Think of the children: the ECJ clarifies the status of non-EU parents of EU citizen children living in their own Member State

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

Professor Steve Peers

What immigration rights do non-EU citizens have under EU law? There are three main areas of EU law that address this issue: EU immigration and asylum law; EU treaties with non-EU countries; and EU free movement law. The latter area of law is focussed on EU citizens’ right to move between Member States, and so only covers non-EU citizens if they are family members of EU citizens who have moved to another Member State. Those rules also apply by analogy where an EU citizen with a non-EU family member has moved to another Member State, then moved back to that citizen’s home Member State. (These are known as Surinder Singh cases: see this discussion of the ECJ’s most recent ruling on such cases, from 2014).

But what if an EU citizen has a non-EU family member, but has never moved to another Member State? Such cases fall outside the scope of EU free movement law. They will therefore in principle fall solely within the scope of national law, unless either EU immigration and asylum law or EU treaties with non-EU countries apply (they usually will not). But in a limited number of cases, there is a fourth category of EU law which might apply to them: EU citizenship law.

This principle was first set out in the 2011 judgment in Ruiz Zambrano, which concerned Belgian children living in Belgium with two non-EU parents. The ECJ ruled that expelling the non-EU parents would in effect would result in the departure of the children from the EU, thereby risking the ‘genuine enjoyment of the substance’ of those children’s EU citizenship rights.

Subsequent ECJ case law (discussed here) made clear that this principle is apparently restricted to the non-EU parents of EU citizen children living in their home State. Cases very similar to Zambrano – two non-EU parents of an EU child – are rare, because Member States now rarely, if ever, confer nationality upon children simply because they are born on the territory. However, there are rather more cases where: a) a home-State EU citizen marries a non-EU citizen, b) their child gets home-State citizenship because one of her parents is a home-State citizen; and c) the parents’ relationship ends.

In those cases, Ruiz Zambrano still potentially applies, as long as the non-EU parent is the ‘primary carer’ for the home-State EU citizen child. In that case, removing this parent to a non-EU country would in effect force the EU citizen child to leave the EU as well.  But when exactly does the ‘primary carer’ test apply? The ECJ clarified this issue in today’s important judgment in Chavez-Vilchez and others.

Judgment

Chavez-Vilchez and others concerned a number of non-EU parents of Dutch children in the Netherlands, who sought to argue that they were primary carers of those children, and so entitled to residence in accordance with the Ruiz Zambrano judgment. The Dutch government argued that they could not automatically be considered primary carers if it was possible for the other parent, ie the Dutch citizen, to take care of the children:

…the mere fact that a third-country national parent undertakes the day-to–day care of the child and is the person on whom that child is in fact dependent, legally, financially or emotionally, even in part, does not permit the automatic conclusion that a child who is a Union citizen would be compelled to leave the territory of the European Union if a right of residence were refused to that third-country national. The presence, in the territory of the Member State of which that child is a national or in the territory of the Union, as a whole, of the other parent, who is himself a Union citizen and is capable of caring for the child, is, according to the Netherlands Government, a significant factor in that assessment (para 66)

While the Court of Justice agreed that the non-EU parents could not automatically be considered as primary carers where the home state EU citizen child was dependent upon them, the Court’s approach was more open. It began by restating prior case law: the key issue was ‘who has custody of the child and whether that child is legally, financially or emotionally dependent on the third-country national parent’ (para 68). It then reiterated, following Zambrano, that dependency was particularly significant (para 69). Then it added new detail on how to assess dependency:

…it is important to determine, in each case at issue in the main proceedings, which parent is the primary carer of the child and whether there is in fact a relationship of dependency between the child and the third-country national parent. As part of that assessment, the competent authorities must take account of the right to respect for family life, as stated in Article 7 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, that article requiring to be read in conjunction with the obligation to take into consideration the best interests of the child, recognised in Article 24(2) of that charter (para 70).

For the purposes of such an assessment, the fact that the other parent, a Union citizen, is actually able and willing to assume sole responsibility for the primary day-to-day care of the child is a relevant factor, but it is not in itself a sufficient ground for a conclusion that there is not, between the third-country national parent and the child, such a relationship of dependency that the child would be compelled to leave the territory of the European Union if a right of residence were refused to that third-country national. In reaching such a conclusion, account must be taken, in the best interests of the child concerned, of all the specific circumstances, including the age of the child, the child’s physical and emotional development, the extent of his emotional ties both to the Union citizen parent and to the third-country national parent, and the risks which separation from the latter might entail for that child’s equilibrium. (para 71; emphases added)

The Court went on to answer questions from the national court about the burden of proof in Zambrano cases, which were connected with the substantive test to be applied. The Dutch government had argued:

…the burden of proof of the existence of a right of residence under Article 20 TFEU lies on the applicants in the main proceedings. It is for them to demonstrate that, because of objective impediments that prevent the Union citizen parent from actually caring for the child, the child is dependent on the third-country national parent to such an extent that the consequence of refusing to grant that third-country national a right of residence would be that the child would be obliged, in practice, to leave the territory of the European Union (para 74).

