The EU and the Spanish Constitutional Crisis

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS 

by Cecilia Rizcallah, (Research Fellow at the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research affiliated both to Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles and Université libre de Bruxelles)

Background

Spain is facing, since more than a month now, a constitutional crisis because of pro-independence claims in Catalonia. These claims resulted in the holding of an independence referendum on 1 October 2017, organized by the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia’s authorities, led by its President Mr. Carles Puigdemont. According to Barcelona, 90% of the participants voted in favor of Catalonia’s independency on a turnout of 43%.

Several weeks before the holding of the referendum, the Spanish Constitutional Court held that such plebiscite was contrary to the Spanish Constitution, and it was therefore declared void by the same Court. The Spanish central Government moreover firmly condemned this act and suspended Catalonia’s autonomy, on the basis of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution which allows the central Government to adopt “the necessary measures to compel regional authorities to obey the law” and, thereby, to intervene in the running of Catalonia.

EU’s Incompetency in Member States’ Internal Constitutional Affairs

During these events, a contributor to the New York Times wondered “Where is the European Union?”. The Guardian stated “As Catalonia crisis escalates, EU is nowhere to be seen”. EU authorities’ restraint can yet easily be explained, at least, from a legal point of view. Indeed, the European Union has in principle neither the competence, nor the legitimacy, to intervene in its Member States’ internal constitutional affairs. Article 4.2 TEU incidentally underlines that the EU shall respect Member States’ “national identities, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government” and that it “shall respect their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security. In particular, national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State”. The President of the Commission, J.-C. Junker stated that it was “an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order of Spain” but however noted that in case of separation of Catalonia from Spain, the region would consequently “find itself outside of the European Union”.

Puigdemont’s  Departure for Brussels

Theoretically, the EU has thus no legal standing to intervene in the Spanish constitutional crisis. Recent events have, however, brought the EU incidentally on stage.

Mr. Puigdemont, the deposed leader of Catalan authorities, left Barcelona for Brussels several days ago, where he declared he was not intended to seek asylum and that he would return in Spain if judicial authorities so request, provided he was guaranteed conditions of a fair judicial process. In the meanwhile, the State prosecutor decided to start proceedings against Mr. Puigdemont and other officials of the ousted Catalan government for rebellion, sedition and embezzlement and demanded to the judge in charge of the processing charges to issue a European arrest warrant (hereafter EAW) for Mr. Puigdemont and four other members of his former cabinet, after they failed to appear at the High Court hearing last Thursday.  The EAW was issued by the Spanish judge last week. EU law has thus been relied upon by Spanish authorities to respond to its internal crisis, because of the departure of several Catalan officials to Brussels, which constituted, at the outset at least, nothing more than a lawful exercise of their free movement rights within the Schengen area.

Mr. Puidgemont and the other people subject to a EAW presented themselves to Belgian authorities, which decided to release them upon several conditions including the prohibition to leave the Belgian territory. A Belgian Criminal Chamber has as of now two weeks to decide if they should be surrendered to Spain or not.

The Quasi-automaticity of the European Arrest Warrant System

According to Puidgemont’s Belgian lawyer, the former Catalan leader will agree to return in Spain provided that he will be guaranteed respect of his fundamental rights, including the right to an impartial and independent trial. He moreover underlined that Puidgemont will submit itself to Belgian judicial authorities which will have to assess whether or not these conditions are met.

The system of the EAW, however, entails a quasi-automaticity of the execution by requested authorities of any Member State. Indeed, because it relies upon the principle of mutual trust between Member States, requested authorities may not, save in exceptional circumstances, control the respect by the requesting State of fundamental values of the EU, including democracy and human rights. The Council Framework Decision 2002/584 of 13 June 2002, which establishes the EAW includes a limitative list of mandatory and optional grounds for refusal which does not include a general ground for refusal based on human rights protection (Articles 3 and 4). Indeed, only specific violations or risk of violations of fundamental freedoms justify the refusal to surrender, according to the Framework Decision. As far as the right to a fair trial is concerned, the Framework Decision does not include possibilities to rebut the presumption of the existence of fair proceedings in other Member States except when the EAW results from an in abstentia decision and only under certain conditions (Article 4a).

A strong presumption of respect of EU values underlies EU criminal cooperation and the ECJ has, as of now, accepted its rebuttal on grounds of human right not included in the main text of the Framework Decision only where a serious and genuine risk of inhuman and degrading treatment existed for the convicted person in case of surrender (see the Aranyosi case, discussed here). In that respect, the lawyer of the other Catalan ministers who are already in jail has lodged a complaint for mistreatment of them, but more elements will be required to refuse the execution on the EAW on this basis.

