Lutte contre la criminalité et le terrorisme : un meilleur accès aux preuves électroniques, mais à quelles conditions ?

La proposition de la Commission européenne sur la preuve électronique a pour effet de priver les autorités publiques des Etats membres de leurs prérogatives régaliennes et de doter les fournisseurs de services de compétences quasi-judiciaires

Dans une tribune parue dans le journal Le Monde le 27 novembre dernier un collectif de procureurs européens a appelé les législateurs nationaux à adopter la proposition de la Commission européenne relative à la preuve électronique (e-evidence).

Le souhait émis par les cosignataires de la tribune est totalement légitime, s’agissant de représentants du ministère public qui agissent au nom de l’État et défendent ainsi les intérêts de la société : le développement du monde numérique dans tous les aspects de nos vies quotidiennes impose des ajustements dans tous les domaines, y compris celui de la justice. L’accès aux informations électroniques est devenu une nécessité incontournable dans la plupart des affaires pénales, qu’elles soient liées au terrorisme ou non, et cet accès dépend du lieu d’établissement du fournisseur de services. 

Accéder plus facilement aux fournisseurs de services doit-il cependant conduire à une remise en cause des principes fondamentaux sur lesquels reposent nos systèmes judiciaires nationaux ? C’est ce que semble penser la Commission, qui envisage dans sa proposition de règlement une coopération directe en matière pénale entre les autorités compétentes d’un Etat membre et un fournisseur de services établi ou représenté dans un autre Etat membre, sans même devoir informer les autorités compétentes de l’Etat sur lequel est établi ou représenté ce fournisseur de services.

Aujourd’hui dans l’Union européenne, définir le droit et rendre la justice relèvent des fonctions régaliennes des Etats, ce qui naturellement n’empêche pas la coopération judiciaire entre eux. L’article 82 du Traité sur le fonctionnement de l’Union européenne prévoit explicitement une telle coopération et précisent que les deux colégislateurs de l’UE, le Parlement européen et le Conseil adoptent notamment les mesures visant « à faciliter la coopération entre autorités judiciaires ou équivalentes des Etats membres dans le cadre des poursuites pénales et de l’exécution des décisions ».

Il s’agit bien d’une coopération entre autorités judiciaires ou équivalentes des Etats membres, et non d’une coopération entre ces autorités et des opérateurs privés, dont les objectifs sont de nature commerciale.

Or, non seulement la Commission envisage sur la base de l’article 82 précité une telle coopération entre autorités compétentes d’un Etat membre et fournisseur de services d’un autre Etat membre, mais elle n’hésite pas, en outre, à investir ce fournisseur de services de compétences quasi-judiciaires. Ainsi, l’article 9 par. 5 de la proposition de règlement prévoit-il la possibilité de ne pas exécuter une injonction de production des preuves électroniques quand il apparaît, sur la base des seules informations contenues dans l’injonction, que celle-ci « enfreint manifestement la Charte des droits fondamentaux de l’Union européenne » ou qu’elle est manifestement abusive.

Le même fournisseur de services peut également ne pas exécuter l’injonction quand il considère que le respect de celle-ci « serait contraire aux lois applicables d’un pays tiers interdisant la divulgation de données concernées au motif que cela est nécessaire pour protéger les droits fondamentaux des personnes concernées ou les intérêts fondamentaux du pays tiers en matière de sécurité ou de défense nationales ».

Le fournisseur de services n’est donc plus simplement une entité commerciale, qui poursuit des intérêts qui lui sont propres, mais par la grâce de la proposition de la Commission, il devient un véritable auxiliaire de justice, doté de compétences juridiques lui permettant d’apprécier la validité de l’injonction qui lui a été adressée.

Un accès plus facile aux données électroniques pour les autorités policières et judiciaires justifie-t-il un tel abandon des compétences exclusives des autorités publiques en matière pénale, et une telle confusion entre intérêt public et intérêts privés ? N’y a-t-il pas d’autres moyens pour faciliter la coopération judiciaire dans l’espace européen de liberté, de sécurité et de justice, au sein duquel précisément est consacré le principe de confiance mutuelle ?

En premier lieu, il convient d’analyser les motifs des difficultés que rencontrent aujourd’hui les autorités policières et judiciaires des Etats membres : les fournisseurs de services sont fréquemment des compagnies régies par le droit américain, ce qui supposerait que les autorités des Etats de l’UE sollicitent une assistance auprès des autorités américaines, alors même que l’affaire pénale à traiter a le plus souvent un caractère national. La solution juridiquement correcte devrait être trouvée dans l’amélioration des traités d’assistance judiciaire mutuelle qui existant déjà : un tel traité a déjà été adopté entre les USA et l’UE en 2003.

Ces traités d’entraide judiciaire sont critiqués en raison de la lenteur des procédures mises en place. Toutefois, dans le cadre des négociations actuellement en cours au Conseil de l’Europe sur le deuxième protocole additionnel à la Convention de Budapest sur la cybercriminalité, a été provisoirement adoptée une disposition spécifique sur la « demandes d’entraide judiciaire urgente ». Cette disposition prévoit une procédure qui soit la plus rapide possible pour les demandes d’entraide effectuées en situation d’urgence, définie comme une situation « présentant un risque significatif et imminent pour la vie ou la sécurité d’une personne physique ». Parmi les exemples donnés dans le rapport explicatif figure notamment le cas où « la localisation de la victime peut être déterminée au moyen de données stockées par le fournisseur ».

 Il semble donc possible d’envisager l’amélioration du fonctionnement actuel des traités d’assistance judiciaire, qui sont les seuls instruments susceptibles de régler les épineux problèmes de conflits de lois. A cet égard, force est de constater que la proposition de la Commission ne permet pas de résoudre de tels conflits, lorsque le fournisseur de services saisi d’une injonction de production est également soumis à la loi applicable d’un pays tiers : elle prévoit en revanche un mécanisme complexe de saisine d’une juridiction de l’Etat dont dépend l’autorité émettrice de l’injonction, ce qui paraît pour le moins étonnant dans le cadre d’un conflit qui est un conflit de nature territoriale, entre la loi de l’Etat sur le territoire duquel est établi -ou représenté- le fournisseur de services, et la loi de l’Etat tiers applicable à ce même fournisseur de services.

En deuxième lieu, indépendamment d’une amélioration éventuelle des traités d’assistance judiciaire mutuelle, l’objectif visé par la Commission pourrait être atteint sans remise en cause des principes de base concernant les compétences souveraines des Etats membres : il suffit pour cela de rétablir le canal classique de coopération entre autorités judiciaires des Etats membres, en impliquant activement les autorités de l’Etat sur le territoire duquel se trouve le fournisseur de services (autorités d’exécution). Le rapport du Parlement européen, préparé par Mme Sippel, propose un mécanisme de notification de l’Etat sur le territoire duquel l’injonction devra être exécutée, simultanément à l’envoi de celle-ci au fournisseur de services. L’examen juridique de l’injonction et son exécution éventuelle relèveront de la seule appréciation de l’autorité d’exécution.  Le cas échéant, dans les cas-rares- où la personne concernée par la procédure ne réside ni sur le territoire de l’Etat d’émission, ni sur celui d’exécution de l’injonction, celle-ci devra être également adressée aux autorités du lieu de résidence de la personne, à condition naturellement que ce lieu de résidence soit connu.

Une telle notification, conforme aux prérogatives régaliennes des Etats membres aux dispositions de l’article 82 du TFUE, n’est pas antinomique avec la recherche d’efficacité de la procédure : le rapport du Parlement prévoit le même délai de 10 jours dans lequel les fournisseurs de services devront répondre aux demandes. Le respect de ce délai suppose bien entendu la pleine application du principe de confiance mutuelle, sur lequel se fonde précisément la coopération judiciaire dans l’espace européen. Une telle confiance ne peut concerner que les autorités publiques des Etats membres entre elles, et non avec des compagnies privées, que celles-ci soient vertueuses ou non.

La lutte contre la criminalité et le terrorisme à l’ère numérique peut et doit continuer à s’exercer dans un cadre juridique conçu pour assurer le plein respect des droits fondamentaux.

La nuova Guardia di frontiera e costiera europea (Regolamento (UE) 2019/1896): un primo esempio di amministrazione integrata nazionale/europea ?

(english version will follow)

di Emilio De Capitani

già Segretario (1998-2011) della Commissione Libertà Civili (LIBE) del Parlamento europeo

Premessa

Il 4 dicembre 2019 entra in vigore Regolamento (UE) 2019/1896 relativo alla guardia di frontiera e costiera europea, il cui snodo centrale è l’Agenzia europea comunemente nota come “Frontex”. Questa Agenzia aveva visto la luce nel 2004 ([1]) come semplice struttura di supporto ([2]) per gli Stati membri che contribuivano anche con uomini e mezzi quando si fosse reso necessario intervenire anche con team di rapido intervento ([3]) in aiuto di uno stato membro la cui frontiera esterna fosse sottoposta ad una forte pressione migratoria. Già all’entrata in vigore del Trattato di Lisbona il mandato dell’Agenzia venne esteso ([4]) da un lato prevedendo maggiori risorse e il distacco di personale degli Stati membri in modo più o meno permanente e dall’altro incaricando l’agenzia della gestione di un sistema europeo di sorveglianza delle frontiere (Eurosur) che poteva fare affidamento sulle informazioni provenienti dagli Stati membri, da Stati terzi e da altre agenzie europee e da satellite ([5]).

Anche dopo queste modifiche l’Agenzia rimaneva comunque una struttura con funzioni di intervento di emergenza come una sorta di compagnia dei vigili del fuoco (Fire Brigade) da attivare solo nel momento del bisogno e a richiesta degli stati interessati. Tuttavia a partire dal 2011 l’area di Schengen viene scossa da flussi migratori sempre più consistenti e per uscire dalla crisi l’Unione europea aggiorna nel 2013 il sistema di governance di Schengen con meccanismi di valutazione del controllo delle frontiere molto più stringenti [6] e modifiche al Codice delle frontiere Schengen () prevedendo procedure di emergenza che possono portare anche al ristabilimento dei controlli alle frontiere interne dell’area. In questo quadro il ruolo di Frontex diventa determinante e permanente per controllare la tenuta delle frontiere.

Nel 2014 il mandato di Frontex viene anche esteso[7] alla gestione degli interventi di search and rescue che dovessero rendersi necessari nel corso delle operazioni di sorveglianza anche nelle zone pre-frontiera (quindi anche nelle acque internazionali)

Il passaggio dal ruolo di “Fire Brigade” ad Agenzia quale snodo di un sistema che collega tra loro il livello nazionale con quello sovranazionale avviene con Regolamento (UE) 2016/1624 del 14 settembre 2016 relativo alla guardia di frontiera e costiera europea dove per la prima volta viene affrontato il tema della gestione integrata delle frontiere esterne cui fa riferimento il Trattato (art. 77 par. lett C).

