La solidarité n’est pas une valeur : la validation de la relocalisation temporaire des demandeurs d’asile par la Cour de justice (CJUE, 6 septembre 2017, Slovaquie et Hongrie c. Conseil, C-643/15 et C-647/15)

 

Par Henri LabayleCDRE

La rentrée judiciaire de l’automne 2017 était attendue impatiemment et le prononcé de l’arrêt Slovaquie et Hongrie contre Conseil, le 6 septembre, s’inscrivait en première ligne de cette attente. Le contexte en est connu, celui du refus des pays du groupe de Visegrad de se plier au programme de relocalisation des réfugiés initié au plus fort de la crise migratoire par l’Union. Deux d’entre eux l’avaient porté devant la Cour de justice.

La lecture des remarquables conclusions de l’avocat général Bot laissait entrevoir la possibilité d’un « grand arrêt ». Les enjeux en cause comme la nature des principes invoqués invitaient la Cour à une hauteur de vue à la mesure inverse des arguments développés par les requérants. L’occasion lui était offerte à peu de frais, par un arrêt clair et courageux, de se joindre au concert critique affectant certains nouveaux Etats membres quant à leur comportement lors de la crise de 2015. Peut-être même de réparer l’impression mitigée laissée par sa jurisprudence relative aux visas dits humanitaires et à l’accord UE-Turquie concernant cette période. Elle n’en a pas ressenti la nécessité, dans une Union doutant pourtant de son projet et de ses valeurs, préférant ainsi le biais à l’affirmation et l’omission à la condamnation.

I – Faute de proclamation, de l’instrumentalisation du principe de solidarité

Les données de l’affaire sont suffisamment connues pour ne pas appeler davantage de développements : l’adoption d’une décision du Conseil prévoyant la relocalisation contraignante dans les Etats de l’Union, sur une période de deux ans, de 120 000 personnes ayant manifestement besoin d’une protection internationale. Visant à soulager l’Italie et la Grèce, cette décision est fondée sur l’article 78 §3 TFUE. Ce dernier, « au cas où un ou plusieurs États membres se trouvent dans une situation d’urgence caractérisée par un afflux soudain de ressortissants de pays tiers », autorise le Conseil à adopter des mesures provisoires au profit de ces Etats en difficulté, sur proposition de la Commission et après consultation du Parlement européen.

Le recours en annulation de la Slovaquie et de la Hongrie va être soutenu par la Pologne tandis que la Belgique, l’Allemagne, la Grèce, la France, l’Italie, le Luxembourg, la Suède interviendront avec la Commission au soutien du Conseil. Cette ligne de fracture est très politique. Elle explique un arrêt long, détaillé et minutieux, fait de 345 considérants répondant aux 16 moyens soulevés par les requérants (!!!).

On passera sans difficultés sur les multiples points établissant la légalité externe de la décision contestée, malgré leur grand intérêt quant à la distinction entre acte législatif et acte non législatif et aux conséquences procédurales en découlant. Ce qui nous intéresse en l’espèce porte sur le fond de la politique européenne d’asile.

a. une dérogation provisoire au règlement Dublin

La première particularité de la décision 2015/1060 de relocaliser 120 000 personnes dans l’Union, outre sa charge symbolique, réside dans la brèche qu’elle ouvre dans le système de « Dublin » qui régit la politique commune d’asile. Elle est ouvertement revendiquée par son considérant 23 : relocaliser un demandeur dans un autre Etat que celui considéré comme responsable de la demande par le règlement « Dublin » constitue bien une « dérogation temporaire » à celui-ci.

D’où une contestation double, celle de la possibilité pour un acte non législatif de déroger à un texte législatif, et celle du caractère « provisoire » ou pas de cette dérogation, l’article 78 TFUE n’autorisant que des mesures de ce type.

Pour ce qui est de la première critique et après un examen minutieux, la Cour va estimer que les dérogations prévues par la décision attaquée ne mettent pas en cause des actes législatifs. Elles se limitent strictement à répondre de manière rapide et effective, par un dispositif provisoire, à une situation de crise précise. Elles répondent de ce fait et de cet ensemble de précautions à l’exigence d’un encadrement de leur champ d’application matériel et temporel. Aussi, elles n’ont ni pour objet ni pour effet de remplacer ou de modifier de manière permanente des dispositions d’actes législatifs (pt 79).

Pour la seconde critique, la Cour note d’abord que l’article 78 TFUE garde le silence sur la nature des « mesures provisoires » qu’il mentionne, sans qu’on puisse les réduire de manière restrictive. Elles doivent au contraire « revêtir une portée suffisamment large afin de permettre aux institutions de l’Union de prendre toutes les mesures provisoires nécessaires pour répondre de manière effective et rapide à une situation d’urgence caractérisée par un afflux soudain de ressortissants de pays tiers » (pt 77). Elle souligne aussi que le traité ne mentionne plus à leur sujet de limitation temporelle, à l’inverse de l’ancien article 64 TCE, et que la marge d’appréciation reconnue au Conseil durant cette période de 2 ans se justifie par le caractère « inédit et complexe » de l’opération.

Il en découle une série de jugements de valeur sur le choix technique et politique opéré par les institutions de l’Union.

D’abord, puisque leur objectif était de soulager deux Etats membres face à une situation d’urgence qu’ils étaient incapables d’affronter seuls, on ne saurait considérer que « le mécanisme de relocalisation d’un nombre important de demandeurs ayant manifestement besoin d’une protection internationale que prévoit la décision attaquée est une mesure qui serait manifestement impropre à contribuer à cet objectif » (pt 213). D’autant qu’il est accompagné par tout un dispositif de mesures complémentaires mais qui n’étaient pas suffisantes par elles-mêmes. Et peu importe en l’espèce que les déficiences structurelles des Etats sous pression n’aient pas été comblées dans les temps : « tout régime d’asile, même un régime ne connaissant pas de faiblesses structurelles en termes d’accueil et de capacité de traitement des demandes de protection internationale, aurait été gravement perturbé par l’afflux sans précédent de migrants qui a eu lieu en Grèce et en Italie au cours de l’année 2015 » (pt 214).

Ensuite, ce mécanisme s’inscrit dans un esprit de « système » clairement valorisé par la Cour et ce n’est pas le moindre des intérêts de l’arrêt rendu que d’insister sur cette cohérence. Non seulement la décision de relocalisation se contente de déroger au « système objectif » de Dublin auquel elle ne se substitue pas (pt 332) mais elle s’y inscrit pleinement. Pour la Cour, « bien au contraire, ces deux systèmes ne diffèrent, en définitive, pas substantiellement l’un de l’autre, en ce sens que le système institué par la décision attaquée repose, comme le système institué par le règlement Dublin III, sur des critères objectifs » (pt 333).

Enfin, la constance de sa jurisprudence ne se dément pas : la Cour s’inscrit délibérément dans la logique de la sauvegarde du système de « Dublin » et elle choisit de s’enferrer avec l’Union dans la défense d’une règlementation dont tout démontre, à sa quatrième version (!!!), qu’elle ne fonctionne pas…

b. une mesure justifiée par le principe de solidarité

La véritable réponse que l’on attendait de la Cour était celle relative à l’existence ou non d’une solidarité au sein de l’Union, autre que de façade. L’interrogation allait au delà du simple fait de savoir si choisir un mécanisme de relocalisation était ou non proportionné à la situation, en particulier au vu de son faible taux d’application deux ans après (COM (2017) 465), défaut d’enthousiasme malicieusement souligné d’ailleurs par les requérants. Malgré l’allusion qu’elle contient à la solidarité, la directive 2001/55 « protection temporaire » qui aurait pu faire office d’alternative pêche par le fait qu’elle dépend du bon vouloir des Etats membres. Exhortation politique ou obligation juridique, la portée du principe de solidarité dont l’article 80 TFUE dispose qu’il « régit » la politique d’asile, réclamait d’être enfin précisée.

