MY COMMENTS : Steve PEERS contribution is, as always, focused, and legally outstanding. It is interesting to note that in case of positive result of the UK referendum it will be up to the EP to decide if, to preserve the UK “special” status, substantial amendments to the EU legislation on freedom of movement should be adopted. However what is at stake is the principle of non discrimination between EU citizens as defined by art. 9 of the TEU according to which “..In all its activities, the Union shall observe the principle of the equality of its citizens, who shall receive equal attention from its institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.”
I do believe that in a “political” Union, worth its name and its former ambitions, this should the objective of the negotiations should had been to delete the existing protocols granting special status to some Countries and (their national Citizens) who become more “equal” than the others EU citizens.. However thanks to Mr Cameron it is now abundantly clear that our EU leaders are no more “Dwarfs on giant’s shoulders” but only short sighted political dwarfs… What is even more troubling is that, if the UK which has been for more than 40 years consistent with its initial position, other EU Countries, rhetoric statements taken apart, have a much more ambiguous position towards the EU ( see France, Polonia, Hungary, Sweden, Finland and even Italy) and behave in a way incompatible with the idea of being part of the same family.
Emilio DE CAPITANI
ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS (Saturday, 20 February 2016)
by Steve Peers*
So David Cameron has achieved his deal on the renegotiation of the UK’s EU membership (full text of that deal here). This is the first of a series of posts on the final deal – starting with the issue of ‘EU immigration’ (or, from the EU law point of view, the free movement of EU citizens). This builds on (and partly recycles) myearlier post on the EU immigration issues in the draft deal.
I will write later about the other substantive issues (competitiveness, Eurozone relations, sovereignty) and on the legal form of the deal (although see already my post on the legal form of the draft deal; my comments there won’t change much when I update them in light of the final deal). And see also Katarzyna Granat’s analysis of the ‘red card’ for national parliaments – again, the final text of the deal doesn’t differ from the draft here).
The deal takes the form of seven legal texts: a Decision of the EU Member States’ Heads of State and Government (the ‘Decision’); a Statement of the Heads of State and Government (which consists of an agreed Council Decision); aDeclaration by the European Council (which consists of the EU Member States’ Heads of State and Government, although when acting collectively they are legally distinct from the European Council): and four declarations by the Commission. Of these, Section D of the draft Decision and three of the Commission declarations relate to immigration issues. One of these Commission declarations (relating to child benefit exports) was added during the negotiation, while the text of Section D and another declaration (on the ‘emergency brake’ in in-work benefits) was amended. The other declaration (on so-called ‘abuse’ of free movement) was not changed.
While Section D contains some important attempts to clarify EU free movement law, the key feature of the deal on immigration is the intention to propose amendments to the three main current EU laws. These three laws are: (a) the EU citizens’ Directive, which sets out the main rules on most EU citizens moving to other Member States: (b) the EU Regulation on free movement of workers, which contains some specific rules on workers who move; and (c) the Regulation on social security, which sets out rules on coordination and equal treatment in social security for those who move between Member States.
All three sets of amendments are to be proposed by the Commission as soon as the main Decision enters into effect. That will happen (see Section E of the Decision) as soon as the UK announces that it will remain a member of the EU – if, of course, the UK public vote to remain in the upcoming referendum. The deal includes a commitment from the Commission to make these proposals, and from the other Member States to support their adoption in the EU Council (oddly, the latter commitment does not apply to the planned amendment to the citizens’ Directive, since that proposal is not referred to in the main Decision).
However, all three proposals will be subject to the ‘ordinary legislative procedure’, meaning that they have to be agreed with the European Parliament. It is also possible that their legality would be challenged before the EU Court of Justice. I can’t appraise the political likelihood of the European Parliament approving the proposals, although the largest party (the European People’s Party, made up essentially of centre-right parties like Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats) hasannounced that it supports the renegotiation deal in principle, subject to examination of the details. However, I offer some thoughts below about possible challenges to the legality of these laws if they are adopted.
Unlike some other parts of the deal (on the position of non-Eurozone states, and the exemption of the UK from ‘ever closer union’), there is no mention of future Treaty amendments to give effect to any part of the text dealing with free movement (immigration) issues. So the main impact of the deal in this area will come from the three legislative proposals, once adopted. Since those proposals will not be tabled or agreed until after the UK ‘Remain’ vote (if there is one), this means that the analysis of the details is necessarily somewhat speculative. There are some important points of detail that will only be clear once the legislation is proposed and approved. I flag up some of those finer points below.
Although the press discussion has focussed on the ‘emergency brake’ in in-work benefits, there are three categories of issues: benefits (including a couple of points besides that emergency brake); the family members of non-EU citizens; and EU citizens who commit criminal offences. I refer back to Cameron’s November 2014 speech on EU immigration issues (which I analysed here) where relevant.
It should be noted that there is no text in the deal on two of the issues which Cameron had raised: removal of job-seekers if they do not find a job within six months, and a requirement to have a job offer before entry. Both these changes would have required a Treaty amendment, in light of the Antonissen judgment of the CJEU.
There are three benefits issues in the draft deal: (a) the ‘emergency brake’ for in-work benefits; (b) the export of child benefit; and (c) benefits for those out of work.