Il Regolamento si rivela particolarmente ambizioso ma, come spesso avviene nel processo decisionale europeo, lascia diverse questioni in sospeso o a metà sia per quanto riguarda la ripartizione di competenze tra livello statale ed europeo, che per quanto riguarda il quadro strategico, il rispetto dei diritti fondamentali, e le risorse umane e finanziarie.

Per risolvere queste questioni nel Settembre 2018 la Commissione ha presentato una ambiziosa proposta che il Parlamento e il Consiglio hanno trattato a tempo di record ([8]) tanto da concludere un accordo in prima lettura su un testo di compromesso approvato dal Parlamento europeo il 17 aprile 2019, praticamente sul finire della legislatura.

Le innovazioni del Regolamento (UE) 2016/1896

I 124 articoli del nuovo Regolamento descrivono per la prima volta un quadro organico della prima forma di amministrazione integrata della protezione delle frontiere esterne dell’Unione a livello sovranazionale e nazionale, rispondendo per la prima volta in modo tutto sommato coerente alle critiche che erano state presentate ai testi legislativi precedenti e alle richieste della stessa Frontex. Dalla lettura del testo appare evidente che molte disposizioni sono state praticamente dettate da Frontex stessa, che ha così inteso darsi una base giuridica esplicita a livello di diritto secondario dell’Unione dotandosi di una specie di testo unico che le permette di rispondere al mandato conferitole.

I punti salienti della riforma sono i seguenti.

  1. Sono definite le componenti della gestione europea integrata delle frontiere (art. 3). Questa nozione è evocata dall’art.77 del TFUE ma ha preso forma nelle sue componenti essenziali nella riforma del 2016, confermata e resa più coerente dal testo in questione.
  2. Vengono integrati i livelli di amministrazione sovranazionale e nazionale: la guardia di frontiera e costiera europea sarà costituita dall’Agenzia e dalle autorità nazionali preposte alla gestione delle frontiere, ivi incluse le guardie costiere (nella misura in cui svolgono compiti di controllo di frontiera), così come dalle autorità nazionali responsabili dei rimpatri (art. 4). La gestione europea integrata delle frontiere è dunque una responsabilità condivisa tra l’Agenzia e le autorità nazionali preposte alla gestione delle frontiere. Quindi gli Stati membri mantengono la responsabilità primaria della gestione delle loro sezioni di frontiera esterna, ma il quadro di riferimento per l’azione nazionale è ora definito a livello europeo (art. 7).
  3. In coerenza con i due punti precedenti viene previsto un Ciclo politico strategico pluriennale per la gestione europea integrata delle frontiere. Nel Regolamento del 2016 si evocava una strategia tecnica adottata dal Consiglio di amministrazione di Frontex, che difficilmente avrebbe potuto essere considerata vincolante per i governi e parlamenti nazionali. Nel testo attuale la strategia pluriennale sarà adottata dalla Commissione (art. 8) con un qualche coinvolgimento del Parlamento europeo (e, si spera, almeno indirettamente dei Parlamenti nazionali) e ciò è conforme alla giurisprudenza “Meroni”, che richiede che le misure europee debbano essere adottate dalle istituzioni europee mentre le organizzazioni derivate come le agenzie possono legittimamente adottare solo misure che con comportano discrezionalità politica (quali sono, evidentemente le Strategie).
  4. Molto correttamente si prevedeche l’Agenzia risponda “del proprio operato al Parlamento europeo e al Consiglio”, cioè alle istituzioni che l’hanno creata e non alla sola Commissione come la maggior parte delle altre Agenzie europee. Mutatis mutandis, questo prefigura un rapporto simile a quello che negli Stati Uniti è previsto per le Agenzie federali, che sono chiamate a rispondere anche davanti al Congresso.
  5. L’interazione fra livello sovranazionale e nazionale è inquadrata dalle norme relative alla pianificazione integrata con piani di sviluppo delle capacità nazionali in modo da assicurare un livello di efficienza comparabile in tutte le sezioni di frontiera (art. 9) e, molto opportunamente, gli articoli 11 e 12 prevedono lo scambio tempestivo e completo di informazioni tra livello nazionale ed europeo come espressione del principio di cooperazione leale. Può sembrare ovvio ma questo tuttora non avviene o avviene in forma limitata in altri settori di cooperazione, come nel caso della cooperazione giudiziaria e di polizia in campo penale. 
  6. Lo scambio e il trattamento delle informazioni tra livello nazionale e sovranazionale è l’oggetto degli articoli da 11 a 23, dove è disciplinato anche il sistema informativo EUROSUR, che diviene ormai l’hub di riferimento di una rete tanto informatica quanto di corrispondenti che si può considerare il “sistema nervoso” della nuova Guardia di frontiera europea. Le norme possono sembrare troppo dettagliate ma sono di importanza fondamentale perché diventeranno il tessuto connettivo e l’inevitabile complemento di altri sistemi di informazione come il Sistema informativo Schengen e i sistemi ETIAS, VIS e EURODAC, che saranno resi progressivamente interoperabili. Non è quindi azzardato ritenere che la futura Guardia costiera e di frontiera europea e la stessa Frontex si candidano a diventare il “cervello” al quale dovranno affluire tutte le informazioni, facendone tra l’altro, au passage, il più efficiente centro di intelligence europeo (con buona pace di Europol, che pure è chiamato a cooperare con l’Agenzia).
  7. Questa vocazione della nuova Guardia di frontiera europea a divenire il primo sistema integrato di polizia delle frontiere e intelligence a livello europeo é confermato dagli articoli 24-28 sui “quadri situazionali” (europeo, nazionali e specifici) che saranno alimentati dai dati raccolti dai databases europei, da quelli nazionali e da altre fonti.
  8. Gli articoli da 29 e 35 prevedono le misure da prendere una volta identificati i rischi nelle diverse sezioni della frontiera esterna UE, che ciascun paese deve tenere sotto controllo nell’interesse proprio e degli altri paesi UE (oltre che dei paesi terzi limitrofi). Ogni sezione di frontiera viene classificata in funzione del livello di vulnerabilità e del possibile rischio che esso rappresenta e delle misure da prendere per fronteggiarlo. Da notare che le informazioni sono raccolte anche da funzionari dell’Agenzia (per ovviare a possibili deficienze a livello nazionale) e che, in caso di problemi, il Direttore può raccomandare misure da prendere d’urgenza dall’amministrazione nazionale. Se questa non collabora è già previsto un crescendo di pressioni anche a livello della Commissione e del Consiglio che possono portare anche al ripristino dei controlli alle frontiere interne e quindi di fatto all’isolamento del paese in questione. Questa misura è già prevista in casi estremi dal codice di frontiere Schengen e il fatto di averla parzialmente ripresa anche in questo Regolamento crea una oggettiva necessità di coordinamento fra i due testi legislativi e i corrispondenti sistemi di valutazione dei rischi.
  9. Gli articoli da 36 a 47 coprono le azioni congiunte dell’Agenzia con le amministrazioni dei paesi membri e, se del caso con paesi terzi. È importante notare il livello di dettaglio di queste norme, che sembrano dettate dall’esperienza sul campo e dal desiderio di Frontex di superare possibili intoppi e fraintendimenti sui ruoli rispettivi. Importante è il contenuto delle regole di ingaggio da concordare con gli stati membri interessati prima di ogni operazione anche perché tali regole indicano anche il quadro legislativo di riferimento, specie per le operazioni in acque internazionali.
  10. Gli articoli da 48 a 53 riguardano il ruolo dell’Agenzia nelle operazioni di rimpatrio condotte per conto degli Stati membri, che (viene ribadito più volte) sono i soli (?) a poter prendere queste decisioni. Resta da verificare il possibile impatto dei ripetuti riferimenti al rispetto delle norme a tutela delle persone derivanti dal diritto internazionale e dal diritto europeo (cioè dalla Carta e dal diritto secondario in materia di asilo/immigrazione irregolare) in un contesto nel quale molti paesi membri dell’UE non rispettano i diritti fondamentali e dunque Frontex non potrà fondare la propria azione su una presunzione assoluta di legittimità delle decisioni nazionali di rimpatrio.
  11. L’articolo 54, che definisce il volume e le caratteristiche del personale permanente operativo, è una delle innovazioni principali del nuovo Regolamento. Il personale permanente si distingue in quattro categorie: le guardie di frontiera, le scorte per i rimpatri, gli esperti in materia di rimpatrio e altro personale competente, facente parte del corpo permanente della guardia di frontiera e costiera europea.[9]
  12. Lo stesso art. 54, insieme all’art. 82, definisce anche le condizioni per l’esercizio di poteri operativi da parte di personale dell’Agenzia. Tale esercizio deve essere previamente autorizzato dallo Stato membro o dello Stato terzo interessato ma può riguardare anche attività sensibili (alcune delle quali possono richiedere il porto d’armi[10]). Per quanto riguarda il diritto applicabile nell’esercizio di queste attività da funzionari della Guardia di frontiera europea[11], l’art. 82 offre indicazioni generali, stabilendo che “Lo svolgimento dei compiti e l’esercizio dei poteri da parte dei membri delle squadre, in particolare quelli che richiedono poteri esecutivi, sono soggetti all’autorizzazione dello Stato membro ospitante sul suo territorio nonché al diritto dell’Unione, nazionale o internazionale applicabile, in particolare al regolamento (UE) n. 656/2014, quale descritto nel piano operativo di cui all’articolo 38. Nello svolgimento dei loro compiti e nell’esercizio delle loro competenze, i membri delle squadre assicurano pienamente il rispetto dei diritti fondamentali e osservano il diritto dell’Unione e quello internazionale, e la legislazione nazionale dello Stato membro ospitante”.
  13. Il fatto è che le norme vigenti in materia sono nazionali o comunque rivolte agli Stati membri e non anche alle istituzioni europee stesse, cosicché ci si potrebbe chiedere se non sia necessaria una disciplina specifica (come è il caso per la protezione dei dati o per le norme in campo penale applicabili dall’EPPO). La questione rischia di finire sul tavolo di un giudice anche perché molto opportunamente gli articoli 84 e 85 prevedono la responsabilità civile e penale dei funzionari nell’esercizio di queste funzioni.
  14. Il Regolamento prevede anche una serie articolata di norme in materia di risorse operative proprie dell’Agenzia, di formazione del proprio personale, di relazioni internazionali, di protezione dei dati che vengono a costituire una sorta di spazio amministrativo parallelo che non sarà semplice monitorare tanto da parte delle stesse istituzioni che dalla società civile e dagli stessi Parlamenti nazionali (che vengono per la prima volta citati in questo nuovo contesto come era auspicabile visto il ruolo che è loro riconosciuto dal Trattato in materia di controllo di Europol e Eurojust).
  15. Il richiamo ai diritti fondamentali è un tema ricorrente in tutto il Regolamento e in tutte le disposizioni di portata operativa con riferimento non solo ai principi riconosciuti dagli articoli 2 e 6 TUE e dalla Carta UE, ma più in particolare ai seguenti diritti: “il rispetto per la dignità umana, il diritto alla vita, la proibizione della tortura e di trattamenti o pene inumani o degradanti, la proibizione della tratta di esseri umani, il diritto alla libertà e alla sicurezza, il diritto alla protezione dei dati personali, il diritto di accesso ai documenti, il diritto di asilo, la protezione contro l’allontanamento e l’espulsione, il divieto di respingimento, il divieto di discriminazione e i diritti del minore”. A tutela di questi diritti il nuovo Regolamento va molto oltre quanto previsto nelle versioni del 2011 e del 2016, prevedendo una procedura di denuncia da parte di privati per eventuali violazioni all’Agenzia e un Responsabile della tutela dei diritti fondamentali, coadiuvato da almeno quaranta collaboratori con il compito di monitorare anche le singole operazioni dell’Agenzia e di provvedere a un reporting dettagliato.

