The Mejiers Committee on the inter-parliamentary scrutiny of Europol


  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


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.


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).


VERFASSUNGSBLOG :How to protect European Values in the Polish Constitutional Crisis



The Polish crisis puts Europe to the test. It raises hard questions and requires fine answers. These are, in a nutshell, the points I made on the panel at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities on March 14:

Is the Polish Development ‘Our’ Business?

In her talk before the EU Parliament, the Polish prime minister stressed that Poland is a sovereign country. She called to respect the current government’s democratic mandate. Indeed, sovereignty and democracy are fundamental values. Any interference from outside Poland requires strong grounds. I want to make a normative and a functional argument to state that the Polish development may indeed concern us—us, that is, the European citizens and the European institutions we have set up.

The normative argument is that the European Union organizes a community of states that profess allegiance to a set of fundamental values—among others, democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. These values are open-ended but not indeterminate. The question the Polish legislation raises is whether disrespecting decisions by the constitutional court and dismantling the separation of powers is covered by these values. To me, this cannot be: ‘democracy through law’ is what we stand for; the legal identity of the European project is that of a ‘community of law’. Hence, our own self-understanding is at stake.

The functional reason is that the European legal space presupposes mutual trust. European law operates on the presumption that all institutions are law-abiding. Otherwise, the legal edifice crumbles. When the presumption is rebutted, a systemic deficiency in the rule of law emerges that threatens the very existence of European law and integration. If a country defies its own constitutional court at the cost of constitutional crisis, how can we expect European law to be respected when it does not suit the government?

II. What Are the Instruments?

However, there is no reason to despair. Though there is no silver bullet, many instruments can convince the Polish government to follow European values. These are the Holy See, the United Nations, the OSCE, NATO, the Council of Europe, the European Union, and other states, all of which have their own instruments. Very few have been deployed so far. Currently, the most important are the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission opinion and the European Union’s rule of law framework. They support a dialogue with the Polish government and a European public debate on what went wrong and how to right the problem.

These instruments are not for the impatient. Of course, neither an opinion by the Venice Commission nor a recommendation of the EU Commission can force the Polish government to change its stance. Their potential also relies on the possibility of further steps, and much of the discussion is held up here. Many feel helpless because they view the Article 7 TEU mechanisms—including the freezing of payments—as totally impractical. Much of that is due to Manuel Barroso unwisely calling these mechanisms a ‘nuclear option’. That qualification stuck: today, anybody who proposes to use the Article 7 TEU mechanisms appears as irresponsible as someone who proposes to press the nuclear-weapons button. However, a sanction under Article 7 TEU does not devastate entire countries; actually, it supports basic values. It is an instrument like the others, legal and legitimate, an instrument that—as all others—needs to be deployed wisely.

Many also consider the Article 7 TEU mechanism impractical in the Polish case because its para 2 imposes a very high voting threshold. This position, however, overlooks at least two features. The first is that a first sanction falls under Article 7 para 1 TEU: the Council can make the determination by four fifths of its members, i.e., 22 Member States, that a Member State exhibits ‘a clear risk of a serious breach’. This determination is a sanction by itself; and this is why the Polish government wants to avoid it so much.

Moreover, even the threshold Article 7 para 2 TEU requires does not seem unrealistic. Of course, the leader of the Polish governing party is in close contact with the Hungarian prime minister. However, there is a big difference between the Hungarian and the Polish reforms: Hungary respected the formal rule of law, which is currently one of the core issues with Poland. Given the centrality of Europe being ‘a community of law’ and the help that the Hungarian governing party has received from its fellow members in the European People’s Party in the past, I see a realistic chance that even the current Hungarian government does not stand with the PiS government in undoing Europe; a possible abstention would not prevent a decision from being adopted.

III. How to Deploy the Instruments?

There are many instruments and many institutional actors. This can be a handicap because diverging strategies or uncoordinated statements may lead to reciprocal weakening. Here, inspiration can be taken from the 1990s when the Council of Europe and the European Union operated hand-in-hand in order to help the Central and Eastern European countries become constitutional democracies. The general division of labour, which proved successful, was that the Council of Europe (including its Venice Commission) set the substantive standards while the European Union added the compliance-‘pull’ through the prospect of membership. The Council of Europe is much less suspected of bullying, which provides legitimacy when it comes to formulating concrete standards on how to be a constitutional democracy.

For that reason, it seems important in the given case that all actors and in particular the EU rally behind the opinion of the Venice Commission of 11 March 2016. The EU does not need to define what is required from a Member State under Article 2 TEU, a very difficult exercise indeed, but can rely on what the Venice Commission asks for, in particular to respect the rule of law.

When deploying these instruments, it is important to do so in a dialogical way. One element of that is to stress that what is required is nothing other than to stand by Polish identity. The Polish constitution of 1791 is the first modern written constitution in Europe and a beacon of European constitutionalism. Though only 14 months in force, it proved an icon of Polish identity in the 123 years that Poland did not exist as a sovereign country, and was taught all those years by eminent scholars such as F. K. Kasparek or J. B Oczapowski. They embedded constitutionalism deeply into Polish identity. Polish administrative law—the rule of law limiting the executive— was even taught in German prison camps during World War II, for example by J. S. Langrod or F. Longchamps de Bérier. Indeed, few have fought for those European values as much as the Poles have done and certainly will continue to do so in the future.

A German version has been published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on March 31. 2016

Violence against women: what will be the impact of the EU signing the Istanbul Convention?


by Steve Peers

The scourge of violence against women is a serious human rights abuse and the worst form of sex discrimination. Several years ago, the Council of Europe (a body different from the EU) drew up the Istanbul Convention on this issue. It came into force in 2014, and currently applies to 20 countries, including 12 EU Member States (for ratification details, see here). Today, the EU Commission proposed that the EUsign and then conclude the Convention. What practical impact will that have on violence against women?

If the EU does sign and conclude (ie ratify) the Treaty, it will be the second human rights treaty binding the Union. The first is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. While most attention has been focussed on the EU’s attempt to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which was essentially thwarted by the EU’s Court of Justice (CJEU) in 2014 (as discussedhere), the EU’s capacity to sign up to other human rights treaties is also relevant. While the EU cannot sign up to older international human rights treaties, like the UN Covenants, because they are only open to States, newer treaties (like the Istanbul Convention) expressly provide for the EU to sign up to them – if it wishes.

Impact of EU ratification

Like many international treaties, the Istanbul Convention is a ‘mixed agreement’, meaning that (if the EU ratifies it), the treaty will bind both the Union and its Member States. EU ratification should have six main effects (I’ve updated this list from the previous post on the reasons why the EU should ratify).

First of all, the EU’s ratification of the Convention could provide encouragement to its Member States, as well as non-Member States of the EU, to ratify the Convention. It would increase the prominence of the Convention worldwide, perhaps inspiring changes to national law and regional treaty-making outside Europe. It should be noted that the treaty is open for signature to non-EU countries: the 19 Council of Europe countries not in the EU (8 of them have ratified it already), as well as the 4 non-European countries (plus the Holy See) which took part in drawing it up.

Do you live in a country which hasn’t ratified the Convention? You can sign up to a campaign for the UK to ratify the Convention here. Please let me know of any other campaigns in the UK or any other country, and I’ll list them with a link in an Annex to this post.

Secondly, ratification could, as regards this Convention at least, address the argument that the EU has ‘double standards’ as regards human rights, insisting that Member States, would-be EU Member States and associated countries should uphold human rights standards that the EU does not apply itself. If the EU is perfectly able to ratify the Istanbul Convention, but chooses not to, what moral authority does it have to urge any countries to do so?

Thirdly, ratification of the Convention should enhance its role in EU law, because it could more easily be used as a parameter for the interpretation and validity of EU legislation. While there’s no general EU criminal law on violence against women (on the case for such a law, see here), there are other relevant EU rules. In particular, the Commission proposal refers to EU free movement law, substantive EU criminal law relevant to violence against women, EU immigration and asylum law, and the EU law on crime victims’ rights, applicable from last autumn (on the content of the crime victims’ law, see discussion here). It should also mean that the Convention will already bind those EU Member States which had not yet ratified it, as regards those provisions within EU competence.The proposal is based on EU competence over victims’ rights, and would apply (if agreed) to every Member State covered by the crime victims’ law – meaning every EU country except Denmark.

In practical terms, that should mean that (for instance), EU law must be interpreted to mean victims receive a residence permit based on their personal situation, if the authorities consider it necessary (Article 59(3) of the Convention). That would apply to citizens of other Member States and their (EU or non-EU) family members, in all 27 Member States covered by the proposal. It would also apply to non-EU citizens in general, in the Member States which apply EU law on non-EU migration (ie the 25 Member States other than the UK, Ireland and Denmark, which have mostly opted out of such laws).  

For asylum cases, Article 60 of the Convention makes clear that gender-based violence is a ground of persecution. This is more explicit than the EU’s qualification Directive, which says that ‘gender-related aspects shall be given due consideration’, with further reference in its preamble to specific practices like genital mutilation. (Note that the UK and Ireland are covered by the first-phase qualification Directive, which has less precise wording on this issue; so the EU’s ratification of the Convention might have more influence in these countries).

As regards victims of domestic violence crimes (of any nationality and residence status), Chapter IV of the Convention, concerning support and protection, could in particular have an impact on the interpretation of the crime victims’ Directive in each Member State.

Fourth, since the CJEU will have jurisdiction to interpret those provisions of the Convention which fall within the scope of EU competence, this could promote a uniform interpretation of those provisions within the EU.  

Next, the relevant provisions of the Convention will be more enforceable if the EU ratifies it. While the CJEU ruled in the Z case that the UN Disabilities Convention did not have direct effect, and might rule the same as regards the Istanbul Convention, at least that Convention would have ‘indirect effect’ (ie the obligation to interpret EU law consistently with it), and the Commission could bring infringement actions against Member States which had not applied the Convention correctly, as regards issues within the scope of EU competence. Ensuring the enforceability of the Convention is all the more important since it does not provide for an individual complaint system.

Finally, ratification would subject the EU to outside monitoring as regards this issue, and avoid the awkward scenario of its Member States being monitored as regards issues within EU competence – meaning that the Convention’s monitoring body would in effect to some extent be monitoring whether EU Member States were complying with EU law.


For all the above reasons, the EU’s planned ratification can only be welcomed. It may not, by itself, prevent any act of violence from being committed, but it may accelerate a broader process of ratification (and corresponding national law reform) on this issue. And it may 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.

Brexit : un arrangement, vraiment ? un départ, enfin ?


 par Henri Labayle, CDRE


Le Conseil européen des 18 et 19 février s’est achevé à 23 heures 59, par la publication des conclusions auxquelles les dirigeants de l’Union étaient parvenus, accompagnées des commentaires du Président du Conseil européen.

Cousue de fil blanc, la négociation présentée comme celle de la « dernière chance », pour la 18eme fois selon un comptage journalistique, ne pouvait qu’aboutir à un accord. Sous peine de signifier l’échec du Premier ministre britannique et donc son obligation de sonner le retrait de son pays de l’Union européenne avant un référendum fixé au 23 juin.

Quitte à manger un cornet de frites devant le Conseil en attendant que l’heure tourne, comme la presse le rapporte à propos de la Chancelière allemande, ou à occuper son temps libre avec une émission radio pour le président français, il fallut donc simuler la tension, la sueur, le sang et les larmes. L’objectif de la mise en scène était connu : permettre au demandeur britannique de persuader son opinion publique qu’il avait arraché un « statut spécial » pour le Royaume Uni, garantissant à son pays le « meilleur des deux mondes » et justifiant son maintien. De même qu’il fallut multiplier les félicitations de ses pairs à David Cameron pour sa « combativité » et un « bon accord », à pur usage externe évidemment.