‘Emergency brake’ on in-work benefits
Cameron had called for no access to tax credits, housing benefits and social housing for four years for EU citizens, but later signalled his willingness to compromise on this point. The position of non-workers and job-seekers is discussed below; but the position of workers is legally and politically difficult, since the Treaty guarantees them non-discrimination.
In the end, the deal provides not for permanent discrimination on this issue, but temporary discrimination on the basis of an ‘emergency brake’. The Commission will propose legislation on this issue, which will provide that the UK (or other Member States) can apply a four-year ban on in-work benefits, subject to substantive and procedural criteria. Procedurally, the rules will say that a Member State will apply to the Council to authorise the ban. The Council will presumably act by the default voting rule in the Treaties: a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission. That means no single Member State can veto the request to pull the brake. The final deal leaves vague the exact authorisation process which will apply in the Council, to avoid annoying the European Parliament (EP); but that detail will have to be addressed sooner or later. Certainly the EP will have to approve the legislation which sets up that process in the first place; the question is whether it would have a role deciding if the brake should be pulled.
A Commission declaration states the UK qualifies to pull this ban immediately, in particular because it did not apply transitional controls to workers from new Member States in 2004. However, there is nothing in the deal to suggest that Member States – who would have the final word – also agree. The restrictions would only to those who were ‘newly arriving for a period of seven years’, and would have to be phased out during that time. Again, the seven years matches the transitional period which the UK could have applied to control the numbers of workers from new Member States, back in 2004.
Several points of detail arise. First of all, after the seven years have expired, it’s not clear how much time would then have to pass before the brake could be applied again. Secondly, it will be important to clarify the meaning of those who are ‘newly arriving’. What about those who lived in the UK before, and are now returning here? How much time would they have had to spend in Poland (say) before they are considered ‘newly arriving’ again? Presumably the brake would not apply to those who are already here when the brake is pulled, but are not working at that time (due to youth, unemployment, childcare or illness) but who get work afterward.
Thirdly, it will be necessary to define how to calculate the four year period. It’s easy enough to apply it to those who begin work as soon as they (newly) arrive in the country, and who work for the full four years afterward. But what about those (a non-working spouse, or a teenager, for instance) who start work some time after they enter the country? What about those who start work, stop for whatever reason and then restart? What about those who start work during the brake period, then spend a year or so in Poland, then come back? And how can we be sure when exactly someone entered the country in the first place?
The final crucial point of detail is, obviously, the grounds on which the brake can be applied. According to the Decision, it would apply where:
‘an exceptional situation exists on a scale that affects essential aspects of [a Member State’s] social security system, including the primary purpose of its in-work benefits system, or which leads to difficulties which are serious and liable to persist in its employment market or are putting an excessive pressure on the proper functioning of its public services’.
There’s certainly a widespread perception that one of more of these problems exist in the UK and are caused by the large increase in the number of workers from other Member States in recent years. However, there are two serious problems with the proposed mechanism. Firstly, as Jonathan Portes has argued, objective evidence for this view is lacking. Secondly, while the CJEU has been willing to accept certain limits to free movement rights on the grounds of protecting health systems (see myprior blog post for details), this would have a much more far-reaching impact on non-discrimination for workers. It’s certainly conceivable that by analogy from the Court’s obvious willingness to keep EU monetary union afloat, along with its endorsement of restrictions for non-workers in recent years (see below), it mightaccept that these plans do not violate the Treaties. But as EU law currently stands, that is probably a long shot.
Export of child benefit
Cameron sought to end payment of child benefit to children living in other Member States. This payment is provided for in the EU social security coordination Regulation, which would have to be amended to change those rules. There was a strong argument that the plan would have breached the Treaties, since in the case ofPinna the CJEU struck down EU legislation that allowed Member States not to export such benefits at all as a breach of the rules on free movement of workers.
The deal does not go as far as Cameron wanted: instead child benefit can be limited by indexing it to the ‘conditions’ in the receiving State. This will only apply to ‘new claims made by EU workers in the host Member State’; but after 1 January 2020, this ‘may’ be extended to ‘existing claims already exported by EU workers’. This is clarified by the Commission declaration, which states that the ‘conditions’ refers to the ‘standard of living and level of child benefits’ in the child’s State of residence. The transitional rule, and the Commission declaration, were added during negotiations. It’s an open question whether this new law would breach the Treaties, since there is no case law on the point.
Several points of detail arise here. It’s explicit that the new rules will be optional, so Member States can still be more generous if they want to. There’s nothing to limit their application to the UK (although I will refer to the UK and Poland here, purely for the sake of readability). It’s not clear whether the rules will also apply to Britishcitizens who have children in other Member States; arguably the principle of non-discrimination will require that they do. It’s also not clear what happens to ‘mixed’ families of (say) British and Polish parents (or indeed step-parents). Will it depend on which parent is the worker? What if both are workers? What if that changes over time?
The transitional clause also raises issues. The Decision distinguishes between ‘new claims’ and ‘existing claims already exported by EU workers’. Presumably the new law will state a precise date at which claims can be regarded as ‘existing’ (say 1 January 2017). These must be existing exported claims, so if a child moves to Poland after 1 January 2017, or is born after that date and resides in Poland, then child benefits could be reduced, even if the worker is already in the UK. So if my estimated date is correct, anyone who is thinking about having a child, and who wants to avoid the application of these rules, had better get a move on. Perhaps this Easter will be the season of fertility even more than usual.