Prime conclusioni

Il Regolamento (UE) 2019/1896 è certamente l’intervento più ambizioso e articolato approvato dai co-legislatori in materia di controllo delle frontiere nel corso degli ultimi anni. Nonostante la base giuridica prescelta siano gli articoli 77 e 79 (controllo delle frontiere e lotta all’immigrazione irregolare), la portata e le ambizioni del Regolamento sono molto più ampie e toccano anche la sicurezza interna e indirettamente quella esterna. Il passaggio di Frontex dagli attuali 1500 funzionari (nel 2004 erano 170) a 10 mila fa di questa Agenzia una struttura esecutiva assolutamente eccezionale e “fuori scala” rispetto agli altri organi esecutivi con compiti operativi dell’Unione, incluso il Servizio europeo esterno.

Se si pensa poi che la proposta della Commissione è stata accettata dal Consiglio europeo senza neppure una previa valutazione di impatto, non si può che rivolgere un plauso al Parlamento europeo, che nello spazio di pochi mesi ha reso il testo “presentabile”, colmando molte delle lacune della legislazione precedente (compreso il Regolamento del 2016). L’impresa era sulla carta molto ardua. Si può discutere sul fatto che alcune delle soluzioni proposte sotto forma di “vademecum”, “handbook” e “guidelines” siano sufficientemente solide dal punto di vista giuridico per superare il controllo del giudice a livello nazionale e europeo. Per questa ragione è probabile che nuovi interventi legislativi si renderanno necessari. Tuttavia, è molto difficile che si possa tornare indietro perché questo testo, secondo la migliore tradizione della cooperazione Schengen, risponde ad esigenze operative che decine di migliaia di funzionari nazionali in tutti i paesi membri ritengono necessarie e che saranno quindi difese da questi in sede nazionale ed europea come prima forma di effettiva solidarietà operativa e di amministrazione integrata a livello nazionale ed europeo. È auspicabile che un simile approccio, in grado di coniugare le ragioni operative e di solidarietà amministrativa con la tutela – almeno in principio – dei diritti fondamentali, faccia scuola e che venga assimilato dal nuovo Parlamento europeo e dai parlamenti nazionali, oltreché dalla società civile, in passato giustamente molto critica verso norme europee meno garantiste.

D’altro canto, proprio la società civile e i parlamenti sono chiamati a un compito di monitoraggio che si preannuncia tanto decisivo quanto impervio. Basti considerare quanto emerge dalla recentissima pronuncia del Tribunale nel caso Izuzquiza et al. c. Frontex, dove, da un lato, si rileva che l’Agenzia non si è ancora dotata di un registro dei documenti, pur richiesto dal Regolamento (CE) n. 1049/2001 e, dall’altro, si chiarisce che anche le informazioni dei database interni potranno essere oggetto di richieste d’accesso da parte dei cittadini. Il rischio è che le nuove competenze attribuite a Frontex amplino a dismisura la possibilità di invocare la confidenzialità delle informazioni per ragioni di sicurezza pubblica. L’effettività del controllo sulle operazioni di Frontex sarà, poi, ancora più problematica quando l’Agenzia parteciperà – come il nuovo Regolamento consente – a missioni condotte nel quadro della sicurezza esterna dell’Unione, giacché a quelle missioni si applica un regime giuridico particolarmente restrittivo, che preclude allo stesso Parlamento europeo l’accesso a talune informazioni. Si tratta di una tema che, per la sua sensibilità, richiederà analisi accurate, ma averlo evocato è sufficiente a rendere l’idea della complessità delle sfide giuridiche e istituzionali che ci attendono.


[1] Regolamento (CE) n. 2007/2004 del Consiglio del 26 ottobre 2004 che istituisce un’Agenzia europea per la gestione della cooperazione operativa alle frontiere esterne degli Stati membri dell’Unione europea.

[2] Già all’epoca vi era chi, nel Parlamento europeo, chiedeva la creazione di un corpo di guardie di frontiere europee e la questione era stata discussa in Consiglio sulla base di uno studio di fattibilità preparato dalla delegazione italiana, ma il progetto sembrava troppo ambizioso per quei tempi.

[3] Regolamento (CE) n. 863/2007 del Parlamento europeo e del Consiglio, dell’11 luglio 2007 che istituisce un meccanismo per la creazione di squadre di intervento rapido alle frontiere e modifica il regolamento (CE) n. 2007/2004 del Consiglio limitatamente a tale meccanismo e disciplina i compiti e le competenze degli agenti distaccati.

[4] Regolamento (UE) n. 1168/2011 del Parlamento europeo e del Consiglio del 25 ottobre 2011 recante modifica del regolamento (CE) n. 2007/2004 del Consiglio che istituisce un’Agenzia europea per la gestione della cooperazione operativa alle frontiere esterne degli Stati membri dell’Unione europea.

[5] Regolamento (UE) n. 1052/2013 del Parlamento europeo e del Consiglio del 22 ottobre 2013 che istituisce il sistema europeo di sorveglianza delle frontiere (Eurosur).

[6] Vedi REGOLAMENTO (UE) N. 1053/2013 DEL CONSIGLIO del 7 ottobre 2013 che istituisce un meccanismo di valutazione e di controllo per verificare l’applicazione dell’acquis di Schengen e che abroga la decisione del comitato esecutivo del 16 settembre 1998 che istituisce una Commissione permanente di valutazione e di applicazione di Schengen

[7] Vedi  REGOLAMENTO (UE) N. 656/2014 del 15 maggio 2014 recante norme per la sorveglianza delle frontiere marittime esterne nel contesto della cooperazione operativa coordinata dall’Agenzia europea per la gestione della cooperazione operativa alle frontiere esterne degli Stati membri dell’Unione europea

[8] I negoziati si sono tenuti in particolare nel corso di cinque riunioni interistituzionali (detti “triloghi”) il 27 Febbraio, il 12, 21, 26 e 28 marzo 2019.

[9] Le quattro categorie sono cosi’ descritte:

« a)         categoria 1: personale statutario impiegato come membri delle squadre nelle aree operative ai sensi dell’articolo 55, e personale responsabile del funzionamento dell’unità centrale ETIAS;

b)           categoria 2: personale distaccato a lungo termine presso l’Agenzia dagli Stati membri e facente parte integrante del corpo permanente ai sensi dell’articolo 56;

c)            categoria 3: personale degli Stati membri pronto per essere messo a disposizione dell’Agenzia per un impiego di breve durata quale parte integrante del corpo permanente ai sensi dell’articolo 57; e

d)           categoria 4: riserva di reazione rapida composta da personale degli Stati membri pronto per essere impiegato, ai sensi dell’articolo 58 ai fini di interventi rapidi alle frontiere ai sensi dell’articolo 39.”

[10] Art 82 “(8).   I membri delle squadre, compresi i membri del personale statutario, sono autorizzati per i pertinenti profili dallo Stato membro ospitante allo svolgimento di compiti durante l’impiego che richiedano l’uso della forza, inclusi il porto e l’uso delle armi di ordinanza, delle munizioni e dell’equipaggiamento, e sono soggetti al consenso dello Stato membro di appartenenza o, per il personale statutario, dell’Agenzia. L’uso della forza, compreso il porto e l’utilizzo di armi d’ordinanza, munizioni ed equipaggiamento, è esercitato ai sensi della legislazione nazionale dello Stato membro ospitante e in presenza delle guardie di frontiera dello Stato membro ospitante. Lo Stato membro ospitante può, con il consenso dello Stato membro di appartenenza o, se del caso, dell’Agenzia, autorizzare i membri delle squadre a usare la forza sul suo territorio in assenza di guardie di frontiera dello Stato membro ospitante.

Lo Stato membro ospitante può vietare il porto di determinate armi di ordinanza, munizioni ed equipaggiamento, a condizione che la sua normativa applichi il medesimo divieto alle proprie guardie di frontiera o al personale quando impegnato in compiti attinenti ai rimpatri. Prima dell’impiego dei membri delle squadre, lo Stato membro ospitante informa l’Agenzia in merito alle armi di ordinanza, alle munizioni e all’equipaggiamento autorizzati e alle relative condizioni d’uso. L’Agenzia mette tali informazioni a disposizione degli Stati membri.

(9).   Le armi di ordinanza, le munizioni e l’equipaggiamento possono essere usati per legittima difesa personale o per legittima difesa dei membri delle squadre o di altre persone ai sensi della legislazione nazionale dello Stato membro ospitante, in linea con i pertinenti principi del diritto internazionale in materia di diritti umani e con la Carta”.

[11] Secondo l’art. 54 queste sono:

« a)         verifica dell’identità e della cittadinanza delle persone, compresa la consultazione delle pertinenti banche dati nazionali e dell’Unione;

b)           autorizzazione all’ingresso, se le condizioni stabilite all’articolo 6 del regolamento (UE) 2016/399 sono soddisfatte;

c)            respingimento ai sensi dell’articolo 14 del regolamento (UE) 2016/399;

d)           apposizione di timbri sui documenti di viaggio ai sensi dell’articolo 11 del regolamento (UE) 2016/399;

e)            rilascio o rifiuto di visti alla frontiera ai sensi dell’articolo 35 del regolamento (CE) n. 810/2009 del Parlamento europeo e del Consiglio e inserimento dei corrispondenti dati nel Sistema di Informazione dei visti;

f)            sorveglianza di frontiera, compreso il pattugliamento tra valichi di frontiera, allo scopo di impedire l’attraversamento non autorizzato della frontiera, di lottare contro la criminalità transfrontaliera e di adottare misure contro le persone entrate illegalmente, ivi compresi l’intercettazione o il fermo;

g)           registrazione nell’Eurodac delle impronte digitali delle persone fermate in relazione all’attraversamento irregolare di una frontiera esterna, ai sensi del capo III del regolamento (UE) n. 603/2013 del Parlamento europeo e del Consiglio;

h)           contatti con i paesi terzi ai fini dell’identificazione e dell’acquisizione di documenti di viaggio per i rimpatriandi;

i) scorta di cittadini di paesi terzi cui si applicano procedure di rimpatrio forzato.”

