thorough analysis of the parties’ submissions and of the issues at stake. Instead, we have two very short rulings with very little detail. Just to give an important example – in both cases the French and the Belgian governments sided with the claimants, hence drawing a very important conceptual limit to the principle of laïcité which is justified, in this view, because of the very nature of the State and its duty of neutrality, a duty which cannot be extended to private parties (or if so only exceptionally). This important distinction is not discussed in the ruling, not are the views of the governments who would be directly affected by the rulings.

More importantly though, the fact that the arguments of the parties are not recalled has also more general consequences: as it has been noted by Bruno De Witte elsewhere, the fact that no hermeneutic alternative is provided might give the impression that no hermeneutic alternative is in fact possible, as if legal interpretation is simply a matter of discovering the true hidden meaning of a written text. This approach, not uncommon in civil law jurisdiction but more nuanced in constitutional cases, hides the fact that, especially in cases of constitutional significance, there is more than one legitimate interpretative path that could be chosen, which also reflect different policy alternatives. Interpretation then is also a choice between those different paths: a choice which is, of course, constrained by the relevant legal system and one that might be more or less persuasive.  The failure to acknowledge counter-arguments then results in rulings, like the ones here at issue and many others in sensitive areas, which are not only potentially unhelpful, but also close the door to more effective scrutiny of the reasons that lead the Court to follow a given interpretation.

In the same vein, the analysis of the discriminatory nature of these provisions is rather superficial. In particular, there is no thought given to the fact that contractual clauses allegedly protecting a principle of neutrality, might not only have a discriminatory effect against certain individuals, but might have important inter-sectional (or multiple) discriminatory effects. In other words, a rule banning religious symbols might in fact also have a more pronounced effect on people from a certain ethnic background or a certain gender. Equally disappointing, and in this writer’s opinion legally flawed, is the approach taken in relation to the finding of the potentially indirectly discriminatory effects of the rules at issue. Here, the Court requires the national courts to determine whether the ‘apparently neutral obligation [(not to wear religious symbols)] (…) results in fact in persons adhering to a particular religion or belief being put at a particular disadvantage.” (para 34, emphasis added).

There are two issues to be noted here: first of all, the Court remains silent as to what type of evidence of indirect discrimination is required, and by whom. In discrimination cases, burden of proof is crucial. This is recognised by the discrimination directives at EU level, including Directive 2000/78 which provides that if the claimant shows direct or indirect discrimination, then it is for the ‘respondent to prove that there has been no breach of the principle of non-discrimination’ (Article 10(1)). One would have expected then the Court of Justice to instruct the national court to require the defendants to discharge this duty with a certain rigour, also by means of statistical analysis of the effect of such policies on religious minorities. Yet, the Court does not even engage with this question.

Secondly, and not less important, the Court seems to imply that a rule that discriminates all religious people would not be problematic. For instance if, say, Muslims and Orthodox Jews were equally discriminated against, whilst non-religious persons were unaffected, then, based on the dicta of the Court, there would be no discrimination. This interpretation seems restrictive and not supported by the text of the directive (or the Charter) that refers to discrimination on grounds of religion in general. In any event, in discrimination cases it is crucial to identify the comparator, and the Court fails to do so clearly and to support its choice with sound legal arguments. But, beside these very important structural issues, the Achbita ruling raises other more technical as well as general issues, as to the extent to which the Court’s interpretation might affect the Member States’ discretion to provide more extensive protection that that provided for in the Directive.

Minimum harmonization and fundamental rights

Directive 2000/78 is intended only to set minimum standards, so that Member States can, if they so wish, provide for a more extensive protection. Indeed many Member States have done so by extending either the protected categories of people, or the field of application of the legislation, or both. In theory then, the Achbita ruling should not be seen as the last word in relation to the treatment of religious people at work. After all, if Belgium or France or any other country finds the ruling problematic, it can simply pass legislation prohibiting private employers from requiring religious neutrality from its employees, unless of course a specific dress code is necessary to ensure the health and safety of the worker or the public. Viewed in this way, and notwithstanding the structural problems identified above, the ruling seems very sensible: it is agnostic, in that it does not impose either model on Member States, allowing therefore a degree of variation in a very sensitive area, something which, as eloquently discussed in McCrea’s post, might not be a bad thing. After all, this is the same path that has been taken by the European Court of Human Rights.

However, things are slightly more complicated in the European Union context. In particular there is nothing in the ruling to indicate that the Directive sets only minimum standards so that it would be open to those Member States to go further in protecting people holding religious beliefs. And, more crucially, the Court, mirroring the opinion of Advocate General Kokott, refers to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights when assessing the legitimacy of the justification put forward by the employer. In particular, it finds that the business’s wish to ‘project an image of neutrality (…) relates to the freedom to conduct a business that is recognised in Article 16 of the Charter and is, in principle, legitimate’.