La Cour ne se défausse pas sur ce terrain même si elle ne juge pas utile de lui consacrer la place qu’il mérite, sous par exemple la forme d’un considérant de principe. Au centre de la polémique, la solidarité et les formes qu’elles empruntent dans la politique d’asile de l’Union auraient sans doute mérité mieux. On se contentera donc du rappel bienvenu d’Yves Bot mettant « l’accent sur l’importance de la solidarité en tant que valeur fondatrice et existentielle de l’Union », persuadés avec lui que « nous touchons là à la quintessence de ce qui constitue à la fois la raison d’être et l’objectif du projet européen » (concl. précitées, pts 17 et 18).

D’emblée, la Cour prévient et cadre l’étendue de son contrôle au regard du principe de proportionnalité, dans des « observations liminaires » exprimant sa prudence : au vu du large pouvoir d’appréciation concédé aux institutions pour arrêter des décisions éminemment complexes et politiques, elle ne saurait aller au delà du contrôle d’une erreur manifeste d’appréciation. Seul, le « caractère manifestement inapproprié d’une mesure arrêtée dans un de ces domaines  » (pt 207) est susceptible d’affecter sa légalité, a fortiori face à une crise appelant une réponse immédiate, comme en l’espèce.

Dès lors, elle ne saurait censurer que dans le cas où il « est constaté que, lorsqu’il a arrêté la décision attaquée, le Conseil a, à la lumière des informations et des données disponibles à ce moment, commis une erreur manifeste d’appréciation, en ce sens qu’une autre mesure moins contraignante, mais tout aussi efficace, aurait pu être prise dans les mêmes délais » (pt 236). La Cour va donc opérer son contrôle au regard des faits et de la portée de la décision de relocalisation. Elle en conclut que le Conseil a pu « estimer à bon droit, dans le cadre de la large marge d’appréciation qui doit lui être reconnue à cet égard, que le caractère contraignant de la répartition des personnes relocalisées s’imposait au vu de la situation d’urgence particulière dans laquelle la décision attaquée devait être adoptée » (pt 246). A cet égard, l’échec des négociations d’une répartition par consensus conforte évidemment l’opinion selon laquelle il n’existait pas d’autre échappatoire qu’un mécanisme contraignant.

Le principe de solidarité est alors instrumentalisé par la Cour au détriment d’une proclamation solennelle que l’on espérait.

La Cour de justice aurait pu faire le choix d’une approche frontale, à l’image de celle de son avocat général, pour délivrer l’une des incises prétoriennes dont elle a le secret, consistant à reconnaître ostensiblement toute sa force juridique au principe formulé par l’article 80 TFUE. Elle préfère biaiser, utilisant sa traque d’une erreur manifeste d’appréciation pour parvenir à un résultat identique. En se penchant sur les motivations exprimées par le Conseil, elle constate que ce dernier « a considéré qu’il était essentiel de faire preuve de solidarité ». Coïncidence heureuse, il y « était effectivement tenu » en vertu de l’article 80 TFUE et des principes de solidarité et de partage équitable que ce dernier formule (pt 252) !!!

Bien évidemment, se plier à la satisfaction d’une obligation juridique en adoptant la décision de relocalisation face à l’urgence spécifique de la situation ne saurait constituer une erreur manifeste d’appréciation. D’autant que le Conseil a décidé de ce mécanisme contraignant en se fondant sur l’article 78 TFUE, « lu à la lumière » du principe de solidarité consacré par l’article 80 TFUE. Le caractère obligatoire du principe de solidarité au sein des politiques migratoires de l’UE est donc clairement posé et c’est un apport majeur de l’arrêt, mettant fin aux polémiques.

Restait à en dessiner les contours sinon le contenu précis, ce que la Cour va faire de manière impressionniste. Elle écarte d’abord d’un trait comme étant insuffisantes l’hypothèse de l’existence de mesures alternatives à la relocalisation avant de se pencher de façon plus symptomatique sur l’argumentaire de la Hongrie.

L’aplomb des autorités hongroises méritait en effet une réponse. Ayant refusé d’être bénéficiaires des mesures de relocalisation dont elles contestaient le principe par lui-même, elles n’en réclamaient pas moins d’être exemptées de leur obligation d’accueil. De leur point de vue, imposer à la Hongrie des contingents de réfugiés alors qu’elle avait elle-même besoin d’aide était à contraire à l’article 78 §3 TFUE, cette disposition jouant au profit des États membres confrontés à un afflux soudain de ressortissants de pays tiers.

La genèse de la décision attaquée permet alors à la Cour, en écartant le moyen, de donner quelques indications quant à la portée concrète de la solidarité. L’obligation de relocaliser ayant un impact sur tous les Etats exige que soit assuré « un équilibre entre les différents intérêts en présence, compte tenu des objectifs poursuivis par cette décision ». Or, lorsqu’un ou plusieurs États membres se trouvent dans une situation d’urgence, au sens de l’article 78 §3 TFUE, « les charges que comportent les mesures provisoires adoptées en vertu de cette disposition au profit de ce ou ces États membres doivent, en principe, être réparties entre tous les autres États membres, conformément au principe de solidarité et de partage équitable des responsabilités entre les États membres » (pt 291). Qualifiée comme un « élément fondamental » de la décision attaquée, cette donnée du principe de solidarité est donc un apport important : la solidarité ne peut être morcelée ou fractionnée. Sauf mécanisme d’ajustement contenu par ailleurs dans la décision et appliqué à d’autres Etats comme l’Autriche ou la Suède avec l’aval de la Cour.

Au total donc, l’arrêt de la Cour en avalisant le courage politique de quelques acteurs de l’Union permet de donner un sens à la solidarité actée par le traité.

Théorique, certes. La communication précitée (COM (2017) 465), publiée par la Commission le jour du prononcé de l’arrêt et à quelques semaines de l’expiration du programme fait ainsi valoir qu’au 4 septembre 2017, seulement  27 695 personnes avaient été relocalisées (19 244 depuis la Grèce et 8 451 depuis l’Italie), les bons élèves (Malte et la Lettonie) ayant rempli leur quota tranchant par leur vertu avec l’obstination de la République tchèque, de la Hongrie et de la Pologne à manquer à leurs obligations juridiques…

II – Faute de témérité, de l’approche biaisée des valeurs de l’Union

L’opportunité se présentait à la Cour, devant l’exemplarité du cas d’espèce, de prononcer un arrêt de principe. Indiquer le terrain sur lequel se situer en matière d’asile et les limites à ne pas franchir aurait été bienvenu. Le spectacle honteux des murs se dressant au fur et à mesure de l’avancée des colonnes de réfugiés en Europe centrale, les brutalités policières de certains Etats membres allant parfois jusqu’à la menace d’emploi d’armes à feu, les déclarations à l’emporte-pièce des responsables politiques face au paroxysme de la crise fournissaient une trame à un rappel de l’essentiel, à l’expression du fondamental.

Sans pouvoir jouer de l’ironie du président de la Commission félicitant Victor Orban de sa prise de conscience des bienfaits de la solidarité lors de sa demande de financement d’un mur anti-migrants, la Cour avait au moins la possibilité de clarifier ici les données et de guider les consciences. Elle ne l’a pas retenue.

a. l’impasse sur les valeurs de l’Union  

Offerte sur un plateau par un argumentaire de la Pologne dont on a peine à imaginer qu’il puisse trouver place dans le prétoire de Luxembourg, l’occasion était idéale pour la Cour de se placer au niveau de conscience des conclusions de son avocat général. Ces dernières mettaient d’emblée l’accent sur les valeurs fondant l’action de l’Union, qui doit en assurer la garantie, cadrant ainsi le débat contentieux pour ce qu’il est : une question de principe. L’économie d’un rappel de la Cour sur ce point déçoit par sa pusillanimité et elle fait douter de sa compréhension réelle des enjeux.

Placé entre guillemets par la Cour elle-même, presqu’avec des pincettes, l’argument sidère : des Etats « presque ethniquement homogènes comme la Pologne » (pt 301) ne sauraient accueillir des migrants relocalisés sur leur territoire car leur population en diffère culturellement et linguistiquement. Outre le fait que c’est le propre d’une politique d’asile et d’immigration (souverainement acceptée par l’Etat polonais lors de son adhésion aux traités de l’Union) que d’impliquer des différences humaines de cette nature, l‘argument de « l’homogénéité ethnique » nationale n’est pas acceptable et ses relents sont scandaleux.