L’achèvement de ce simulacre peu glorieux permet de réfléchir au fond des choses, à l’instant où près d’un million de réfugiés soumettent l’Union à une pression sans pareille, sans bénéficier d’une attention aussi soutenue.

L’ampleur des compromis passés par le Conseil européen fournit-elle vraiment une réponse à la menace d’un Brexit ou bien n’y a-t-il là qu’apparence et jeux de rôle ? Au vu de leur forme et de la somme des démissions collectives que ces petits arrangements entre amis révèlent, ne faut-il pas aujourd’hui souhaiter que l’abcès soit percé, enfin ?

I – Les limites d’un compromis

David Cameron avait délimité lui-même le champ des concessions à arracher pour appeler à voter « oui » à un référendum qu’il avait, lui-même encore, décidé d’organiser quant au maintien du Royaume Uni dans l‘Union. Enfonçant des portes déjà largement ouvertes par les traités existants, la demande britannique se structurait autour de quatre idées simples et d’inégal intérêt : gouvernance économique de la zone euro, compétitivité, souveraineté, libre circulation et prestations sociales.

La réponse du Conseil s’ordonne en 4 sections correspondant à chacun de ces points, sans dissiper les doutes quant à sa portée juridique exacte et à sa signification politique.

A – Un accord juridiquement contraignant ?

Telle était, évidemment, la condition première pour parvenir à convaincre une opinion publique britannique dubitative. La complexité de la construction imaginée par les services du Conseil et les diplomates contient juste ce qu’il faut d’obscurité et de flou artistique pour rendre délicate une réponse franche.

a) – Le compromis de Bruxelles prend la forme d’un « arrangement», affiché comme étant « compatible avec le traité», qui sera applicable le jour où le Royaume Uni en avisera le secrétaire général du Conseil, après avoir réglé ses débats internes. il disparaîtra en cas contraire. L’arrangement est constitué par un ensemble disparate composé de 7 textes de portée inégale :

a) une décision des chefs d’État ou de gouvernement, réunis au sein du Conseil européen, concernant un nouvel arrangement pour le Royaume-Uni dans l’Union européenne (annexe 1);

b) une déclaration contenant un projet de décision du Conseil sur les dispositions particulières relatives à la bonne gestion de l’union bancaire et des conséquences d’une intégration plus poussée de la zone euro, dont l’adoption interviendra le jour où
la décision visée au point a) prendra effet (annexe 2);

c) une déclaration du Conseil européen sur la compétitivité (annexe 3);

d) une déclaration de la Commission sur un mécanisme de mise en œuvre de la subsidiarité et un mécanisme de mise en œuvre de la réduction des charges (annexe 4);

e) une déclaration de la Commission européenne sur l’indexation des allocations familiales exportées vers un État membre autre que celui où le travailleur réside (annexe 5);

f) une déclaration de la Commission sur le mécanisme de sauvegarde visé au point 2 b) de la section D de la décision des chefs d’État ou de gouvernement (annexe 6);

g) une déclaration de la Commission sur des questions liées à l’utilisation abusive du droit de libre circulation des personnes (annexe 7).

Ce montage complexe appelle évidemment des précisions quant à la valeur juridique de chaque strate, deux déclarations de la Commission ayant été ajoutées au projet initial. La nature des textes en cause commande la réponse sur la portée des engagements pris.

b) – Pour ce qui est de la « décision » figurant en annexe I, on est ici en présence d’un acte « des chefs d’État ou de gouvernement, réunis au sein du Conseil européen», « convenu» de façon intergouvernementale entre Etats membres et qui relève du droit international, en « forme simplifiée ». Les Etats eux mêmes en conviennent expressément, cette décision est « juridiquement contraignante et ne peut être modifiée ou abrogée que d’un commun accord entre les chefs d’État ou de gouvernement des États membres de l’Union européenne ». Elle n’en pose pas moins des questions sérieuses, indépendamment du fait qu’elle ne relève pas du droit de l’Union parce qu’exprimant la seule volonté des Etats membres et non celle du Conseil, qu’elle échappe à la compétence de la Cour de justice pour l’annuler (C-181/91) et que sa forme simplifiée lui permet d’éviter tout débat parlementaire, interne ou européen.

Le procédé, pour être connu, n’en est pas moins détestable lorsqu’il vise à traiter de questions aussi importantes que le prétendu « statut » d’un Etat membre au sein de l’Union. Certes, les précédents danois, en 1992, et irlandais, en 2009, avaient conduit à faire usage de cette technique mais dans un contexte très différent : régler une impasse dans la ratification des traités institutifs à la suite de votes négatifs. Ici, elle intervient à titre purement préventif et pour de strictes raisons de politique intérieure. Il s’agit d’engager l’Union dans une voie pour le moins discutable du point de vue de la conformité aux traités et à la jurisprudence actuelle de la Cour de justice, par commodité nationale.

Preuve est donnée de cette incompatibilité potentielle lorsque l’engagement est pris d’intégrer au moins deux des questions abordées par l’arrangement dans le champ de futures révisions des traités. La gestion de la zone euro verra ainsi la « substance » (???) de la section A être l’objet d’une telle promesse (point 7) ainsi que les limites à la clause de l’intégration politique plus poussée (section C point 1). La décision du 19 février 2016 préempte donc le jeu des procédures classiques de révision de l’article 48 TUE. Avec une chance réelle de succès, qu’il s’agisse de la procédure simplifiée ou de la procédure solennelle de révision ? Rien n’est moins certain lorsque chaque Etat aura soulevé le couvercle de la boite de Pandore, malgré la force de la décision du 19 février …

Les autres composantes de « l’arrangement » sont d’une portée beaucoup plus aléatoire. D’une part car le projet de décision du Conseil relative à la bonne gestion de l’union bancaire et des conséquences d’une intégration plus poussée de la zone euro, s’il est acté, dépend pour son entrée en vigueur d’une décision positive du Royaume Uni quant à sa présence dans l’Union. D’autre part car les autres éléments du compromis sont constitués de simples « déclarations » de la Commission dont la portée sera celle que les acteurs de l’Union voudront qu’elle soit …

L’accord garde en effet le silence sur une modification éventuelle des traités sur ces questions dont certaines sont éminemment sensibles à l’Est de l’Union. Il renvoie au droit dérivé l’accomplissement de ces « déclarations ». Si l’une des déclarations fait dans la nouveauté avec l’instauration d’un mécanisme de mise en œuvre de la subsidiarité, les autres impliquent une intervention normative classique modifiant le droit en vigueur.

Le contenu précis de ces textes ne sera connu qu’à la fin du débat britannique et leur issue dépendra d’un législateur invité à modifier selon la procédure législative ordinaire des dispositions du droit de l’Union aussi fondamentales que symboliques. Nul n’est capable d’en prévoir l’aboutissement. Y compris contentieux si un citoyen de l’Union s’adresse à la Cour en invoquant ses droits fondamentaux, en matière de discrimination par exemple.

Pour ce qui est de l’attitude du législateur, si l’on peut (avec beaucoup de prudence) imaginer que la cohérence des Etats membres guidera le Conseil, rien n’est moins sûr pour un Parlement soigneusement tenu à l’écart et que le verrou de sa majorité allemande ne retiendra peut-être pas de tout faire voler en éclat … après le référendum et c’est après tout cela qui compte…

L’importance des textes visés n’échappe pas puisqu’il s’agit :

  • de modifier la directive 2004/38 sur la libre circulation des citoyens pour en réduire « l’utilisation abusive » ;
  • de modifier le règlement 492/2011 relatif à la libre circulation des travailleurs à l’intérieur de l’Union afin de prévoir un mécanisme de sauvegarde ;
  • modifier le règlement 883/2004 portant sur la coordination des systèmes de sécurité sociale, afin d’instaurer un mécanisme d’indexation lors de l’exportation des allocations familiales.

On comprend dans ces conditions le soin avec lequel David Cameron a soigneusement évité de prendre langue avec le Parlement européen, laissant à la « pax germanica » gérée par le chancelier allemand et le Président du Parlement le soin de s’occuper de l’intendance !!!

B – Un accord politiquement significatif ?

Construit en trompe l’oeil, l’arrangement du 19 février est volontairement incompréhensible pour qui ne maîtrise pas les arcanes du droit institutionnel et des politiques de l’Union. Chacun peut ainsi revendiquer la victoire de ses idées ou le succès de la défense des traités, le peu d’enthousiasme du Président de la Commission indiquant son manque de goût pour l’opération.

La fonction de l’arrangement en question, au delà de son utilité politique immédiate pour le premier ministre britannique, doit être éclaircie pour en comprendre la portée.

a) – L’arrangement veut d’abord être un instrument permettant de dissiper toute ambiguïté, de préciser le sens et le rôle des dispositions des traités, faute d’être en capacité d’en modifier le contenu. Il se présente donc comme un moyen de « clarifier dans la présente décision certaines questions qui sont particulièrement importantes pour les États membres, de sorte que les clarifications apportées devront être prises en considération à titre d’instrument d’interprétation des traités» (préambule).

D’où le long rappel des souplesses multiples offertes déjà aux Etats par des traités comportant des «processus permettant aux différents États membres d’emprunter différentes voies d’intégration, en laissant aller de l’avant ceux qui souhaitent approfondir l’intégration, tout en respectant les droits de ceux qui ne veulent pas suivre cette voie ».

Respect mutuel, ambition, obligation de coopération loyale et respect du cadre institutionnel sont ainsi convoqués successivement pour clarifier le fonctionnement de la zone euro et le jeu de la compétitivité dans le sens des demandes britanniques.

C’est dans ce cadre que le sujet sensible du droit de regard d’un Etat non membre de la zone euro a été traité à la fois dans la section relative à la gouvernance économique de la décision arrêtée le 19 février et dans un projet de « décision du Conseil sur les dispositions particulières relatives à la bonne gestion de l’union bancaire et des conséquences d’une intégration plus poussée de la zone euro ». Rappelant le dialogue de sourds des deux paragraphes du compromis de Luxembourg, le projet de texte permet à un Etat non membre d’indiquer « son opposition motivée » à l’adoption d’un acte législatif concernant cette zone, le Conseil faisant « tout ce qui est en son pouvoir pour aboutir, dans un délai raisonnable et sans porter préjudice aux délais impératifs fixés par le droit de l’Union, à une solution satisfaisante pour répondre aux préoccupations soulevées par le ou les membres ». De veto, il n’y a donc pas.

b) – En second lieu, l’arrangement tente, et cet exercice est particulièrement difficile, de concilier les points de vue en ne faisant rien d’autre qu’interpréter les traités dans un sens susceptible de favoriser les compromis.

Tel est le cas de la section C consacrée à la « souveraineté » où l’on juge utile de rappeler, un peu cruellement lorsque l’on pense aux attentats de Paris ou à la situation en Grèce, que la sécurité nationale reste de la seule responsabilité de chaque État membre, que cette disposition « ne constitue pas une dérogation au droit de l’Union et ne devrait donc pas être interprétée de façon restrictive ».