The reference to the Charter, which indirectly frames the question as a clash of fundamental rights, is important because, in the EU context, when the Charter applies it sets the fundamental rights standard. In simpler terms this means that should a Member State wish to provide more extensive protection to ensure that employees are not discriminated on grounds of their religious belief, something that is allowed under Directive 2000/78, it might be prevented from doing so since, pursuant to the Achbitaruling, it would infringe the right to conduct a business as protected by the Charter. In this way, far from leaving the desired flexibility and discretion to the Member States, the Court sets the standard – employers have a fundamental right, albeit with some limitations, to limit the employees’ right not to be discriminated against. One might well ask then, much as it has been remarked in relation to the Alemo Herron case, what is the point of minimum harmonization directives if the upward discretion of the Member States is so curtailed.


The Court of Justice did not have an easy task in the Achbita case: it was pretty much a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario. For sure, some of us would have liked the balance at issue to be tilted firmly in favour of religious minorities, especially given the growing evidence of attacks and discrimination against, particularly, Muslim women. The Court chose a different path and that is, of course, within its prerogatives. However, the way that path was trodden upon leaves many open questions both in relation to the way the result was achieved, and to the many questions it overlooks. What is most troubling is the implication that the freedom of Member States to provide greater protection towards minorities may, in principle, be constrained by the Court’s interpretation of the freedom to conduct a business.

Barnard & Peers: chapter 9, chapter 20


(EP BRIEFING) Revision of the Schengen Information System for law enforcement


by Costica Dumbrava (Members’ Research Service)


The Schengen Information System (SIS) is a large-scale information database that supports external border control and law enforcement cooperation in the Schengen states. It enables competent authorities, such as police and border guards, to enter and consult alerts on certain categories of wanted or missing persons and lost or stolen property. In December 2016, the European Commission adopted a package of proposals aimed at responding more effectively to new migration and security challenges. One of these proposals is focused on improving and extending the use of the SIS in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. It clarifies procedures, creates new alerts and checks, extends the use of biometrics, and enlarges access for law enforcement authorities. The proposal is part of a legislative package that includes a proposal to revise the rules of the SIS in the field of border checks and a proposal for establishing a new role of the SIS in the return of illegally staying third-country nationals.

Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment, operation and use of the Schengen Information System (SIS) in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, amending Regulation (EU) No 515/2014 and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1986/2006, Council Decision 2007/533/JHA and Commission Decision 2010/261/EU
Committee responsible: Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) COM(2016) 883 21.12.2016
Rapporteur: To be appointed 2016/0409(COD)
Shadow rapporteurs: Next steps expected: To be appointed

Initial discussions in committee

Ordinary legislative procedure (COD) (Parliament and Council on equal footing – formerly ‘co-decision’)



The Schengen Information System (SIS) was established by the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement in 1990, as a primary compensatory measure for the abolition of controls at the internal borders in the Schengen area. SIS II – the current version of the SIS – was established in 2006 and became operational in 2013. Its legal basis is currently defined by Regulation (EC) No 1987/2006 on alerts on persons, Regulation (EC) No 1986/2006 on alerts on vehicles, and Council Decision 2007/533/JHA on alerts on missing and wanted persons and objects.

To respond more effectively to new migration and security challenges in recent years, the European Union (EU) has decided to implement a set of measures aimed at strengthening its external borders, and enhancing cooperation and information exchange between Member States. One such measure was the proposal for a European Border and Coast Guard Agency in 2015 which resulted in the guard being launched in October 2016. Similarly, in December 2015, the European Commission proposed a targeted modification of the Schengen Borders Code to establish mandatory systematic checks for all travellers entering or exiting the EU, and put forward a proposal for a directive on combating terrorism. In January 2016, the European Commission launched a proposal for a directive on the European criminal records information system. In May 2016, the European Commission proposed a revision of the Eurodac Regulation to allow the Eurodac database to be used for identifying illegally staying third-country nationals who do not claim asylum in the EU.

The proposal for a European travel information and authorisation system, put forward in November 2016, is aimed at introducing a mechanism requiring visa-exempt third-country nationals to obtain authorisation to travel to the Schengen area.
In December 2016, the European Commission launched a proposal to establish an EU entry/exit system for recording data on the entry and exit of third-country nationals crossing the EU’s external borders.
The proposal on the revision of the SIS in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation is part of a legislative package along with a proposal to revise the SIS in the field of border checks and a proposal to use the SIS for the return of illegally staying third-country nationals.
The first two proposals contain a number of identical provisions and would constitute the new legal basis for the SIS. The Commission announced it will launch a second set of proposals, to further improve the interoperability of the SIS with other information technology (IT) systems, in mid-2017.


Figure 1 -Terrorism-related arrests, attacks and deaths

Data source: Europol, 2014; 2015; 2016.