La Cour préfère le registre rationnel en soulignant que la prise en compte de cette différence rendrait impossible de facto toute relocalisation : si elle « devait être strictement conditionnée par l’existence de liens culturels ou linguistiques entre chaque demandeur de protection internationale et l’État membre de relocalisation, il en découlerait qu’une répartition de ces demandeurs entre tous les États membres … et, partant, l’adoption d’un mécanisme de relocalisation contraignant, seraient impossibles » (pt .304). Evidemment.

Cela va de soi mais ce qui aurait été mieux en le disant est surtout qu’un argument de cette nature transgresse évidemment les valeurs de l’Union telles que proclamées par l’article 2 TUE. Dignité, pluralisme, non discrimination y figurent, entre autres… A l’instant où, pour sa conception particulière de l’institution judiciaire, la Pologne est menacée des foudres de l’article 7 TUE qui sanctionne la violation grave de ces valeurs, était-il déraisonnable ou contradictoire de s’opposer fortement à la revendication étatique d’une société « presqu’ethniquement homogène » ? Etait-il déplacé de refuser fortement de se faire l’écho des multiples déclarations publiques nationales écartant l’accueil des demandeurs de protection pour des raisons religieuses ou raciales ?

Benoitement, la Cour préfère l’approche désincarnée, celle qui met en avant l’article 21 de la Charte des droits fondamentaux et le principe de non discrimination pour estimer que « des considérations liées à l’origine ethnique des demandeurs de protection internationale ne peuvent pas être prises en compte en ce qu’elles seraient, de toute évidence, contraires au droit de l’Union et notamment à l’article 21 de la charte des droits fondamentaux de l’Union européenne » (pt 305). Dans le « de toute évidence », se dissimule sans doute la désapprobation du juge de l’Union …

Ce manque de courage est, en fait, un manque de lucidité. Ainsi, comment le juge suprême de l’Union peut-il marteler dans sa jurisprudence à destination des juges nationaux l’existence de cette « prémisse fondamentale » qu’est la « confiance mutuelle » entre les Etats membres sans, de temps à autres, parler le langage des valeurs et des droits fondamentaux et adresser aux sociétés nationales les signes de l’attention effective qu’il y porte ? S’y dérober affecte la crédibilité et donc la solidité de l’édifice, à court terme.

b. l’objectivation du droit des réfugiés

Un regret du même ordre accompagne les développements de la Cour relatifs au droit des réfugiés. Utiles et bienvenus, ces développements ne contiennent pas une once d’attention personnalisée pour les victimes qui en sont l’objet, pas un mot de compassion pour leur misère.

Avec un sens de l’humour qui peut dépasser l’observateur, les Etats requérants s’inquiétaient pourtant ouvertement des atteintes aux droits fondamentaux organisées par la décision attaquée. Le droit de rester dans l’Etat membre d’accueil était ainsi mis en avant par la Hongrie tandis que la Pologne en appelait, elle « aux standards de la protection des droits de l’Homme » y compris en se préoccupant des liens culturels et sociaux conditionnant leur intégration dans la société de l’Etat membre d’accueil…

La Cour écarte alors, très justement, toute accusation d’arbitraire se substituant au système objectif institué par le règlement « Dublin ». Valorisant à juste titre les critères retenus par la décision de relocalisation, liés à l’intérêt supérieur de l’enfant et aux liens familiaux, culturels ou sociaux, elle délivre deux enseignements majeurs.

Le premier confirme la priorité qui demeure la sienne, perceptible dans l’ensemble de sa jurisprudence relative à « Dublin » : faire en sorte que le régime commun d’asile fonctionne de manière effective. La lecture qu’elle en fait donne alors logiquement la préséance à une approche objective et non pas subjective.

Aussi, elle note sans difficulté que l’absence de possibilité pour les demandeurs de choisir l’État membre responsable de l’examen de leur demande exprime invariablement la même règle que le système « Dublin » : il n’existe pas de possibilité de choisir sa destination au profit des demandeurs de protection et d’exprimer sa préférence. Ce qui justifie qu’ils doivent disposer d’un droit de recours effectif contre la décision de relocalisation aux fins du respect de leurs droits fondamentaux. La raison en est objectivement exprimée par la Cour : « l’objectif de cette décision… est de soulager les régimes d’asile grec et italien d’un nombre important de demandeurs en les relocalisant, dans de brefs délais et de manière effective, vers d’autres États membres dans le respect du droit de l’Union et, en particulier, des droits fondamentaux garantis par la Charte » (pt 337).

Le second enseignement est un rappel. A la Hongrie qui avançait que la convention de Genève « comporterait un droit de rester dans l’État du dépôt de la demande tant que celle-ci est pendante », elle répète l’état du droit positif, souvent ignoré. L’examen obligé de la demande de protection est « une expression particulière du principe de non-refoulement qui interdit qu’un demandeur de protection internationale soit expulsé vers un État tiers tant qu’il n’a pas été statué sur sa demande » (pt 341). Ce qui est parfaitement exact.

Parce que le transfert d’un demandeur vers un autre Etat membre dans le cadre d’une opération de relocalisation afin d’examiner sa demande « ne saurait être constitutif d’un refoulement vers un Etat tiers », le moyen ne saurait prospérer. On est ici en face « d’une mesure de gestion de crise, prise au niveau de l’Union, visant à assurer l’exercice effectif, dans le respect de la convention de Genève, du droit fondamental d’asile, tel que consacré à l’article 18 de la Charte » (pt 343).

Au total, la Cour s’inscrit donc ici dans le fil de sa jurisprudence ordinaire tenant à la fois aux questions normatives et au fond du droit de l’asile. Dans un climat de tensions et un contexte politique européen détestable, elle ne souhaite visiblement pas dépasser les limites qu’elle s’est fixée : ni participer à ce débat, ni en être l’objet.

The Brexit talks: opening positions on the status of UK and EU citizens

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Professor Steve Peers

Introduction

One of the most high-profile issues relating to Brexit, which could potentially have the biggest direct impact on the lives of the greatest number of people, is the issue of what happens to UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in UK after Brexit. This is one of the first issues to be addressed in Brexit talks, and both sides have now adopted their positions: the EU in the form of a Council decision on the mandate for the Commission negotiators, back on May 22, and the UK in the form of a UK government proposal, released on June 26. As we can see from these dates, it’s entirely false to suggest (as the UK Foreign Secretary has done, for instance) that this UK government proposal came first, with no EU position yet: it’s quite the opposite. (Equally it’s false to suggest, as the Brexit Secretary does, that among the EU institutions, only the EU Commission is demanding that the ECJ have a role in the agreement).

This EU position also covers the issues of the financial consequences of Brexit and its purely transitional aspects (ie court cases pending on Brexit Day), which no published UK proposal has addressed yet. However, I will focus solely on the citizens’ rights issues for now. For the sake of simplicity, the relevant parts of the EU position are repeated in the Annex to this blog post.

There is a basic choice to be made whether the position of UK and EU citizens after Brexit is based on the ‘acquired rights’ approach (ie retaining their status under EU law) or an approach based on equality with nationals. As we will see, the EU takes the former approach, while the UK takes the latter, even though during the referendum campaign the Leave side promised acquired rights to both EU citizens in the UK (‘no change’, ‘no less favourable’) and UK citizens in the EU.

The EU position

Basically, the EU position follows the ‘acquired rights’ approach, adopting a broad interpretation of that concept to include rights which will vest in future as well as those ‘in the process of being obtained’, specifically permanent residence status which can be obtained under EU free movement law after five years’ continuous legal residence. It explicitly covers both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, including those who previously resided on one side or the other. Protection will be based on equal treatment compared to nationals – reflecting the second option for approaching the issue – for the lifetime of each person, via ‘smooth and simple administrative procedures’.