Although the ECJ accepted that the burden of proof lay upon the non-EU parent (para 75), it also ruled that national authorities ‘must ensure that the application of national legislation on the burden of proof’ in such cases ‘does not undermine the effectiveness’ of EU citizenship rights (para 76). This meant that the authorities had to make ‘the necessary inquiries’ to find out where the EU citizen parent lived, ‘whether that parent is, or is not, actually able and willing to assume sole responsibility for the primary day-to-day care of the child’ and whether the EU citizen child was dependent upon the non-EU parent (para 77).

In effect, the Court ruled that while the non-EU citizen must make a prima facie case, national authorities share some of the burden to investigate some aspects of the case. Again, the substantive test applicable is less stringent than urged by the Dutch government.

Comments

Today’s judgment clarified a number of issues relating to Zambrano cases, following on from last year’s judgments in CS and Rendón Marín (discussed here) which clarified when non-EU Zambrano parents could be expelled for public policy reasons. While the 2016 judgments referred to the child’s best interests, age, situation and dependency (referring to case law of the European Court of Human Rights), today’s judgment also refers to ‘physical and emotional development’, ‘emotional ties’ to both parents, and the effect of separation on the child. All of these are factors relating to the child, not to the non-EU parent; but all of them nevertheless concern the child’s links with that parent.

The Dutch government’s desired focus on the capability of the EU citizen parent takes a back seat to the child’s best interests, as further elaborated by the Court. This will protect more non-EU parents, but in a differential way. Oddly, the Court’s case law does not take express account of situations of joint custody, or the more general argument that the child’s best interest will usually be to maintain strong relationships with bothparents (assuming they are not negligent or abusive).

Could it also be argued that the requirement of always seeking to identify a ‘primary carer’ is problematic from the point of view of gender equality?  Due to the division of labour relating to child care in practice, the Court’s rulings would classify more non-EU mothers than non-EU fathers as ‘Zambrano carers’; but the expulsion of those fathers will only increase the childcare demands on the EU citizen mother who remains, as well as disrupt the child’s right to maintain a relationship with his father. Of course, the presence of the parent who looks after a child day-to-day is essential; but children love the parent who kicks the ball as well as the parent who cooks the meal.

The procedural aspects of the Court’s judgment are interesting, but raise further questions: is there a right to appeal, to a decision within a reasonable time, to a lawyer, to legal aid? In last year’s judgments, the Court of Justice referred to concepts from EU free movement law and its relevant case law when discussing the substantive test for expelling Zambrano carers; but it made no such cross-references today. The long-term immigration status of the parent is also an open question, although Zambrano noted that there should be access to employment to make the residence rights of the parent effective.

Finally, a Brexit point: the draft EU position for negotiating acquired rights does not appear to cover Zambrano carers. From a technical point of view, this is logical because the case law concerns (from the UK’s perspective) non-EU parents of UK citizens who have not moved within the EU. So no free movement rights have been acquired; we are rather talking of EU citizenship rights which will necessarily be lost when the UK ceases to be a Member State, since citizenship of the EU is defined as deriving from the nationality of a Member State. But from a human point of view, any deterioration in legal status could damage or even shatter the family lives of the children concerned. Zambrano carers should therefore be protected ideally in the Brexit talks, or failing that by the UK unilaterally.

See also further reading on UK Zambrano case law by Charlotte O’Brien and Desmond Rutledge

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

 

Legally sophisticated authoritarians: the Hungarian Lex CEU

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON VERFASSUNGSBLOG

 (*)

On 28 March the Hungarian government tabled an amendment to the Act on National Higher Education in Parliament. Even though the draft is formulated in normative terms, the only targeted institution is the Central European University (CEU), founded by George Soros, one of the main enemies of the Viktor Orbán’s ‘illiberal state’. Michael Ignatieff, former professor of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, current president and rector of CEU assessed the draft as a discriminatory political vandalism, violating Hungarian academic freedom. Here I do not want to deal with the clear ideological and political motivations of the action of the current Hungarian Prime Minister, a that time liberal recipient of Soros’s financial support during his studies in Oxford three decades ago.