The European Area of Freedom, security and Justice : has it lost its compass ?

Rome, 28 January 2019, 9.30/12.30 – 14.00/17.30

Spazio Europa(managed by the European Parliament Office in Italy and the European Commission Representation in Italy) Via Quattro Novembre 149 (ground floor) – Roma

CONFERENCE : Transforming the European Union into an Area of Freedom, Security and Justice. Twenty years after Tampere and ten after Lisbon, the objective is still out of reach

Twenty years ago, the Amsterdam Treaty entered into force and with it the objective of transforming and developing the European Union into an Area of Freedom, Security and Justice area (AFSJ). This objective confirmed ten years later by the Lisbon Treaty and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, signaled the EU Member States determination of transforming the internal market into a new kind of supranational political space placing “.the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice.” However, since then, the experience has shown us that despite some important successes, that goal is still far from being realized.

Many factors of political, bureaucratic, institutional nature and, above all, the overlapping of several external and internal crises have put a strain on the Union and its Member States. Although it will not be possible to analyze them in detail in one day seminar of 28 January, we will try to understand what the nature of the major shortcomings and which political legal and institutional steps can be taken to overcome these difficulties during the next parliamentary term, without revising the current Treaties.

Our brain storming will be take place around four round tables open to people coming from European and national institutions or from the academia who have followed closely the evolution of the different policies that contribute directly or indirectly to the transformation of the Union. in Space for freedom, security and justice.

During the round tables the institutional dimension will be taken into consideration (not only at European but also national level), as well as the growing role of European Agencies and Authorities and the international dimension (United Nations, Council of Europe)

1st  Round table: The values that the EU and the Member States must protect and promote

Sharing common values is the prerequisite of achieving together the objectives set by the Treaties and is the basis of mutual trust between Member States, notably when they implement the AFSJ related policies. When these values are risk or are violated, the Treaty provide the possibility to suspend even the voting rights of the Member State in question (Article 7 TEU).  In the same perspective the Court of Justice has also recognized that also the mutual trust between the EU MS could be compromised and that this could hinder the mutual recognition mechanisms notably when respect for the rule of law is at stake.

This round table will discuss on one side the common policies related to the AFSJ so that they respect the EU fundamental values and rights and on the other side the measures to be taken when one or more Member States jeopardize the values and the objectives of the EU. One can therefore ask whether, new mechanisms should be created to prevent these shortcomings at EU and National level.

SpeakersEnzo Cannizzaro, Valerio Onida, Oreste Pollicino

2nd Round Table: Freedom of movement, border control, asylum and migration

Freedom of movement within the EU and the abolition of internal border controls are the proof of the existence of a supranational human mobility area so that it is worrying that several EU Member States are trying to re-establish in a more or less permanent way these checks at the internal borders. In the last years, (starting in 2013 from the Schengen governance reform), the European Union has developed an impressive series of initiatives protecting the external borders and has launched an integrated border management which is deemed granting the highest level of security. Many scholars and representatives of institutions such as the European Data Protection Controller, have considered the requests for further internal and external border checks disproportionate face to the alleged threats.

The same security-focused strategy has also been at stake to limit the right to asylum and even to limit the EU management of migratory flows as well as the visa policy. Also limited have been the EU initiatives to promote the integration of migrants in national societies and labor markets or to facilitate access for regular migrants.

Speakers: Giuseppe Cataldi, Giovanni Cioffi, Steve Peers, Mario Savino

12:30 Buffet

3rd Round table: the internal (and external) security area

The EU has developed since 9/11 its Internal Security agenda and this process has even intensified during the last ten years with a particular focus on preventing terrorism. Unfortunately most of these EU measures have been adopted without a proper prior and post impact assessment so that it is very hard to judge their effectiveness or even revise their scope. The lack of information from the Member States hinders the democratic control, especially at the European level, as it has been proved by a recent EP resolution.

To counter this the EU is developing interoperability between European and national databases even if these databases were originally designed for other purposes (e.g. EURODAC, VIS). Last but not least using the external security legal framework (which is not binding and lacks parliamentary control) for internal security policies makes everything more complex and less transparent.

Speakers: Tony Bunyan, Luisa Marin, Marc Rotenberg

4th Round table: the European judicial area

The European judicial area has developed considerably in the civil field but has remained incomplete in the criminal field. The principle of mutual recognition of measures taken at national level has undergone several setbacks with the weakening of mutual trust between Member States and in the presence of highly differentiated national contexts in a supranational area where some Countries are particularly affected by organized crime and others which are practically immune). The “Lisbonisation” of EUROJUST and the creation of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office are good steps in the right direction but synergies between police and judicial cooperation at EU level are still incomplete and there is no currently an EU Strategy for strengthening the criminal justice area.

Speakers: Luca de Matteis, Lorenzo Salazar, Andrea Venegoni

Chair: Emilio De Capitani

Working language: Italian, English
Organizational secretary: Fondazione Lelio e Lisli Basso Via della Dogana Vecchia, 5 – Roma Tel. 06 6879953 – basso@fondazionebasso.it

1095 Days Later: From Bad to Worse Regarding the Rule of Law in Poland (Part II)

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON VERFASSUNGSBLOG
(17 Jan 2019)

By Laurent Pech, and Patryk Wachowiec

…. 4. One missed opportunity: The ECJ ruling of 25 July 2018 concerning the European Arrest Warrant 

The knock-on effects of the deteriorating situation in Poland became notably visible when an Irish High Court judge decided to delay the extradition of a man to Poland over concerns about the rule of law there pending a preliminary reference request sent to the ECJ.

This was followed by a vicious press campaign against the Irish judge, with Mr Marcin Warchoł, Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister (and Poland’s member of the Venice Commission, no less…) deeming it appropriate to question the professionalism and integrity of the Irish High Court judge by claiming that she did not know relevant rules or case law and that her analysis was inter alia ignorant, lacked common sense but also partial and biased. In addition, the Deputy Justice Minister did not see any problem with violating the principle of the presumption of innocence by publicly stating that the Irish High Court was “delaying the punishment of a serious drug mafia criminal”. As regards Justice Donnelly’s right to seek clarification from the ECJ, Mr Warchoł said: “such requests should be unbiased. It is regrettable your court is delaying this punishment completely on biased arguments”. 

In its judgment of 25 July 2018 (LM, C-216/18 PPU), the ECJ established a new two-step rule of law test based on one it developed regarding potential exceptions for surrender on the basis of the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 4 of the Charter). This new test stated that (i) when confronted with the claim that a European Arrest Warrant (hereinafter: EAW) request must not be granted due to systemic or generalised deficiencies liable to affect the independence of the judiciary in the issuing Member State, the executing judicial authority (Irish High Court in the present case), must, as a first step, “assess whether there is a real risk that the individual concerned will suffer a breach” of his fundamental right to an independent tribunal/to a fair trial “when it is called upon to decide on his surrender to the authorities of the issuing Member State”; and (ii) “that authority must, as a second step, assess specifically and precisely whether, in the particular circumstances of the case, there are substantial grounds for believing that, following his surrender to the issuing Member State, the requested person will run that risk”. 

This important ruling has been widely commented in particular by many eminent scholars on this blog. To put it briefly here, we view this ruling by the ECJ as a missed opportunity and certainly not as a breakthrough. Despite overwhelming and damning evidence of a growing systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland, the Court, rather than offering a systemic answer, opted for an individualised test requiring a case-by-case assessment. In doing so, we submit the ECJ ignored or refused to accept reality: in a situation of systemic attacks targeting the whole judicial system, there is, by definition, already a “real risk” of a breach of the fundamental rights to an independent tribunal and to a fair trial in every single case. One may view as particularly unworkable any requirement imposing on a national court acting as executing judicial authority the need to examine the extent to which systemic attacks on the rule of law are liable to have an impact at the level of the courts with jurisdiction over the requested person’s case. We are sorry to say that we also find absurd to demand that such a national court request from the issuing judicial authority any information that it considers necessary for assessing whether there is such a risk. This is akin to asking a potentially compromised court to confirm that it is not (or not yet) compromised in a context where judges can be subject to kangaroo disciplinary proceedings just for daring sending questions to the ECJ under Article 267 TFEU (see section 6 for more details). 

In essence, the ECJ has created a test which we find impossible to apply in practice and disconnected from the reality of a judicial system which is in the process of being entirely captured by the executive.

Anxious to preserve the principles of mutual trust and mutual recognition while simultaneously affirming the cardinal importance of the principles of the rule of law and judicial independence in the EU and in particular in Poland, the ECJ has devised a test which has the potential of undermining them all. The refusal to hold that the EAW mechanism cannot be suspended in respect of a Member State outside of a unanimous determination by the European Council, pursuant to Article 7(2) TEU, that this Member State has breached Article 2 TEU, is not merely dangerous, it is also flawed.

Why? Because it reflects a failure to read a piece of EU secondary legislation in light of the EU primary law as it stands on the day of the ruling while justifying this failure on the back of an out-of-date, non-binding recital which merely does not take into account current Article 7(1) merely because it was not yet in force when the Framework Decision on the EAW was adopted! Last but not least, it means that even in a situation where judicial independence would have been totally annihilated, a case-by-case assessment would still be required unless – something which is simply politically unimaginable when you have more than one “rogue state” in the EU – unanimity in the European Council had been previously reached.  

Be that as it may, we now have several concrete examples of national courts struggling when it comes to implementing the ECJ’s “Celmer test”. Wouter van Ballegooij and Petra Bárd spoke of Herculean hurdles in a post published last July. Recent examples have proved them right. 

Just to give a single example, a Dutch court recently held that 11 surrender cases must be stayed and more questions sent to the relevant Polish issuing judicial authorities, as the initial answers provided by Polish courts did not adequately answer its concerns regarding the independence of the judiciary. This is not however the first time we saw a non-Polish court sending a second set of questions to Polish courts. Indeed, last September, we saw senior Polish judges openly disagreeing “with each other in letters sent to the High Court in Dublin about the independence of the Polish judiciary”, with the one judge finding no problem with a court president appointed on the basis of an arguably unconstitutional law which was referenced as a source of concern by the Commission in its Article 7(1) TEU proposal…  

We remain deeply sceptical of the ECJ’s test as it is difficult to see how a national court, no matter how many and well thought questions it is able to produce and send under the preliminary reference procedure to the ECJ, may ever be able to gather sufficient evidence to meet the ECJ’s threshold laid down in the second prong of its EAW rule of law test, i.e., to specifically and precisely prove, in the particular circumstances of each relevant case that there are substantial grounds for believing that, following the surrender to the issuing Member State, the requested person will run a real risk of a breach of his fundamental right to an independent tribunal. For instance, the Irish High Court found that the ECJ test cannot be met even in a situation where a Deputy Justice Minister is recorded to have publicly described the subject of the EAW as a dangerous criminal (presumption of innocence, anyone?). More generally speaking, how on earth can one receive a fair trial in a system without effective constitutional review; without an independent National Council for the Judiciary (the Polish KRS was suspended from the European Networks of Councils for the Judiciary for its lack of independence); but with a supreme court which now arguably includes unlawfully appointed judges, and where each judge in Poland potentially faces the threat at any point in time of kangaroo disciplinary proceedings (see below section 6).