Finally, it should be noted that a challenge by the Commission to other aspects of UK payment of child benefit to EU citizens is still pending. The non-binding opinion of an Advocate-General argues in favour of the UK in this case (for a critical view, see Charlotte O’Brien’s analysis here). It wouldn’t surprise me if the Commission quietly withdrew this legal challenge. You read that here first.
Benefits for those out of work
Cameron sought to end social assistance for job-seekers. The EU legislation already rules out social assistance for job-seekers, so this reflects the status quo. Although the CJEU has said that job-seekers have a right to access benefits linked to labour market participation, if they have a link already with the labour market in question, it took a narrow view of this rule in the judgment in Alimanovic. Pure benefit tourists (who have never had work in the host State) are not entitled to benefits, according to the judgment in Dano. So the Decision simply reiterates this case law, which has already satisfied Cameron’s main objectives in this field. It should be noted that another judgment by the Court of Justice on EU benefits issues is due next week.
EU citizens’ family members
Under the EU citizens’ Directive, currently EU citizens can bring with them to another Member State their spouse or partner, the children of both (or either) who are under 21 or dependent, and the dependent parents of either. This applies regardless of whether the family members are EU citizens or not. No further conditions are possible, besides the prospect of a refusal of entry (or subsequent expulsion) on grounds of public policy, public security or public health (on which, see below).
In principle EU law does not apply to UK citizens who wish to bring non-EU family members to the UK, so the UK is free to put in place restrictive rules in those cases (which it has done, as regards income requirements and language rules). However, the CJEU has ruled that UK citizens can move to another Member State (the ‘host Member State’) and be joined by non-EU family members there, under the more generous rules in the EU legislation. Then they can move back to the UK (the ‘home Member State’) with their family members, now invoking the free movement rights in the Treaties. This is known in practice (in the UK) as the ‘Surinder Singh route’, because of the name of the case which first established this principle. In 2014, the CJEU clarified two points about this scenario (as discussed by Chiara Berneri here): (a) it was necessary to spend at least three months in the host Member State exercising EU law rights and residing with the family member, before coming back; and (b) the EU citizens’ Directive applied by analogy to govern the situation of UK citizens who return with their family members.
In his 2014 speech, David Cameron announced his desire to end all distinction between EU citizens and UK citizens as regards admission of non-EU family members, by allowing the UK to impose upon the EU citizens the same strict conditions that apply to UK citizens. Since this would have deterred the free movement of those EU citizens who have non-EU family members, there is a good chance that it would have required not just a legislative amendment but a Treaty change. (Note that according to the CJEU, EU free movement law does not just require the abolition of discrimination between UK and other EU citizens, but also the abolition of non-discriminatory ‘obstacles’ to free movement).
However, the deal does not go this far. The main Decision states that:
‘In accordance with Union law, Member States are able to take action to prevent abuse of rights or fraud, such as the presentation of forged documents, and address cases of contracting or maintaining of marriages of convenience with third country nationals for the purpose of making use of free movement as a route for regularising unlawful stay in a Member State or for bypassing national immigration rules applying to third country nationals.’
The Commission Declaration then states that it will make a proposal to amend the citizens’ Directive:
‘to exclude, from the scope of free movement rights, third country nationals who had no prior lawful residence in a Member State before marrying a Union citizen or who marry a Union citizen only after the Union citizen has established residence in the host Member State. Accordingly, in such cases, the host Member State’s immigration law will apply to the third country national.’
That Declaration also states that the Commission will clarify that:
‘Member States can address specific cases of abuse of free movement rights by Union citizens returning to their Member State of nationality with a non-EU family member where residence in the host Member State has not been sufficiently genuine to create or strengthen family life and had the purpose of evading the application of national immigration rules’; and
‘The concept of marriage of convenience – which is not protected under Union law – also covers a marriage which is maintained for the purpose of enjoying a right of residence by a family member who is not a national of a Member State.’
It seems clear that these ‘clarifications’ will not be included in the legislative proposal, since the declaration later concludes (emphasis added):
‘These clarifications will be developed in a Communication providing guidelines on the application of Union law on the free movement of Union citizens.’
Let’s examine the planned legislative amendments, then the guidelines which will provide ‘clarifications’. The amendments will exclude two separate categories of non-EU citizens from the scope of the citizens’ Directive: those who did not have prior lawful residence in a Member State before marrying an EU citizen who has moved to another Member State; and those who marry such an EU citizen after he or she has moved to a Member State. For these people, national immigration law will apply.
The background to this proposal is CJEU case law. In 2003, in the judgment inAkrich, the CJEU ruled that Member States could insist that non-EU family members had previously been lawfully resident in the Member State concerned (previously no such rule appeared to exist). But in 2008, in Metock, the CJEU overturned this ruling and said that a prior legal residence requirement was not allowed.