I want rather focus on the behavior of a contemporary authoritarian (or dictator, as Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission once greeted him). As William Dobson argues is his book, The Dictator’s Learning Curve, “today’s dictators and authoritarians are far more sophisticated, savvy, and nimble that they once were”. They understand, as Orbán does, that in a globalized world the more brutal forms of intimidation are best replaced with more subtle forms of coercion. Therefore, they work in a more ambiguous spectrum that exists between democracy and authoritarianism, and from a distance, many of them look almost democratic, as the leader of Hungary, a Member State of the EU, does. Their constitutions, as the Fundamental Law of Hungary, often provide for a division of powers among the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary – at least on paper. They are also not particularly fearful of international organizations. Even a threat of foreign or international intervention and criticism can be a useful foil for stirring up nationalist passions and encouraging people to rally around the regime, as for Orbán, who claims to protect Hungary to became a colony of the EU. If necessary, they use the most refined European discourses, for instance about national constitutional identity, as the Orbán government did in order not to take part in any European efforts to solve the refugee and migration crisis. And as opposed to previous dictators of the old good times of totalitarian regimes, who just closed up organizations they did not like, without any scruples, today’s authoritarians take advantage of formalistic legal arguments against their enemies. The Russian authorities in the fall of 2016 revoked the educational license of the European University in St. Petersburg following unscheduled checks in the buildings referring to several violations against regulations, such as lack of fitness room and an information stand against alcoholism.

Similarly, the new draft law of the Hungarian government also uses legal tricks to force CEU to cease operation in Budapest. Such a clearly unacceptable requirement would be to open an additional campus in the State of New York. This wasn’t a condition in 1995, when CEU, holding a charter from the New York State Education Department, received its license to operate in Hungary from the Ministry of Culture and Education. Like other international universities chartered in the US, CEU does not maintain any academic or other programs in the United States. Moreover, in 2004 Hungary promulgated a special law on the establishment of Közép-európai Egyetem (KEE) as a Hungarian university, which was accredited by the Hungarian Accreditation Committee together with ten graduate and doctoral programs of the CEU as programs of KEE. Ever since the university has a dual legal entity, as KEE and CEU, but it is one university with only one campus, one academic staff, senate and rector, the latter appointed by the President of Hungary. According to the new law Hungarian universities could only deliver programs of European universities and not of countries from the OECD (including the US), therefore KEE, the Hungarian university could no longer deliver its single set program with CEU, which was allowed under the current law. 

The amendment if passed would make it impossible for CEU to continue its research and teaching activities, including its highly ranked comparative constitutional law LLM and SJD programs. This violates scientific freedom in Hungary, which on paper is still part of the Hungarian Fundamental Law. In the absence of an independent constitutional court in Hungary, the only domestic ‘remedy’ which one can imagine in an authoritarian regime is that the ‘wise leader’ graciously withdraws from his plan.

(*) Halmai, Gábor: Legally sophisticated authoritarians: the Hungarian Lex CEU, VerfBlog, 2017/3/31, http://verfassungsblog.de/legally-sophisticated-authoritarians-the-hungarian-lex-ceu/, DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.17176/20170401-102552.

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

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

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

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

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

The reasoning of the Court – some structural deficiencies

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

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

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

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

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

Minimum harmonization and fundamental rights

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

Barnard & Peers: chapter 9, chapter 20

 

Headscarf bans at work: explaining the ECJ rulings

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS ON TUESDAY, 14 MARCH 2017

Professor Steve Peers

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

Background

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

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

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

The rulings

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Mejiers Committee on the inter-parliamentary scrutiny of Europol

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON THE MEJIERS COMMITTE (*) PAGE  HERE

  1. Introducton

Article 88 TFEU provides for a unique form of scrutiny on the functioning of Europol. It lays down that the [regulations on Europol] shall also lay down the procedures for scrutiny of Europol’s activities by the European Parliament, together with national Parliaments.

Such a procedure is now laid down in Article 51 of the Europol Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/794), which provides for the establishment of a “specialized Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group (JPSG)”, which will play the central role in ensuring this scrutiny. The Europol Regulation shall apply from 1st of May 2017.

Article 51 of the Europol Regulation also closely relates to Protocol (1) of the Lisbon Treaty on the role of national parliaments in the EU. Article 9 of that protocol provides: “The European Parliament and national Parliaments shall together determine the organization and promotion of effective and regular inter-parliamentary cooperation within the Union.”

Article 51 (2) does not only lay down the basis for the political monitoring of Europol’s activities (the democratic perspective), but also stipulates that “in fulfilling its mission”, it should pay attention to the impact of the activities of Europol on the fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons (the perspective of the rule of law).