In a recent and potentially significant development, the Irish High Court has asked Ireland’s highest judicial body to clarify whether systemic and generalised deficiencies in the independence of the relevant national judiciary are “sufficient, on their own [our emphasis] and in the absence of evidence of deficiencies in other safeguards for a fair trial, to establish substantial grounds that there is a real risk of a breach of the essence of the requested person’s right to a fair trial”. This is a question, however, which can only be authoritatively answered by the ECJ and one would therefore expect the Irish Supreme Court to refer this point to Luxembourg, providing the ECJ the needed impetus to fine-tune its test.

5. Several pending preliminary reference cases 

Following the activation of Article 7(1) TEU, a number of Polish courts, including the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court, have submitted numerous references to the ECJ on the basis of the preliminary ruling procedure laid down in Article 267 TFEU

In August 2018, the Supreme Court sent several questions regarding the forced retirement of its judges and the power to suspend domestic law regarding the independence of the judiciary. The ECJ has since agreed to expedite the case in light of the importance of the issues raised, the “serious uncertainties” the disputed national provisions have created with respect to “functioning of the referring court as highest national court” as well as Article 267 TFEU, “the keystone of the EU judicial system” and one which could not function without independent national courts according to the ECJ (see order adopted on 26 September 2018 in Case C-522/18). 

Broadly similar questions than the ones submitted in Case C-522/18 have been subsequently referred by the Polish Supreme Court last October in Case C-668/18 and similarly, the ECJ has agreed to expedite the procedure in this case on 11 December 2018 for the same reasons given previously in the order issued in Case C-522/18. 

Other preliminary reference proceedings initiated by the Supreme Court concern the disciplinary regime put in place on the back of the so-called “judicial reforms”, and in particular the new disciplinary chamber, with the question of whether it may be considered a “court” within the meaning of EU law one of the issues raised. It is worth recalling in this respect that in its fourth rule of law recommendation of 20 December 2017, the Commission underlined that Poland’s new disciplinary regime raises a number of concerns in particular related to the autonomy of the new disciplinary chamber in the Supreme Court; the removal of a set of procedural guarantees in disciplinary proceedings conducted against ordinary courts and Supreme Court judges; and the influence of President of the Republic and the Minister of Justice on the disciplinary officers. 

To summarise where we are, in addition to Case C-522/18 and Case C-668/18 mentioned above, an additional seven preliminary ruling requests are now pending before the ECJ (it is not easy to keep track): 

  • Cases C-558/18 and C-563/18 (these two cases have been joined with the expedited procedure requests submitted by the referring courts however rejected by the ECJ on 1 October 2018); 
  • Cases C-585/18, C-624/18, C-625/18 (these three requests have been joined and expedited procedure granted by the ECJ on 26 November 2018); 
  • Case C-623/18 (lodged on 3 October 2018);
  • Case C-824/18 (lodged on 28 December 2018). 

To the best of our knowledge, kangaroo disciplinary proceedings have since been initiated against the judges at the origin of Case C-588/18; Case C-563/18; and Case C-623/18 (see section 6 below). 

The tactical retreat operated by Polish authorities following the ECJ interim order regarding their attempted purge the Supreme Court also means that it is unclear whether the questions submitted in Case C-522/18 and Case C-668/18 still ought to be answered by the ECJ. According to what was recently reported in the Polish media, the Polish government has requested that the two cases be dismissed in light of the latest amendments to the Law on the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court must now explain to the ECJ before the end of the month why a preliminary ruling from the ECJ is still necessary to enable it to give a judgment in these two cases. 

In any event, it is worth noting that in addition to the issue of the Supreme Court’s new disciplinary chamber, some of these pending cases raise the issue of the composition and appointment procedure of the ENCJ-suspended KRS, by asking the ECJ that it interprets whether Article 19(1) TEU and Article 47 CFR preclude a body such as the KRS which the Commission has recently described as follows in a document submitted to the Council before the third hearing organised under Article 7(1) TEU last December: 

The new election regime of the judges-members of the National Council does not comply with European standards requiring that judges-members of Councils for the Judiciary are elected by their peers. No changes have been introduced in that respect. No remedy is foreseen to address the premature termination of the four-year mandates of the former judges-members of the National Council for the Judiciary. The conditions under which the Sejm elected the new judges-members, and the first meeting of the National Council for the Judiciary illustrate its politicisation and lack of legitimacy.

If you are not yet alarmed by the above and the sheer number of preliminary ruling requests originating from Polish courts raising the issue of attacks on their independence in the past few months, the section below should hopefully convince you that it time to raise the alarm and for national governments, parliaments and courts from other EU countries to step up to the plate. 

6. Latest insidious developments 

In a nutshell, Polish authorities are now seeking to finalise their capture of the judicial branch and prevent any further involvement of the ECJ via the systemic – formal or otherwise – bullying and intimidation of any judge refusing to toe the party line and the support of the captured Constitutional Tribunal. With respect to the former, to quote the European Commission again (document dated 11 December 2018, on file with the authors), 

disciplinary officers appointed by the Minister of Justice continue to initiate preliminary disciplinary investigations against judges who participated in public debates or provided public statements about the ongoing reforms. Preliminary disciplinary investigations concern also judges who referred requests for preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice. In addition, disciplinary officers appointed by the Minister of Justice exercised their power to take over investigations carried out by disciplinary officers appointed at request of the judiciary, including in cases where the judges concerned were found by the latter not to have committed any disciplinary offence 

The goal here is quite obvious: due to the increasing number of referrals to the ECJ, the ruling majority and bodies captured by it are seeking to send a (chilling) message to all Polish judges by retaliating against those who dare to involve the ECJ. Such state-sponsored bullying of judges making use of Article 267 is proving to be a blueprint attractive to other ‘quasi-authoritarian’ Member States/ ‘rogue state’ and already seems to have spread to Bulgaria

A particularly absurd example is the situation of the judge who is now subject to kangaroo disciplinary proceedings for asking the ECJ (Case C-558/18) about the compatibility of Poland’s new system of disciplinary system with EU law. Unbelievably, this judge was then summoned by the disciplinary officer under the control of the Minister of Justice for potential abuse of the Article 267 procedure… 

Pursuant to … You are hereby invited to submit within 14 days from the date of delivery of this letter, a written statement regarding the possible judicial excess [our emphasis] which resulted in the District Court in Łódź’s request for a preliminary ruling against [our emphasis] the requirements laid down in Article 267 [TFEU] (translated excerpt from the summons sent on 29 November 2018 to Judge Ewa Maciejewska by the deputy disciplinary commissioner) 

As noted by the Polish Association of Judges Themis, “by instituting disciplinary proceedings against [two] judges, the Deputy Commissioner, almost certainly unintentionally, confirmed the argument contained in Judge Igor Tuleya’s question requesting a preliminary ruling [Case C-563/18] that the new disciplinary procedure has been politicized to such an extent that it can serve the purpose of exerting unacceptable pressure on judges”. (An additional recent example of disciplinary proceedings targeting the judge at the origin of Case C-623/18 is here).  

While these disciplinary proceedings have yet to conclude (to keep up to date: see this website), their “chilling effect” is obvious and so is the intent of the Polish government: to bully if not scare judges into submission since there is no one left to defend them, the ruling party having de facto captured the Supreme Court’s new disciplinary chamber… 

Not to be undone by these scandalous proceedings and this frontal attack against Article 267 TFEU, “the keystone of the EU judicial system” according to the ECJ itself, the Prosecutor General/Minister of Justice has submitted last October a request to the pseudo Constitutional Tribunal. In a nutshell, the PG/MoJ is asking it to assess whether Article 267 TFEU is in line with the Polish constitution (you know, the document Polish authorities are complying with only when convenient), the key claim being that “issues relating to the system, form and organization of the judiciary, as well as judicial procedures, have not been transferred to the EU in the Accession Treaty”. Should the “Constitutional Tribunal” happily oblige (and refuse to refer the case to the ECJ prior to issuing judgment), this would be a direct challenge to the primacy of EU law, its uniform application, and the rule of law as a foundational value of the EU as we have never seen before. Should such a ruling materialise, we would then expect the Commission to immediately initiate yet another infringement action building on Case C-416/17

Last but not least, a new developing frontline must be paid attention to. The new KRS – well known and widely mocked for its recent interpretation of the judicial ethics code according to which judges cannot wear “Constitution” t-shirts – has also brought its own case to the so-called “Constitutional Tribunal”. On its own motion, the (captured) Polish National Council of the Judiciary has requested that the (captured) Constitutional Tribunal finds its composition compatible with the Polish Constitution. Although it is up to the body which refers the case to the “Constitutional Tribunal” to show that a disputed law is unconstitutional, it clearly seems that the new KRS is not bothered with what it must view as only legal niceties and is essentially urging the “Constitutional Tribunal” to rubber-stamp its politicisation. Be that at it may, we are looking at the staggering possibility that a captured body will come to the rescue of another captured body so as offer the ENCJ-suspended KRS some ammunition in case of any adverse ruling from the ECJ or its eventual exclusion from the ENCJ. 

7. Diagnosis and way forward 

To put it concisely, the situation of a systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland, which led the Commission to finally and rightly activate Article 7(1) TEU more than a year ago, has deteriorated further to the point of threatening the functioning of the whole EU legal order and therefore, the future of the EU’s internal market itself. This means that the ongoing Article 7(1) TEU procedure must continue. It is however time for the Commission to accept that stand-alone dialogue, still presented as its “preferred channel for resolving the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland”, will lead nowhere when dealing with would-be autocrats acting in bad faith. The Commission should therefore launch accelerated infringement proceedings regarding every single issue mentioned in its Article 7(1) reasoned proposal not yet covered by any of the pending infringement or preliminary reference actions. 

Should the Commission fail to do so, it is time for national governments which take the rule of law seriously and are keen to protect the EU’s internal market, to rediscover Article 259 TFEU and bring their own infringement actions against Poland. They should also seek to systemically intervene in every single ECJ action where the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland is the key issue. 

As for the Council, our key recommendation would be for it to ensure full transparency of Article 7 proceedings by systematically publishing any connected document it produces or receives from the EU Commission and national governments. 

National courts have also a role to play. We would want to see as many of them refer as many preliminary requests as possible to the ECJ should they be faced with cases which, directly or indirectly, raise issues relating to the rule of law situation in Poland, if only to prevent a situation where the ECJ is unable to issue rulings because the Commission has withdrawn its infringement actions and/or the Polish authorities have been able to “kill off” all requests via formal and informal means. 

Last but not least, the ENCJ ought to face reality and accept that the KRS cannot be saved and ought to therefore exclude it considering the disgraceful actions and behaviour of its members since it was suspended last September. 

Enough is enough. 