Multipliant les références au principe de subsidiarité et à l’existence d’une organisation variable selon les Etats des compétences attribuées à l’Union, l’arrangement en conclut que « les références à une union sans cesse plus étroite entre les peuples sont donc compatibles avec la possibilité, pour les différents États membres, d’emprunter différentes voies d’intégration ». Aussi, affirme-t-il sans cultiver le doute et espérant rassurer le demandeur, « les traités permettent aux États membres partageant une telle vision d’un avenir commun d’évoluer vers une intégration plus poussée, sans qu’elle s’applique aux autres États membres ».

Cependant, la limite de l’exercice est rapidement atteinte et c’est bien de modifications à venir qu’il se préoccupe. Ainsi, même si l’on découvre que, malgré leur ratification, « il est admis que, eu égard à sa situation particulière en vertu des traités, le Royaume-Uni n’est pas tenu de prendre part à une intégration politique plus poussée dans l’Union européenne », le besoin d’une révision des traités est admis. Par précaution sans doute, et parce que sa lecture du droit positif et des coopérations renforcées auxquelles il ne daigne pas faire grandes allusions, peut-être parce que ces coopérations visent selon l’article 20 TUE à « renforcer son processus d’intégration », l’arrangement promet de graver dans le marbre des futurs traités cette constitutionnalisation d’une Europe à la carte.

La volonté de modifier l’ordre des choses est, en revanche, encore plus clairement établie lorsque l’on se penche sur la subsidiarité et la libre circulation des personnes.

La confusion entourant les débats relatifs à la subsidiarité indique sans doute que l’on est peut-être arrivé ici à la fin de l’exploitation du filon politique qu’il représente pour des Etats en mal de justifications devant leurs opinions publiques. Un mécanisme supplémentaire est donc évoqué dans la Section C relative à la « souveraineté », dans son paragraphe 3. Evoquant la nécessité de prendre des dispositions « appropriées » pour garantir l’application du protocole n°2 relatif au principe de subsidiarité, la décision rajoute une hypothèse supplémentaire au jeu du contrôle politique de la subsidiarité.

Dans le cas où les avis motivés sur le non-respect du principe de subsidiarité par un projet d’acte législatif de l’Union, adressés dans un délai de douze semaines à compter de la transmission du projet, représentent plus de 55 % des voix attribuées aux parlements nationaux, la présidence du Conseil inscrira la question à l’ordre du jour du Conseil afin que ces avis et les conséquences à en tirer fassent l’objet d’une délibération approfondie. Là, et c’est une curiosité de l’arrangement intergouvernemental, les représentants des États membres, « agissant en leur qualité de membres du Conseil », mettront fin à l’examen du projet d’acte législatif, sauf prise en compte des préoccupations exprimées dans les avis motivés.

Pour ce qui est de la libre circulation, le texte de la section D est divisé en deux rubriques : « interprétation actuelle du droit de l’Union » et « modification à apporter au droit dérivé de l’Union ». Il s’agit donc soit de délivrer une interprétation neutralisante du droit positif et de la jurisprudence existante soit de modifier directement la législation, notamment et y compris en matière de droits familiaux des citoyens de l’Union ayant exercé leur droit à la libre circulation. Quitte, en laissant agir le conditionnel employé dans ce passage de l’arrangement, à laisser planer le doute en cas de gêne.

L’impact juridique de l’arrangement ne doit donc pas être sous estimé même si la presse britanniques et les opposants de David Cameron avaient largement relativisé son impact matériel et son application dans le temps. Les « travailleurs nouvellement arrivés » en seraient les principales victimes, « durant une période de sept ans » en ce qui concerne l’accès aux prestations liées à l’emploi.

Par ailleurs, nombre d’Etats membres et notamment la Belgique, ont immédiatement cerné le risque représenté pour l’avenir par l’aval ainsi donné au Royaume Uni, même en vue de faciliter son maintien dans l’Union.

On les comprend. L’affirmation du point 4 des conclusions selon laquelle « il est entendu que, si l’issue du référendum au Royaume-Uni devait être la sortie du pays de l’Union européenne, l’ensemble des dispositions visées au point 2 cesseront d’exister » n’engage en effet que ceux qui veulent croire que ce sera la fin de cette technique de renégociation permanente, en forme de chantage, et que d’autres pourraient être tentés d’utiliser à l’avenir.

II – Les dangers d’un « arrangement »

Le comportement britannique vis-à-vis de son engagement dans l’Union entraîne une lassitude conduisant à penser que l’on est parvenu, là, à un point de rupture entre le projet européen conduit depuis un demi-siècle et le Royaume Uni. La compréhension de ses pairs dissimule difficilement que le Royaume Uni dénature ici les conditions de son engagement autant que le contenu d’une politique centrale de l’Union, celle de la libre circulation.

A – La dénaturation de l’engagement européen

Le Conseil européen en effectue lui-même le recensement : la position du Royaume Uni est aujourd’hui une incongruité au regard des principes fondateurs de l’Union européenne.

a) – A ce jour en effet, le Royaume Uni est autorisé par les traités :

  • à ne pas adopter l’euro et dès lors à conserver la livre britannique comme monnaie, en vertu du protocole n° 15;
  • à ne pas participer à l’acquis de Schengen en vertu du protocole n° 19 ;
  • à exercer des contrôles aux frontières sur les personnes et dès lors à ne pas participer à l’espace Schengen en ce qui concerne les frontières intérieures et extérieures en vertu du protocole n° 20 ;
  • à choisir de participer ou non à des mesures dans l’espace de liberté, de sécurité et de justice en vertu du protocole n° 21;
  • à bénéficier d’une situation particulière au regard de l’intervention de la Cour de justice en matière d’application de la Charte des droits fondamentaux en vertu du protocole n° 30.

Par ailleurs, sur la base du protocole n° 36 relatif aux dispositions transitoires, il vient de cesser d’appliquer (opt-out), le 1er décembre 2014, une grande majorité d’actes et de dispositions de l’Union dans le domaine de la coopération policière et judiciaire en matière pénale adoptés avant l’entrée en vigueur du traité de Lisbonne, le tout en choisissant de réintégrer trente-cinq d’entre eux, lui paraissant les plus utiles à ses intérêts (opt-in). Poursuivre cette œuvre de détricotage d’engagements souscrits de façon répétée et librement par le Royaume Uni est donc devenu problématique pour le projet européen, quoi que l’on en dise et même en prétendant minimiser les termes de « l’arrangement ».

La référence ici au précédent français menant au compromis de Luxembourg n’a pas de sens. Convaincre un Etat membre fondateur venant d’adopter un nouveau régime constitutionnel de s’adapter à un traité antérieurement conclu ne relevait pas d’une manoeuvre de boutiquier mais davantage d’une opération de survie pour un traité en passe de s’appliquer.

Rien n’interdit cependant, bien au contraire, pour garantir la présence britannique dans l’Union, de répéter tout haut ce que les traités disent déjà à propos des compétences ou de la subsidiarité ou ce que la Cour exprime dans jurisprudence la plus récente. Il suffit alors de feindre la conviction qu’il s’agit là de quelque chose de nouveau, arraché au forceps par le défenseur des intérêts britanniques. Tout, au contraire, conduit à refuser l’écriture d’une Europe à la carte que les conclusions du Conseil théorisent, malheureusement, le 19 février. Le reste des points actés prête davantage à être passé sous silence, au vu de menaces bien plus pressantes pesant sur l’avenir de l’Union.

b) – Ici, c’est la nature du projet européen qui est en question comme en témoigne la volonté britannique inlassable de remettre sur la table le principe d’une « union sans cesse plus étroite entre les peuples» qu’ils combattaient déjà en vain dans la négociation d’Amsterdam.

Evidemment, la référence à « une union sans cesse plus étroite » dans le préambule ne constitue pas une base légale pour étendre la portée des dispositions des traités ou du droit dérivé de l’Union, comme le souligne très sérieusement le Conseil européen. Pas plus qu’elle ne saurait être utilisée en vue d’élargir les compétences de l’Union. En des temps où des principes, inscrits eux dans les traités, tels que celui de solidarité de l’article 80 TFUE sont ouvertement foulés aux pieds par les Etats membres, la précaution oratoire fait sourire.

L’affirmation du Conseil européen selon laquelle ces références « n’obligent pas l’ensemble des États membres à aspirer à un destin commun » rompt avec le passé, posant un problème politique de première ampleur. Elle assigne clairement une finalité différente au projet européen, même si ce dernier n’est pas à la merci d’une décision intergouvernementale adoptée en catimini. Maîtres des traités, les Etats n’en sont pas les interprètes authentiques, à l’inverse de leur juge.

L’appel répété des traités à une « union sans cesse plus étroite » depuis 1957 n’est pas une clause de style. Il possède une fonction particulière et connaître la jurisprudence de la Cour de justice aurait permis de s’en pénétrer, à l’instant de vouloir satisfaire les tabloïds britanniques.

Traitant de l’adhésion de l’Union à la CEDH dans son avis 2/13 et rappelant de façon solennelle le « cadre constitutionnel » dans lequel elle raisonnait, la Cour de justice le relie aux « caractéristiques essentielles du droit de l’Union » lesquelles « ont donné lieu à un réseau structuré de principes, de règles et de relations juridiques mutuellement interdépendantes liant, réciproquement, l’Union elle-même et ses États membres, ainsi que ceux-ci entre eux, lesquels sont désormais engagés, comme il est rappelé à l’article 1er, deuxième alinéa, TUE, dans un «processus créant une union sans cesse plus étroite entre les peuples de l’Europe » (point 167).

Et, au cas où l’on aurait pas exactement saisi le sens de ce processus, elle enfonce le clou : « la poursuite des objectifs de l’Union … est, pour sa part, confiée à une série de dispositions fondamentales … Ces dispositions, s’insérant dans le cadre d’un système propre à l’Union, sont structurées de manière à contribuer, chacune dans son domaine spécifique et avec ses caractéristiques particulières, à la réalisation du processus d’intégration qui est la raison d’être de l’Union elle-même » (point 172). Partager un destin commun au sein de ce processus d’intégration est donc « la raison d’être » de l’Union, indépendamment du degré d’intégration choisi par ses membres. Est-ce cette « raison d’être » qui est niée par les Etats membres ?

D’autant qu’il ne s’agit pas là d’une simple affirmation politique. Ce processus remplit une fonction dans l’Union, précisée dès 2003 par la Cour de justice mettant en avant le principe de confiance mutuelle dans l’affaire Pupino (C-105/03) : « l’article 1er, 2eme et 3eme alinéas du TUE dispose que ce traité marque une nouvelle étape dans le processus créant une union sans cesse plus étroite entre les peuples de l’Europe et que la mission de l’Union … consiste à organiser de façon cohérente et solidaire les relations entre les États membres et entre leurs peuples » (point 41).

En tout état de cause, la position singulière du Conseil européen n’est pas non plus caractérisée par la cohérence. Ignorait-il que, dans un communiqué de presse des ministres des Affaires étrangères des 6 pays fondateurs, le 9 février 2016, Quelques jours auparavant, ces derniers affirmaient rester « déterminés à poursuivre la construction d’une union sans cesse plus étroite entre les peuples européens » … Là est donc l’inquiétude majeure, dans ce renoncement et cette dénaturation du pacte constitutionnel européen.

