“DON’T MENTION THE EXTRA JUDGES!” WHEN CJEU REFORM TURNS INTO FARCE

PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS ON Friday, 3 July 2015

by Steve Peers

The classic British comedy Fawlty Towers derived its humour from the doomed attempts of the ill-tempered hotel owner Basil Fawlty to control the uncontrollable situations that developed around him, often taking out his frustrations on his waiter, Manuel. No one would seriously suggest emulating Basil Fawlty’s management style. But nevertheless, the debate over the reform of the Court of Justice is increasingly resembling a Fawlty Towers episode.

Let’s review. After several previous failed attempts at reforming the EU judicial system, the Court of Justice suggested that the lower EU court (the General Court) should have double the number of judges – two per Member State, instead of one. The EU’s civil service tribunal (with seven judges) would close down, merged into the General Court. The senior Court of Justice would retain one judge per Member State. For the background, further details and arguments in favour, see my earlierblog post.

This proposal was opposed by many staff in the General Court. So four General Court judges appeared before the European Parliament to object to this plan (let’s call them, collectively, ‘Manuel’). For discussion of Manuel’s counter-arguments, see the recent blog post by Professors Pech and Alemanno; and for Manuel’s written argument itself, see here.

Very recently the proposal was formally adopted by the Council. But it still has to be agreed with the European Parliament (EP), and some Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) appear to have great misgivings, fuelled by the dissenting judges. Cue an angry response by the CJEU’s President Skouris (let’s call him ‘Basil’). As documented by Duncan Robinson in the Financial Times, hecomplained that the EP was willing to listen to the rebels, and threatened retaliationagainst the dissenting judge. Manuel might soon get whacked by that frying pan.

With the greatest respect, there are profound problems with Skouris’ approach. First and foremost, his response has become the story (it’s also been covered elsewhere). This diverts attention from the pros and cons of the argument for CJEU reform. I’m not criticising the journalists – it’s their job to report on his response, and he should have anticipated the effect it would have. Also, now that his response has become the story, it gives the impression that the proposal is a greedy grab for money by the judges. In fact. as I pointed out in my earlier post, the CJEU had previously suggested fewer extra judges. It only asked for doubling the number in despair, when it became clear that Member States could not agree on a more modest number, due to national egotism.

Secondly, Skouris’ angry letters give the impression that the CJEU is an authoritarian institution. Certainly, any ordinary employer would not take kindly to public criticism of its policy by its staff. For instance, if (entirely hypothetically) I had objections to the management of the University of Essex, I would not air them in a public forum. But the CJEU is a public body, in a political system whose legitimacy is clearly fragile. These attempts to silence dissent surely damage the Court’s authority more than the dissent itself would. Anyway, they gave that dissent far more publicity than it would otherwise have had (the well-known ‘Streisand effect’).

Thirdly, by attacking the dissenters instead of countering their arguments, it gives the impression that there is no good argument in favour of the Court’s proposals, since the brave truth-tellers are being silenced. And in tactical terms, it’s particularly hard to see how attacking the very MEPs whom Skouris needs to convince to support his proposals will win them round. Continue reading

How the EU “legislative triangle” is becoming a “Bermudes, triangle “…

by Emilio De Capitani

According to several scholars the Lisbon Treaty has strengthened the implementation of the democratic principle in the EU as well as the framework for participative democracy. In theory with entry into force of the Charter the EU has become more accountable to its citizens and there has been a clear improvement of the legal framework for EU legislative and non legislative activity. Even if not perfectly sound) there is now a clear definition of what should be considered of “legislative” nature and there is now a clear obligation (at primary law level) to debate publicly both in the Council and in the European Parliament.

Needless to say, the latter has been for years the champion of legislative and administrative transparency  not only in the citizens interest but also in view of the definition of its own marge of maneuver during the negotiations with the Council. This former EP attitude was not particularly appreciated by the Council and the Commission when in 2001, before Lisbon, the three institutions negotiated the first EU legislation in this domain. (Regulation 1049/01). However at the time it was easy to say that time was needed to promote open debates and votes in the Council and in the Commission because it would had required a change of culture in an institution mainly structured as a bureaucratic machinery (the Commission) or in an other framed by a diplomatic approach (the Council).

Five years after Lisbon such a change of culture in the Council and the Commission is it under way or is the other way round for the EP?