Several points arise. First, the basic definition: what is lawful residence exactly? Presumably it means more than lawful presence, ie a stay of three months on the basis of a valid visa or visa waiver. But what about ambiguous cases, such as a pending asylum application or appeal? EU legislation says that asylum-seekers can usually stay until the application fails (if it fails), and then during the appeal (subject to some big exceptions). According to the CJEU, the EU’s main rules on irregular migrants therefore don’t apply to asylum-seekers whose application is pending.
Secondly, it’s odd to refer to national law alone, since sometimes EU law governs the admission of non-EU nationals. Even the UK (along with Ireland) is bound by the first-phase EU asylum law, and by the EU/Turkey association agreement. Denmark is bound by the latter treaty. And all other Member States are bound by the second-phase asylum law, along with EU legislation on admission of students and researchers and some categories of labour migrants (the highly-skilled, seasonal workers and intra-corporate transferees).
Thirdly, it’s arguable that the EU principle of non-discrimination applies. That would mean, for instance, that if a German woman already in the UK married her American husband, the UK would have to treat her the same as a British woman in the same situation – but no worse. This would in fact be relevant to every Member State – there’s nothing in this part of the deal that limits its application to the UK. (One important point of detail is whether all Member States would be obliged to apply the new rules on ‘prior lawful residence’ and ‘marriage after entry of the EU citizen’, or whether they could choose to waive one or both of those rules. The EU citizens’ Directive already states that Member States can apply more liberal standards if they wish to).
Finally, the consequences of the rule will need to be clearer in the future legislative amendments. Does the exclusion from the scope of the Directive mean that the family member is excluded forever from the scope of the citizens’ Directive – even if the person concerned is admitted pursuant to national immigration law? That would mean that national immigration law (or EU immigration legislation, in some cases) would continue to govern issues such as the family member’s access to employment or benefits, or subsequent permanent residence. It’s also not clear what happen to children such as the step-child of the EU citizen, or a child that was born to the EU and non-EU citizen couple while living in a third country.
Could this legislative amendment violate the EU Treaties? In its judgment inMetock, the Court referred almost entirely to the wording of the citizens’ Directive. It mainly referred to the Treaties when concluding that the EU had the competenceto regulate the status of EU citizens’ third-country national family members. But it also referred to the Treaty objective of creating an ‘internal market’, as well as the ‘serious obstruct[ion]’ to the exercise of freedoms guaranteed by the Treaty, if EU citizens could not lead a ‘normal family life’. It must therefore be concluded that there is some possibility that the revised rules would be invalid for breach of EU free movement law.
Would the amendment violate the EU Charter right to family life? That’s unlikely. While the right to family life is often invoked to prevent expulsions of family members, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights gives great leeway to Member States to refuse admission of family members, on the grounds that the family could always live ‘elsewhere’ – as the CJEU has itself acknowledged (EP v Council). There is some possibility, though, that the CJEU would be reluctant to follow that case law (EP v Council concerns families entirely consisting of non-EU nationals) in the context of free movement: the idea that you could go away and enjoy your family life somewhere else is antithetical to the logic of free movement.
As for the ‘clarifications’ in future guidelines, they will of course not be binding. They first of all refer to cases where an EU citizen has moved to another Member State and come back to the home State. The definition of what constitutes a ‘sufficiently genuine’ move to another country is set out in the case law (three months’ stay with a family member) and mere guidelines cannot overturn this.
It should be noted that the Surinder Singh case law is in any event derived from theTreaty. This line of case law does not accept that such movement between Member States is an ‘evasion’ of national law – as long as free movement rights are genuinely exercised with a family member for a minimum time. The CJEU also usually assumes (see Metock, for instance) that a ‘marriage of convenience’ cannot apply to cases where there is a genuine relationship, even if an immigration advantage is gained. (The Commission has released guidelines already on the ‘marriage of convenience’ concept: see analysis by Alina Tryfonidou here).
Having said that, the planned legislative changes will complicate the plans of people who wish to move to another Member State with their non-EU family and then move back, since national immigration law will apply to their move to the hostMember State. It will be important to see how the legislative amendments address the transitional issues of people who have already moved to a host Member State before the new rules apply. Can the home Member State say, possibly based on the Commission’s ‘guidance’ (which might be issued before the new legislation is adopted) that those families must now obtain lawful residence in the host State for the non-EU family member, before the non-EU family member can come to the home State?
Criminality and free movement law
The Treaties allow for the refusal or entry or expulsion of EU citizens on ‘grounds of public policy, public security or public health’. The citizens’ Directive sets out detailed substantive and procedural rules on this issue, which has been the subject of considerable CJEU case law.
What does the renegotiation deal do? First of all, the Decision states that:
‘Member States may also take the necessary restrictive measures to protect themselves against individuals whose personal conduct is likely to represent a genuine and serious threat to public policy or security. In determining whether the conduct of an individual poses a present threat to public policy or security, Member States may take into account past conduct of the individual concerned and the threat may not always need to be imminent. Even in the absence of a previous criminal conviction, Member States may act on preventative grounds, so long as they are specific to the individual concerned.’