The EU position goes on to define the personal scope of the deal: those covered by the EU citizens’ Directive (workers, self-employed and economically inactive people – implicitly subject to the limits in the Directive for ‘benefit tourists’, as discussed here), also including family members who arrive before or after Brexit Day. It will also repeat the scope of the EU social security Regulation, which addresses social security coordination in cross-border situations as distinct from immigration status, including frontier workers (ie those who work in the UK but live in France, or vice versa).

The material scope of the deal (ie the rights to be protected) should include residence rights based on the Treaties or the citizens’ Directive, as well as the procedural rules on documenting those rights; the social security coordination rules, including export of benefits and cumulating social security contributions made in different countries; the supplementary rights in the Regulation on free movement of workers, including workers’ children’s access to education; access to self-employment; and recognition of qualifications which were obtained before Brexit Day or which are in the process of being recognised on that date.

As for enforcement, the EU side wants this issue to be enforced by the ECJ, and the rules in the withdrawal agreement to be enforced in accordance with pre-Brexit case law of the Court. A separate position paper makes clear that this refers to all of the Court’s current jurisdiction, in particular references from national courts to the ECJ and Commission challenges to the UK.

The UK position

Firstly, the UK paper states that it will not alter the Common Travel Area arrangements between the UK and Ireland (and the Crown Dependencies), including ‘the rights of British and Irish citizens in each others’ countries rooted in the Ireland Act 1949’. To that end, ‘Irish citizens residing in the UK will not need to apply for settled status to protect their entitlements’. (It should be noted that some have questioned how much the Ireland Act in fact protects Irish citizens’ immigration status in the UK).

Next, the document suggests its legal form: the government ‘undertakes to treat EU citizens in the UK according to the principles below, in the expectation that the EU will offer reciprocal treatment for UK nationals resident in its member states’. It’s not clear if this is a unilateral offer conditioned on the assumption that the EU side will match it, or whether it is a proposal to be subject to negotiations with the view to being included in the withdrawal treaty. (At some other points, the document refers to ‘negotiations’ and to an ‘international law’, however).

In detail, the UK government states first that it will comply with EU free movement law until Brexit Day. Next, post-Brexit it ‘will create new rights in UK law for qualifying EU citizens resident here before our exit. Those rights will be enforceable in the UK legal system and will provide legal guarantees for these EU citizens’, alongside ‘commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement which will have the status of international law’. The paper rules out ‘jurisdiction in the UK’ for the ECJ. Furthermore, the government paper pledges to treat ‘all EU citizens equally’ compared to each other, although it is not clear how this fits with the special dispensation for Ireland referred to at the outset.

While ‘qualifying EU citizens will have to apply for their residence status’, the ‘administrative procedures’ to this end ‘will be modernised and kept as smooth and simple as possible’. But this will be a national process: ‘a separate legal scheme, in UK law, rather than the current one for certifying the exercise of rights under EU law’. This means that the UK government ‘will tailor the eligibility criteria so that, for example, we will no longer require evidence that economically inactive EU citizens have previously held “comprehensive sickness insurance” in order to be considered continuously resident’. The words ‘for example’ there suggest that there might be other (unspecified) differences between the criteria for obtaining status in the UK for EU citizens.

As part of the process, ‘all qualifying EU citizens will be given adequate time to apply for their new residence status after’ Brexit. This will take the form of a ‘guarantee that qualifying individuals will be granted “settled status” in UK law (indefinite leave to remain pursuant to the Immigration Act 1971).’ This means ‘they will be free to reside in any capacity and undertake any lawful activity, to access public funds and services and to apply for British citizenship’.

To get this status, ‘the EU citizen must have been resident in the UK before a specified date’, which is yet to be defined; but it will be in between March 29 2017 when the Article 50 letter was sent, and March 29 2019, Brexit Day (the government is expressly intending to negotiate this with the EU). They must also ‘have completed a period of five years’ continuous residence in the UK before they apply for settled status, at which point they must still be resident’. Since the criteria are national, not based on EU law, the calculation of this period might differ. As for ‘those EU citizens who arrived and became resident before the specified date’ but who have not accrued five years’ continuous residence on Brexit Day, they ‘will be able to apply for temporary status in order to remain resident in the UK until they have accumulated five years, after which they will be eligible to apply for settled status’.

On the other hand, those EU citizens who arrive after the [un]specified date ‘will be allowed to remain in the UK for at least a temporary period and may become eligible to settle permanently, depending on their circumstances – but this group should have no expectation of guaranteed settled status’. This category of people will therefore be treated quite differently than under the EU proposal.

As for family members, any ‘family dependants’ who join a qualifying EU citizen in the UK before Brexit ‘will be able to apply for settled status after five years’ (including where the five years falls after our exit), irrespective of the specified date’. Again, it is unclear what the definition of ‘family members’ will be. However, family members arriving after Brexit will be subject to the same immigration rules as the family of UK citizens, ‘or alternatively to the post-exit immigration arrangements for EU citizens who arrive after the specified date’. This suggests a willingness to negotiate special rules on this issue with the EU.

There will be an exclusion for ‘those who are serious or persistent criminals and those whom we consider a threat to the UK’; this might not match the rules permitting exclusion of criminals and security threats set out in the EU legislation and ECJ case law. As for ‘benefits, pensions, healthcare, economic and other rights, in the expectation that these rights will be reciprocated by EU member states, the Government intends that:’ settled EU citizens ‘will continue to have access to UK benefits on the same basis as a comparable UK national under domestic law’; those EU citizens who arrived before the specified date will ‘continue to be able to access the same benefits that they can access now – (broadly, equal access for workers/the self-employed and limited access for those not working)’, on their route to settled status. If they later get settled status, they will have access to benefits ‘on the same terms as comparable UK residents’. Also, export of benefits to the EU ‘will be protected for those who are exporting such UK benefits on the specified date, including child benefit, subject to on-going entitlement to the benefit’. (Note that the right to export benefits will implicitly not be offered to those who arrive after the specified date).

Furthermore, ‘the UK will continue to export and uprate the UK State Pension within the EU’; this mainly concerns UK citizens retiring abroad, but some EU citizens will have acquired such rights from their UK employment too.  Other forms of social security coordination will continue, including aggregation of national insurance contributions for UK benefits and state pensions, even if granted after Brexit, and healthcare arrangements set out in UK and EU law; in particular, the UK will ‘seek to protect the ability of individuals who are eligible for a UK European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before the specified date to continue to benefit from free, or reduced cost, needs-arising healthcare while on a temporary stay in the EU’. Negotiations on ‘an ongoing arrangement akin to the EHIC scheme’ are planned, but there is no reference to negotiations on the other social security issues, even though it may prove technically and administratively difficult to aggregate contributions and pay benefits without a formal basis for cooperation. It is not clear if the UK plans to continue applying any of the relevant EU legislation as such; if it does not, negotiations and implementation of the rules will be more complicated.

Next, as regards education, the UK government ‘will ensure qualifying EU citizens who arrived in the UK before the specified date will continue to be eligible for Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE) student loans and ‘home fee’ status in line with persons with settled status in the UK’, as well as maintenance support (where it exists) ‘on the same basis they do now’. Equal treatment in tuition fees will still apply to those EU students who are enrolled during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 academic years ‘for the duration of their course’, along with ‘a parallel right to remain in the UK’ for those students ‘to complete their course’. (There’s no reference to a right to stay for other purposes after Brexit). The UK government ‘will seek to ensure that citizens with professional qualifications obtained in the EU27 prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will continue to have those qualifications recognised in the UK (and vice versa)’. This matches the EU position, albeit with more equivocal language.

As for documentation, EU citizens will need to obtain evidence of ‘settled status’ eventually, but they do not need to apply now, although an application process will be set up prior to Brexit ‘to enable those who wish to do so to get their new status at their earliest convenience’. Those who have already got documentation of permanent residence will have to apply again, but ‘we will seek to make sure that the application process for settled status is as streamlined as possible’. Fees will be set ‘at a reasonable level’. There will be a grace period of perhaps two years while all EU citizens resident under the old system have an opportunity to transition to the new one. If they fail to apply to be covered by the new system, they lose their permission to stay.

Finally, the UK will ‘discuss similar arrangements with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland’ which are also subject to free movement rules ‘on a reciprocal basis’.