Indeed, according to the Court of Justice, “the executing judicial authority must, initially, rely on information that is objective, reliable, specific and properly updated on the detention conditions prevailing in the issuing Member State and that demonstrates that there are deficiencies, which may be systemic or generalised, or which may affect certain groups of people, or which may affect certain places of detention”. Moreover, the domestic judge must also “make a further assessment, specific and precise, of whether there are substantial grounds to believe that the individual concerned will be exposed to that risk because of the conditions for his detention envisaged in the issuing Member State” before refusing the execution of the EAW (Aranyosi, paras 89 and 92).

Furthermore, the possibility to refuse to surrender persons convicted for political offences – which is traditionally seen as being part of the international system of protection of refugees – has been removed from the Convention on Extradition between Member States of the European Union concluded in 1996 – which is the ancestor of the current EAW system – precisely because of Member States’ duty to trust their peers’ judicial system. Interestingly, the removal of this ground for refusal had been required by Spain when it faced difficulties to obtain the extradition of Basque independentists who were seeking for protection in Belgium. The Spanish government pleaded that the ground for refusal for political infractions constituted a hurdle to criminal cooperation within the EU which was at odds with the trust that Member States should express to each other (see E. Bribosia and A. Weyembergh, “Extradition et asile: vers un espace judiciaire européen?”, R.B.D.I., 1997, pp. 69 to 98).

In the current state of EU law, no option for refusal of execution of the EAW concerning Mr. Puidgemont seems thus to exist. It is noteworthy, however, that the EAW system may, as a whole, be suspended, when the procedure provided for by Article 7 TEU is initiated if there is a (clear risk of) violation of the values referred to in Article 2 TEU on which the Union is founded, including human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Although some people have called for the initiation of this mechanism, the reliance on Article 7 is very unlikely to happen politically: it needs at least a majority of four fifths at the Council just to issue a warning, and the substantive conditions of EU values’ violations are very high.

Nonetheless, Belgium has included in its transposing legislation (Federal Law of 19 December 2003 related to the EAW) an obligatory ground of refusal – whose validity regarding EU law can seriously be put into question –  if there are valid grounds for believing that its execution would have the effect of infringing the funda­mental rights of the person concerned, as enshrined by Article 6(2) of the TEU (Art. 4, 5°). Triggering this exception will however result, in my view, in a violation of EU law by the Belgian judge since the ECJ has several times ruled that the grounds for refusal included in the Framework Decision were exhaustive and that a Member State could not rely upon its national human rights protection to refuse the execution of a EAW which respects the conditions laid down in the Framework Decision (Melloni).  Another option for the Belgian judge will be to make a reference to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling in order to ask whether, in the case at hand, the presumption of conformity with EU fundamental rights in Spain may be put aside because of the specific situation of Mr. Puidgemont.

The Quasi-Exclusion of the Asylum Right for EU Citizens

Besides asking for the refusal of his surrender to Spanish authorities, Mr. Puidgmont could – at least theoretically – seek asylum in Belgium on the basis of the Refugee Convention of 1951, which defines as refugees people with a well-founded fear of persecution for (among other things) their political opinion (Article 1.A.2).

However, Spain also requested – besides the removal of the ground for refusal to surrender a person based on the political nature of the alleged crime in the European Extradition Convention of 1996 – the enactment of Protocol No 24, on asylum for nationals of Member States of the European Union, annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam signed in 1997. This Protocol practically removes the right of EU citizens to seek asylum in other countries of the Union.

Founding itself on the purported trustful character of Member States’ political and judicial systems and the (presumed) high level of protection of fundamental rights in the EU, the Protocol states that all Member States “shall be regarded as constituting safe countries of origin in respect of each other for all legal and practical purposes in relation to asylum matters” (Art. 1). Any application for asylum made by an EU citizen in another Member State shall therefore be declared inadmissible, except if the Member State of which the applicant is a national has decided to suspend temporarily the application of the European Convention on Human Rights in time of emergency (Article 15 of the ECHR; note that it’s not possible to suspend all provisions of the ECHR on this basis) or if this Member State has been subject to a decision based on Art. 7.1. or 7.2. TEU establishing the risk or the existence of a serious and persistent breach by the Member State of EU values referred to in Art. 2 TEU.

A Member State may also decide, unilaterally, to take an asylum demand into consideration at the double condition that it immediately informs the Council and that that the application shall be dealt with on the basis of the presumption that it is manifestly unfounded.  This last derogation has been invoked by Belgium which has adopted a declaration stating that it would proceed to an individual examination of each asylum demand of a EU citizen lodged with it. To comply with EU law, it must however consider each application manifestly unfounded rendering the burden of the proof very heavy for the EU citizen asylum seeker.  Belgian alien’s law provides for an accelerated procedure for asylum when the individual comes from an EU country (Article 57/6 2 of the Belgian Aliens Act) but statistics nevertheless show that about twenty asylum demands from EU citizens where declared founded in 2013 and 2014 by Belgian authorities.