To this end, the Commission declaration states that it will:
‘also clarify that Member States may take into account past conduct of an individual in the determination of whether a Union citizen’s conduct poses a “present” threat to public policy or security. They may act on grounds of public policy or public security even in the absence of a previous criminal conviction on preventative grounds but specific to the individual concerned. The Commission will also clarify the notions of “serious grounds of public policy or public security” and “imperative grounds of public security” [grounds for expelling people who have resided for longer periods in a host Member State]. Moreover, on the occasion of a future revision of [the citizens’ Directive], the Commission will examine the thresholds to which these notions are connected.’
It’s not clear whether the revision of the Directive referred to at the end here is as imminent as the proposal to amend the rules to create a ‘prior lawful residence’ rule for non-EU family members. Otherwise the plan to issue guidelines is clearly not binding. The language in these guidelines partly reflects the existing law, but some features are new: the greater emphasis on past conduct, the lesser need to show that a threat is imminent and the possibility of expelling someone as a ‘preventative’ measure.
These changes fall within the scope of Cameron’s desire to have ‘stronger measures to deport EU criminals’. However, it should be noted that there is no specific reference to his plans for ‘tougher and longer re-entry bans for foreign rough sleepers, beggars and fraudsters’. While a conviction and re-entry ban for fraud might be covered by the guidelines referred to above, there’s no mention of clarifying entry bans as regards those guidelines, or changing the legislation on this issue. Also, as I noted in my comments on Cameron’s plans at the time, EU legislation does not allow for re-entry bans for rough sleepers and beggars, since the EU citizens’ Directive states unambiguously that a ban on entry cannot be imposed where a person was expelled for grounds other than public policy, public security and public health. Put simply, a Member State can impose an entry ban where an EU citizen has been expelled due to criminality – but not where he or she has been expelled due to poverty.
Longer waiting periods for free movement of persons from new Member States
Finally, it should be noted that the Decision briefly refers to Cameron’s plan to have longer waiting periods for free movement of persons in future accession treaties. It does not incorporate his suggestion, but merely notes it. However, since the details of each new Member State’s adaptation to EU law are set out in each accession treaty, which has to be approved by each Member State, the UK can simply veto any future accession treaties unless longer waiting periods for free movement are indeed included. The next accession to the EU is at least four years away, probably more. So nothing really turns on the absence of agreement with the UK’s position for now.
The key point to remember about the renegotiation deal, particularly as regards EU immigration, is that it consists of different parts. The main deal takes the form of a Decision, which essentially clarifies EU law without amending it. According to CJEU case law (Rottmann), the Court is willing to take Decisions like these into account when interpreting EU law.
However, in the area of EU immigration, the other parts of the deal are more relevant: the intention to pass three new EU secondary laws. Those new laws will be a fully-fledged amendment to existing EU rules, not simply a clarification of it. While some points of detail remain to be worked out, it is clear from the deal that the Commission will make proposals in these areas, and all Member States (ie the Council) will support them. It remains to be seen whether the European Parliament will approve them, and whether the CJEU would accept challenges to their legality. My assessment of the Court’s likely response, as detailed above, is that the amendments on family members will probably be acceptable; the child benefit reforms are an open question; and the changes on in-work benefits are highly vulnerable. Of course, there’s no prior case law on these specific issues, and so we can’t be certain of the Court’s approach in advance.
Overall, as I concluded in the earlier post on the draft agreement, these changes, if they are all implemented as planned, will fall short of a fundamental change in the UK’s relationship with the EU. But equally it is clearly wrong to say that they mean nothing – if in fact they are implemented. The changes would be modest but significant: amendments to three key pieces of EU legislation that would for the first time roll back EU free movement law, not extend it. Leaving aside the calls for non-binding guidelines, there would be cutbacks in in-work benefits (albeit for a limited period), significantly more control on the admission of non-EU family members of EU citizens, and more limited export of child benefit.
Barnard & Peers: chapter 13
Photo credit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk
*Disclosure: I will be consulting for the European Parliament on the free movement aspects of the renegotiation. However, my advice will be fully independent; I don’t represent or advocate for the European Parliament (or anyone else) on these (or any other) issues.
Posted by Steve Peers at 01:35 15 comments:
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Labels: benefits, Brexit, child benefit, EU citizenship, EU referendum, EU reform, expulsion, family benefit, free movement of persons, tax credits, UK renegotiation
Thursday, 18 February 2016
Henning Bang Fuglsang Madsen Sørensen, Associate Professor, Department of Law, University of Southern Denmark
Monday 15 February was a busy day in Luxembourg. The Court held a hearing in C-404/15, Aranyosi, which was lodged at the Court in July 2015. But the Court also received C-659/15, Caldararu, at 9 December 2015 under the ‘emergency’ PPU-procedure. The Court decided to join the two cases as they were submitted by the same court – Hanseatisches Oberlandesgericht in Bremen, Germany – and concerned the same issue – should surrender on a European Arrest Warrant be refused if there is reason to fear the wanted person will be exposed to inhumane prison conditions in the requesting state? So the hearing concerned both cases and it turned out to be a busy but also interesting day because the two cases touch upon the application of the principle of mutual recognition as the cornerstone of EU criminal law as recognized by recital 6 of the Framework Decision establishing the European Arrest Warrant.
During the day, the Court heard the submissions from the lawyers of Aranyosi and Caldararu, the referring judge from Bremen, 9 Member States (Germany, Ireland, Spain, France, Lithuania, Hungary, The Netherlands, Romania and UK) and of course the Commission.