In 2015, Frontex recorded 1.8 million detections of irregular crossings of the EU’s external borders (about 1 million irregular migrants). Despite EU efforts to stop the flow of irregular migrants, about 0.5 million detections are estimated to have been made in 2016. The number of terrorist attacks in the EU – foiled, failed and completed attacks – increased from 152 to 211 from 2013 to 2015, while the number of persons arrested on terrorism-related charges has doubled in the same period (see Figure 1). At least 151 persons were killed in terrorist attacks in 2015 and the number of deaths caused by such attacks remained high in 2016. Although the majority of perpetrators were EU citizens, many had links with terrorist organisations from outside the EU, and some entered the EU irregularly by exploiting weaknesses of the EU external borders. According to Europol, the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris had links to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, while a number of the suspects involved in the November 2015 Paris attacks had previously travelled to and been trained in Syria. The growing phenomenon of foreign fighters (EU citizens travelling to conflict zones abroad to engage in fighting) reveals another dimension of the complex relationship between migration and cross-border crime. In 2015, about 5 000 EU citizens travelled abroad to engage in terrorist activities. The crackdown against the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIL/Da’esh) has raised serious concerns about the return to Europe of many of these foreign fighters.

Existing situation

Characteristics of the SIS

The SIS consists of three components: 1) a central system; 2) national systems in each Member State that communicate with the central system; and 3) a communication infrastructure. Member States can enter, update, delete, and search data via their national systems, and exchange information via the supplementary information request at the national entry bureaux (Sirene). Member States are responsible for setting up, operating and maintaining their national systems and national Sirene bureaux. The EU Agency for large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice (eu-LISA) is responsible for the operational management of the central system and the communication infrastructure. The Commission is responsible for the general oversight and evaluation of the system and for the adoption of implementing measures. The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) monitors the application of the data protection rules for the central system, while the national data protection authorities supervise the application of the data protection rules in their respective countries.

SIS alerts cover the following categories of persons and objects:

  • refusal of entry or stay to third-country nationals who are not entitled to enter or stay in the Schengen area;
  • persons for whom a European arrest warrant or an extradition request (in the case of associated countries) has been issued;
  • missing persons, in view of placing them under protection, if necessary;
  • persons sought to assist with criminal judicial procedures;
  • persons and objects for discreet or specific checks, in view of prosecuting criminal offences and preventing threats to public or national security;
  • objects for seizure or use as evidence in criminal procedures.

SIS alerts consist of three types of data: identification data for the person or object an alert is about; information about why the person or object is being sought; and instructions for concrete action to be taken by officers on the ground when the person or object is found.

Access to data is given to national authorities responsible for border control, police, customs, visa and vehicle registration and, by extension, to national judicial authorities when this is necessary for the performance of their tasks.

The European Police Office (Europol) and the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit (Eurojust) have limited access rights for performing certain types of queries. SIS checks are mandatory for the processing of short-stay visas, for border checks for third-country nationals and, on a non-systematic basis, for EU citizens and other persons enjoying the right of free movement. Every police check on the territory of a Schengen state should include a check in the SIS. Any person has the right to access SIS data related to them, as provided for by the national law of the Member State concerned. Access may only be refused when this is indispensable for the performance of a lawful task related to an alert, and for protecting the rights and freedoms of other people. Individuals may bring actions before the courts or other authorities competent under the national law to access, correct, delete or retrieve information, or to obtain compensation in connection with an alert relating to them.

Identified shortcomings

According to eu-LISA reports, the total number of alerts inserted in the SIS increased between December 2013 and December 2015 (see Figure 2). These alerts have been distributed unevenly across Member States.

In 2015, three countries had more than half of the total number   of   alerts:   Italy   (18 million), Germany     (9.5 million)     and     France (6.5 million). Despite an increase in the total number of SIS alerts between 2013 and 2015, the number of alerts on persons  has slightly decreased. The number of searches   in   the   SIS   increased   from 1.2 billion to 2.9 billion between April 2013 and December 2015. Member States do not use the SIS equally: in 2015, three Member States conducted about half of the searches: France (555 million), Spain (398 million) and Germany (393 million).
Currently, identity checks in the SIS are based on alphanumeric searches (name and date of birth).
Fingerprints can be used only in order to verify and confirm the identity of a person who has already been identified by name. The SIS legal framework allows the use of facial images and fingerprints in order to verify identity, provided that the necessary technology is available.
In 2016, the European Commission asked eu-LISA to start working on implementing the fingerprint functionality in the SIS. In its March 2016 report, the European Counter-terrorism Coordinator (ECTC) pointed to problems related to the absence of common standards for inserting alerts, interpreting and reporting information in SIS.
With regard to using SIS to combat terrorism, the ECTC noted that Member States continue to apply different standards and did not enter systematically in SIS identified foreign terrorist fighters.
The European Commission has made several legal and technical improvements to the SIS to enable real-time communication from the ground to relevant services in other Member States, and to improve information exchange on terrorist suspects.
In 2015, the Commission revised the Schengen handbook and finalised a set of common risk indicators to be used during border checks in order to detect foreign terrorist fighters. The proposal for a directive on combating terrorism obliges Member States to enter systematically in the SIS alerts on suspected or convicted terrorist offenders.
Currently, there is little interoperability and interconnection between different information systems. The ECTC reported a discrepancy between the numbers of SIS alerts on national security grounds and the number of entries on foreign terrorist fighters in the Europol’s European information system (EIS). All SIS alerts related to terrorism should, by default, also be recorded in the EIS. The Commission announced that it would start working towards introducing a single search interface to allow simultaneous searches to be performed in all relevant systems without changing existing access rights.