1095 Days Later: From Bad to Worse Regarding the Rule of Law in Poland (Part I)

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON VERFASSUNGSBLOG
( 13 Jan 2019)

by Laurent Pech, and Patryk Wachowiec

On 13 January 2016, exactly three years ago today, the Commission activated the so-called rule of law framework for the very first time with respect to Poland. This was justified by First Vice-President Timmermans primarily with regard to the situation of the Constitutional Tribunal and the fact that some of its key binding rulings were not being respected. 

In the subtle and respectful manner that has characterised it ever since, the Polish government accused the First Vice-President of “a lack of knowledge” and advised him “to exercise more restraint” in the future “despite the ideological differences that may exist between us, with you being of a left-wing persuasion” (letter from the Minister of Justice dated 11 January 2016 on file with the authors). 

Fast forward to 13 January 2019, the rule of law situation is worse than ever. A recent tactical retreat à la Orbán notwithstanding, the modus operandi of Polish authorities has remained largely the same during this period: they repeatedly deny the obvious and hide behind specious historical-cultural and double-standards arguments while accusing “Brussels” of being an ignorant and/or dishonest broker. To quote a recent interview of Poland’s prime minister,  “..people from Brussels completely do not understand the situation in post-communist countries… Just as every country has their challenges, so we have our challenges with the judiciary that hasn’t been reformed for the last 30 years … if [the Commission wants] to be an honest broker, because I don’t feel so far that they are an honest broker … they should really take decisive positive steps to clarify all these issues they have, because now we have done so much.

As will be shown below, Polish authorities have done nothing of the sort with every single major rule of law breach committed by Polish authorities over the course of the past three years comprehensively documented, clearly explained and rightly denounced by the Commission and a plethora of major rule of law bodies, which are just too many to be listed here. As things stand today, Polish authorities’ sustained and systematic attacks on the rule of law now more than ever directly threaten the very functioning of the EU legal order. 

1. Four Rule of Law Recommendations for nothing 

The first Commission recommendation regarding the rule of law in Poland was adopted on 27 July 2016. No less than three (!) complementary recommendations followed on 21 December 201626 July 2017 and 20 December 2017

Each of these four documents contained a specific list of actions which have remained largely focused on the same issues and which can be quickly summarised as follows: 

  1. To ensure the judges, its President and its Vice-President of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal are lawfully elected and appointed so as to restore the independence and legitimacy of the Constitutional Tribunal as guarantor of the Polish Constitution; 
  2. To publish and/or fully implement a number of rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal before its ‘capture’ by the Polish ruling party in December 2016 in obvious breach of the Polish Constitution; 
  3. To ensure that the following laws are withdrawn or amended so as to ensure their compatibility with the Polish Constitutional and with basic European standards on judicial independence: the law on the Supreme Court; the law on the National Council for the Judiciary; the law on Ordinary Courts Organisation and on the National School of Judiciary;  
  4. To refrain from actions and public statements which could undermine further the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, the ordinary courts, the judges, individually or collectively, or the judiciary as a whole; 
  5. To ensure that any justice reform upholds the rule of law and complies with EU law and the European standards on judicial independence and is prepared in close cooperation with the judiciary and all interested parties

Why the lack of any results whatsoever under the Commission’s rule of law framework? As Professor Kochenov and one of the present authors predicted before it first ever activation, this instrument adopted in 2014 was bound to fail as dialogue – structured or otherwise – in any situation where “the ruling élite has made a conscious choice not to comply with EU values,” is a recipe for wasting time.  

In this situation, the framework only offers more time to authorities acting in bad faith and bent on dismantling all checks and balances to do so in relative peace with the Commission tempted to hold off on infringement actions (as it did for far too long), and other EU institutions and EU national governments all too happy to look the other way. The only positive outcome in the case of Poland is that the rule of law framework resulted in the accumulation of overwhelming, damning evidence of a deliberate attempt by Polish authorities to undermine the rule of law in order to progressively transform the country into de facto autocratic one-party state in a similar fashion to what has been done in Hungary, a country which can be considered the EU’s first consolidated “competitive authoritarian regime”.  

2. Three Article 7 hearings with no tangible results to date 

As one of us wrote on this blog in October 2016, “considering the overwhelming evidence of a deliberate governmental strategy of systematically undermining all checks and balances in Poland as well the uncooperative behaviour of Polish authorities”, the Commission ought to trigger Article 7(1) in order for national governments, meeting in the Council, “to step up to their responsibilities to isolate, if not to sanction a member state whose authorities are actively seeking to dismantle liberal democracy in their country.”

At long last, Article 7(1) was activated for the very first time on 20 December 2017 (the Commission’s reasoned proposal should not be confused with the 4th rule of law recommendation which was also adopted on the same day). 

One year later, what tangible results can we point out to? Sadly, none. 

What we have seen instead is the repetition ad nauseam by the Council (General Affairs) that dialogue is good and/or must be pursued, with three formal hearings organised to date on the basis of documents which are not however automatically made public either before or after each hearing: 

27 February 2018: “We encourage the continuation of the dialogue between the European Commission and Poland”

20 March 2018: “Ministers expressed the hope that the dialogue between the Commission and the Polish authorities will bring positive results on the issue”

17 April 2018: “Ministers encouraged the Commission and the Polish authorities to continue their dialogue with a view to achieving concrete results”

14 May 2018: “The Commission updated ministers on the latest developments in its dialogue with the Polish authorities.The Council will return to this issue at its next meeting” 

26 June 2018 (first formal Article 7(1) hearing): “The hearing offered a possibility for ministers to have an in-depth exchange with Poland on the concerns identified in the Commission’s reasoned proposal” 

18 September 2018 (second formal Article 7(1) hearing): “Ministers continued their in-depth exchange with Poland on the concerns identified in the Commission’s reasoned proposal under Article 7(1) TEU” 

16 October 2018: “Ministers reiterated the importance of upholding the rule of law in all EU member states and stressed the need to achieve tangible progress. The Council will come back to this matter”

12 November 2018: “The Commission provided the Council with an update on the latest developments regarding judicial reform in Poland”

11 December 2018 (third formal Article 7(1) hearing): “The Council will continue the Article 7(1) TEU proceedings concerning Poland under the Romanian presidency”

Early evidence however suggests that one can expect more disgraceful procrastination under the Romanian presidency, whose own website indicates a lack of familiarity with the very concept of the rule of law which is nowhere to be seen despite “Europe of Common Values” being allegedly the fourth priority of the Romanian presidency. 

Be that as it may, one key take from the documents which have found their way in the public domain is that Polish authorities, after repeatedly misleading the European Commission, did not shy away from doing the same with its peers. To give a single but characteristically absurd argument submitted to the attention of fellow national governments (via a PowerPoint presentation), the Polish government claimed that it was legally unobjectionable to replace the sitting First President of the Polish Supreme Court notwithstanding the obvious breach of the relevant provision of the Polish Constitution regarding her terms of office because – we kid you not – the previous First President was replaced when “his six-years [sic] term ended prematurely with his death in 2014”… 

Despite the apparent lack of tangible results, the Commission was right to activate Article 7(1) TEU. As argued in this post, “the intensity and repeated nature of Poland’s ruling party’s attacks on the most basic tenets of the rule of law” warranted the activation of Article 7. It has finally forced EU national governments to confront the situation and it has enabled us, despite much secrecy, to finally know which governments take the rule of law seriously and which ones do not. In addition to the not surprising support of Orbán’s regime, itself subject to another pending Article 7(1) procedure, and the quieter but still supporting stance of Bulgaria and Romania – themselves subject to a specific rule of law monitoring process since 2007 – it was disappointing to see the UK government thinking that the Polish government support over Brexit is worth sacrificing its previously strong pro-rule of law stance. 

If we had one practical recommendation to make it would be for the Council to be more transparent when it comes to the practical modalities of Article 7(1) hearings and connected documents. The least we can indeed expect is full transparency when it comes to a country’s potential systemic failure to comply with the basic principles governing access to the EU in the first place. It is rather strange in this respect to see the EU being more transparent when it comes to a country withdrawing from the EU. This is why the Council ought to systematically and promptly publish any document it produces or has received from the Commission and/or any national government with respect to the ongoing Article 7 procedure. And in the absence of any Council’s assessment of the substance of the rule of law issues identified by the Commission, let us offer our own: every single one of the rule of law issues identified by the Commission is not only entirely relevant but also has been adequately evidenced over and over again. Every single one of them is yet to be adequately addressed. The only ‘progress’ to date concerns the Polish authorities’ attempted purge of the Supreme Court. It was however only (provisionally) averted because of a judicial defeat and not because of Article 7 proceedings or Polish authorities finally deciding to comply with the principle of sincere cooperation. 

3. Two Polish infringement defeats 

Before mentioning the recent order of the ECJ demanding the immediate suspension of the application of the Polish legislation relating to the retroactive lowering of the retirement age for Supreme Court judges (Commission/Poland, C-619/18 R), it is worth stressing this is not the first time the ECJ had to step in and not the first time the ECJ was faced with threats and bullying tactics from Polish authorities. 

In November 2017, Polish authorities were ordered by the Court to immediately cease logging in the Białowieża Forest subject – for the very first time – to a penalty payment of at least €100,000 per day in case of non-compliance (Commission/Poland, C-441/17 R).

Why this unprecedented order? Because the Polish government – also for the very first time – previously publicly and rudely refused to comply with a previous order of the Court with the then Polish environment minister adding that “we will not be insulted by those who don’t know about the rules of protection of environment”. No wonder the Court then had to take an unprecedented step as this was a direct and present threat to the effective application of EU law, which, as the Court noted, is “an essential component of the rule of law, a value enshrined in Article 2 TEU”.

Bis repetita in 2018 with another round of non-compliance threats but this time made even before the Court’s first provisional order, with Poland’s deputy prime minister stating that Poland could ignore a ruling against it.

Following the adoption of a provisional order of the ECJ Vice-President on 19 October 2018, reactions were however more muted with Jarosław Kaczyński saying that “the ECJ’s decision is preliminary. We will appeal against it” (NB there is no such appeal against ECJ orders), and President Duda stating that the ECJ “went too far” (how and to what extent no one knows).  

The apparent climb-down widely reported in the international media is nothing of the sort. Yes, it was humiliating for Polish authorities to have to accept the “return” of judges they had publicly declared “retired”. However, the set of amendments adopted last November seemingly to enforce the ECJ order – which in fact was not needed since the interim measure produces immediate legal effects, as ECJ President confirmed – is just a tactical retreat containing the seeds of future backsliding (it is also an attempt to “kill off” some crucial pending preliminary reference cases originating from Polish courts: see part II of this post for more details). 

As noted by the PiS chairman of the parliamentary justice committee, “sometimes you have to take one step back to take two steps forwards. The reform will certainly be completed.”