But what was all the fuss about? Well, let us have a look at the two cases first. Then we will turn to the submissions of the Member States and the Commission.
Aranyosi is a young man, living with his parents in Bremen. He has a girlfriend in Germany, with whom he has a child. He was arrested in Bremen 14 January 2015 as Hungary had requested his surrender on a European Arrest Warrant. Aranyosi is suspected for two accounts of burglary. However, Aranyosi resisted the surrender, referring to reports from the Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and case law from the European Court of the Human Rights, which documented a massive over-crowding in Hungarian prisons to an extent that could be considered a violation of ECHR art. 3 (corresponding to Article 4 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights). The Bremen Court decided to ask the Luxembourg Court if it was possible to read article 1(3) of the EAW Framework Decision (the ‘human rights’ clause) as an opportunity to refuse the surrender in case of strong indications of detention conditions insufficient to satisfy ECHR art. 3. The Bremen Court also asked if it was possible to request assurances concerning the prison conditions from the requesting state before surrender was allowed. Due to Aranyosi’s connections with Bremen, the judge decided to release Aranyosi while the case was pending.
Caldararu is also a young man. He was sentenced to 8 months in prison by a court in Romania for driving without a driver’s license. The case was heard in absentia. However, Caldararu left Romania before the sentenced time could be served and Romania issued a European Arrest Warrant for Caldararu. He was arrested in Bremen, Germany, on 8 November 2015, and his surrender to Romania was then allowed on 20 November 2015. He refused however to consent to the surrender with reference to the detention conditions in Romania. The Bremen Court decided to keep Caldararu in custody as the Bremen Court also sent a request for a preliminary ruling in this case. The request was sent on 9 December 2015.
So, two cases from the same court, basically concerning the same question: Can a judge refuse surrender if it is feared that detention facilities in the requesting state are inadequate?
But the reply to these questions touches upon a number of arguments, and the day turned out to be very intense as these arguments involves fundamental rights, the principle of mutual recognition, the relationship between Member States and not least what to do if surrender is denied. The parties were far from a common understanding of how these arguments should be used, and the hearing turned out to be a very interesting and well-spent day in Luxembourg.
Let us have a look at some of the major arguments.
The first argument – mutual trust means blind trust!
One could argue that mutual trust means blind trust to such a degree that the executing Member State must execute the European Arrest Warrant without any checks for anything else other than the grounds for refusal to execute an EAW mentioned in Articles 3 and 4 of the Framework Decision (such as double jeopardy, or age of a child).
The Bremen judge of course opposed this view as this would make his request for a preliminary ruling obsolete.
Especially Spain supported this argument, saying that the evaluation of the protection of fundamental rights is a privilege for the court in the issuing State as the court in the executing State is not empowered to make abstract evaluations of the prison conditions in another Member State. The prior CJEU judgment inMelloni was mentioned as an example of a situation, where Spain was denied the possibility to make the surrender conditional upon specific guarantees. Spain had difficulties aligning the conclusions of Melloni with a possibility to make evaluations of foreign prison systems prior to deciding surrender and then perhaps condition the surrender on guarantees regarding detention conditions. Spain therefore held, that the executing State had to surrender unless Article 3 or 4 of the Framework Decision were applicable and it would then be for the courts of the requesting state to evaluate whether prison conditions would amount to a violation of ECHR art. 3 / Charter art. 4.
Lithuania presented a similar argument, arguing that the principle of mutual trust would fall apart if Member States were given the power to check each other in regard to prison conditions. Lithuania further referred to TEU art 7 (on the possible suspension of a Member State from the EU on human rights grounds) as the procedure prescribed by the treaties in case a Member State is found not to respect fundamental rights. Lithuania also expressed concern whether the issuing State would be able to make its arguments before the court in the executing State deemed the prison conditions in the issuing State insufficient in regards to fundamental rights, and it could lead to a situation where the issuing State would be denied the possibility to use the EAW as such. This would make it impossible to prosecute absconded criminals and would thus threaten the idea of AFSJ as such.
The remaining States together with the Commission were in opposition to Spain and Lithuania. The parties argued in general in favor of understanding mutual trust as a general trust in opposition to a blind trust. The Bremen judge reported his difficulties when reading about the prison conditions in Hungary, and how he had asked the German Government in vain to obtain guarantees concerning the prison conditions for Aranyosi. He argued that it would be unacceptable to demand that a judge should ignore obvious reasons to fear for violations of fundamental rights and the possibility of denying the execution of the EAW had to be present in such a situation. Being a judge himself, he called upon the Luxembourg judges not to put this burden on him.
The German Government along with Ireland, France, Hungary, The Netherlands, Romania, UK and the Commission presented various arguments in favor of understanding mutual trust as a general trust which only is rebuttable in very exceptional circumstances.
Germany argued that the executing state cannot be making assessments of the respect for fundamental rights in other Member States, except when under very exceptional circumstances. Such circumstances could be several reports from the Council of Europe, CPT, judgements from the ECtHR, reports from NGOs and even from the American Secretary of State. Germany further read recital 13 in the preamble together with art. 1(3) of the EU Framework Decision in such a way that a risk of violation of fundamental rights is a general reason for denying execution of the EAW in supplement to the specific reasons mentioned in Articles 3 and 4 of the law. Ireland supported this argument with a reference to recital 12, while Hungary supported the argument with reference to recital 10. The UK also argued in favor of reference also to recitals 5 and 6, together with recital 10, 12 and 13 and Article 1(2) and 1(3).