B – La dénaturation de la politique de libre circulation

Sans aller jusqu’à un examen détaillé et scientifique de la portée des concessions faites en matière de libre circulation des personnes par le Conseil européen, deux traits peuvent néanmoins être stigmatisés : la volonté d’en nier la spécificité en l’assimilant à une forme d’immigration y accompagne le souhait de contrecarrer la jurisprudence de la Cour de justice sur ce point.

a) – Les revendications britanniques sur le terrain de la libre circulation des travailleurs de l’Union sont anciennes, connues et passablement irresponsables au vu d’une seule interrogation : qui, au lendemain de l’adhésion, a fait en sorte qu’aujourd’hui la population étrangère la plus nombreuse au Royaume Uni soit celle des 748 207 polonais recensés en 2015 par Eurostat ?

Ces critiques ont été partiellement entendues sans que le soit la demande de contrôles préalables à l’entrée dans l’Etat membre. D’où deux rubriques, celles d’une attaque frontale quant aux avantages sociaux dont bénéficient les travailleurs de l’Union au nom du principe de non discrimination et celle d’une assimilation de la libre circulation à l’immigration ordinaire.

La présentation abusive du système social britannique comme justifiant un appel d’air de travailleurs européen par le jeu de ses avantages a conduit à mettre en question un certain nombre de prestations, le Conseil européen semblant découvrir en 2016 que « les différences de niveau de rémunération entre les États membres rendent certaines offres d’emploi plus attrayantes que d’autres et induisent des mouvements découlant directement du libre marché ». D’où sa volonté de « limiter les flux de travailleurs d’une importance telle qu’ils ont des incidences négatives à la fois pour les États membres d’origine et pour les États membres de destination », mais ceci en respectant les principes du traité et notamment celles relatives à la libre circulation des citoyens.

– L’exportabilité des allocations familiales vers un autre Etat membre devrait donc faire l’objet d’une modification du règlement 883/2004 afin d’en établir l’indexation. Marchant sur des œufs, le Conseil avait ici à l’esprit la jurisprudence Pinna (aff. 41/84) protégeant cette exportation. Néanmoins, cette indexation ne concernerait que les nouveaux arrivants jusqu’au 1er janvier 2020 et la Commission se refuse à étendre cette indexation à d’autres prestations exportables, telles que les retraites par exemple.

– Les prestations sociales liées à l’emploi constituaient le coeur du débat, au nom du prétendu « appel d’air » évoqué par le Royaume Uni. Modifié, le règlement 492/2011 instituera « un mécanisme d’alerte et de sauvegarde » en cas de « situations caractérisées par l’afflux d’une ampleur exceptionnelle et pendant une période prolongée de travailleurs en provenance d’autres d’États membres ». Sa justification ? Un afflux d’une ampleur telle qu’elle « affecte des aspects essentiels de son système de sécurité sociale, y compris la finalité première de son régime de prestations liées à l’emploi, ou engendre de graves difficultés qui sont susceptibles de perdurer sur son marché de l’emploi ou qui soumettent à une pression excessive le bon fonctionnement de ses services publics ».

L’accès aux prestations liées à l’emploi à caractère non contributif pourrait être restreint « dans la mesure nécessaire ». Le travailleur serait totalement exclu du bénéfice de ces prestations dans un premier temps, mais il y aurait progressivement accès au fur et à mesure de son rattachement au marché du travail de l’État membre d’accueil. L’autorisation de restriction aurait une durée limitée et s’appliquerait aux travailleurs de l’Union nouvellement arrivés durant une période de 7 ans.

Le flou gardé sur le déroulement de la procédure réserve cependant la question du pouvoir dévolu au Parlement européen durant ce déroulement, lequel Parlement qui devra adopter le texte instituant la dite procédure et ne pas en être fanatique …

Toute la subtilité du mécanisme, ici, tient dans la Déclaration de la Commission jointe en annexe VI. Elle y indique « qu’il ressort de la nature des informations qui lui sont transmises par le Royaume-Uni, et notamment du fait qu’il n’a pas fait pleinement usage des périodes transitoires prévues dans les actes d’adhésion récents en ce qui concerne la libre circulation des travailleurs, que le pays connaît aujourd’hui le type de situation exceptionnelle auquel le mécanisme de sauvegarde proposé devrait s’appliquer. En conséquence, il serait justifié que le Royaume-Uni active le mécanisme dans l’attente légitime d’obtenir l’autorisation requise ». D’où la victoire proclamée par le Premier ministre britannique, prêt à faire usage de cette restriction puisque la condition mise à son emploi est satisfaite.

– Les prestations dues aux personnes sans emploi ont également fait l’objet de précisions de la part du Conseil européen, sous couvert « d’interprétations » d’autant plus fermes et gratuites que la Cour de justice a déjà dit le droit à leur propos dans ses arrêts Dano C-133/13 et Alimanovic (C-67/14) : « sur la base de considérations objectives indépendantes de la nationalité des personnes concernées et proportionnées à l’objectif légitimement poursuivi, des conditions peuvent être imposées en ce qui concerne certaines prestations afin de veiller à ce qu’il y ait un degré réel et effectif de rattachement entre la personne concernée et le marché du travail de l’État membre d’accueil ».

Aussi, « les États membres ont la possibilité de refuser l’octroi de prestations sociales à des personnes qui exercent leur droit à la libre circulation dans le seul but d’obtenir de l’aide sociale des États membres alors même qu’elles ne disposent pas de ressources suffisantes pour prétendre au bénéfice d’un droit de séjour ».

b) – Beaucoup plus pernicieuse, la volonté de réduire la spécificité jurisprudentielle de la libre circulation des citoyens de l’Union s’attache à deux cibles.

Le regroupement familial dont bénéficient les citoyens de l’Union est ici en jeu, en particulier à propos des membres de la famille non citoyens d’un Etat membre qui a fait l’objet de décisions complexes de la CJUE depuis l’arrêt Singh (C-370/90). En l’espèce, la rigueur du droit britannique était plus grande que celle du droit de l’Union à propos de ses citoyens désirant être rejoints par des membres de leur famille non citoyens européens. David Cameron en avait fait un cheval de bataille.

Ici, malgré le rappel martial du Conseil européen de la nécessité de lutter contre l’abus de droit, les mariages de complaisance et autres fraudes à la libre circulation destinées à obtenir un titre de séjour, le risque d’incompatibilité avec les traités et l’article 9 de la Charte des droits fondamentaux est réel. La jurisprudence Metock (C-127/08), en 2008, forme en l’espèce un obstacle de taille.

Aussi, en annexe VII, une « déclaration » de la Commission « prend acte » de la volonté des Etats et promet une proposition de modification de la directive 2004/38 destinée à la « compléter afin d’exclure du champ d’application des droits de libre circulation tout ressortissant d’un pays tiers qui n’a pas préalablement séjourné de manière légale dans un État membre avant de se marier avec un citoyen de l’Union ou qui ne se marie avec un citoyen de l’Union qu’après que celui-ci a établi sa résidence dans l’État membre d’accueil ».

L’important ici n’est pas dans la promesse mais dans la manière de la réaliser dans le champ de la future proposition. La Commission semble sous-entendre dans sa déclaration que, pour ce qui est des situations d’abus en matière d’admission au séjour, c’est sous forme de simples « lignes directrices » établies dans une Communication sur la libre circulation à venir qu’elle interviendra.

La clause d’ordre public, enfin, dont la Cour de justice a mis un demi-siècle à réguler les excès dans l’invocation qu’en faisaient les Etats membres, était en ligne de mire du Conseil européen, tenté à la fois par un alignement sur le moins disant, c’est-à-dire sur la situation faite aux immigré ordinaires, et par la limitation de circulation de catégories de population jugées indésirables.

Accréditant l’idée d’un lien entre libre circulation et criminalité, la décision du 19 février rappelle, en faisant mine de l’établir, que les États membres d’accueil « peuvent également prendre les mesures de restriction nécessaires pour se protéger contre des individus dont le comportement personnel est susceptible de représenter une menace réelle et grave pour l’ordre public ou la sécurité publique ». Parce que cette détermination est parfois problématique à défendre devant le juge, les États membres pourraient « tenir compte du comportement que la personne concernée a eu par le passé et la menace ne doit pas toujours être imminente. Même en l’absence de condamnation pénale antérieure, les États membres peuvent agir pour des raisons de prévention, aussi longtemps qu’elles sont liées spécifiquement à la personne concernée ».

Là encore, la prudence est de mise pour la Commission qui se borne à promettre les précisions nécessaires dans sa future communication sans faire écho aux soucis de prévention et de menace non « imminente » visant exprimés par les Etats membres.

Au total, le Conseil européen ne sort pas grandi de cette épreuve factice, n’hésitant pas à sacrifier son idéal pour un plat de lentilles. Loin des promesses anciennes d’une Europe proche des citoyens, il accentue la crise d’une Union en panne d’inspiration et de leadership au moyen de pauvres biais et stratagèmes juridiques avalisés par tous. Ce faisant, il rend la parole au seul acteur décisionnaire dans une démocratie, le peuple britannique dont on doute que la conviction soit emportée par un si triste ouvrage.

The final UK renegotiation deal: immigration issues

MY COMMENTS : Steve PEERS contribution is, as always, focused, and legally outstanding. It is interesting to note that in case of positive result of the UK referendum  it will be up to the EP to decide if, to preserve the UK “special” status, substantial amendments to the EU legislation on freedom of movement should be adopted. However what is at stake is the principle of non discrimination between EU citizens as defined by art. 9 of the TEU according to which “..In all its activities, the Union shall observe the principle of the equality of its citizens, who shall receive equal attention from its institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.”  

I do believe that in a “political” Union, worth its name and its former ambitions,  this should the objective of the negotiations  should had been to delete the existing protocols granting special status to some Countries and (their national Citizens) who become more “equal” than the others EU citizens.. However thanks to Mr Cameron it is now abundantly clear that our EU leaders are no more “Dwarfs on giant’s shoulders” but only short sighted political dwarfs… What is even more troubling is that, if the UK which has been for more than 40 years consistent with its initial position, other EU Countries, rhetoric statements taken apart,  have a much more ambiguous position towards the EU ( see France, Polonia, Hungary, Sweden, Finland and even Italy) and behave in a way incompatible with the idea of being part of the same family.




by Steve Peers*

So David Cameron has achieved his deal on the renegotiation of the UK’s EU membership (full text of that deal here). This is the first of a series of posts on the final deal – starting with the issue of ‘EU immigration’ (or, from the EU law point of view, the free movement of EU citizens). This builds on (and partly recycles) myearlier post on the EU immigration issues in the draft deal.

I will write later about the other substantive issues (competitiveness, Eurozone relations, sovereignty) and on the legal form of the deal (although see already my post on the legal form of the draft deal; my comments there won’t change much when I update them in light of the final deal). And see also Katarzyna Granat’s analysis of the ‘red card’ for national parliaments – again, the final text of the deal doesn’t differ from the draft here).

The deal takes the form of seven legal texts: a Decision of the EU Member States’ Heads of State and Government (the ‘Decision’); a Statement of the Heads of State and Government (which consists of an agreed Council Decision); aDeclaration by the European Council (which consists of the EU Member States’ Heads of State and Government, although when acting collectively they are legally distinct from the European Council): and four declarations by the Commission. Of these, Section D of the draft Decision and three of the Commission declarations relate to immigration issues. One of these Commission declarations (relating to child benefit exports) was added during the negotiation, while the text of Section D and another declaration (on the ‘emergency brake’ in in-work benefits) was amended. The other declaration (on so-called ‘abuse’ of free movement) was not changed.