As for UK citizens in the EU, the government says they ‘must be able to attain a right equivalent to settled status in the country in which they reside’ and ‘continue to access benefits and services across the member states akin to the way in which they do now.’ The UK will also seek to ensure their continued right to establishment and cross-border provision of services within the EU.

Comments

Since the EU position refers to the continuation of existing law, there are few ambiguities in its meaning (besides those inherent in that existing law anyway – for instance, the exact status of same-sex marriages is pending before the ECJ, as discussed here). There are still some vague points, however. Firstly, is the reference to those who have previously resided in the EU or UK meant to be free-standing, or does it simply refer to the more detailed rules set out in the EU legislation referred to? (For instance, a UK pensioner living in Spain might be receiving a UK pension on the basis of contributions made some years ago).

Secondly, it seems that the reference to rights based on the Treaties covers non-EU parents of UK children in the UK, ie the so-called Ruiz Zambrano cases (see further discussion here). Thirdly, would UK citizens resident in the EU on Brexit Day still retain the right of free movement between Member States – ie would a UK citizen in France on that day retain full free movement rights to move on to Germany in future? Finally, how would each side distinguish between those UK and EU citizens with acquired rights on Brexit Day, and those (principally those who move afterward) who do not have such rights?

In comparison, the UK position is necessarily vaguer, since it does not refer to EU law as such. As noted above, therefore, some of its key features are unclear, notably the definition of the grounds for ‘settled’ status, the scope of persons who might be excluded from that status, and family members. Much of the UK position uses ‘weasel words’ like ‘seek to ensure’ or ‘akin’.

To the extent that its content can be discerned, the UK position is indisputably offering worse terms both for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU. First of all, the cut-off date in the EU position is Brexit Day, whereas it might be earlier in the UK position. The UK suggests that EU citizens in the UK might not be treated equally even if they have permanent residence status by the cut-off date, since they will have to transfer to settled status; the application process to that end would not be necessary in the EU position. While the UK will exempt people from the requirement to have Comprehensive Sickness Insurance, it has been argued that the current UK law on this point breaches EU law anyway.

For those EU citizens who do not have settled status by the cut-off date, or who arrive after the cut-off date but before Brexit Day, they will be worse off than under the EU proposal, since they will not be covered by EU free movement law as regards the acquisition of EU permanent residence status. All categories of EU citizen will have a diminished right to family reunion after Brexit Day.

For UK citizens in the EU, the UK position that they should get settled status in the relevant EU country would not necessarily ensure a right equivalent to EU free movement law permanent residence status. Moreover, those who have not obtained such status as of Brexit Day will not necessarily be able to obtain it as easily as EU citizens do, since free movement law would no longer apply. The word ‘akin’ as regards equal treatment is also vague. While the UK would aim to keep their right of establishment and freedom to provide services, there is no reference to the broader free movement rights arguably inferred by the EU position.

The two sides obviously also differ on the role of the ECJ: it would keep its full current role under the EU proposal, while lose its jurisdiction in the UK under the UK proposal. The latter would leave it with jurisdiction over UK citizens in the EU, and arguably a possible limited role in dispute settlement. Note that the UK implicitly is willing to consider an alternative method of dispute settlement: this could be a new court, a form or arbitration, or use of the existing EFTA Court, which applies EU internal market and related law in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, subject to a requirement to apply ECJ case law adopted before the date of the agreement and to take later case law into account. (This latter requirement matches the EU position, and nearly matches the UK plans for the Great Repeal Bill).

Taken as a whole then, the UK position is much vaguer and offers significantly less to both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU than the EU position does, although the gap is much wider for those who do not yet have EU permanent residence status. There is also an enforcement gap as regards the role of the ECJ, although there are precedents (notably the EFTA Court, agreements with Switzerland and Turkey) for the EU not insisting that its citizens living outside the EU have their rights enforced by the ECJ. Any compromise would most likely be based on: a) the EU side accepting an alternative means of enforcement of rights other than the ECJ; b) a cut off date of Brexit Day; and c) the two sides agreeing to base protection on the acquired rights approach with certain exceptions (family members admitted after Brexit, more stringent rules for those with criminal convictions).

 

Annex

EU negotiation position

20 The Agreement should safeguard the status and rights derived from Union law at the withdrawal date, including those the enjoyment of which will intervene at a later date (e.g. rights related to old age pensions) as well as rights which are in the process of being obtained, including the possibility to acquire them under current conditions after the withdrawal date (e.g. the right of permanent residence after a continuous period of five years of legal residence which started before the withdrawal date). This should cover both EU27 citizens residing (or having resided) and/or working (or having worked) in the United Kingdom and United Kingdom citizens residing (or having resided) and/or working (or having worked) in one of the Member States of the EU27. Guarantees to that effect in the Agreement should be reciprocal and should be based on the principle of equal treatment amongst EU27 citizens and equal treatment of EU27 citizens as compared to United Kingdom citizens, as set out in the relevant Union acquis. Those rights should be protected as directly enforceable vested rights for the life time of those concerned. Citizens should be able to exercise their rights through smooth and simple administrative procedures.

21 The Agreement should cover at least the following elements:a) Definition of the persons to be covered: the personal scope should be the same as that of Directive 2004/38 (both economically active, i.e. workers and self-employed, as well as students and other economically inactive persons, who have resided in the UK or EU27 before the withdrawal date, and their family members who accompany or join them at any point in time before or after the withdrawal date). In addition, the personal scope should include persons covered by Regulation 883/2004, including frontier workers and family members irrespective of their place of residence.

b) Definition of the rights to be protected: this definition should include at least the following rights:

i) the residence rights and rights of free movement derived from Articles 18, 21, 45 and 49 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and set out in Directive 2004/38 (covering inter alia the right of permanent residence after a continuous period of five years of legal residence and the right as regards access to health care) and the rules relating to those rights; any document to be issued in relation to the residence rights (for example, registration certificates, residence cards or certifying documents) should have a declaratory nature and be issued under a simple and swift procedure either free of charge or for a charge not exceeding that imposed on nationals for the issuing of similar documents;

ii) the rights and obligations set out in Regulation 883/2004 on the coordination of social security systems and in Regulation 987/2009 implementing Regulation 883/2004 (including future amendments of both Regulations) covering inter alia, rights to aggregation, export of benefits, and principle of single applicable law for all the matters to which the Regulations apply;

iii) the rights set out in Regulation 492/2011 on freedom of movement for workers within the Union (e.g. access to the labour market, to pursue an activity, social and tax advantages, training, housing, collective rights as well as rights of workers’ family members to be admitted to general educational, apprenticeship and vocational training courses under the same conditions as the nationals of the host State);

iv) the right to take up and pursue self-employment derived from Article 49 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

  1. For reasons of legal certainty, the Agreement should ensure, in the United Kingdom and in the EU27, the protection, in accordance with Union law applicable before the withdrawal date, of recognised professional qualifications (diplomas, certificates and other evidence of formal qualification) obtained in any of the Union Member States before that date. The Agreement should also ensure that professional qualifications (diplomas, certificates or other evidence of formal qualification) obtained in a third country and recognised in any of the Union Member States before the withdrawal date in accordance with Union law rules applicable before that date continue to be recognised also after the withdrawal date. It should also provide for arrangements relating to procedures for recognition which are ongoing on the withdrawal date. (…)
  1. The Agreement should include provisions ensuring the settlement of disputes and the enforcement of the Agreement. In particular, these should cover disputes in relation to the following matters:

– continued application of Union law;

– citizens’ rights;

– application and interpretation of the other provisions of the Agreement, such as the financial settlement or measures adopted by the institutional structure to deal with unforeseen situations.

  1. In these matters, the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (and the supervisory role of the Commission) should be maintained. For the application and interpretation of provisions of the Agreement other than those relating to Union law, an alternative dispute settlement should only be envisaged if it offers equivalent guarantees of independence and impartiality to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
  1. The Agreement should foresee that any reference to concepts or provisions of Union law made in the Agreement must be understood as including the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union interpreting such concepts or provisions before the withdrawal date. Moreover, to the extent an alternative dispute settlement is established for certain provisions of the Agreement, a provision according to which future case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union intervening after the withdrawal date must be taken into account in interpreting such concepts and provisions should be included.