The Commission argued for the need of a balance between mutual trust and the protection of fundamental rights, requiring Member States to have a general trust in each other with a possibility to test the protection of fundamental rights if there seems to be a real risk for a violation of fundamental rights. The Commission found support for this in Art. 19(2) of the Charter (non-removal from a Member State to face torture et al), as the Commission supported the Bremen judge by finding it unacceptable to force a Member State to surrender to a known risk of violation of fundamental rights without taking action to protect fundamental rights. The Commission further stressed that if the principle of mutual recognition would prevail over the protection of fundamental rights, then a principle had been given more weight than fundamental rights. Fundamental rights, being a part of primary law and the reason for the Union as such, could not be set aside by a general principle within EU law.
When is the obligation to examine a potential risk triggered?
If detention facilities in the requesting Member State may be examined prior to the decision of surrender, then how much is needed for triggering such an examination?
The main question was whether an examination should be accepted only in case of systemic failures in the requesting state or whether an individual risk concerning the specific person should be enough. The first situation, where an examination only is acceptable in cases of systemic failures, correspond to the conclusions of the Luxembourg Court in the cases of N.S. (on the Dublin system in Greece). andMelloni, and also paragraphs 191-194 of Opinion 2/13 (on ECHR accession). The second situation corresponds to the conclusion of ECtHR in Soering (on extradition to ‘death row’ in the USA).
Germany, UK and The Netherlands argued in favor of the individual approach, exemplified by a person who may be kept under harsh detention conditions due to religion or sexual orientation. Ireland argued together with France, Romania and Hungary in favor of the systemic approach, and also stressing that the threshold that has to be met had to be set rather high in respect for the principle of mutual trust. Spain argued against both approaches, as Spain found the examination to be directed against the detention facilities of the requesting state and as such not covered by any of the terms. Lithuania referred to art 7 TEU as the correct method to handle suspicions concerning violation of fundamental rights in a Member State, and concluded on this basis that the examination conducted in the executing Member State should be limited to an examination of whether or not art. 7 had been activated in regards to the issuing Member State.
The Commission found it relevant to initiate an investigation if an individual risk were present.
The parties were thus split in half on the question of whether an examination was allowed only in case of systemic failures or whether the examination should be allowed based on the individual risk of the person wanted for surrender. The submissions of the Member States were however also influenced by the question of what to do if the examination leads to the conclusion of a present and relevant risk in case of surrender – should the requesting state be given the opportunity to eliminate the found risk through guarantees or should the surrender be conditioned upon guarantees? The position of the Member States on this issue will be reported below. First, we must turn our attention to how the Member States would examine a real and present danger of a violation of a fundamental right in case surrender is allowed.
How will the Member States examine a claimed risk of violation of fundamental rights?
The problem of how a court in one Member State can obtain information on the detention system in another Member State in order to establish whether or not these detention facilities may be seen as a violation of fundamental rights were also included in the submissions of the parties.
Germany referred to reports from the CPT and the Council of Europe, together with the case law of the ECtHR, reports from NGOs and even the American Secretary of State. Germany stressed that these sources had to be published within a reasonably short time before the national court was to decide on the question of surrender. The UK also supported the use of reports from international organs, the case law of the ECtHR, individual claims and testimonies and reports from national experts. Ireland and The Netherlands also argued for the use of reports from the CPT and the case law of the ECtHR, while France considered especially the case law of the ECtHR as relevant. Hungary elaborated on the fact that reports from the CPT are at least one year underway, while a judgement of the ECtHR refer to facts as they were at the time of the claimed violation. That could be several years prior to the judgement were handed down. These sources thus had to be used with great care.
Romania did not elaborate on the question of how to make an examination. Also Spain and Lithuania opposed the general idea of letting foreign courts examine domestic prison conditions, but did not elaborate on how this may be done in case the Luxembourg Court would allow it.
The Commission supported the use of the case law of ECtHR, reports from international organisations, statistics on the over-crowding of prisons in the requesting State and even any other relevant source. The Commission was thus in line with especially Germany and UK.
The importance of dialogue between Member States – the concept of guarantees
Several parties stressed the importance of dialogue between the requesting Member State and the executing Member States.
The Bremen judge, Germany and France argued in favour of giving the judge of the court in the executing Member State the possibility to call for guarantees from the issuing Member State. The guarantees would be able to remove the fear for a violation of fundamental rights, and the surrender should therefore be denied if the required guarantees were not provided.
Ireland and The Netherlands found no basis for refusing to surrender due to the lack of diplomatic guarantees. The executing Member State had to make its mind up whether or not there would be a real and present risk for a violation of fundamental rights and handle the request for surrender in accordance with this.
Spain argued against the use of guarantees, as the judge calling for the guarantees may be setting the criteria that has to be met before he or she will allow surrender. This would generate a risk of huge variations in the way the Member States use this possibility, and would therefore threaten the uniformity of Union Law. Lithuania also argued against the use of guarantees by elaborating on the fact that the guarantee is not worth much if the requesting Member State decides not to fulfill its obligations in accordance with the guarantee after the surrender has taken place.