While Section D contains some important attempts to clarify EU free movement law, the key feature of the deal on immigration is the intention to propose amendments to the three main current EU laws. These three laws are: (a) the EU citizens’ Directive, which sets out the main rules on most EU citizens moving to other Member States: (b) the EU Regulation on free movement of workers, which contains some specific rules on workers who move; and (c) the Regulation on social security, which sets out rules on coordination and equal treatment in social security for those who move between Member States.

All three sets of amendments are to be proposed by the Commission as soon as the main Decision enters into effect. That will happen (see Section E of the Decision) as soon as the UK announces that it will remain a member of the EU – if, of course, the UK public vote to remain in the upcoming referendum. The deal includes a commitment from the Commission to make these proposals, and from the other Member States to support their adoption in the EU Council (oddly, the latter commitment does not apply to the planned amendment to the citizens’ Directive, since that proposal is not referred to in the main Decision).

However, all three proposals will be subject to the ‘ordinary legislative procedure’, meaning that they have to be agreed with the European Parliament. It is also possible that their legality would be challenged before the EU Court of Justice. I can’t appraise the political likelihood of the European Parliament approving the proposals, although the largest party (the European People’s Party, made up essentially of centre-right parties like Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats) hasannounced that it supports the renegotiation deal in principle, subject to examination of the details. However, I offer some thoughts below about possible challenges to the legality of these laws if they are adopted.

Unlike some other parts of the deal (on the position of non-Eurozone states, and the exemption of the UK from ‘ever closer union’), there is no mention of future Treaty amendments to give effect to any part of the text dealing with free movement (immigration) issues. So the main impact of the deal in this area will come from the three legislative proposals, once adopted. Since those proposals will not be tabled or agreed until after the UK ‘Remain’ vote (if there is one), this means that the analysis of the details is necessarily somewhat speculative. There are some important points of detail that will only be clear once the legislation is proposed and approved. I flag up some of those finer points below.

Although the press discussion has focussed on the ‘emergency brake’ in in-work benefits, there are three categories of issues: benefits (including a couple of points besides that emergency brake); the family members of non-EU citizens; and EU citizens who commit criminal offences. I refer back to Cameron’s November 2014 speech on EU immigration issues (which I analysed here) where relevant.

It should be noted that there is no text in the deal on two of the issues which Cameron had raised: removal of job-seekers if they do not find a job within six months, and a requirement to have a job offer before entry. Both these changes would have required a Treaty amendment, in light of the Antonissen judgment of the CJEU.


There are three benefits issues in the draft deal: (a) the ‘emergency brake’ for in-work benefits; (b) the export of child benefit; and (c) benefits for those out of work.

‘Emergency brake’ on in-work benefits

Cameron had called for no access to tax credits, housing benefits and social housing for four years for EU citizens, but later signalled his willingness to compromise on this point. The position of non-workers and job-seekers is discussed below; but the position of workers is legally and politically difficult, since the Treaty guarantees them non-discrimination.

In the end, the deal provides not for permanent discrimination on this issue, but temporary discrimination on the basis of an ‘emergency brake’. The Commission will propose legislation on this issue, which will provide that the UK (or other Member States) can apply a four-year ban on in-work benefits, subject to substantive and procedural criteria. Procedurally, the rules will say that a Member State will apply to the Council to authorise the ban. The Council will presumably act by the default voting rule in the Treaties: a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission. That means no single Member State can veto the request to pull the brake. The final deal leaves vague the exact authorisation process which will apply in the Council, to avoid annoying the European Parliament (EP); but that detail will have to be addressed sooner or later. Certainly the EP will have to approve the legislation which sets up that process in the first place; the question is whether it would have a role deciding if the brake should be pulled.

A Commission declaration states the UK qualifies to pull this ban immediately, in particular because it did not apply transitional controls to workers from new Member States in 2004. However, there is nothing in the deal to suggest that Member States – who would have the final word – also agree. The restrictions would only to those who were ‘newly arriving for a period of seven years’, and would have to be phased out during that time. Again, the seven years matches the transitional period which the UK could have applied to control the numbers of workers from new Member States, back in 2004.

Several points of detail arise. First of all, after the seven years have expired, it’s not clear how much time would then have to pass before the brake could be applied again. Secondly, it will be important to clarify the meaning of those who are ‘newly arriving’. What about those who lived in the UK before, and are now returning here? How much time would they have had to spend in Poland (say) before they are considered ‘newly arriving’ again? Presumably the brake would not apply to those who are already here when the brake is pulled, but are not working at that time (due to youth, unemployment, childcare or illness) but who get work afterward.

Thirdly, it will be necessary to define how to calculate the four year period. It’s easy enough to apply it to those who begin work as soon as they (newly) arrive in the country, and who work for the full four years afterward. But what about those (a non-working spouse, or a teenager, for instance) who start work some time after they enter the country? What about those who start work, stop for whatever reason and then restart? What about those who start work during the brake period, then spend a year or so in Poland, then come back? And how can we be sure when exactly someone entered the country in the first place?

The final crucial point of detail is, obviously, the grounds on which the brake can be applied. According to the Decision, it would apply where:

‘an exceptional situation exists on a scale that affects essential aspects of [a Member State’s] social security system, including the primary purpose of its in-work benefits system, or which leads to difficulties which are serious and liable to persist in its employment market or are putting an excessive pressure on the proper functioning of its public services’.

There’s certainly a widespread perception that one of more of these problems exist in the UK and are caused by the large increase in the number of workers from other Member States in recent years. However, there are two serious problems with the proposed mechanism. Firstly, as Jonathan Portes has argued, objective evidence for this view is lacking. Secondly, while the CJEU has been willing to accept certain limits to free movement rights on the grounds of protecting health systems (see myprior blog post for details), this would have a much more far-reaching impact on non-discrimination for workers. It’s certainly conceivable that by analogy from the Court’s obvious willingness to keep EU monetary union afloat, along with its endorsement of restrictions for non-workers in recent years (see below), it mightaccept that these plans do not violate the Treaties. But as EU law currently stands, that is probably a long shot.

Export of child benefit

Cameron sought to end payment of child benefit to children living in other Member States. This payment is provided for in the EU social security coordination Regulation, which would have to be amended to change those rulesThere was a strong argument that the plan would have breached the Treaties, since in the case ofPinna the CJEU struck down EU legislation that allowed Member States not to export such benefits at all as a breach of the rules on free movement of workers.

The deal does not go as far as Cameron wanted: instead child benefit can be limited by indexing it to the ‘conditions’ in the receiving State. This will only apply to ‘new claims made by EU workers in the host Member State’; but after 1 January 2020, this ‘may’ be extended to ‘existing claims already exported by EU workers’. This is clarified by the Commission declaration, which states that the ‘conditions’ refers to the ‘standard of living and level of child benefits’ in the child’s State of residence. The transitional rule, and the Commission declaration, were added during negotiations. It’s an open question whether this new law would breach the Treaties, since there is no case law on the point.

Several points of detail arise here. It’s explicit that the new rules will be optional, so Member States can still be more generous if they want to. There’s nothing to limit their application to the UK (although I will refer to the UK and Poland here, purely for the sake of readability). It’s not clear whether the rules will also apply to Britishcitizens who have children in other Member States; arguably the principle of non-discrimination will require that they do. It’s also not clear what happens to ‘mixed’ families of (say) British and Polish parents (or indeed step-parents). Will it depend on which parent is the worker? What if both are workers? What if that changes over time?

The transitional clause also raises issues. The Decision distinguishes between ‘new claims’ and ‘existing claims already exported by EU workers’. Presumably the new law will state a precise date at which claims can be regarded as ‘existing’ (say 1 January 2017). These must be existing exported claims, so if a child moves to Poland after 1 January 2017, or is born after that date and resides in Poland, then child benefits could be reduced, even if the worker is already in the UK. So if my estimated date is correct, anyone who is thinking about having a child, and who wants to avoid the application of these rules, had better get a move on. Perhaps this Easter will be the season of fertility even more than usual.

Finally, it should be noted that a challenge by the Commission to other aspects of UK payment of child benefit to EU citizens is still pending. The non-binding opinion of an Advocate-General argues in favour of the UK in this case (for a critical view, see Charlotte O’Brien’s analysis here). It wouldn’t surprise me if the Commission quietly withdrew this legal challenge. You read that here first.

Benefits for those out of work

Cameron sought to end social assistance for job-seekers. The EU legislation already rules out social assistance for job-seekers, so this reflects the status quo. Although the CJEU has said that job-seekers have a right to access benefits linked to labour market participation, if they have a link already with the labour market in question, it took a narrow view of this rule in the judgment in AlimanovicPure benefit tourists (who have never had work in the host State) are not entitled to benefits, according to the judgment in Dano. So the Decision simply reiterates this case law, which has already satisfied Cameron’s main objectives in this field. It should be noted that another judgment by the Court of Justice on EU benefits issues is due next week.

EU citizens’ family members

Under the EU citizens’ Directive, currently EU citizens can bring with them to another Member State their spouse or partner, the children of both (or either) who are under 21 or dependent, and the dependent parents of either. This applies regardless of whether the family members are EU citizens or not. No further conditions are possible, besides the prospect of a refusal of entry (or subsequent expulsion) on grounds of public policy, public security or public health (on which, see below).

In principle EU law does not apply to UK citizens who wish to bring non-EU family members to the UK, so the UK is free to put in place restrictive rules in those cases (which it has done, as regards income requirements and language rules). However, the CJEU has ruled that UK citizens can move to another Member State (the ‘host Member State’) and be joined by non-EU family members there, under the more generous rules in the EU legislation. Then they can move back to the UK (the ‘home Member State’) with their family members, now invoking the free movement rights in the Treaties. This is known in practice (in the UK) as the ‘Surinder Singh route’, because of the name of the case which first established this principle. In 2014, the CJEU clarified two points about this scenario (as discussed by Chiara Berneri here): (a) it was necessary to spend at least three months in the host Member State exercising EU law rights and residing with the family member, before coming back; and (b) the EU citizens’ Directive applied by analogy to govern the situation of UK citizens who return with their family members.

In his 2014 speech, David Cameron announced his desire to end all distinction between EU citizens and UK citizens as regards admission of non-EU family members, by allowing the UK to impose upon the EU citizens the same strict conditions that apply to UK citizens. Since this would have deterred the free movement of those EU citizens who have non-EU family members, there is a good chance that it would have required not just a legislative amendment but a Treaty change.  (Note that according to the CJEU, EU free movement law does not just require the abolition of discrimination between UK and other EU citizens, but also the abolition of non-discriminatory ‘obstacles’ to free movement).

However, the deal does not go this far. The main Decision states that:

‘In accordance with Union law, Member States are able to take action to prevent abuse of rights or fraud, such as the presentation of forged documents, and address cases of contracting or maintaining of marriages of convenience with third country nationals for the purpose of making use of free movement as a route for regularising unlawful stay in a Member State or for bypassing national immigration rules applying to third country nationals.’

The Commission Declaration then states that it will make a proposal to amend the citizens’ Directive:

‘to exclude, from the scope of free movement rights, third country nationals who had no prior lawful residence in a Member State before marrying a Union citizen or who marry a Union citizen only after the Union citizen has established residence in the host Member State. Accordingly, in such cases, the host Member State’s immigration law will apply to the third country national.’

That Declaration also states that the Commission will clarify that:

‘Member States can address specific cases of abuse of free movement rights by Union citizens returning to their Member State of nationality with a non-EU family member where residence in the host Member State has not been sufficiently genuine to create or strengthen family life and had the purpose of evading the application of national immigration rules’; and

‘The concept of marriage of convenience – which is not protected under Union law – also covers a marriage which is maintained for the purpose of enjoying a right of residence by a family member who is not a national of a Member State.’