Have a look to the exchange of messages below and make your own opinion. The issue is still pending but risks to have some interesting developments… Continue reading

Europe and “Whistleblowers” : still a bumpy road…

by Claire Perinaud (FREE Group trainee) The 9th and the 10th of April was organized in Paris by the University Paris X Nanterre la Défense in collaboration with the University Paris I Sorbonne a Conference on «  whistleblowers and fundamental rights »[1] which echoed a rising debate on the figure of  wistleblowers  after the numerous revelations of scandals and corruption which occurred last years, with some of them directly linked to EU institutions. In the following lines I will try to sketch a) the general framework then b) the main issues raised during the Conference

A) The general framework 

The term « whistle-blower » was created by Ralph Nader in 1970 in the context of the need to ensure the defense of citizens from lobbies. He defined « whistle blowing » as « an act of a man or woman who, believing that the public interest overrides the interest of the organization he serves, blows the whistle that the organization is in corrupt, illegal, fraudulent or harmful activity »[2]. The interest of scholars and lawyers to the figure of whistle-blowers in the United States dates back to the adoption by the Congress in 1863 of the False claims act which is deemed to be the first legislation related to the right of alert[3].
The system which developed afterwards is notably based on the idea that whistle-blowing is a strong mechanism to fight corruption and has to be encouraged by means of financial incentives[4]. If this mechanism is of utmost importance in the United States, protection of whistle blowers is only slowly introduced in Europe[5]
With numerous scandals related to systemic violations of human rights, the subject is progressively dealt with in the European Union (EU) and in the Council of Europe. Nevertheless, in both organizations, the protection of whistleblowers remain at the stage of project or only recommendations to the states.

The Council of Europe… Continue reading

Europe behind bars: the use of the European Prison Rules in the French prison system. Awaiting the European Union?

by Charline QUILLÉROU (EU-LOGOS Athéna trainee)

NB The text below summarizes a French Master thesis.

The reform of the prison system is a sensitive issue in France. This debate takes place in a context of dilapidating prison buildings and chronic overcrowding, exacerbated by punitive criminal justice policies. Such a situation leads to sub-human conditions of detention that have been condemned many times, both nationally by MPs[1], associations involved in the defence of detainee’s rights[2] or various papers[3], and internationally by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe[4] and the European Court of Human Rights. The reforms undertaken have difficulties improving significantly these conditions of detention.

The Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Union (EU) have a role to play in protecting the rights of persons deprived of their liberty. Recommendations have been instrumental in changing national practices. Nevertheless, the EU has almost turned a deaf ear to it while the CoE has been very active. In its resolution of December 2011, the European Parliament recognised that “whereas detention conditions and prison management are primarily the responsibility of Member States […] shortcomings, such as prison overcrowding and allegations of poor treatment of detainees, may undermine the trust which must underpin judicial cooperation in criminal matters based on the principle of mutual recognition of judgments and judicial decisions by EU Member States[5]. As a result in June 2011, the European Commission published a Green paper entitled “Strengthening mutual trust in the European judicial area – A Green Paper on the application of EU criminal justice legislation in the field of detention”.  Since then, nothing has happened at the level of the EU.

The CoE is an intergovernmental organisation created in 1949 by a group of European countries – Belgium, Denmark, France, the United-Kingdom, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden – that today consists of 47 Member States. All the EU Member States take part in the CoE, together with Turkey and Russia, to name but a few. According to its statute, “the aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and facilitating their economic and social progress.[6] To achieve that purpose, especially in regards criminal matters, the CoE relies on the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).

The European Prison Rules (EPR) consist of a set of three recommendations made by the CoE which define the minimum rules applicable in prison facilities both for detainees and staff. They cover many aspects of prison life such as hygiene, nutrition, contact with the outside world, work, recreation, education, transfer of prisoners, health or training of prison staff. Therefore, the idea is to harmonise national practices across Europe. Initially adopted in 1973, the EPR were updated in 1987 and 2006. The latest update attempted to take into account the developments in the jurisprudence of the ECtHR, in the norms established by the CPT, in societal changes that arose due to security constraints in the aftermath of 9-11 and the resulted prison population inflation.