While seemingly admitting defeat, the Polish President has however ominously stated that the ECJ order “needs to be executed regardless of the discussions on whether such a ruling should have or could have been made by the CJEU, and whether this ruling exceeds the treaty competencies of the CJEU”. Adding insult to injury, he could not refrain from violating (again) one of the Commission’s repeated recommendations to stop attacking judges when he stated that “significant people in the judiciary… overtly violate the effective law and constitutional provisions and disregard the binding legislation, then we are dealing with anarchy by the representatives of the judiciary.”

This is not a little rich coming from the violator-in-chief of the Polish Constitution and one of the key architects of the slow-motion “constitutional coup d’état”, to borrow from Professor Sadurski, we have been witnessing in Poland. It also shows beyond any doubt that the current Polish authorities will not back down and back away from their attempt to annihilate the rule of law and replace it with the rule of the ruling party under the guise of the will of the “people”.

The way the amendments were incredibly rushed – the bill was introduced by MPs so as to bypass public consultations and the whole legislative process completed in 2 days 10 hours 30 minutes – and the ludicrous delay to get the act published in the Official Journal – while adopted on 21 November, the law was not published until 31 December 2018 – show the persistent disrespect towards the most elementary understanding of the rule of law and the Commission’s repeated recommendations, one of which was that any “justice reform is prepared in close cooperation with the judiciary and all interested parties”. Having sat on the act for more than 8 weeks, it is difficult to see why more time was not spent consulting relevant stakeholders.  

Be that as it may, it is important to remember we have been here before. In the case of Hungary, as outlined in this 2016 article by Professor Batory, “none of the concessions prevented the Hungarian government from achieving its partisan goals. Commission action amounted to little more than chipping away at the edges of a new constitutional order cementing a single political party’s hold on political power in an EU member state.” 

It is to be hoped key actors have learned their lessons from the past failures to stop Hungary’s descent into full blown authoritarianism. To avoid a similar fate with respect to Poland, we will offer some brief recommendations at the end of part II of this post. But to put it briefly, now is not the time for the Commission to stop bringing infringement actions and for the Council to stop questioning Polish authorities on how they intend to promptly and meaningfully comply with the multiple problems identified by the Commission in its Article 7 proposal, with all but half one (regarding the Supreme Court) yet to be complied with:

  • While the Law on the Supreme Court has been amended, this has had no impact on the prior packing of the Court with most of the new “judges” appointed to the modern equivalent of “star chambers” (i.e., the Disciplinary Chamber and the Extraordinary Control and Public Affairs Chamber), on the back of a procedure which lacks legal basis as the President did not obtain the Prime Minister’s countersignature when he published vacant seats in the Supreme Court; 
  • Poland continues to be deprived of effective constitutional review following the unconstitutional capture of the Constitutional Tribunal in December 2016 and the refusal of Polish authorities to comply with key rulings of the pre-captured Tribunal; 
  • The law on the Supreme Court, the law on Ordinary Courts Organisation, the law on the National Council for the Judiciary (KRS) and the law on the National School of Judiciary have yet to be amended in such a way as to ensure their compliance with the requirements relating to the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers and legal certainty;  
  • Polish authorities have persistently failed to ensure that any justice reform is prepared in close cooperation with the judiciary and all interested parties, including the Venice Commission; 
  • They have similarly persistently failed to refrain from actions and public statements attacking courts and judges which refuse to uphold the will of the party over Poland’s constitutional and EU law obligations.  

By the way, it would appear that logging in the Białowieża site has recently resumed while the Polish Minister of Justice has renewed past threats not to comply with ECJ rulings stressing on 31 December 2018that Polish authorities would only comply with “rulings that are in line with our Constitution”. This obviously means in line with what the ruling party thinks the Constitution should guarantee, not what the actual Constitution provides. 

So much for the new spirit of compliance some detected a couple of weeks ago.  

TIMELINE OF EU-POLAND RELATIONS DEALING WITH THE RULE OF LAW


by Paolo Gambatesa (FREE Group Trainee)

Section I – about facts and EU reaction under Article 7 TEU perspective

2015

  • On 8 October 2015, ahead of the general elections for the Sejm (lower chamber of the Polish Parliament) of 25 October 2015, the outgoing legislature nominated five persons to be ‘appointed’ as judges by the President of the Republic in accordance of Article 194 of the Polish Constitution. Three judges would take seats vacated during the mandate of the outgoing legislature while two judges would take seats vacated during that of the incoming legislature which commenced on 12 November.
  • On 19 November 2015, the new legislature, through an accelerated procedure, amended the Law on the Constitutional Tribunal, introducing the possibility to annul the judicial nominations made by the previous legislature and to nominate five new judges. The amendment also shortened the terms of office of the President and Vice-President of the Tribunal from nine to three years, with the current terms coming to an automatic end within three months of the amendment’s adoption.
  • On 25 November 2015, the new legislature annulled the five nominations by the previous legislature and on 2 December nominated five new judges.
  • The Constitutional Tribunal was seized concerning the decisions of both the previous legislature and the incoming legislature. The Tribunal delivered two judgements, on 3 and 9 December 2015.
  • On 3 December, the Court ruled (K 34/15) that the previous legislature was entitled to nominate only three judges for seats vacated during its mandate, but was not entitled to make the two nominations for seats vacated during the term of the new legislature.
  • On 9 December, the Court ruled (K 35/15) that the new legislature was not entitled to annul the nominations for the three appointments under the previous legislature, but that it was entitled to appoint the two judges whose mandate began under the incoming legislature. 
  • The consequence of the judgements is that the President of the Republic is obliged to “appoint” (i.e. take the oath of) the three judges nominated by the previous legislature. However, the President of the Republic has in the meantime taken the oath of all five judges nominated by the new legislature. The judgments of the Constitutional Tribunal have thus not been implemented, and the correct composition of the Tribunal remains disputed between the institutions of the State.
  • On 22 December 2015, the legislature adopted new rules on the functioning of the Constitutional Tribunal, which, among other things, render more difficult the conditions under which the Tribunal may review the constitutionality of newly passed laws, i.a. by increasing the number of judges hearing cases, and by raising the majorities needed in the Tribunal to hand down judgements (in full configuration, judgements shall be adopted by a majority of two-thirds of the votes, instead of by simple majority as under the former rules). [in-depth analysis about all events see The Constitutional crisis in Poland 2015-2016]
  • On 23 December 2015, First Vice-President Timmermans wrote to the Polish Government to request further information regarding the current situation of the Constitutional Tribunal. Timmermans also recommended that the Polish Government consult the Venice Commission before enacting the proposed changes to the Law on the Constitutional Tribunal. The Polish Government requested a legal assessment from the Venice Commission on 23 December, but has proceeded with the conclusion of the legislative process before receiving the Venice Commission’s opinion, which will be issued on 11 March 2016.
  • On 30 December 2015, Moreover the Polish Senate adopted the “small media law” concerning the management and supervisory boards of the Polish public television broadcaster (TVP) and public radio broadcaster (PR). The new law appears to modify the rules for the appointment of the Management and Supervisory Boards of the public service broadcasters, putting them under the control of the Treasury Minister, rather than an independent body. The new law also provided for the immediate dismissal of the existing Supervisory and Management Boards. [in-depth analysis see Poland: Independence of public service media]

2016

  • On 13 January 2016, the Commission launched a dialogue with the Polish authorities in order to seek solutions to its concerns regarding the Constitutional Tribunal. More specifically, this represents the first stage of “pre-Article 7 procedure” which was described by the European Commission in a new Framework for addressing systemic threats to the Rule of Law  in any of the EU’s 28 Member States, adopted on 11 March 2014. The purpose of the framework is to enable the Commission to find a solution with the Member State concerned in order to prevent the emerging of a systemic threat to the rule of law that could develop into a “clear risk of a serious breach” which would potentially trigger the use of Article 7 TEU. The process has three stages: I) Commission assessment; II) Commission Recommendation; III) Follow-up to the Commission Recommendation.
  • Between February 2016 and July 2016, the Commission and the Polish Government exchanged a number of letters and met on several occasions.
  • On 9 March 2016, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the law adopted on 22 December 2015 was unconstitutional. That judgment has so far not been published by the Government in the Official Journal, with the consequence that it does not have legal effect. The Government officially justifies its decision by claiming that the Tribunal should have delivered the judgement in the legally prescribed quorum, as provided by the law which was declared unconstitutional. However, in the Constitutional Tribunal there were only 12 lawfully appointed judges, and three remaining judges appointed by the Sejm in October 2015 were awaiting to be sworn in by the President of the Republic.
  • On 13 April 2016, the European Parliament voted for a Resolution urging the Polish Government to respect, publish and fully implement the judgments of the Constitutional Tribunal.
  • On 1 June 2016, in the absence of solutions from the Polish authorities, the Commission formalised its concerns by sending a Rule of Law Opinion to the Polish Government.
  • On 22 July 2016, the Sejm adopted a new law on the Constitutional Tribunal which was published in the Official Journal on 1 August 2016.
  • On 27 July 2016, after further exchanges were unable to resolve the Commission’s concerns, the Commission adopted a Rule of Law Recommendation, finding that there was a systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland, in particular with regard the non-publication of the judgments of the Constitutional Tribunal adopted on 3 and 9 December 2015 that has rendered this judgments deprivated of any legal effect. The Commission invited the Polish authorities to address its concerns within three months, but the Polish Government informed the Commission that it disagreed on all the points raised.
  • On 11 August 2016, the Constitutional Tribunal rendered a judgment (K 39/16) on the law of 22 July 2016 and declared unconstitutional some provisions of this law. The Polish Government did not recognise the validity of this judgment and did not publish it in the Official Journal.
  • On 16 August 2016, the Polish Government published 21 judgments of the Tribunal rendered in a period from 6 April 2016 to 19 July 2016. However, the judgments of 9 March 2016 and of 11 August 2016 were not published by the Government.
  • On 14 September 2016, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on the situation in Poland i.a. calling on the Polish Government to cooperate with the Commission pursuant to the principle of sincere cooperation as set out in the Treaty.
  • 14 October 2016, the Venice Commission adopted its opinion on the law of 22 July 2016 on the Constitutional Tribunal.
  • On 31 October 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concerns about the negative impact of legislative reforms.
  • On 1 and 2 December 2016, the Senate adopted the law of 30 November 2016 on the legal status of judges of the Constitutional Tribunal (‘law on the Status of Judges’) and the law of 30 November 2016 on organisation and proceedings before the Constitutional Tribunal (‘law on Organisation and Proceedings’).
  • On 19 December 2016, the President of the Republic appointed judge Julia Przyłębska, a judge elected by the new Sejm, to the position of acting President of the Constitutional Tribunal.
  • On 21 December 2016, according to the Commission important issues remained unresolved and thus it adopted a second Rule of Law Recommendation, concluding that there continued to be a systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland. The Polish Government again disagreed with the Commission’s assessment, because the Government assumed that the appointment of the new President of the Tribunal on 21 December 2016 as well as the entry into force of the three new laws governing the functioning of the Constitutional Tribunal created the proper conditions for the functioning of the Tribunal.