Counter-terrorism and the inflation of EU databases

Original published on Statewatch (*) on May 2017

By Heiner Busch (@Busch_Heiner) and Matthias Monroy (@matthimon)  (Translation from DE by Viktoria Langer)

The topic of counter-terrorism in Europe remains closely linked to the development and expansion of police (and secret service) databases. This was the case in the 1970s, after 11 September 2001 and has also been the case since 2014, when the EU Member States started working on their action plans against ‘foreign terrorist fighters’.

The first effect of this debate has been a quantitative one: the amount of data in the relevant databases has increased explosively since 2015. This can be seen by looking in particular at available data on the Europol databases, like ‘Focal Points’ (formerly: Analytical Work Files) of the Europol analysis system. Since 2015 they have become one of the central instruments of the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) which was established in January 2016. ‘Hydra’, the ‘Focal Point’ concerning Islamist terrorism was installed shortly after 9/11. In December 2003 9,888 individuals had been registered, a figure that seemed quite high at the time – but not compared with today’s figures. [1] In September 2016 ‘Hydra’ contained 686,000 data sets (2015: 620,000) of which 67,760 were about individuals (2015: 64,000) and 11,600 about organisations (2015: 11,000).

In April 2014 an additional ‘Focal Point’, named ‘Travellers’, was introduced, which is exclusively dealing with “foreign terrorist fighters” (FTF). One year later ‘Travellers’ included 3,600 individuals, including contact details and accompanying persons. In April 2016 the total number increased by a factor of six. Of the 21,700 individuals registered at the time, 5,353 were “verified” FTFs. In September 2016, of 33,911 registered individuals, 5,877 had been verified as FTFs.

Since 2010 Europol and the USA have operated the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP), which evaluates transfers made via the Belgian financial service provider SWIFT. Until mid-April 2016 more than 22,000 intelligence leads had been arisen out of that programme, of which 15,572 since the start of 2015. 5,416 (25%) were related to FTFs.

In contrast to Europol’s analytical system, the Europol Information System (EIS, the registration system of the police agency) can be fed and queried directly from the police headquarters and other authorities of EU Member States. Here, more than 384,804 ‘objects’ (106,493 individuals) were registered at the start of October 2016, 50% more than the year before. The increase is partly due to the growing number of parties participating in the EIS. In 2015 13 Member States were connected; in 2016 19 Member States. Some of the EU States, like the UK, also let their national secret services participate in the system. 16 Member States currently use automatic data uploaders for input. The number of third parties involved has also increased (in 2015 there were four, in 2016 there were eight). Interpol, the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security are some of them.

Europol has reported further growth in the number of “objects” linked to terrorism in the EIS. According to the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU’s schedule for the improvement of information exchange and information management, in the third quarter of 2016 alone these grew another 20% to 13,645. [2] The EIS includes 7,166 data sets about individuals linked to terrorism, of which 6,506 are marked as FTFs or their supporters, or are assumed to be so. For May 2016 the CTC stated a figure of 4,129. [3] The increase in terrorism linked data can also be seen in the Schengen Information System (SIS) – in the alerts for “discreet checks or specific checks” following Article 36 of the SIS Decision. According to this, suspect persons are not supposed to be arrested. However, information about accompanying persons, vehicles etc. are recorded to provide insight into movements and to keep tabs on the contacts of the observed person. At the end of September 2016 the number of such checks by the police authorities (following Article 36(2)) was 78,015 (2015: 61,575, 2014: 44,669). The number of alerts of the national secret services based on Article 36(3) was 9,516 (2015: 7,945, 2014: 1,859). “Hits” on such alerts and additional information are supposed to be sent directly to the alerting authorities and not as usual to national SIRENE offices (which deal with the exchange of supplementary information regarding alerts in the SIS). This option was only introduced in February 2015.

The Schengen states used the instrument for discreet surveillance or specific checks very differently. On 1 December 2015 44.34% of all Article 36 alerts came from authorities in France, 14.6% from the UK, 12.01% from Spain, 10.09% from Italy and 4.63% from Germany. [4] How many of these alerts actually had a link to terrorism remains unclear; a common definition has not yet been found. However, the Council Working Party on Schengen Matters agreed on the introduction of a new reference (“activity linked to terrorism”) for security agencies’ alerts. According to Federal Ministry for the Interior, German alerts are marked with this reference when concrete evidence for the preparation of a serious act of violent subversion (§§129a, 129b Penal Code) can be presented. [5]

‘Unnoticed in the Schengen area’ Continue reading

Worth Reading: Justice against sponsors of terrorism (JASTA and its international impact)

European Parliament Research Service (EPRS)  Briefing published on October 2016

SUMMARY

On 27 September 2016, the United States Congress overrode the presidential veto to pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), the culmination of lengthy efforts to facilitate lawsuits by victims of terrorism against foreign states and officials supporting terrorism. Until JASTA, under the ‘terrorism exception’ in the US Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, sovereign immunity could only be denied to foreign states officially designated by the USA as sponsors of terrorism at the time or as a result of the terrorist act. JASTA extends the scope of the terrorism exception to the jurisdictional immunity of foreign states so as to allow US courts to exercise jurisdiction over civil claims regarding injuries, death or damages that occur inside the USA as result of a tort, including an act of terrorism committed anywhere by a foreign state or official.

The bill has generated significant debate within and outside the USA. State or sovereign immunity is a recognised principle of customary international law and, for that reason, JASTA has been denounced as potentially violating international law and foreign states’ sovereignty; some countries have already announced reciprocal measures against the USA. The terrorism exception to state immunity was already a controversial concept, with only the USA and Canada having introduced legislation on the matter.

In this briefing:
What is JASTA?
The law on state immunity and the terrorism exception
Debate in the United States
Reactions in third countries
Considerations for the European Union
The European Union’s approach to victims’ rights
Main references

What is JASTA?

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) represents an attempt by the US Congress to reduce the number of obstacles faced by victims of terrorism when bringing lawsuits in the USA against foreign states and officials supporting terrorism. The bill amends the federal judicial code (USC) to expand the scope of the terrorism exception (Title 28 USC, section 1605A) to the jurisdictional immunity of a foreign state. It will give US courts jurisdiction over civil claims regarding injuries, death, or damages that occur inside the United States as a result of a tort, including an act of terrorism, committed anywhere by a foreign state or official. It also amends the federal criminal code to permit civil claims (Title 18 USC, section 2333) sought by individuals against a foreign state or official for injuries, death or damages from an act of international terrorism (unless the foreign state is immune under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, as amended by JASTA). Additionally, the bill authorises federal courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over, and impose liability on, a person who commits, or aids, abets, or conspires to commit, an act of international terrorism against a US national (thus expanding the liability of foreign government officials in civil actions for terrorist acts). However, the foreign state will not be subject to the jurisdiction of US courts if the tortious act in question constitutes ‘mere negligence’. JASTA contains a stay of actions clause that can apply if the USA is engaged in good faith discussions with the foreign state or any parties as to the resolution of the claims. A stay can be granted for 180 days, and is renewable. JASTA will apply to any civil action ‘arising out of an injury to a person, property, or business, on or after September 11, 2001’.

The JASTA bill was approved by the US Senate in May 2016 (S. 2040) and by the House of Representatives in September 2016, but was vetoed by President Obama. The bill passed after Congress overrode the presidential veto on 27 September 2016. There are however indications that some changes to the law are already being considered by lawmakers. Several countries, including some EU Member States have expressed concern about the bill. The existing US terrorism exception to state immunity is already considered to be contrary to customary international law and is an isolated practice among other states.