There are 108 EPR, detailed in 308 recommendations. It is of crucial importance to understand that a recommendation is not legally binding. The EPR are not entitled to be transposed into national law as such, but are meant to serve as a guide for Member States in formulating their policies and legislation. This is well exemplified in the Commentary to Recommendation Rec(2006)2 that indicates : “prison administrations should seek to apply all Rules in the letter and the spirit of the principles.[7] The main objectives are the establishment of common standards and reinforcement of international cooperation through appropriate incentives. The incitement dimension of the EPR refers to the issue of the influence of the CoE within the territory of the Member States that has been theorized as “europeanisation”. The europeanisation process refers to the influence of the European institutions or organisations on national and sub-national politics, policies and polity. Prison matters are barely addressed by the European institutions and CoE recommendations are not legally binding. On such important policies, europeanisation is only about the Council of Europe, even though human rights lie at the heart of the EU.

If European activities have a substantial impact on national institutions and policies, heterogeneity is its main feature. The adoption of the revised EPR in 2006 is a case in point, revealing the complex mechanisms of europeanisation at work. This is all the more true given that it led to the adoption of the French prison law of 24 November 2009, which, according to the Ministry of Justice Web site, “validated and translated into domestic legislation the majority of the European Prison Rules”. All these elements raise the following question:

To what extent do the European Prison Rules participate in the europeanisation of the French prison system? Continue reading

The European Area of Freedom Security and Justice : still.. lost in transition ?

by Emilio De Capitani

More than five years ago the Lisbon Treaty entered into force carrying along great expectations for the transformation of the EU into a Freedom Security and Justice area. However even if some progress has been made on Schengen,  asylum policies, procedural guarantees in criminal proceedings and judicial cooperation in civil matters the results are far lower than the initial expectations and of the ambitious objectives enshrined in the Stockholm Programme adopted by the European Council on December 10th 2009.

That Programme has been criticized by some member states as it was a sort of “Christmas tree”. However what the European Council adopted in June  last year is little more than a “dry bush” mainly focused on the need for …thorough reflections before adopting new EU legislation. Some commentators considered that this was a Machiavellian move of the European Council to pass the baton to the newly appointed President of the European Commission so that it could take the lead of this European policy as for any other “ordinary” policy.

A deceiving Commission..

In the following months this interpretation was confirmed by the appointment of the first Commission Vice President, in charge of the implementation of the rule of law, of the European Charter of fundamental rights and of better legislation. Moreover the creation of a specific portfolio for migration policy gave the impression of the Commission’s stronger political commitment “..to place the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice” (European Charter Preamble)

However very soon these initial hopes had been deceived:

1 The rule of law mechanism which was suggested by the last “Barroso” Commission was soon forgotten

2 As far as the Charter is concerned the Commission has apparently been taken by surprise by the Court of Justice opinion 2/13 dealing with the EU accession to the ECHR and is still considering what to do. But the Juncker Commission also seems lost when the issue at stake is to transpose the EU Charter principles into new EU legislation. It will only take more than one year to evaluate what could be the impact of the CJEU ruling on data retention on the pending legislation such as the EU PNR, the entry-exit and the registered travel proposals (not to speak of its impact on EU legislation and agreements that are already in force..)

3 Migration and human mobility are still dealt with and financed by the same General Directorate which is in charge of internal security policy instead of being moved to social affairs policies which should have been a real holistic and individual-centred approach.

4 Last but not least the Commission’s legislative programme for 2015 is more than reticent and it appears more and more evident that for the time being most (if not all) of the Commission’s political energy will be focused on economic objectives so that the Freedom security and justice area related policies have to wait for a new season.

but the situation between Member States is even worse..

The situation of FSJA policies is even more frustrating on the Member States side.

Not only some legislative procedures like the ones on consular protection, access to documents  or the fight against discrimination remain blocked and others including the data protection reform will require a caesarean section to come to life,  but day after day it appears clearer and clearer  that there is still a majority of member states which do not want  the modernisation of measures adopted before the Lisbon treaty (or even before the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty. This is notably the case of Germany which (as a rule)  oppose any new measure which can have a financial impact or will change the former “unbalance” of power between the Council and the European Parliament. Take the case of the recent three Commission proposals (1) repealing FSJA measures dating back to the intergovernamental period. According to German delegation even a 1998 Schengen decision on the adoption of measures to fight illegal immigration should be preserved because “None of the (current) legal instruments include a similarly comprehensive approach to fight illegal migration and immigrant smuggling.” This is appalling : would it not be wiser to urge the Commission to submit a new proposal which could better comply with the EU Treaties and with the Charter by also associating the European Parliament to this endeavour ?