Parliament’s starting position

The European Parliament has consistently advocated more effective cooperation between Member States’ law enforcement authorities, provided that appropriate safeguards on data protection and privacy are maintained.
In its resolution of 17 December 2014 on renewing the EU internal security strategy, the Parliament called on the Member States to make better use of valuable existing instruments, including through ‘more expeditious and efficient sharing of relevant data and information’.
In its resolution of 11 February 2015 on anti-terrorism measures, the Parliament restated its call on the Member States to make optimal use of existing databases, and reiterated that ‘all data collection and sharing, including by EU agencies such as Europol, should be compliant with EU and national law and based on a coherent data protection framework offering legally binding personal data protection standards at an EU level’.
In its resolution of 6 July 2016 on the strategic priorities for the Commission work programme 2017, the Parliament called on the Commission to present proposals to improve and develop existing information systems, address information gaps and move towards interoperability.

Council and European Council starting positions

The European Council has repeatedly called to reinforce the management of the EU’s external borders in order to cope with migration pressure and security challenges.
The European Council’s strategic guidelines for justice and home affairs of June 2014 identified the need to improve the link between the EU’s internal and external policies, and called for the intensification of operational cooperation among Member States, ‘while using the potential of information and communication technologies’ innovations’.
In its conclusions of 15 October 2015, the European Council called for devising ‘technical solutions to reinforce the control of the EU’s external borders to meet both migration and security objectives, without hampering the fluidity of movement’. In its conclusions of 17- 18 December 2015, the European Council urged to address the shortcomings at the external borders, notably by ensuring systematic security checks with relevant databases.
On 16 September 2016, the 27 Heads of State or Government attending the Bratislava Summit adopted the Bratislava declaration and roadmap, in which they called for the intensification of cooperation and information exchange, and urged the ‘adoption of the necessary measures to ensure that all persons, including nationals from EU Member States, crossing the Union’s external borders will be checked against the relevant databases, that must be interconnected’.
The Council also called for ‘reinforc[ing] border security through systematic and coordinated checks against the relevant databases based on risk assessment’, and for ‘improving information exchange and accessibility, especially by ensuring the interoperability of different information systems’ in its conclusions of 10 June 2015 on the renewed European Union internal security strategy 2015-2020.
On 6 June 2016, the Council Presidency put forward a roadmap to enhance information exchange and information management including interoperability solutions in the area of justice and home affairs. In a note on IT measures related to border management, presented on 3 October 2016, the Council Presidency maintained that well-functioning information architecture constituted a prerequisite for effective border management.

Preparation of the proposal

In April 2016, the European Commission adopted a communication on stronger and smarter information systems for borders and security, in which it identified a number of key shortcomings in the existing information systems and explored options on how existing and future information systems could enhance external border management and internal security.
With regard to the SIS, the communication outlined several possible developments: the creation of SIS alerts on irregular migrants subject to return decisions; the use of facial images for biometric identification; the automatised transmission of information on a hit following a check; and the creation of a new alert category on ‘wanted unknown persons’.
In June 2016, the high-level expert group on information systems and interoperability (HLEG) was established to work on a joint strategy to make data management in the EU more effective and efficient. The HLEG is composed of high-level representatives of the Commission, Member States, associated members of the Schengen area (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland), EU agencies (eu-LISA, Frontex, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Europol) and the Counter-terrorism Coordinator.
The Council Secretariat and representatives of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) participate as observers.
The HLEG’s interim report, presented in December 2016, emphasised the need to raise the standards of data quality and data usage, and identified priority options to be considered in promoting information systems interoperability.
The comprehensive evaluation of the SIS II, finalised by the Commission in December 2016, found that, despite the ‘obvious success’ of the system, changes were needed in order to provide a better response to ongoing security and migration challenges.
The report emphasised the need to reinforce the use of the SIS for counter-terrorism purposes, to clarify the situation of children who are under threat of parental abduction, to extend the use of biometric identifiers and to enhance security standards, data quality and the transparency of SIS.
In the preparation of the proposal, the Commission took into account the results of consultations with relevant stakeholders, such as the SISVIS committee, the SIS II supervision coordination group, and the Member States’ national data protection authorities. The Commission did not carry out an impact assessment but relied on the findings of three independent studies.