The law on state immunity and the terrorism exception Continue reading

According to the CJEU the free trade agreement with Singapore cannot, in its current form, be concluded by the EU alone

The full text of the opinion is published on the CURIA website

(CJEU Press and Information)  Opinion 2/15 : The provisions of the agreement relating to non-direct foreign investment and those relating to dispute settlement between investors and States do not fall within the exclusive competence of the EU, so that the agreement cannot, as it stands, be concluded without the participation of the Member States

On 20 September 2013, the EU and Singapore initialled the text of a free trade agreement. The agreement is one of the first ‘new generation’ bilateral free trade agreements, that is to say, a trade agreement which contains, in addition to the classical provisions on the reduction of customs duties and of non-tariff barriers in the field of trade in goods and services, provisions on various matters related to trade, such as intellectual property protection, investment, public procurement, competition and sustainable development.

The Commission submitted a request to the Court of Justice for an opinion to determine whether the EU has exclusive competence enabling it to sign and conclude the envisaged agreement by itself. The Commission and the Parliament contend that that is the case. The Council and the governments of all the Member States which submitted observations to the Court1 assert that the EU cannot conclude the agreement by itself because certain parts of the agreement fall within a competence shared between the EU and the Member States, or even within the exclusive competence of the Member States.

In today’s opinion, the Court, after making it clear that the opinion relates only to the issue of whether the EU has exclusive competence and not to whether the content of the agreement is compatible with EU law, holds that the free trade agreement with Singapore cannot, in its current form, be concluded by the EU alone, because some of the provisions envisaged fall within competences shared between the EU and the Member States. It follows that the free trade agreement with Singapore can, as it stands, be concluded only by the EU and the Member States acting together.

In particular, the Court declares that the EU has exclusive competence so far as concerns the parts of the agreement relating to the following matters:

  • access to the EU market and the Singapore market so far as concerns goods and services (including all transport services)2 and in the fields of public procurement and of energy generation from sustainable non-fossil sources;
  • the provisions concerning protection of direct foreign investments of Singapore nationals in the EU (and vice versa);
  • the provisions concerning intellectual property rights;
  • the provisions designed to combat anti-competitive activity and to lay down a framework for concentrations, monopolies and subsidies;
  • the provisions concerning sustainable development (the Court finds that the objective of sustainable development now forms an integral part of the common commercial policy of the EU and that the envisaged agreement is intended to make liberalisation of trade between the EU and Singapore subject to the condition that the parties comply with their international obligations concerning social protection of workers and environmental protection);
  • the rules relating to exchange of information and to obligations governing notification, verification, cooperation, mediation, transparency and dispute settlement between the parties, unless those rules relate to the field of non-direct foreign investment (see below).

Ultimately, it is in respect of only two aspects of the agreement that, according to the Court, the EU is not endowed with exclusive competence, namely the field of non-direct foreign investment (‘portfolio’ investments made without any intention to influence the management and control of an undertaking) and the regime governing dispute settlement between investors and States.

In order for the EU to have exclusive competence in the field of non-direct foreign investment, conclusion of the agreement would have to be capable of affecting EU acts or altering their scope. As that is not the case, the Court concludes that the EU does not have exclusive competence. It has, on the other hand, a competence shared with the Member States.

That conclusion also extends to the rules relating to exchange of information, and to the obligations governing notification, verification, cooperation, mediation, transparency and dispute settlement, as regards non-direct foreign investment (see above). The regime governing dispute settlement between investors and States also falls within a competence shared between the EU and the Member States. Such a regime, which removes disputes from the jurisdiction of the courts of the Member States, cannot be established without the Member States consent.

It follows that the free trade agreement can, as it stands, only be concluded by the EU and the Member States jointly.

NOTES

1 Written observations were lodged by all the Member States with the exception of Belgium, Croatia, Estonia and Sweden. Belgium nevertheless appeared at the hearing and made oral observations.

2 Whether it be maritime transport, rail transport or road transport, the Court holds that the commitments contained in the envisaged agreement that relate to transport services may affect EU regulations or alter their scope, so that, in accordance with Article 3(2) TFEU, the European Union has exclusive competence to approve those commitments.

NOTE: A Member State, the European Parliament, the Council or the Commission may obtain the opinion of the Court of Justice as to whether an agreement envisaged is compatible with the Treaties or as to competence to conclude that agreement. Where the opinion of the Court is adverse, the agreement envisaged may not enter into force unless it is amended or the Treaties are revised.

Unofficial document for media use, not binding on the Court of Justice.

 

Worth reading : the final report by the EU High Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability (HLEG),

NB: The full version (PDF)  of the Report is accessible HERE

On May 8th the (EU) High Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability (HLEG) which was set up in June 2016 following the Commission Communication on “Stronger and Smarter Information Systems for Borders and Security ” has published its long awaited 56 long pages Report on Information Systems and Interoperability.

Members of the HLEG were the EU Members States (+ Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein), the EU Agencies (Fundamental Rights Agency, FRONTEX, European Asylum Support Office, Europol and the EU-LISA “Large Information Support Agency”) as well as the representatives of the Commission and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) and the Anti-Terrorism Coordinator (an High Council General Secretariat Official designated by the European Council).

Three Statements, respectively of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, of the European Data Protection Supervisor and of the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator (CTC),  are attached. The first two can be considered as a sort of partially dissenting Opinions while the CTC  statement is quite obviously in full support of the recommendations set out by the report as it embodies for the first time at EU level the “Availability Principle” which was set up already in 2004 by the European Council. According to that principle if a Member State (or the EU) has a security related information which can be useful to another Member State it has to make it available to the authority of another Member State. It looks as a common sense principle which goes hand in hand with the principle of sincere cooperation between EU Member States and between them and the EU Institutions.

The little detail is that when information is collected for security purposes national and European legislation set very strict criteria to avoid the possible abuses by public EU and National Law enforcement authorities. This is the core of Data Protection legislation and of the art. 6, 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which prevent the EU and its Member States from becoming a sort of Big Brother “State of surveillance”. Moreover, at least until now these principles have guided the post-Lisbon European Court of Justice jurisprudence in this domain and it is quite appalling that no reference is made in this report to the Luxembourg Court Rulings notably dealing with “profiling” and “data retention”(“Digital Rights”, “Schrems”, “TELE 2-Watson”…).

Needless to say to implement all the HLWG recommendations several legislative measures will be needed as well as the definition of a legally EU Security Strategy which should be adopted under the responsibility of the EU co-legislators. Without a strong legally founded EU security strategy not only the European Parliament will continue to be out of the game but also the control of the Court of Justice on the necessity and  proportionality of the existing and planned EU legislative measures will be weakened.  Overall this HLWG report is mainly focused on security related objectives and the references to fundamental rights and data protection are given more as “excusatio non petita” than as a clearly explained reasoning (see the Fundamental Rights Agency Statement). On the Content of the  perceived “threats” to be countered with this new approach it has to be seen if some of them (such as the mixing irregular migration with terrorism)  are not imaginary and, by the countrary, real ones are not taken in account.

At least this report is now public. It will be naive to consider it as purely “technical” : it is highly political and will justify several EU legislative measures. It will be worthless for the European Parliament to wake up when the formal legislative proposals will be submitted. If it has an alternative vision it has to show it NOW and not waiting when the Report will be quite likely “endorsed” by the Council and the European Council.

Emilio De Capitani

TEXT OF THE REPORT (NB  Figures have not been currently imported, sorry.)

——- Continue reading

EU accession to the Istanbul Convention preventing and combating violence against women. The current state of play.

by Luigi LIMONE (*)

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as ‘Istanbul Convention’, is the first legally binding treaty in Europe that criminalises different forms of violence against women including physical and psychological violence, sexual violence, sexual harassment and rape, stalking, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced abortion and forced sterilization.

It emphasises and recognises that violence against women is a human rights violation, a form of discrimination against women and a cause and a consequence of inequality between women and men. The Convention requires the public authorities of State parties to adopt a set of comprehensive and multidisciplinary measures in a proactive fashion to prevent violence, protect its victims/survivors and prosecute the perpetrators. The Convention recognises that women experience multiple forms of discrimination and requires the State parties to ensure that tits implementation is made without discrimination on any ground such as sex, gender, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, state of health, disability, marital status, migrant or refugee status or other. It also states that violence against women can never be justified in the name of culture, custom, religion, tradition nor so-called ‘honour’.