The EU Brought on Stage…  

In both cases, the refusal to execute the EAW or the granting of an asylum right to Mr. Puidgemont would result from the consideration that the Spanish judiciary does not present the basic and essential qualities of independence and impartiality to adjudicate the case related to Catalan independence activists. This observation would likely result in a major diplomatic dispute between the two countries and, more widely, in the EU. Indeed, the consideration made by Belgium and/or the ECJ that Spain would not respect fundamental values of the EU in treating the case of Catalonia would jeopardize the essential principle of mutual trust between Member States, which is relied upon in criminal, asylum but also in civil judicial cooperation. The Spanish constitutional crisis could thereby potentially call into question the whole system of cooperation in the European Area of Freedom Security and Justice.

Refuge ou asile ? La situation de Carles Pbyuigdemont en Belgique au regard du droit de l’Union européenne

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON THE CDRE SITE

by Henri Labayle, CDRE et Bruno Nascimbene, Université de Milan

Quoique largement circonscrite à la Belgique, l’agitation médiatique provoquée par l’arrivée à Bruxelles de Carles Puigdemont et de certains de ses proches soulève d’intéressants points de droit quant à leur situation sur le territoire d’un autre Etat membre de l’Union. Attisée par les déclarations imprudentes d’un secrétaire d’Etat belge à l’Asile et à la Migration, Theo Francken, cette présence a réveillé d’anciennes querelles entre les deux royaumes concernés tenant tout à la fois à la possibilité pour la Belgique d’accorder l’asile à l’intéressé (1) et, à défaut, de constituer un refuge face aux éventuelles poursuites intentées à son égard par les juridictions espagnoles (2).

1. La recherche d’une terre d’asile

Le suspense n’a guère duré. Après avoir géré son départ de Catalogne dans le plus grand des secrets, dans une posture digne de l’homme du 18 juin 1940 dont il porte le prénom, le président déchu du gouvernement catalan y a mis fin en déclarant qu’il n’était « pas venu ici pour demander l’asile politique ». Pourtant, son entourage comme les déclarations du secrétaire d’Etat Theo Francken, nationaliste flamand, membre du parti indépendantiste ultra-conservateur N-VA, avaient donné corps à la polémique.

a. Le choix de son avocat, d’abord, n’a rien eu d’innocent. Tout en déclarant que son client n’était pas en Belgique pour demander l’asile, ce dernier n’en a pas moins jugé utile de préciser soigneusement avoir « une expérience de plus de 30 ans avec l’extradition et l’asile politique de basques espagnols et c’est probablement sur la base de cette expérience qu’il a fait appel à moi ». Les agences de presse se sont du reste empressées de souligner qu’il avait en son temps assuré la défense du couple Luis Moreno et Raquel Garcia, réclamés en vain à la Belgique par l’Espagne en raison de leur soutien à l’organisation terroriste ETA.

Source de vives tensions entre l’Espagne et la Belgique en raison du refus de cette dernière de les extrader puis de les remettre à Madrid autant qu’à propos du débat sur leur éventuel statut de réfugié politique, le cas de ces derniers éclaire l’insistance espagnole à inscrire en 1997 un protocole à ce sujet, le fameux protocole « Aznar » joint au traité d’Amsterdam. A tout le moins donc, la symbolique du recours à un avocat ainsi spécialisé n’est pas neutre, même s’il est permis de douter de l’adresse d’un tel amalgame pour une cause se présentant comme victime de la violence de l’Etat et d’un déni de démocratie.

Dans le même temps, exprimant sans détours sa sympathie à la cause nationaliste, le secrétaire d’Etat Theo Francken n’a pas manié la langue de bois. D’abord, à travers un constat sur la situation espagnole quelque peu téméraire : « la situation en Catalogne est en train de dégénérer. On peut supposer, de manière réaliste qu’un certain nombre de Catalans vont demander l’asile en Belgique. Et ils le peuvent. La loi est là. Il pourront demander une protection et introduire une demande d’asile et on y répondra convenablement ». Ensuite en fournissant une explication à son attitude au demeurant tout aussi douteuse : « en regardant la répression de Madrid et les peines de prison envisagées, la question peut se poser de savoir s’il a encore une chance d’un jugement équitable».