The changes the proposal would bring

New alerts and checks

The proposal would introduce a new alert category of ‘unknown wanted persons’ who are connected to a crime, for example persons whose fingerprints are found on a weapon used in a crime.
The scope of the existing alert on missing persons would be extended to allow national authorities to issue preventive alerts for children who are at high risk of parental abduction. The proposal would establish an obligation on the Member States to create SIS alerts for cases related to terrorist offences.
A new ‘inquiry check’ would allow authorities to question a person more thoroughly than in the case of a discreet check, in order to gather more information about the person and to decide on whether further action should be taken. This new type of check is intended to support measures to counter terrorism and serious crime. The proposal would further expand the list of objects for which alerts can be issued, to cover, for example, blank official documents, issued identity papers, vehicles, falsified documents and falsified banknotes.

Extended use of biometrics

The proposal would provide for more effective use of existing biometrics, such as facial imaging and fingerprints and introduce new elements of biometric identifiers, such as palm prints and DNA profiles. It would be mandatory to carry out a fingerprint search if the identity of the person cannot be ascertained in any other way. The system would allow for the storage of fingerprints of ‘unknown wanted persons’. DNA profiles could be used in the case of missing persons who need to be placed under protection when fingerprint or palm prints are not available.

Wider access for law enforcement authorities

The proposal would grant access to SIS to national authorities responsible for examining conditions, and taking decisions, relating to entry, stay, and return of third-country nationals on the territory of Member States.
The extension of access to various immigration authorities would enable the consultation of SIS in relation to irregular migrants who have not been checked at a regular border control. Registration authorities for boats and aircraft would receive limited access to SIS to carry out their tasks, provided that they are governmental services. Europol would receive full access rights to SIS, including to alerts on missing persons. The European border and coast guard agency and its teams would be allowed to access SIS when carrying out operations in support of Member States.

Enhanced data protection and security

The proposal would allow to enter more detailed information in alerts, such as whether a person is involved in terrorism-related activities (as defined by Articles 1-4 of Council Framework decision 2002/475/JHA on combating terrorism), details of a person’s identity or travel documents, and other person-related remarks.
It would expand the list of personal data to be entered and processed in SIS for the purpose of dealing with misused identities. It would provide for the recording of the details of data subjects’ personal identification documents and make it possible to categorise missing children according to the circumstances of their disappearance.
The proposal would introduce additional safeguards to ensure that the collection and processing of, and access to, data is limited to what is strictly necessary, in full respect of EU legislation and fundamental rights. It would provide for specific alert-deletion rules and reduce the retention period for object alerts.
According to the proposal, Member States would be prohibited from copying data entered by another Member State into other national data files.
The proposal would establish a uniform set of rules and obligations for end-users (officers on the ground) on how to access and process SIS data in a secure way. In order to ensure proper monitoring of SIS, eu-LISA would be charged with providing daily, monthly and annual statistics on how the system is used.

Budgetary implications

The estimated costs related to the proposal amount to €64.3 million for the 2018-2020 period and would serve to cover, among other things, implementing the changes provided for in the proposed revision of SIS in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. Each Member State would receive a lump sum of €1.2 million to upgrade its national system. The budget would be secured through a re-programming of the smart borders envelope of the Internal Security Fund.

Advisory committees
The advisory committees are not mandatorily consulted on this proposal.

National parliaments
To date, none of the national parliaments has submitted a reasoned opinion on the compatibility of the proposal with the principle of subsidiarity.

Stakeholders’ views
This section aims to provide a flavour of the debate and is not intended to be an exhaustive account of all different views on the proposal. Additional information can be found in related publications listed under EP supporting analysis.
No major stakeholder has issued a position on the Commission’s proposal so far.

Legislative process
The legislative proposal (COM(2016) 883), adopted on 21 December 2016, falls under the ordinary legislative procedure (2016/0409(COD)) and, within the European Parliament, has been assigned to the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). Work in the committee is still at an early stage. In the Council, the working party for Schengen matters is likewise still at an early stage in its examination of the proposal.

EP supporting analysis
– Bakowski, P., Puccio, L., Foreign fighters – Member State responses and EU action, EPRS, March 2016.
– van Ballegooij, W., The cost of non-Schengen: Civil liberties, justice and home affairs aspects, EPRS, September 2016.
– Gatto, A., Carmona, J., European Border and Coast Guard System, EPRS, October 2016.
– Gatto, A., Goudin, P., Niemenen, R., Schengen area: Update and state of play, EPRS, March 2016.
– Malmersjo, G., Remáč, M., Schengen and the management of the EU’s external borders, Implementation appraisal, EPRS, April 2016.
– Voronova, S., Combating terrorism, EPRS, July 2016.