It foresees obligations to adopt a specific gender-sensitive approach in migration and asylum matters, and the establishment of a specific monitoring mechanism, (The Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence “GREVIO”), tasked with ensuring effective implementation of its provisions by the Parties.

The Convention contains 81 articles set out in 12 separate chapters and was adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 7 April 2011, and opened for signature.  on 11 May 2011.  The Convention is open for signature and approval by the (47) member States of the Council of Europe, non-member States which have participated in its elaboration and the European Union, and is open for accession by other non-member States. The Istanbul Convention came into force in 2014. It has been signed by all the EU Member States (but the ratification is still missing for Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czeck Republik, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovakia and UK)

EU Accession : different perspectives of the Commission and of the Council

It should be noted that from a legal point of view the Istanbul Convention, like many other international treaties, is a ‘mixed agreement’ which allows for EU accession in parallel to the Member States’ accession.  While the EU cannot sign up to older international human rights treaties, like the UN Covenants, since they are only open to States, newer treaties expressly provide for the EU to sign up to them. This holds particularly true for the Istanbul Convention, which deals with a number of fields the EU is competent in, including victims’ rights and protection orders, asylum and migration, as well as in judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

As Steve Peers said, the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention can only be welcomed. Although it may not, by itself, prevent any act of violence from being committed, it may accelerate a broader process of ratification and corresponding national law reform on this issue. It may also have the important practical impact of helping victims receive support or protection, particularly in the context of the law on crime victims, immigration or asylum.

More specifically, the EU ratification of the Istanbul Convention could provide encouragement to its Member States, as well as non-EU Member States, to ratify the Convention and, since the CJEU will have jurisdiction to interpret those provisions of the Convention which fall within the scope of EU competence, it could promote a uniform interpretation of those provisions within the EU, thus establishing a truly comprehensive  framework for preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

On 4th March 2016, the European Commission has then issued a proposal for a Council decision on the conclusion, by the European Union, of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

The Commission proposal for the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention has recognised the mixed nature of the Convention and but has explicitly stated that the European Union has exclusive competence to the extent that, according to art.3(2) the Convention may affect common EU rules or alter their scope (recital 6).

However it has to be noted that according to art.73 of the Convention  :“The provisions of this Convention shall not prejudice the provisions of internal law and binding international instruments which are already in force or may come into force, under which more favourable rights are or would be accorded to persons in preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.”  Consequently, contracting Parties to the Convention are allowed to maintain or introduce a higher level of protection for women and girls than the norms set out in the Convention.

This gives some leeway to the Member States which have already signed and in some cases also ratified the Convention. Moreover in cases where relevant Union legislation contains minimum standards as well, it can be questioned if they have lost their possibility of adopting national legislation more favorable to the victims. On September 2016, the Slovak Presidency has then requested the Legal Service to give an opinion on the competences of the Union relating to the Convention, and to identify the parts of the Convention, if any, that fall within the Union’s exclusive competence.

This opinion was issued on 27 October 2016 (doc. 13795/16 -only partially accessible to the public) and as a result of subsequent debates in the Council working Groups it was decided that the Convention should be signed on behalf of the EU only as regards matters falling within the competence of the Union insofar as the Convention may affect common rules or alter their scope.

According to an internal Council source the EU must be held to have exclusive competence for some of the provisions of the Convention set out in Chapters IV (“Protection and Support”), V (‘Substantive Law) and VI (‘Investigation, prosecution, procedural law and protective measures’) but only insofar as they relate to victims covered by Directive 2011/92/EU and Directive 2011/36/EU. (Moreover in the case of the Victim Directive it deals with minimum EU rules so that some competence remain at MS level).

On the contrary it seems indisputable that the Union has acquired exclusive competence in relation to two of the three provisions of Chapter VII (‘Migration and Asylum’).  In relation to Article 60(1) and (2) of the Convention, the current EU rules of the “Qualification Directive” does not appear to be much leeway for Member States to exceed the protection level set out in Union rules. The same applies to Article 60(3) of the Convention, in the light of the detailed provisions of the same Qualification Directive, the “Procedures Directive” and the “Reception conditions Directive”, even if they set, technically speaking, Member States to maintain or introduce more favourable protection.  As for Article 61 of the Convention, on non-refoulement, this appears to set “minimum” norms, but only in theory.  The same must be held for the corresponding provisions of EU provisions, whether primary (Article 78(1) TFEU), or secondary law.

Therefore, to protect the MS competence the Council has decided to change the legal basis and the draft decision on the signing on behalf of the European Union of the Istanbul Convention was divided into two decisions: one with regard to matters related to judicial cooperation in criminal matters and the second with regard to asylum and non-refoulement.

Both Council and Commission have recognised that the respective competences of the European Union and the Member States are inter-linked and have considered that it is appropriate to establish arrangements between the Commission and the Member States for the monitoring mechanism provided by the Convention, the so-called Group of experts on action against violence against women and domestic violence (GREVIO).

…in the meantime the European Parliament ..

At the European Parliament level, on several occasions MEPs have recalled that the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention would guarantee a coherent European legal framework to prevent and combat violence against women and gender-based violence and to protect the victims of violence, provide greater coherence and efficiency in EU internal and external policies and ensure better monitoring, interpretation and implementation of EU laws, programs and funds relevant to the Convention, as well as more adequate and better collection of comparable desegregated data on violence against women and gender-based violence at EU.

According to the MEPs the EU ratification would also reinforce the EU accountability at international level and, last but not least, it would apply renewed political pressure on Member States to ratify this instrument (note that so far all EU Member States have signed the Istanbul Convention, but only fourteen of them have ratified it).

The European Parliament has also recalled that the Commission is bound by Article 2 TEU and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights to guarantee, promote and take action in favour of gender equality. It has, therefore, welcomed the Commission proposal to sign and conclude the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention.

In this respect, a draft interim report between the LIBE and FEMM Committees is being drafted by two rapporteurs, Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (EPP – Sweden) and Christine Revault D’Allonnes Bonnefoy (S&D – France). A first LIBE/FEMM joint hearing on the issue took place on 29 November 2016. It was followed by a second joint hearing, which was held on 27 March 2017, whose aim was to highlight the importance as well as the necessity for the EU to access the Istanbul convention as a unique body.

During the latter hearing, some MEPs reiterated the importance of the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention, which could represent the basis for the introduction of a holistic approach addressing the issue of violence against women and girls and gender-based violence from a wide range of perspectives, such as prevention, the fight against discrimination, criminal law measures to combat impunity, victim protection and support, the protection of children, the protection of women asylum seekers and refugees and better data collection.

According to Malin Björk  (GUE/NGL – Sweden), the EU accession to the Istanbul convention would represent a very important step forward and it would allow to see violence against women as a political issue. For her, the EU ratification would be an opportunity to make people understand that such an issue is part of gender politics and it has to be recognised as such.

For Iratxe García Pérez (S&D – Spain), it would be extremely important to use all the best practices provided by some EU countries, such as Spain and Sweden, in order to define a common European framework for an active policy to combat violence against women. In her opinion, the European society is still unequal and gender-based violence derives from such an unbalance of power. The EU accession to the Istanbul Convention would be therefore crucial in order to set the basis for a common European strategy aiming to eliminate gender unbalances across Europe.

The key elements of the interim report were outlined during a third joint hearing which took place on 11 April 2017. On that occasion, the two rapporteurs stressed the needs for a joint effort between the European Parliament and the European Commission, in order to set up a holistic and comprehensive approach towards violence against women. Both the rapporteurs  expressed their strong support for the introduction of an EU directive and recalled that violence against women should not be considered as a national issue but as a European issue, since it affects the whole European society.

Despite the progress made at the European Parliament level, some MEPs deplored the fact that negotiations in the Council were not proceeding at the same speed.

It is not clear if the LIBE members were aware of the debates on the Council side or if they have been “timely and fully informed” of the new approach emerging on the Council side as it should had be the case according to art. 218 of the TFUE. Nor it is clear if the Commission has taken duly informed the LIBE Members in compliance with the EP-Commission Framework agreement.

(*) FREE-GROUP Trainee