The Meijers Committee takes the view that improving the inter-parliamentary scrutiny of Europol, with appropriate involvement of both the national and the European levels, will by itself enhance the attention being paid by Europol on the perspectives of democracy and the rule of law, and more in particular the fundamental rights protection. It will raise the alertness of Europol as concerns these perspectives.

Moreover, the scrutiny mechanism could pay specific attention to the fundamental rights protection within Europol. This is particularly important in view of the large amounts of – often sensitive – personal data processed by Europol and exchanged with national police authorities of Member States and also with authorities of third countries.

The implementation of Article 51 into practice is currently debated, e.g. in the inter-parliamentary committee of the European Parliament and national parliaments.1 As specified by Article 51 (1) of the Europol regulation, the organization and the rules of procedure of the JPSG shall be determined.

The Meijers Commitee wishes to engage in this debate and makes, in this note, recommendations on the organization and rules of procedure.

  1. Context

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EU law and the ECHR: the Bosphorus presumption is still alive and kicking – the case of Avotiņš v. Latvia

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Stian Øby Johansen,

PhD fellow at the University of Oslo Faculty of Law*

Yesterday, 23 May 2016, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered its judgment in the case of Avotiņš v. Latvia. This seems to be the ECtHR’s first detailed appraisal of the so-called Bosphorus presumption (the rule on the relationship between EU law and the ECHR) after the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Opinion 2/13 rejected a draft agreement providing for the accession of the EU to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). It also provides a first glimpse of how the ECtHR views the EU law principle of mutual trust, which has become particularly dear to the CJEU over the last couple of years.

THE BOSPHORUS PRESUMPTION AND OPINION 2/13

For the uninitiated: the Bosphorus presumption refers to a doctrine in the case-law of the ECtHR that goes back to the 2005 judgment in Bosphorus Hava Yolları Turizm ve Ticaret Anonim Şirketi v. Ireland. In that judgment the ECtHR first stated, in line with previous case-law, that member states of an international organization (such as the EU) are still liable under the ECHR for “all acts and omissions of its organs regardless of whether the act or omission in question was a consequence […] of the necessity to comply with international legal obligations” (Bosphorus para 153). It also recognized “the growing importance of international cooperation and of the consequent need to secure the proper functioning of international organisations” (Bosphorus para. 150). In an attempt to reconcile these two positions, the ECtHR established what is now known as theBosphorus presumption or the presumption of equivalent protection of ECHR rights by the EU, even though the EU is not a party to the ECHR:

  1. In the Court’s view, State action taken in compliance with such legal obligations is justified as long as the relevant organisation is considered to protect fundamental rights, as regards both the substantive guarantees offered and the mechanisms controlling their observance, in a manner which can be considered at least equivalent to that for which the Convention provides […]. By “equivalent” the Court means “comparable”; any requirement that the organisation’s protection be “identical” could run counter to the interest of international cooperation pursued […]. However, any such finding of equivalence could not be final and would be susceptible to review in the light of any relevant change in fundamental rights protection.
  2. If such equivalent protection is considered to be provided by the organisation, the presumption will be that a State has not departed from the requirements of the Convention when it does no more than implement legal obligations flowing from its membership of the organisation.

However, any such presumption can be rebutted if, in the circumstances of a particular case, it is considered that the protection of Convention rights was manifestly deficient.

Many have been curious about whether the ECtHR would modify the  Bosphorus  presumption following the rather belligerent rejection of EU accession to the ECHR by the CJEU in Opinion 2/13. In the foreword of the ECtHR’s 2015 Annual Report its President,  Guido Raimondi, indeed seemed to signal an interest in shaking things up (emphasis added):

The end of the year was also marked by the delivery on 18 December 2014 of the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) eagerly awaited opinion on the draft agreement on the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights. [T]he CJEU’s unfavourable opinion is a great disappointment. Let us not forget, however, that the principal victims will be those citizens whom this opinion (no. 2/13) deprives of the right to have acts of the European Union subjected to the same external scrutiny as regards respect for human rights as that which applies to each member State. More than ever, therefore, the onus will be on the Strasbourg Court to do what it can in cases before it to protect citizens from the negative effects of this situation.

Yet, in the ECtHR Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Avotiņš v. Latvia, it can clearly be seen that – spoiler alert – the Bosphorus presumption is still alive and kicking. Indeed, as I will show below, the ECtHR for the first time applies it to a case concerning obligations of mutual recognition under EU law. This is notable, since one of the main arguments the CJEU put forward in Opinion 2/13was that EU accession to the ECHR posed such a big threat to the principle of mutual trust that it would “upset the underlying balance of the EU and undermine the autonomy of EU law” (Opinion 2/13 para 194).

BACKGROUND TO THE CASE Continue reading