Other sources
Schengen Information System (SIS) in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, European Parliament, Legislative Observatory (OEIL).

Disclaimer and Copyright
The content of this document is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. It is addressed to the Members and staff of the EP for their parliamentary work. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorised, provided the source is acknowledged and the European Parliament is given prior notice and sent a copy.
© European Union, 2017. (intranet) (internet) (blog)
First edition. The EU Legislation in Progress briefings are updated at key stages throughout the legislative procedure.

Headscarf bans at work: explaining the ECJ rulings


Professor Steve Peers

When can employers ban their staff from wearing headscarves? Today’s rulings of the ECJ have attracted a lot of attention, some of it confused. There have been previous posts on this blog about the background to the cases, and about the non-binding opinions of Advocates-General, and there will hopefully be further more analytical pieces about today’s judgments to come. But this post is a short explanation of the rulings to clear up any confusion.


The EU has long had laws on sex discrimination, and discrimination regarding EU citizens on grounds of nationality. Since 2000, it has also had laws against race discrimination and also a ‘framework directive’ against discrimination at work on grounds of disability, age, sexual orientation or religion. The ECJ has often been called upon to rule on the first three of those grounds, but today’s two judgments (G4S v Achbita and Bougnaoui) are the first time it has been asked to rule on non-discrimination at work on religious grounds.

EU law does not generally apply to other aspects of religion, except that EU law on asylum applies to people who have been persecuted on religious grounds. So today’s judgments are not relevant as regards regulating religion in education, for instance.

It should also be noted that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) protects the freedom of religion.  The European Court of Human Rights – a separate body – has previously ruled on how that freedom applies in the workplace, concluding that in some cases employers must allow employees who wish to wear religious symbols (see Eweida v UK, for example).

The rulings

The G4S ruling is the more significant of the two cases, in which the ECJ’s reasoning is most fully set out. First the Court rules that clothing worn for religious reasons is an aspect of religious belief. Then it concludes that there was no direct discrimination (ie discrimination purely on religious grounds) against Ms. Achbita, who was not allowed to wear a headscarf when dealing with customers, because her employer had a general ban on any employee display of religious or political belief.

Next, the ECJ ruled on whether there was any indirect discrimination (ie discrimination not on religious grounds, but which affected people of a particular religion more than others). Such discrimination can be ‘objectively justified by a legitimate aim…if the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.’ In the Court’s view, the national court which had asked the ECJ these questions should consider that an employer’s ‘neutrality’ policy regarding customers was ‘legitimate’, and was part of its ‘freedom to conduct a business’.

However, such as policy had to be ‘systematic’ and ‘undifferentiated’ as regards different beliefs. It also should be considered whether it was limited to those workers who ‘interact with customers’, and whether it would have been possible to reassign the employee to a different role without ‘visual contact’ with customers, without the employer taking on an extra burden.

In the second case, the Court ruled that employers could not discriminate due to a customer request that employees not wear a headscarf.  This was not ‘a genuine and determining occupational requirement’ that could justify reserving a job to those who did not wear headscarves.


The ECJ’s rulings must be applied by the two national courts that requested it to rule. They are also binding more generally on the courts of all 28 EU Member States.

In principle the rulings mean that employers may ban employees from wearing headscarves, but only in certain cases. First of all, the cases only concern customer-facing employees, on condition that the employer has a ‘neutrality’ policy. The ECJ was not asked to rule on other groups of employees, but its rulings indicate that it would be more difficult, if not impossible, to justify bans in those cases. Nor was it asked to clarify further what a ‘customer-facing’ employee is exactly.

A neutrality policy mean an employer also has to ban other religious or political symbols worn by customer-facing employees. So no kippas, no crucifixes, no turbans – and no icons of Richard Dawkins either. This could be rather awkward in light of the human rights case law referred to above, which says wearing crucifixes (for instance) is sometimes an aspect of an employee’s right to manifest her freedom of religion.

There is a thin line between saying that employee headscarves can’t be banned just because customers ask for it on the one hand, and allowing employers to ban such clothing in effect due to anticipation of customer reaction. In practice this might prove something of a legal fiction.

The bottom line is that today’s judgments do not constitute a ‘workplace headscarf ban’, but merely permit employers to establish such a ban – subject to limits which might prove difficult to comply with in practice.


Scotland, the EU and ‘indyref2’: the legal issues


Professor Steve Peers

Yesterday, Scotland’s First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon) announced the Scottish Government’s wish to start the process of holding a second independence referendum, once the main elements of the UK’s final Brexit settlement was known. This follows the UK government’s rejection of alternative suggestions put forward by the Scottish government in relation to Brexit – which I previously discussed here.