It seems clear that these ‘clarifications’ will not be included in the legislative proposal, since the declaration later concludes (emphasis added):

‘These clarifications will be developed in a Communication providing guidelines on the application of Union law on the free movement of Union citizens.’

Let’s examine the planned legislative amendments, then the guidelines which will provide ‘clarifications’. The amendments will exclude two separate categories of non-EU citizens from the scope of the citizens’ Directive: those who did not have prior lawful residence in a Member State before marrying an EU citizen who has moved to another Member State; and those who marry such an EU citizen after he or she has moved to a Member State. For these people, national immigration law will apply.

The background to this proposal is CJEU case law. In 2003, in the judgment inAkrich, the CJEU ruled that Member States could insist that non-EU family members had previously been lawfully resident in the Member State concerned (previously no such rule appeared to exist). But in 2008, in Metock, the CJEU overturned this ruling and said that a prior legal residence requirement was not allowed.

Several points arise. First, the basic definition: what is lawful residence exactly? Presumably it means more than lawful presence, ie a stay of three months on the basis of a valid visa or visa waiver. But what about ambiguous cases, such as a pending asylum application or appeal? EU legislation says that asylum-seekers can usually stay until the application fails (if it fails), and then during the appeal (subject to some big exceptions). According to the CJEU, the EU’s main rules on irregular migrants therefore don’t apply to asylum-seekers whose application is pending.

Secondly, it’s odd to refer to national law alone, since sometimes EU law governs the admission of non-EU nationals. Even the UK (along with Ireland) is bound by the first-phase EU asylum law, and by the EU/Turkey association agreement. Denmark is bound by the latter treaty. And all other Member States are bound by the second-phase asylum law, along with EU legislation on admission of students and researchers and some categories of labour migrants (the highly-skilled, seasonal workers and intra-corporate transferees).

Thirdly, it’s arguable that the EU principle of non-discrimination applies. That would mean, for instance, that if a German woman already in the UK married her American husband, the UK would have to treat her the same as a British woman in the same situation – but no worse. This would in fact be relevant to every Member State – there’s nothing in this part of the deal that limits its application to the UK. (One important point of detail is whether all Member States would be obliged to apply the new rules on ‘prior lawful residence’ and ‘marriage after entry of the EU citizen’, or whether they could choose to waive one or both of those rules. The EU citizens’ Directive already states that Member States can apply more liberal standards if they wish to).

Finally, the consequences of the rule will need to be clearer in the future legislative amendments. Does the exclusion from the scope of the Directive mean that the family member is excluded forever from the scope of the citizens’ Directive – even if the person concerned is admitted pursuant to national immigration law? That would mean that national immigration law (or EU immigration legislation, in some cases) would continue to govern issues such as the family member’s access to employment or benefits, or subsequent permanent residence. It’s also not clear what happen to children such as the step-child of the EU citizen, or a child that was born to the EU and non-EU citizen couple while living in a third country.

Could this legislative amendment violate the EU Treaties? In its judgment inMetock, the Court referred almost entirely to the wording of the citizens’ Directive. It mainly referred to the Treaties when concluding that the EU had the competenceto regulate the status of EU citizens’ third-country national family members. But it also referred to the Treaty objective of creating an ‘internal market’, as well as the ‘serious obstruct[ion]’ to the exercise of freedoms guaranteed by the Treaty, if EU citizens could not lead a ‘normal family life’. It must therefore be concluded that there is some possibility that the revised rules would be invalid for breach of EU free movement law.

Would the amendment violate the EU Charter right to family life? That’s unlikely. While the right to family life is often invoked to prevent expulsions of family members, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights gives great leeway to Member States to refuse admission of family members, on the grounds that the family could always live ‘elsewhere’ – as the CJEU has itself acknowledged (EP v Council). There is some possibility, though, that the CJEU would be reluctant to follow that case law (EP v Council concerns families entirely consisting of non-EU nationals) in the context of free movement: the idea that you could go away and enjoy your family life somewhere else is antithetical to the logic of free movement.

As for the ‘clarifications’ in future guidelines, they will of course not be binding. They first of all refer to cases where an EU citizen has moved to another Member State and come back to the home State. The definition of what constitutes a ‘sufficiently genuine’ move to another country is set out in the case law (three months’ stay with a family member) and mere guidelines cannot overturn this.

It should be noted that the Surinder Singh case law is in any event derived from theTreaty. This line of case law does not accept that such movement between Member States is an ‘evasion’ of national law – as long as free movement rights are genuinely exercised with a family member for a minimum time. The CJEU also usually assumes (see Metock, for instance) that a ‘marriage of convenience’ cannot apply to cases where there is a genuine relationship, even if an immigration advantage is gained. (The Commission has released guidelines already on the ‘marriage of convenience’ concept: see analysis by Alina Tryfonidou here).

Having said that, the planned legislative changes will complicate the plans of people who wish to move to another Member State with their non-EU family and then move back, since national immigration law will apply to their move to the hostMember State. It will be important to see how the legislative amendments address the transitional issues of people who have already moved to a host Member State before the new rules apply. Can the home Member State say, possibly based on the Commission’s ‘guidance’ (which might be issued before the new legislation is adopted) that those families must now obtain lawful residence in the host State for the non-EU family member, before the non-EU family member can come to the home State?

Criminality and free movement law

The Treaties allow for the refusal or entry or expulsion of EU citizens on ‘grounds of public policy, public security or public health’. The citizens’ Directive sets out detailed substantive and procedural rules on this issue, which has been the subject of considerable CJEU case law.

What does the renegotiation deal do? First of all, the Decision states that:

‘Member States may also take the necessary restrictive measures to protect themselves against individuals whose personal conduct is likely to represent a genuine and serious threat to public policy or security. In determining whether the conduct of an individual poses a present threat to public policy or security, Member States may take into account past conduct of the individual concerned and the threat may not always need to be imminent. Even in the absence of a previous criminal conviction, Member States may act on preventative grounds, so long as they are specific to the individual concerned.’

To this end, the Commission declaration states that it will:

‘also clarify that Member States may take into account past conduct of an individual in the determination of whether a Union citizen’s conduct poses a “present” threat to public policy or security. They may act on grounds of public policy or public security even in the absence of a previous criminal conviction on preventative grounds but specific to the individual concerned. The Commission will also clarify the notions of “serious grounds of public policy or public security” and “imperative grounds of public security” [grounds for expelling people who have resided for longer periods in a host Member State].  Moreover, on the occasion of a future revision of [the citizens’ Directive], the Commission will examine the thresholds to which these notions are connected.’

It’s not clear whether the revision of the Directive referred to at the end here is as imminent as the proposal to amend the rules to create a ‘prior lawful residence’ rule for non-EU family members. Otherwise the plan to issue guidelines is clearly not binding. The language in these guidelines partly reflects the existing law, but some features are new: the greater emphasis on past conduct, the lesser need to show that a threat is imminent and the possibility of expelling someone as a ‘preventative’ measure.

These changes fall within the scope of Cameron’s desire to have ‘stronger measures to deport EU criminals’. However, it should be noted that there is no specific reference to his plans for ‘tougher and longer re-entry bans for foreign rough sleepers, beggars and fraudsters’. While a conviction and re-entry ban for fraud might be covered by the guidelines referred to above, there’s no mention of clarifying entry bans as regards those guidelines, or changing the legislation on this issue. Also, as I noted in my comments on Cameron’s plans at the time, EU legislation does not allow for re-entry bans for rough sleepers and beggars, since the EU citizens’ Directive states unambiguously that a ban on entry cannot be imposed where a person was expelled for grounds other than public policy, public security and public health. Put simply, a Member State can impose an entry ban where an EU citizen has been expelled due to criminality – but not where he or she has been expelled due to poverty.

Longer waiting periods for free movement of persons from new Member States

Finally, it should be noted that the Decision briefly refers to Cameron’s plan to have longer waiting periods for free movement of persons in future accession treaties. It does not incorporate his suggestion, but merely notes it. However, since the details of each new Member State’s adaptation to EU law are set out in each accession treaty, which has to be approved by each Member State, the UK can simply veto any future accession treaties unless longer waiting periods for free movement are indeed included. The next accession to the EU is at least four years away, probably more. So nothing really turns on the absence of agreement with the UK’s position for now.


The key point to remember about the renegotiation deal, particularly as regards EU immigration, is that it consists of different parts. The main deal takes the form of a Decision, which essentially clarifies EU law without amending it. According to CJEU case law (Rottmann), the Court is willing to take Decisions like these into account when interpreting EU law.

However, in the area of EU immigration, the other parts of the deal are more relevant: the intention to pass three new EU secondary laws. Those new laws will be a fully-fledged amendment to existing EU rules, not simply a clarification of it. While some points of detail remain to be worked out, it is clear from the deal that the Commission will make proposals in these areas, and all Member States (ie the Council) will support them. It remains to be seen whether the European Parliament will approve them, and whether the CJEU would accept challenges to their legality. My assessment of the Court’s likely response, as detailed above, is that the amendments on family members will probably be acceptable; the child benefit reforms are an open question; and the changes on in-work benefits are highly vulnerable. Of course, there’s no prior case law on these specific issues, and so we can’t be certain of the Court’s approach in advance.

Overall, as I concluded in the earlier post on the draft agreement, these changes, if they are all implemented as planned, will fall short of a fundamental change in the UK’s relationship with the EU. But equally it is clearly wrong to say that they mean nothing – if in fact they are implemented. The changes would be modest but significant: amendments to three key pieces of EU legislation that would for the first time roll back EU free movement law, not extend it. Leaving aside the calls for non-binding guidelines, there would be cutbacks in in-work benefits (albeit for a limited period), significantly more control on the admission of non-EU family members of EU citizens, and more limited export of child benefit.

Barnard & Peers: chapter 13

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*Disclosure: I will be consulting for the European Parliament on the free movement aspects of the renegotiation. However, my advice will be fully independent; I don’t represent or advocate for the European Parliament (or anyone else) on these (or any other) issues.

Posted by Steve Peers at 01:35 15 comments:

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Labels: benefits, Brexit, child benefit, EU citizenship, EU referendum, EU reform, expulsion, family benefit, free movement of persons, tax credits, UK renegotiation

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Mutual trust – blind trust or general trust with exceptions? The CJEU hears key cases on the European Arrest Warrant

Henning Bang Fuglsang Madsen Sørensen, Associate Professor, Department of Law, University of Southern Denmark

Monday 15 February was a busy day in Luxembourg. The Court held a hearing in C-404/15, Aranyosi, which was lodged at the Court in July 2015. But the Court also received C-659/15, Caldararu, at 9 December 2015 under the ‘emergency’ PPU-procedure. The Court decided to join the two cases as they were submitted by the same court – Hanseatisches Oberlandesgericht in Bremen, Germany – and concerned the same issue – should surrender on a European Arrest Warrant be refused if there is reason to fear the wanted person will be exposed to inhumane prison conditions in the requesting state? So the hearing concerned both cases and it turned out to be a busy but also interesting day because the two cases touch upon the application of the principle of mutual recognition as the cornerstone of EU criminal law as recognized by recital 6 of the Framework Decision establishing the European Arrest Warrant.

During the day, the Court heard the submissions from the lawyers of Aranyosi and Caldararu, the referring judge from Bremen, 9 Member States (Germany, Ireland, Spain, France, Lithuania, Hungary, The Netherlands, Romania and UK) and of course the Commission.