2017

  • On 10 January 2017, the Vice-President of the Constitutional Tribunal was obliged by the newly appointed President of the Tribunal to take his remaining leave. On 24 March 2017 the mandatory leave was prolonged until the end of June 2017, despite the request of the Vice-President to resume his work as judge in the Tribunal as of 1 April 2017.
  • On 12 January 2017, the Minister of Justice launched a procedure before the Constitutional Tribunal to review the constitutionality of the election, in 2010, of three judges of the Tribunal. Following this procedure, cases have no longer been assigned to these three judges.
  • On 20 January 2017, the Polish Government announced a comprehensive reform of the judiciary in Poland.
  • On 16 May 2017, the Commission informed the Council on the situation in Poland, and there was broad support among Member States for the Commission’s role and efforts to address the issue. Member States called upon Poland to resume the dialogue with the Commission.
  • On 5 July 2017, following the end of the mandate of the previous Vice-President of the Constitutional Tribunal, the President of the Republic appointed a new Vice-President of the Tribunal, Mr. Mariusz Muszyński, despite the fact that he was one of the three judges in the Tribunal appointed unlawfully.
  • On 13 July 2017, the Commission wrote to the Polish authorities expressing its concerns about the pending legislative proposals on the reform of the judiciary, underlining the importance of refraining from adopting the proposals as they were drafted at that time, and calling for a meaningful dialogue. The Commission explicitly invited the Polish Foreign Minister and Polish Justice Minister to meet at their earliest convenience. These invitations were ignored.
  • On July 2017, the Polish Parliament had adopted four judicial reform laws which in the Commission’s assessment will increase the systemic threat to the rule of law: the Law on the Supreme Court, the Law on the National Council for the Judiciary (both ‘vetoed’ on 24 July by the President of the Republic), the Law on the Ordinary Courts Organisation (signed by the President of the Republic on 25 July and awaiting publication and entry into force); and the Law on the National School of Judiciary (published and in force since 13 July). These Laws, in their current form, will structurally undermine the independence of the judiciary in Poland and have an immediate and very significant negative impact on the independent functioning of the judiciary.
  • On 26 July 2017, after the last judicial reform the Commission adopted a third Rule of Law Recommendation, reiterating its existing concerns about the Constitutional Tribunal and setting out in addition its grave concerns about the judicial reforms. The Commission’s Recommendation set out a list of proposed remedies, and urged the Polish authorities in particular not to take any measure to dismiss or force the retirement of Supreme Court judges.
  • On 29 July 2017, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Poland by sending a Letter of Formal Notice in accordance to Article 258(1) TFEU, following the publication in the Polish Official Journal of the Law on the Ordinary Courts Organisation on Friday 28 July.
  • On 11 September 2017, the Polish Government initiated a campaign named ‘Fair Courts’ aimed at gaining social support for the ongoing judicial reform. On the same day, the Constitutional Tribunal in a panel of five judges declared the unconstitutionality of certain provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure allowing ordinary courts and the Supreme Court to assess the legality of the appointment of the President and the Vice-President of the Tribunal.
  • On 12 September 2017, the European Commission decided to send a Reasoned Opinion to Poland regarding the Polish law on the Ordinary Courts Organisation, thus the Commission brings it at the second stage of the infringement procedure started in July 2017.
  • On 13 September 2017, the Minister of Justice started exercising the powers to dismiss court presidents and vice-presidents pursuant to the law on Ordinary Courts Organisation.
  • On 25 September 2017, the Commission again informed the Council of the situation in Poland, and there was again broad agreement on the need for Poland to engage in a dialogue with the Commission.
  • On 26 September 2017, the President of the Republic transmitted to the Sejm two new draft laws on the Supreme Court and on the National Council for the Judiciary.
  • On 11 October 2017, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution on new threats to the rule of law in Council of Europe member States, expressing concerns also about developments in Poland, which put at risk respect for the rule of law, and, in particular, the independence of the judiciary and the principle of the separation of powers
  • On 23 October 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights requested that the Polish authorities accept the United Nations recommendations on upholding judicial independence.
  • On 15 November 2017, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution expressing support for the Recommendations issued by the Commission, and considering that the current situation in Poland represents a clear risk of a serious breach of the values referred to in Article 2 of the TEU.
  • On 8 December 2017, the two new draft laws propsoed by the President of the Republic were adopted by the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish Parliament, after further legislative work. On the same day, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe adopted two opinions on the judicial reforms in Poland, concluding that they enable the legislative and executive powers to interfere in a severe and extensive manner in the administration of justice, and thereby pose a grave threat to judicial independence.
  • On 15 December 2017, the two laws were approved by the Polish Senate, the upper house of the Polish parliament. In particular, the law on the Supreme Court lowers the general retirement age of Supreme Court judges from 70 to 65. This measure applies to all judges currently in office.
    Judges who attained 65 years of age or will attain that age within 3 months from the entry into force of the law, will be retired, unless they request to the President of the Republic to prolong their active mandate. Furthermore, as regards the power of the President of the Republic there are no criteria, no time-frame for taking a decision and no judicial review provided for in the law.
  • On 20 December 2017, the fourth Rule of Law Recomandation of the European Commission, it was adopted immediately before the formal activation of the procedure of the Article 7.
  • On 22 December 2017, lastly the European Commission activated formally the procedure of Article 7(1) TEU through the proposal addressed to the Council for its Decision on the determination of a clear risk of a serious breach by the Republic of Poland of the rule of law.

2018

  • On 20 March 2018, the Council (General Affair) expressed the hope that the dialogue between the Commission and the Polish authorities will bring positive results on the issue.
  • On 17 April 2018, the Council (General Affair) has started the discussion about the rule of law in Poland. Ministers encouraged the Commission and the Polish authorities to continue their dialogue with a view to achieving concrete results.
  • On 26 June 2018, the Council (General Affair)  held the first hearing under Article 7(1) TEU on the rule of law in Poland.
  •  On 18 September 2018, the Council (General Affair) held the second hearing under Article 7(1) TEU on the rule of law in Poland.
  • On 16 October 2018, the Council (General Affair) “reiterated the importance of upholding the rule of law in all EU member states and stressed the need to achieve tangible progress”.
  • On 11 December 2018, the Council (General Affair) held the third hearing under Article 7(1) TEU on the rule of law in Poland.

Section II – At glance to pendant cases in front of the jurisdictional authorities

  • The infringement procedure and the ECJ’s decision on interim relief:

The infringement procedure began when the Commission notified the Letter of Formal Notice dated 29 July 2017 has come to next stage: the judgment of the Court of Justice in order to access the violation of the rule of law with regard to the independence of Polish courts will be undermined by the fact that the Minister of Justice has been given a discretionary power to prolong the mandate of judges which have reached retirement age (legal basis: Article 19(1) TEU in combination with Article 47 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights). According to the Commission Polish law puts also into effect the discrimination on the basis of gender due to the introduction of a different retirement age for female judges (60 years) and male judges (65 years). This is contrary to Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Directive 2006/54 on gender equality in employment.

Furthermore, the Commission asked to the Court the immediate suspencion of the application of the Polish legislation relating to the retroactive lowering of the retirement age for the Supreme Court judges (legal basis: Article 279 TFEU). The requested interim relief was adopted by the ECJ Vice-President on 19 October 2018 and than it was confirmed by the ECJ President on 15 November 2018. Until now, the case on its merit has not been decided yet (Commission/Poland, C- 619/18).

  • The preliminary ruling from the Polish Judges to the ECJ:

Several of preliminary ruling questions were referred by Polish judges to the ECJ, pursuant Article 267 TFEU, which concerning the most critical aspects of the Polish justice reforms, as the discrimination on grounds of age or the principles of irremovability and independence of judges.

  • The preliminary ruling from the Polish Judges to the Polish Constitutional Tribunal:

On 23 August 2018 the Prosecutor General, who is also the Minister of the Justice referred a preliminary ruling to the Constitutional Tribunal (K 7/18) for declaring the unconstitutionality of the Article 267 TFEU “so far as it permits the national court to submit preliminary references on the interpretation of the Treaties or on the validity and interpretation of acts of the institutions, bodies, offices or agencies of the Union in matters relating to the system, form and organization of the judiciary as well as proceedings before judicial authorities of the EU Member State”. [in-depth analysis see Though this be Madness, yet there’s Method in’t: Pitting the Polish Constitutional Tribunal against the Luxembourg Court

Section III – The consequent legisltive proposals about the protction of rule of law

  • 2018/0136 (COD)Protection of the Union’s budget in case of generalised deficiencies as regards the rule of law in the Member States” [see also the Commission Proposal and the Text Adopted by the Plenary].
  • 2018/0207(COD)Rights and values programme 2021–2027” [see also the Commission Proposal and the Text Adopted by the Plenary].

[All informations exposed in this document were extrapolated by the Press Relese of the European Commission (https://ec.europa.eu/info/news_en?pages=36994) and by the official documents of the EU Institutions]

Manufacturing Discontent: Q and A on the legal issues of asylum-seekers crossing the Channel

FROM EU LAW ANALYSIS BLOG (ORGINAL PUBLISHED HERE)

Professor Steve Peers, University of Essex*
*Supported by an ESRC Priority Brexit Grant on ‘Brexit and UK and EU Immigration Policy’.

Cynical politicians, aided by an uncritical media, aim to manufacture a moral panic from a modest number of people crossing the Channel. Be that as it may, these crossings raise a number of legal issues. There’s already a good discussion of many of them in the Free Movement blog, but I think it might also be useful to address some legal issues here, in a question and answer format.

Where are the international law rules on asylum?They are scattered all over the place incoherently. International lawyers like to describe their subject as ‘fragmented’, and that’s particularly true of asylum law. There are three main sources of law on asylum in Europe, and although they are legally separate, their rules overlap and interact. I won’t discuss every way in which this happens in this blog post – just those most relevant to the Channel crossings.

The UN Refugee Convention  The starting point is the United Nations (Geneva) Convention on the status of refugees, which defines what a refugee is and lists the rights of refugees. But that Convention does not deal with issues like asylum procedure, and has an uneasy and uncertain relationship with immigration law.

ECHR Secondly, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) says nothing about asylum explicitly, but the case law of the European Court of Human Rights has addressed a number of asylum-related issues, in particular arising from Article 3 ECHR, the ban on torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment. According to that case law, removal to another country to face a sufficiently serious risk of Article 3 treatment in that other country infringes Article 3 in the country removing the person concerned. A series of procedural obligations then follow from that.  (There are other international human rights treaties which take a broadly similar approach, but I focus here on the ECHR as its court rulings are binding and have a greater impact in practice).

EU asylum lawThirdly, EU law has aimed to create a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) in several phases.  A first phase of EU asylum law was adopted from 2003 to 2005, and a second phase was adopted between 2010 and 2013. A (de facto) third phase of laws, responding to the perceived European refugee crisis of 2015, was proposed in 2016, but negotiations on those laws are still continuing.

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