Obviously any new independence referendum raises issues besides Scotland’s relations with the EU. But since the second referendum, if it goes ahead, will be more closely linked to issues of Scotland’s EU membership than the first one, it is a good moment to outline the main legal issues – and to address one specific point (on Scottish deficits as a membership criterion) in a little more detail. Of course, this blog might well be returning to these issues again in the months to come. (Some of the following is an updated version of my blog post from October 2016 on these issues.)

Scotland as an independent non-EU country

An independent Scotland might not be an EU Member State, at least initially, but rather have an association with the EU either as an interim step toward membership or indefinitely, in the event of political difficulties obtaining EU membership on either the Scotland or EU side (or both). An association with the EU might well be closer than the relationship between the remaining UK (rUK) and the EU – particularly in light of the UK government’s intention to leave the EU single market and customs union.

The most obvious route for Scotland to consider would be membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), along with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The EEA provides for participation of these non-EU countries in the EU’s single market freedoms and all the EU legislation related to them, as well as most EU employment and environmental law. But Scotland would not be covered by EU laws in other areas, notably agriculture, fisheries, tax and justice and home affairs – although, like Norway and Iceland, it could sign separate treaties with the EU on these issues. Although the current EEA countries have joined Schengen, this is a separate issue (agreed years after the EEA), and Scotland would have no legal obligation to do the same.

There would be no obligation to join the EU single currency (or any related constraints regarding deficits), and most significantly Scotland would be free to sign separate trade agreements with non-EU countries, because the EEA does not cover the EU’s customs union. This is particularly important because it means Scotland could seek to retain a closer economic relationship with the rUK than the rUK might have with the EU. Scotland could also “go global”, as Brexiteers say, by signing up to the free trade treaties already signed by members of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA: the EEA states plus Switzerland) with non-EU countries. (In principle, EFTA membership requires this). And it would retain power to sign its own treaties on top (or to seek to retain its own versions of the EU’s free trade deals with non-EU countries, as the rUK is likely to do). Scotland would have to become a separate WTO member, but could try to fast-track this by copying the rUK’s process of detaching from the EU’s WTO membership.

Is there a downside to EEA participation? Some have argued against the UK joining the EEA due to objections to single market participation, the need to accept ECJ jurisdiction, continued contributions, its undue size compared to other members, or its lack of influence over EU laws which would apply to it. Are these arguments transferable to Scotland? The first to third objections are not, since Scots voted to remain in the EU, entailing the single market, ECJ jurisdiction and budget contributions anyway. (In fact, the non-EU EEA countries are not subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ, but a separate body called the EFTA Court: it usually follows ECJ case-law, but its decisions are not always binding. EEA financial contributions do not go straight to the EU budget, and would logically be recalculated in light of Scotland’s economic position anyway).

The fourth objection (size) is unconvincing: Scotland is broadly comparable with Norway, in particular in terms of population, location and economy. Finally, EEA states have a modest say on EU laws, being consulted on draft EU legislation and having the option to reject the application of new EU laws (although the EU might retaliate if they do that). Anyway, this is certainly more say over EU laws than Scotland would get after Brexit as part of the UK. In fact, it’s more say than Scotland gets over EU laws while the UK is an EU Member State – given the marginal influence that Scotland has over anything that the UK government does.

So the EEA option includes things that Scotland seeks (single market participation) while steering clear of things it may wish to avoid (the single currency and deficit criteria, Schengen, EU trade policy with non-EU countries, and EU fisheries policy).  It also has the advantage of being potentially far speedier than joining the EU: the EU can decide to apply treaties with non-EU countries provisionally, pending national ratification.

What about the prospect of a ‘Spanish veto’ over Spain joining the EEA? Here we have actual evidence to suggest that it’s not very likely. For the EU has recently concluded an association agreement with Kosovo – despite Spain (and four other Member States) refusing to recognise the independence of that country after its unilateral declaration of independence. (Note: the EEA is also an association agreement, and Member States have a veto over the initial conclusion of such treaties).

Failing EEA membership, Scotland could still seek other forms of relations with the EU which may be closer than the rUK might enjoy, possibly as a non-EEA member of EFTA like Switzerland. Unless Scotland followed Turkey in joining the EU’s customs union, this would again leave it free to simultaneously retain a strong economic relationship with the rUK.

Scotland as an EU Member State

blogged on this issue in 2014, during the first Scottish referendum, but I’ll summarise and elaborate on those views again. The basic point is that the Treaties list the Member States by name, and since the ‘United Kingdom’ is unlikely to be interpreted as automatically referring to Scotland alone after independence, either an accession Treaty (Article 49 TEU) or a Treaty amendment (Article 48 TEU) is necessary to include Scotland’s name as a member.