But what was all the fuss about? Well, let us have a look at the two cases first. Then we will turn to the submissions of the Member States and the Commission.

The cases

Aranyosi is a young man, living with his parents in Bremen. He has a girlfriend in Germany, with whom he has a child. He was arrested in Bremen 14 January 2015 as Hungary had requested his surrender on a European Arrest Warrant. Aranyosi is suspected for two accounts of burglary. However, Aranyosi resisted the surrender, referring to reports from the Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT) and case law from the European Court of the Human Rights, which documented a massive over-crowding in Hungarian prisons to an extent that could be considered a violation of ECHR art. 3 (corresponding to Article 4 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights). The Bremen Court decided to ask the Luxembourg Court if it was possible to read article 1(3) of the EAW Framework Decision (the ‘human rights’ clause) as an opportunity to refuse the surrender in case of strong indications of detention conditions insufficient to satisfy ECHR art. 3. The Bremen Court also asked if it was possible to request assurances concerning the prison conditions from the requesting state before surrender was allowed. Due to Aranyosi’s connections with Bremen, the judge decided to release Aranyosi while the case was pending.

Caldararu is also a young man. He was sentenced to 8 months in prison by a court in Romania for driving without a driver’s license. The case was heard in absentia. However, Caldararu left Romania before the sentenced time could be served and Romania issued a European Arrest Warrant for Caldararu. He was arrested in Bremen, Germany, on 8 November 2015, and his surrender to Romania was then allowed on 20 November 2015. He refused however to consent to the surrender with reference to the detention conditions in Romania. The Bremen Court decided to keep Caldararu in custody as the Bremen Court also sent a request for a preliminary ruling in this case. The request was sent on 9 December 2015.

So, two cases from the same court, basically concerning the same question: Can a judge refuse surrender if it is feared that detention facilities in the requesting state are inadequate?

But the reply to these questions touches upon a number of arguments, and the day turned out to be very intense as these arguments involves fundamental rights, the principle of mutual recognition, the relationship between Member States and not least what to do if surrender is denied. The parties were far from a common understanding of how these arguments should be used, and the hearing turned out to be a very interesting and well-spent day in Luxembourg.

Let us have a look at some of the major arguments.

The first argument – mutual trust means blind trust!

One could argue that mutual trust means blind trust to such a degree that the executing Member State must execute the European Arrest Warrant without any checks for anything else other than the grounds for refusal to execute an EAW mentioned in Articles 3 and 4 of the Framework Decision (such as double jeopardy, or age of a child).

The Bremen judge of course opposed this view as this would make his request for a preliminary ruling obsolete.

Especially Spain supported this argument, saying that the evaluation of the protection of fundamental rights is a privilege for the court in the issuing State as the court in the executing State is not empowered to make abstract evaluations of the prison conditions in another Member State. The prior CJEU judgment inMelloni was mentioned as an example of a situation, where Spain was denied the possibility to make the surrender conditional upon specific guarantees. Spain had difficulties aligning the conclusions of Melloni with a possibility to make evaluations of foreign prison systems prior to deciding surrender and then perhaps condition the surrender on guarantees regarding detention conditions. Spain therefore held, that the executing State had to surrender unless Article 3 or 4 of the Framework Decision were applicable and it would then be for the courts of the requesting state to evaluate whether prison conditions would amount to a violation of ECHR art. 3 / Charter art. 4.

Lithuania presented a similar argument, arguing that the principle of mutual trust would fall apart if Member States were given the power to check each other in regard to prison conditions. Lithuania further referred to TEU art 7 (on the possible suspension of a Member State from the EU on human rights grounds) as the procedure prescribed by the treaties in case a Member State is found not to respect fundamental rights. Lithuania also expressed concern whether the issuing State would be able to make its arguments before the court in the executing State deemed the prison conditions in the issuing State insufficient in regards to fundamental rights, and it could lead to a situation where the issuing State would be denied the possibility to use the EAW as such. This would make it impossible to prosecute absconded criminals and would thus threaten the idea of AFSJ as such.

The remaining States together with the Commission were in opposition to Spain and Lithuania. The parties argued in general in favor of understanding mutual trust as a general trust in opposition to a blind trust. The Bremen judge reported his difficulties when reading about the prison conditions in Hungary, and how he had asked the German Government in vain to obtain guarantees concerning the prison conditions for Aranyosi. He argued that it would be unacceptable to demand that a judge should ignore obvious reasons to fear for violations of fundamental rights and the possibility of denying the execution of the EAW had to be present in such a situation. Being a judge himself, he called upon the Luxembourg judges not to put this burden on him.

The German Government along with Ireland, France, Hungary, The Netherlands, Romania, UK and the Commission presented various arguments in favor of understanding mutual trust as a general trust which only is rebuttable in very exceptional circumstances.

Germany argued that the executing state cannot be making assessments of the respect for fundamental rights in other Member States, except when under very exceptional circumstances. Such circumstances could be several reports from the Council of Europe, CPT, judgements from the ECtHR, reports from NGOs and even from the American Secretary of State. Germany further read recital 13 in the preamble together with art. 1(3) of the EU Framework Decision in such a way that a risk of violation of fundamental rights is a general reason for denying execution of the EAW in supplement to the specific reasons mentioned in Articles 3 and 4 of the law. Ireland supported this argument with a reference to recital 12, while Hungary supported the argument with reference to recital 10. The UK also argued in favor of reference also to recitals 5 and 6, together with recital 10, 12 and 13 and Article 1(2) and 1(3).

The Commission argued for the need of a balance between mutual trust and the protection of fundamental rights, requiring Member States to have a general trust in each other with a possibility to test the protection of fundamental rights if there seems to be a real risk for a violation of fundamental rights. The Commission found support for this in Art. 19(2) of the Charter (non-removal from a Member State to face torture et al), as the Commission supported the Bremen judge by finding it unacceptable to force a Member State to surrender to a known risk of violation of fundamental rights without taking action to protect fundamental rights. The Commission further stressed that if the principle of mutual recognition would prevail over the protection of fundamental rights, then a principle had been given more weight than fundamental rights. Fundamental rights, being a part of primary law and the reason for the Union as such, could not be set aside by a general principle within EU law.

When is the obligation to examine a potential risk triggered?

If detention facilities in the requesting Member State may be examined prior to the decision of surrender, then how much is needed for triggering such an examination?

The main question was whether an examination should be accepted only in case of systemic failures in the requesting state or whether an individual risk concerning the specific person should be enough. The first situation, where an examination only is acceptable in cases of systemic failures, correspond to the conclusions of the Luxembourg Court in the cases of N.S. (on the Dublin system in Greece). andMelloni, and also paragraphs 191-194 of Opinion 2/13 (on ECHR accession). The second situation corresponds to the conclusion of ECtHR in Soering (on extradition to ‘death row’ in the USA).

Germany, UK and The Netherlands argued in favor of the individual approach, exemplified by a person who may be kept under harsh detention conditions due to religion or sexual orientation. Ireland argued together with France, Romania and Hungary in favor of the systemic approach, and also stressing that the threshold that has to be met had to be set rather high in respect for the principle of mutual trust. Spain argued against both approaches, as Spain found the examination to be directed against the detention facilities of the requesting state and as such not covered by any of the terms. Lithuania referred to art 7 TEU as the correct method to handle suspicions concerning violation of fundamental rights in a Member State, and concluded on this basis that the examination conducted in the executing Member State should be limited to an examination of whether or not art. 7 had been activated in regards to the issuing Member State.

The Commission found it relevant to initiate an investigation if an individual risk were present.

The parties were thus split in half on the question of whether an examination was allowed only in case of systemic failures or whether the examination should be allowed based on the individual risk of the person wanted for surrender. The submissions of the Member States were however also influenced by the question of what to do if the examination leads to the conclusion of a present and relevant risk in case of surrender – should the requesting state be given the opportunity to eliminate the found risk through guarantees or should the surrender be conditioned upon guarantees? The position of the Member States on this issue will be reported below. First, we must turn our attention to how the Member States would examine a real and present danger of a violation of a fundamental right in case surrender is allowed.

How will the Member States examine a claimed risk of violation of fundamental rights?

The problem of how a court in one Member State can obtain information on the detention system in another Member State in order to establish whether or not these detention facilities may be seen as a violation of fundamental rights were also included in the submissions of the parties.

Germany referred to reports from the CPT and the Council of Europe, together with the case law of the ECtHR, reports from NGOs and even the American Secretary of State. Germany stressed that these sources had to be published within a reasonably short time before the national court was to decide on the question of surrender. The UK also supported the use of reports from international organs, the case law of the ECtHR, individual claims and testimonies and reports from national experts. Ireland and The Netherlands also argued for the use of reports from the CPT and the case law of the ECtHR, while France considered especially the case law of the ECtHR as relevant. Hungary elaborated on the fact that reports from the CPT are at least one year underway, while a judgement of the ECtHR refer to facts as they were at the time of the claimed violation. That could be several years prior to the judgement were handed down. These sources thus had to be used with great care.

Romania did not elaborate on the question of how to make an examination. Also Spain and Lithuania opposed the general idea of letting foreign courts examine domestic prison conditions, but did not elaborate on how this may be done in case the Luxembourg Court would allow it.

The Commission supported the use of the case law of ECtHR, reports from international organisations, statistics on the over-crowding of prisons in the requesting State and even any other relevant source. The Commission was thus in line with especially Germany and UK.

The importance of dialogue between Member States – the concept of guarantees

Several parties stressed the importance of dialogue between the requesting Member State and the executing Member States.

The Bremen judge, Germany and France argued in favour of giving the judge of the court in the executing Member State the possibility to call for guarantees from the issuing Member State. The guarantees would be able to remove the fear for a violation of fundamental rights, and the surrender should therefore be denied if the required guarantees were not provided.

Ireland and The Netherlands found no basis for refusing to surrender due to the lack of diplomatic guarantees. The executing Member State had to make its mind up whether or not there would be a real and present risk for a violation of fundamental rights and handle the request for surrender in accordance with this.

Spain argued against the use of guarantees, as the judge calling for the guarantees may be setting the criteria that has to be met before he or she will allow surrender. This would generate a risk of huge variations in the way the Member States use this possibility, and would therefore threaten the uniformity of Union Law. Lithuania also argued against the use of guarantees by elaborating on the fact that the guarantee is not worth much if the requesting Member State decides not to fulfill its obligations in accordance with the guarantee after the surrender has taken place.

Especially Hungary stressed the importance of Article 15(2) of the Framework Decision. If a Member State is afraid of surrendering due to the fear of violation of fundamental rights, then the two involved states must engage in a dialogue for the purpose of removing the reasons for this fear. Hungary saw the risk of violations as a specific and concrete problem, which could be handled with specific and concrete solutions. Such solutions could be alternative detention measures, a decision to keep the surrendered person in custody in another prison or perhaps show the executing court that the reasons are obsolete due to for instance the constructions of new prisons following e.g. a judgment from the ECtHR. This line of arguments was supported by the UK as well as Ireland and The Netherlands. These arguments were also supported by Romania by stating that the risk for a violation of fundamental rights may be real and present but nevertheless possible to eliminate in the specific case. The Commission also supported this view.