This case apart it is worth noting that all the pre-Lisbon measures dealing with police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (2) have been legally “embalmed” by art 9 of Prot.36 according to which “The legal effects of the acts of the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union adopted on the basis of the Treaty on European Union prior to the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon shall be preserved until those acts are repealed, annulled or amended in implementation of the Treaties. The same shall apply to agreements concluded between Member States on the basis of the Treaty on European Union.”

A “Transitional” period ….until when ? Continue reading

THE RIGHT TO BE HEARD IN IMMIGRATION AND ASYLUM CASES: THE CJEU MOVES TOWARDS A DEFINITION

Original Published HERE on EU LAW ANALYSIS on Friday, 16 January 2015

by Elspeth Guild, Kingsley Napley

An essential element of a legal challenge is the right to be heard. It is often characterised as a component of rights of the defence but it has a wider ambit requiring state authorities to provide an individual with an opportunity to state his or her case before taking a decision. By and large in EU law, the right to be heard has been bundled into national procedural rights but it began to make guest appearances in CJEU judgments from 2008 and recently has taken central stage in two judgments on the Return Directive.

The starting place, however, is in a judgment about post clearance recovery of customs import duties (C-349/07 Sopropé), where the CJEU held that when state authorities take decisions within the scope of EU law they must provide the entity with the right to be heard. This is the case even in the absence of such a procedural requirement in EU law. Two conditions must be fulfilled: the right must be the same as that to which individuals or undertakings in comparable situations under national law are entitled (the principle of equivalence) and secondly the procedural rules must not make it impossible in practice or excessively difficult to exercise the right (the principle of effectiveness). These principles laid out in the 2008 judgment are having a considerable impact on EU law on third country nationals both in the context of asylum and return decisions.

Where does the right to be heard come from?

First, the source of the right: the CJEU found in 2008 (a year before the Charter became legally binding via the Lisbon Treaty) that there was an EU principle of the right to be heard. But note, in subsequent judgments it has been reluctant to embed the right in the Charter. Although the Charter has a right to good administration (Article 41(1)) which includes the right to be heard, the CJEU has held, most recently in two judgments (Mukarubega and Boudjlida, discussed here) on the Return Directive (Directive 2008/115), that this right only applies to the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the EU (not to Member State bodies – a finding not entirely consistent with a previous ruling on an asylum matter see below).

So the right to be heard, for instance regarding a residence permit under the Return Directive, cannot be founded on Article 41 Charter. Further, Articles 47 and 48 Charter ensure respect for the rights of the defence and fair legal process in all judicial proceedings, but while the CJEU refers in its recent judgments to these two provisions in conjunction with Article 41, it has not expressly excluded them from applicability to Member State action (as to do so would limit them to really few situations).  Instead, the Court has chosen to determine that the right is inherent in respect for the rights of the defence which is a general principle of EU law (see Boudjlida).

There is an oddity here which the CJEU does not attempt to explain. On the one hand the right to be heard is critical for the individual or entity before the state authority reaches a decision. On the facts of the cases before the CJEU which were about the decisions of a national authority that individuals were unlawfully residing on the territory and therefore the consequence was a return decision (or expulsion order), this matters a lot. The individuals had to have an opportunity to explain why their residence was lawful or why it should be regularised on the basis of their personal circumstances in order to avoid a return decision being pronounced against them.

On the other hand, the rights of the defence apply after the state authority has made its decision and the individual seeks to appeal against it. It may be a ground of the defence that the individual was never provided an opportunity to make his or her case before the decision was reached but this is an ex post argument. It is a stretch of interpretation to push the rights of the defence backwards into an administrative obligation. Further Article 47 Charter, the fair trial provision, applies in respect of any right or freedom guaranteed by EU law. But Article 48 Charter, the rights of the defence, apply when the individual is charged (a criminal charge). There are a number of nuances here regarding the right to be heard.