Especially Hungary stressed the importance of Article 15(2) of the Framework Decision. If a Member State is afraid of surrendering due to the fear of violation of fundamental rights, then the two involved states must engage in a dialogue for the purpose of removing the reasons for this fear. Hungary saw the risk of violations as a specific and concrete problem, which could be handled with specific and concrete solutions. Such solutions could be alternative detention measures, a decision to keep the surrendered person in custody in another prison or perhaps show the executing court that the reasons are obsolete due to for instance the constructions of new prisons following e.g. a judgment from the ECtHR. This line of arguments was supported by the UK as well as Ireland and The Netherlands. These arguments were also supported by Romania by stating that the risk for a violation of fundamental rights may be real and present but nevertheless possible to eliminate in the specific case. The Commission also supported this view.
Especially Romania also raised another issue concerning equal treatment, as Romania mentioned that if certain inmates where kept under custody under more beneficial conditions due to guarantees while other inmates were kept in custody under normal conditions. Romania pointed to the simple fact that if prisoners with guarantees were to be given more space, then the remaining prisoners would have even less space. This motivated the referring judge to ask Romania, Germany and France to elaborate on this risk concerning unequal treatment. Romania found this risk to be non-acceptable, while France argued that the risk of unequal treatment were a less evil than the risk of violating fundamental rights. Germany stated, that Germany did not want unequal treatment, but appropriate prison conditions. The risk of unequal treatment was however the only way to respect the Soeringjudgment of the ECtHR.
Thus, there were different views on whether surrender could be conditioned upon guarantees or whether guarantees should be seen more as a dialogue comforting the executing judge in the removal of a risk of violation of fundamental rights. However, there seemed to be general consensus when it came to how guaranties should be issued, as the parties found this should be regulated in national law of the specific Member State.
The consequence of denying surrender
The last major issue touched upon by the parties was the question of what should happen if surrender were refused.
The Bremen judge explained how German law made it possible to let Germany continue the criminal proceedings if surrender was denied, but practical problems in regards to witnesses etc. made this theoretical possibility an illusion in real life. In regards to Aranyosi, a decision not to surrender would therefore in real life also be decision to discontinue the criminal proceedings. In regards to Caldararu, who was sentenced in Romania, a decision to not surrender could provide the basis for letting Caldararu serve the sentence in Germany, but this would also result in a number of practical problems as Caldararu only had stayed a very short time in Germany. He therefore does not speak the language nor would any initiatives to rehabilitate him into the German society have any likelihood for success. So it was also questionable whether it would be relevant to transfer the sentence to Germany in the present case. The Bremen judge made it clear that it would not be satisfactory if a denial to surrender the sought person would mean crimes would go unpunished.
The German government shared this view, while France noted that it was for each Member State to decide whether they would let their courts have jurisdiction in cases in which surrender had been denied. Romania also made it clear, that it would be unacceptable if criminal activities were going un-punished because of a decision to deny surrender. If the executing Member State denies surrender, then the executing Member State must bear the responsibility to see justice fulfilled. Lithuania pointed to the fact that a decision not to surrender due to unsatisfactory detention facilities would in practice create areas within the AFSJ it which it would be impossible to punish crimes as the criminals would be able to commit their crimes in such areas and then flee to other parts of the AFSJ without risking surrendering afterwards.
A number of parties also underscored this as the major difference between asylum law and the test used in the N.S. case against criminal law and the test that may be used in the present cases. If the return of an asylum seeker is impossible, then the Member State in which the asylum seeker is at the moment will be able to process the application for asylum. It is of lesser importance for the asylum seeker whether one or the other Member State processes the application for asylum as asylum law is almost fully harmonized. The consequence of not surrendering a suspect in a criminal case could very well be that crimes would go unpunished, which is a rather different result and of course not acceptable.
The Advocate General promised to announce within 24 hours when his opinion will be submitted to the Court. The cases were heard on 15 February 2016 but the Curia-webpage still do not contain any new information by the end of the 17 February 2016. Nonetheless, Caldararu is a PPU-case as Caldararu is kept in custody, and we must therefore expect the opinion of the general advocate within few days. The decision of the Court will then be expected within a few weeks or perhaps a month, so the excitement will soon be released.
It seems apparent that especially Spain and Lithuania were very skeptical as to whether one Member State should be allowed to examine the detention facilities in another Member State at all. The other seven Member States seemed to find it appropriate to have the possibility in very exceptional circumstances. France, Romania and Hungary seemed to limit the possibility to cases with systemic problems, while the remaining Member States also wanted to be able to conduct an examination in cases with individual problems. Germany wanted to let the executing Member State demand guarantees from the issuing Member State so surrender could be denied if the requested guarantees were not delivered. The remaining Member States seemed to agree that the two Member States had to engage in a dialogue to establish whether there was a problem in the specific case at all and whether a problem could be solved by for instance alternative detention measures. It is also worth noticing the position of the Commission as a rather pragmatic approach, where the Commission supported the need to make investigations in even individual cases, using a variety of sources.