Especially Romania also raised another issue concerning equal treatment, as Romania mentioned that if certain inmates where kept under custody under more beneficial conditions due to guarantees while other inmates were kept in custody under normal conditions. Romania pointed to the simple fact that if prisoners with guarantees were to be given more space, then the remaining prisoners would have even less space. This motivated the referring judge to ask Romania, Germany and France to elaborate on this risk concerning unequal treatment. Romania found this risk to be non-acceptable, while France argued that the risk of unequal treatment were a less evil than the risk of violating fundamental rights. Germany stated, that Germany did not want unequal treatment, but appropriate prison conditions. The risk of unequal treatment was however the only way to respect the Soeringjudgment of the ECtHR.

Thus, there were different views on whether surrender could be conditioned upon guarantees or whether guarantees should be seen more as a dialogue comforting the executing judge in the removal of a risk of violation of fundamental rights. However, there seemed to be general consensus when it came to how guaranties should be issued, as the parties found this should be regulated in national law of the specific Member State.

The consequence of denying surrender

The last major issue touched upon by the parties was the question of what should happen if surrender were refused.

The Bremen judge explained how German law made it possible to let Germany continue the criminal proceedings if surrender was denied, but practical problems in regards to witnesses etc. made this theoretical possibility an illusion in real life. In regards to Aranyosi, a decision not to surrender would therefore in real life also be decision to discontinue the criminal proceedings. In regards to Caldararu, who was sentenced in Romania, a decision to not surrender could provide the basis for letting Caldararu serve the sentence in Germany, but this would also result in a number of practical problems as Caldararu only had stayed a very short time in Germany. He therefore does not speak the language nor would any initiatives to rehabilitate him into the German society have any likelihood for success.  So it was also questionable whether it would be relevant to transfer the sentence to Germany in the present case. The Bremen judge made it clear that it would not be satisfactory if a denial to surrender the sought person would mean crimes would go unpunished.

The German government shared this view, while France noted that it was for each Member State to decide whether they would let their courts have jurisdiction in cases in which surrender had been denied. Romania also made it clear, that it would be unacceptable if criminal activities were going un-punished because of a decision to deny surrender. If the executing Member State denies surrender, then the executing Member State must bear the responsibility to see justice fulfilled. Lithuania pointed to the fact that a decision not to surrender due to unsatisfactory detention facilities would in practice create areas within the AFSJ it which it would be impossible to punish crimes as the criminals would be able to commit their crimes in such areas and then flee to other parts of the AFSJ without risking surrendering afterwards.

A number of parties also underscored this as the major difference between asylum law and the test used in the N.S. case against criminal law and the test that may be used in the present cases. If the return of an asylum seeker is impossible, then the Member State in which the asylum seeker is at the moment will be able to process the application for asylum. It is of lesser importance for the asylum seeker whether one or the other Member State processes the application for asylum as asylum law is almost fully harmonized. The consequence of not surrendering a suspect in a criminal case could very well be that crimes would go unpunished, which is a rather different result and of course not acceptable.

What next?

The Advocate General promised to announce within 24 hours when his opinion will be submitted to the Court. The cases were heard on 15 February 2016 but the Curia-webpage still do not contain any new information by the end of the 17 February 2016. Nonetheless, Caldararu is a PPU-case as Caldararu is kept in custody, and we must therefore expect the opinion of the general advocate within few days. The decision of the Court will then be expected within a few weeks or perhaps a month, so the excitement will soon be released.

It seems apparent that especially Spain and Lithuania were very skeptical as to whether one Member State should be allowed to examine the detention facilities in another Member State at all. The other seven Member States seemed to find it appropriate to have the possibility in very exceptional circumstances. France, Romania and Hungary seemed to limit the possibility to cases with systemic problems, while the remaining Member States also wanted to be able to conduct an examination in cases with individual problems. Germany wanted to let the executing Member State demand guarantees from the issuing Member State so surrender could be denied if the requested guarantees were not delivered. The remaining Member States seemed to agree that the two Member States had to engage in a dialogue to establish whether there was a problem in the specific case at all and whether a problem could be solved by for instance alternative detention measures. It is also worth noticing the position of the Commission as a rather pragmatic approach, where the Commission supported the need to make investigations in even individual cases, using a variety of sources.

The draft renegotiation deal: A genuine red card? Tusk’s proposal and national parliaments


Dr. Katarzyna Granat, (*)

The Draft Decision of the Heads of State or Government, ‘A New Settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union’, unveiled by Donald Tusk on February 2 2016 offers the first concrete vision of the changes to enhance the role of national parliaments under the UK’s renegotiation efforts. This note provides an analysis of the suggested changes by contrasting them with the mechanisms currently in force under the Lisbon Treaty.

Tusk’s proposal (Section C, points 2-3) envisions that reasoned opinions of national parliaments issued under Article 7.1 of Protocol No. 2 ‘on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality’ should be ‘duly taken into account’ by all institutions participating in the EU decision-making procedures. In Tusk’s proposal national parliaments may submit reasoned opinions stating that an EU draft legislative act violates the principle of subsidiarity submitted within 12 weeks from the transmission of that draft. If these reasoned opinions represent more than 55% of votes allocated to national parliaments (i.e. at least 31 of the 56 available votes; two votes for each national parliament; in the case of a bicameral parliament, each of the two chambers has one vote; votes of parliaments of member states not participating in the adoption of the act at stake are not counted), the opinions will be ‘comprehensively discussed’ in the Council. If the EU draft legislative proposal is not changed in a way reflecting the concerns of national parliaments in their reasoned opinions, the Council will discontinue the consideration of that draft.

This proposal differs from the current ‘yellow’ and ‘orange’ card schemes of the Lisbon Treaty in a number of ways concerning in particular the timeframe, applicable thresholds and the effects of these procedures.

First, under the existing provisions of the Lisbon Treaty national parliaments may submit a reasoned opinion to the Commission, EP and Council within eight weeks from the transmission of the draft legislative act (Art. 6 of Protocol No.2). Tusk’s proposal hence gives national parliaments more time for the analysis of proposals and drafting reasoned opinions. The need to extend the submission deadline is often underlined by national parliaments and this would probably be welcomed by them. (See COSAC, 24th Bi-annual Report: Developments in European Union Procedures and Practices Relevant to Parliamentary Scrutiny, 4.11.2015 at 22) Yet, it is unclear whether the extension to 12 weeks under Tusk’s proposal also applies to the ‘yellow’ and ‘orange’ card procedures.

Second, although the mechanism of assignment of votes to national parliaments does not change, Tusk’s proposal offers a different threshold of votes to be met by national parliaments. The ‘yellow card’ provision demands that the reasoned opinions on the non-compliance of a Commission proposal with the principle of subsidiarity represent at least one third of all the votes allocated to the national parliaments. For triggering of the ‘orange card’, applicable only in the ordinary legislative procedure, the reasoned opinions of national parliaments need to represent at least a simple majority of the total number of votes allocated to the national parliaments. In contrast, to activate the procedure proposed by Tusk the necessary threshold is 55% of the votes allocated to national parliaments. Hence out of 56 votes of national parliaments at least 19 are necessary for a ‘yellow card’; at least 29 for an ‘orange card’ and 31 to meet the ‘more than 55%’ threshold in Tusk’s proposal. The new procedure thus requires only slightly more votes than the existing ‘orange card’, which, thus far, has never been triggered successfully.

Third, the most substantial change concerns the consequences of activating the new procedure. The ‘yellow card’ involved consequences that were relatively limited: the Commission had to review the draft and then to decide on whether to maintain, amend or withdraw the draft, giving reasons for its decision (Art. 7.2. of Protocol No. 2). For the ‘orange card’, the Commission had similar choices available, but a decision to maintain the proposal required the Commission to prepare its own reasoned opinion with arguments demonstrating compliance of the act with the subsidiarity principle. The EP and the Council would then decide on the fate of the proposal taking into account the arguments on the principle of subsidiarity expressed by the Commission and by national parliaments. If subsequently 55 % of the Council members or a majority of the votes cast in the EP finds a subsidiarity breach, ‘the legislative proposal shall not be given further consideration’. (Art. 7.3 of Protocol No. 2) By contrast, Tusk’s proposal seems to omit the phase in which the Commission can respond to national parliaments and instead moves directly to the Council, which may decide not to continue the consideration of the proposal, if that is not amended to accommodate the ‘concerns’ expressed by national parliaments. Tusk’s proposal binds stopping of the legislative procedure with whether the requests of national parliaments are met, while the ‘orange card’ provided for discontinuation only if the Council finds a subsidiarity breach.

It is worth noting that important details of the procedure such as who is responsible for amending the proposal and more importantly verifying whether the concerns of national parliaments were addressed are left unspecified. Recall that in its interaction with the national parliaments the Commission has often expressed itself satisfied that the concerns of the parliaments expressed in the reasoned opinions have been addressed by the original proposal. (See House of Lords, European Union Committee, 9th Report of Session 2013-14, para 87) Nevertheless, Tusk’s proposal seems to demand a more active response from EU institutions than the ‘orange card’.

Moreover, one should note that Tusk’s proposal does not grant the national parliaments a veto power on any aspect of a Commission proposal. Tusk’s proposal mentions that the discontinuance of the legislative procedure is conditional on the non-accommodation of the ‘concerns’ expressed in the reasoned opinions, with the ultimate decision taken by the Council, and thereby away from the national parliaments.

One further interesting aspect of Tusk’s proposal is that it refers throughout to reasoned opinions on the non-compliance of proposals with the subsidiarity principle, even though in their exercise of subsidiarity scrutiny under Protocol No. 2 national parliaments often critique issues such as the legal basis, proportionality or the political merits of a proposal, thereby going beyond strict subsidiarity review (See F. Fabbrini, K Granat, ‘“Yellow card, but no foul”: The role of the national parliaments under the subsidiarity protocol and the Commission proposal for an EU regulation on the right to strike (2013) 50 Common Market Law Review, 115–143). The question is whether under Tusk’s proposal such a broad approach would also be adopted in the Council. If so, this might cause difficulties in amending a proposal in a way that properly takes account of all the different aspects raised by national parliaments and in consequence makes it also easier to stop the legislative procedure because of the lack of accommodation of the demands of the parliaments.

A broad reading of Tusk’s proposal would therefore probably be more in line with Cameron’s wish of strengthening national parliaments by allowing a threshold of national parliaments ‘to stop unwanted legislative proposals,’ although Cameron underlined also that the EU must commit to a full implementation of the subsidiarity principle. (Letter of D. Cameron to D. Tusk, 10. November 2015 at 4) A more specific answer to the latter issue might be the proposed draft declaration ‘on a subsidiarity implementation mechanism and a burden reduction implementation mechanism’ obliging the Commission to create a mechanism for the review of existing EU legislation for its compatibility with the subsidiarity and proportionality principles with an aim to provide ‘full implementation’ of subsidiarity. (EUCO 7/16)

Last point: the fact that the tabled proposal demands a discussion in the Council could also mean that depending on the relationship between parliaments and their governments represented in the Council, the ministers might show more or less flexibility with the ‘concerns’ of their national parliaments and whether a consensus on stopping or continuing with the legislative procedure could be achieved.

Finally, recall that the rejected ‘red card’ proposed in the Convention on the Future of Europe aimed at a two-third majority of national parliaments that would require the Commission to withdraw its proposal (CONV 540/03, 6.02.2003, p. 3). In comparison, Tusk’s proposal has a lower threshold and does not imply an immediate stopping of the legislative procedure. It could be hence described as a ‘red card light’ and as way of finding a compromise solution without threatening to disrupt the EU legislative procedure.

(*)  Junior Research Fellow & Marie Curie Fellow, Durham Law School