In MM – an asylum case – the CJEU held that the right to good administration (Article 41 Charter) includes the right of every person to be heard before any individual measure which would affect him or her adversely is taken. It went on to state that Article 41 Charter from its very wording is of general application. On this basis, and also after a consideration of the generally applicable principle of the right to be heard, the CJEU held that an asylum applicant must be heard by the national authorities responsible for determining the claim pursuant also to the rules of the Common European Asylum System. This seems to indicate that in the asylum context the CJEU was tempted to apply Article 41 Charter to national authorities but in the later decisions on the Return Directive it drew back from that position.

Nonetheless, in the Return Directive context (Boudjlida), the CJEU found that the right to be heard guarantees every person the opportunity to make known his or her views effectively during an administrative procedure and before the adoption of any decision liable to affect his or her interests adversely.

What does the right mean?  (continue reading …)

Some questions to the would-be Commissioner for Better Regulation, Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law (Timmermans)

by Steve PEERS, Henri LABAYLE and Emilio DE CAPITANI

The would-be Commissioners for Better Regulation, Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law (Timmermans) will be questioned tomorrow by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), to determine whether the EP should vote to confirm them in office. MEPs have already asked some written questions and the would-be Commissioner have replied. However, during the oral hearing will be an opportunity for MEPs to ascertain the Commissioners’ plans, and to secure important political commitments.
Rather strangely the hearing will not follow to the EP very detailed internal rules (of art.118 and Annex XVI (*) which require that hearing should take place before the Parliamentary committees Candidate Vice President Timmermans will instead be heard by the Conference of President of political Groups.

1.Rule of law / implementation of EU law
The confidence of all EU citizens and national authorities in the functioning of the rule of law in the Member States is vital to increase the mutual trust and to further develop the EU into “an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers”.
In your written reply you strongly support the recent Commission proposal for a “common rule of law framework (COM(2014)158 as repeatedly advocated by the European Parliament (but criticized by the Council legal Service). However such an exercise risk which should cover all the EU member states, risk to be meaningless if the Commission does not strengthen the mechanisms which implement the principle of sincere cooperation with and between the MS. For instance there is no ground in the Treaty which justify confidential meetings between the Commission and the MS (even in the framework of the so called “EU Pilot mechanism”) when legal certainty on the exact scope of EU citizens rights and obligations are at stake.
As first steps to strengthen the rule of law would not then be appropriate :
– to update the way how the Commission on a daily basis debates with the Member states the implementation of EU legislation?
– make public the MS implementation plans as well as the table of correspondence between EU and national rules ?
– to implement, (five years after the Lisbon Treaty !), the art.70 mechanism on “objective and impartial evaluation of the implementation of the Union policies” in the FSJA by keeping informed the European and national parliaments ?
– to take stock every year of the ruling of the European Courts and of the measures taken at national level ?

2. Charter of Fundamental rights as “roadmap for the EU legislator ?
In a recent ruling the Court of Justice stroke down for the first time an EU Directive (the Data Retention Directive 2006/24) because “.., the EU legislature has exceeded the limits imposed by compliance with the principle of proportionality in the light of Articles 7, 8 and 52(1) of the Charter. ” According to the CJEU the Directive “..does not lay down clear and precise rules governing the extent of the interference with the fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter” and moreover “does not require the data in question to be retained within the European Union, with the result that it cannot be held that the control, explicitly required by Article 8(3) of the Charter, by an independent authority of compliance with the requirements of protection and security, as referred to in the two previous paragraphs, is fully ensured…” In other terms from now on the Court of Justice will require a strict assessment of the proportionality and necessity of measures that constitute serious restrictions to fundamental rights, however legitimate the objectives pursued by the EU legislature.
On the basis of this landmark ruling do you not consider your priority to revise under the proportionality perspective the legislation falling in judicial and police cooperation in criminal matters adopted before the entry into force of the Charter and of the Treaty of Lisbon ?
Will you commit to develop a stronger and more transparent strategy to deal with infringements of EU law where the rights in the Charter are threatened by a Member State’s non-existent or incorrect implemenation of its EU law obligations?
Will not be sensible, taking in account your attachment to the REFIT exercise to review the legislation by establishing “sunset clauses” for measures limiting EU citizens rights? Moreover, by sticking on data protection aspects do you not consider that this ruling raise even bigger doubts on the compatibility with the proportionality principle of the EU-US agreements on PNR and TFTP and of the legislative proposals submitted by the Commission on the EU-PNR and the “Entry-Exit” (not to speak of the lack of compliance of the proposal on trusted traveller with the principle of non discrimination) ?  Continue reading