The Treaty amendment route – which the Scottish government called for in the previous independence referendum – could also entail an amendment to Article 49 TEU, if necessary, to refer to the special case of Scotland: “By way of derogation from the above paragraphs, Scotland shall accede to the European Union pursuant to the Treaty of Culloden”.  One possibility is a Treaty amendment which simply replacing the words “United Kingdom” wherever it appears in the Treaties with “Scotland”; this would mean that Scotland retained the UK’s opt-outs from the single currency, justice and home affairs and Schengen (the budget rebate is set out in secondary legislation). This is perfectly feasible legally, and there is a firm precedent in the Treaty of Lisbon, which in Article 2(2) to 2(8) provides for a whole host of amendments just like this: replacing “Community” with “Union” wherever it appears, for instance.

However, the EU position at present is that it will insist upon an accession process under Article 49. This would entail a negotiation process, which could possibly be fast-tracked in light of Scotland’s existing de facto EU membership as part of the UK. It should be noted that when Iceland applied to join the EU in 2010, the Commission’s opinion on accession took account of Iceland’s EEA membership, and indeed it was possible to close many negotiating chapters quickly, before Iceland withdrew its application in 2013. By contrast, only one out of 35 negotiating chapters has been closed with Turkey, after many years of talks.

Since unanimity of Member States is required in any event, some have argued that there is a risk of a Spanish veto of Scottish accession, because of concerns that Scotland obtaining easy EU membership would inflame separatist tensions in Spain or other countries. On the other hand, some have argued that these concerns are misplaced.

Another argument is that the EU might not be willing to talk to Scotland until it is fully independent – although it should be noted that the EU has relations with Kosovo (see above), even though not all Member States recognise that country legally.

This brings us to opt-outs. If the EU is not willing to extend the UK’s current opt-outs to Scotland, this would in principle mean full participation in the single currency and justice and home affairs policies, as well as the loss of Scotland’s share of the UK’s budget rebate to Scotland. Each issue is worth further discussion.

The rebate is set out in secondary EU legislation which usually is reviewed every seven years or so, and must be agreed unanimously. Scotland would therefore be in a position to refuse its consent on the next occasion unless a rebate were agreed.

As for justice and home affairs, a distinction must be made between general EU policies and those related to Schengen – the border-free area. On the latter point, there is already a protocol to the Treaties which guarantees the continuation of the ‘Common Travel Area’ between the UK and Ireland – which will continue to apply after Brexit. The details will have to be worked out, but the starting point legally is a requirement imposed upon the EU to protect the common travel area. Arguably this not only protects the Irish position concerning the Northern Ireland border in Brexit talks, but also the position of Scotland in potential accession talks. And whatever solution is found for the island of Ireland is therefore transposable to the (rather shorter) border between Scotland and England.

As regards other JHA issues, the UK already takes part in most civil and criminal law EU measures, and so Scotland’s participation will not change anything. It should be noted that Scotland would not have to take part in the planned European Public Prosecutor, as that body will be set up by means of ‘enhanced cooperation’ and new Member States do not have to participate in measures set up by that EU framework, which is a system allowing for the adoption of EU law by a group of willing Member States, allowing the unwilling Member States to stay out (see Article 20(4) TEU).

That brings us to the single currency – and the related issue of deficits. Scotland’s deficit upon independence is sometimes discussed as if it can be calculated with absolute certainty. This is false: the actual deficit in practice would depend upon the terms of Scotland’s arrangements with the rUK, including its share of rUK debt, as well as broader trade and economic developments, including what currency Scotland uses and the decisions on tax and spending which a Scottish government takes upon independence.

While new Member States have in principle an obligation to join the single currency, it must be noted that the EU does not attempt to enforce this obligation. Sweden has not joined since the currency was created in 1999; Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have not joined since 2004, when they acceded to the EU; and Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia have not joined either.

As for the deficit criteria, there is a requirement of 3% of GDP in order to join the single currency. But that is not a requirement to join the EU. Otherwise why have so many new Member States not simply joined the single currency soon after EU membership?

In any event, this is easily provable: the Commission’s monitoring report on Croatia joining the EU noted that it had 4% and 5% debts in the years just before joining the EU. But its membership was still approved.

Of course, a large deficit is going to cause a country other difficulties besides EU membership, and in the event of EU membership the rule is in principle that a country should aim for deficits less than 3% of GDP after joining. But this rule is not absolute and the EU has little means to enforce it: sanctions for breaching it can only be imposed upon Eurozone countries, and the EU has never imposed them anyway. There would be strict conditions imposed upon any bailout deal (if necessary), inside or outside the Eurozone – but that would also apply outside the EU, for countries that need a bailout from the IMF alone. Whether Scotland might have an unmanageable deficit is certainly an important issue – but it’s quite false to say that “it can’t join the EU unless its deficit is less than 3%”.