La volée de critiques faisant suite à cette provocation, y compris le désaveu a minima d’un premier ministre belge passablement gêné, oblige alors à rappeler les termes du débat juridique.

b. Sur l’insistance du premier ministre espagnol de l’époque, Jose Maria Aznar, le protocole n° 24 additionnel au traité d’Amsterdam s’efforce de réduire le droit d’asile à un droit seulement offert aux ressortissants tiers. En effet, « vu le niveau de protection des droits fondamentaux et des libertés fondamentales dans les États membres de l’Union européenne, ceux-ci sont considérés comme constituant des pays d’origine sûrs les uns vis-à-vis des autres pour toutes les questions juridiques et pratiques liées aux affaires d’asile». Le protocole n° 24 fut accompagné à l’époque de la déclaration n° 48 de la Conférence, ne préjugeant pas du droit de chaque Etat membre de prendre les mesures d’organisation nécessaires au respect de la Convention de Genève. Pour sa part, la Belgique déclara alors que, tout en approuvant le protocole n° 24, « conformément à ses obligations au titre de la convention de Genève de 1951 et du protocole de New York de 1967, elle effectuera, conformément à la disposition énoncée à l’article unique, point d), de ce protocole, un examen individuel de toute demande d’asile présentée par un ressortissant d’un autre Etat membre» (déclaration n° 5).

Le HCR n’avait pas manqué alors d’émettre des critiques fermes et fondées sur la conventionnalité d’une telle option, hostile à l’idée simpliste selon laquelle l’appartenance à l’UE constituerait par principe un critère objectif et légitime de distinction du point de vue de la protection entre Etats membres de l’Union et Etats tiers (UNHCR, « Position on the proposal of the European Council concerning the treatment of asylum applications from citizens of European Union Member States », annexe à la lettre du Directeur de la Division de la protection of internationale à M. Patijn, Ministre des Affaires étrangères des Pays Bas, 3 février 1997 ; voir également UNHCR Press release 20 juin 1997). Vingt ans après, la situation des droits fondamentaux dans certains Etats membres de l’Union conforte cette critique.

Conscients de ces difficultés, les Etats membres ont alors opté pour une solution de contournement, se gardant de toute interdiction frontale du droit d’asile à propos de leurs ressortissants et préférant en retenir une approche extrêmement restrictive. Il s’agit, comme l’indique le protocole, « d’empêcher que l’asile en tant qu’institution soit utilisé à des fins autres que celles auxquelles il est destiné ».

Le traité de Lisbonne n’a modifié ce dispositif qu’à la marge, à deux précisions près. La première tient dans la disparition des déclarations formulées à Amsterdam et la seconde voit l’invocation des « valeurs » de l’Union justifier désormais l’existence du protocole puisque, par hypothèse, les Etats membres les respectent pour pénétrer et demeurer dans l’Union. Ils ne peuvent donc être sources de persécutions, sauf preuve du contraire.

c. La pratique de l’asile entre Etats membres de l’Union est donc régie aujourd’hui par le Protocole n° 24 révisé à Lisbonne, lequel constitue la lex specialis du « droit d’asile pour les ressortissants des Etats membres de l’Union européenne ». Il n’est pas indifférent de rappeler que l’ensemble du droit primaire et dérivé de l’Union de l’asile se conforme à cette logique. Le champ d’application personnel du droit d’asile selon la directive « Qualification » ne concerne que les ressortissants de pays tiers, en application de l’article 78 TFUE qui en fait un droit de ces ressortissants et s’impose à l’article 18 de la Charte dont les « explications » mentionnent spécifiquement le Protocole.

Ce dernier, outre les hypothèses qui visent une violation établie des valeurs de l’Union ou une dérogation en vertu de l’article 15 de la Convention EDH, régit l’éventuel octroi d’une protection à un citoyen de l’Union dans son article unique point d) : « si un État membre devait en décider ainsi unilatéralement en ce qui concerne la demande d’un ressortissant d’un autre État membre; dans ce cas, le Conseil est immédiatement informé; la demande est traitée sur la base de la présomption qu’elle est manifestement non fondée sans que, quel que soit le cas, le pouvoir de décision de l’État membre ne soit affecté d’aucune manière ».

Le plus grand flou règne ensuite en la matière quant à la pratique dégagée par les Etats à ce propos. On sait, par exemple qu’en France le Conseil d’Etat a dégagé une interprétation littérale du protocole Aznar à propos de citoyens roumains tout en n’écartant pas l’hypothèse d’un examen (CE, 30 décembre 2009, OFPRA c/ Cosmin, req. 305226, note Aubin, AJDA 2010). De même, l’administration française s’est-elle empressée de souligner par voie de circulaire, à l’occasion de l’adhésion de la Croatie en 2013, que le retrait de ce nouvel Etat membre de la liste des pays tiers d’origine sûrs n’entraînait aucun changement sur le plan de l’admission provisoire au titre de l’asile et du jeu de la procédure d’examen prioritaire, dans la logique du protocole Aznar.

Les choses sont beaucoup plus incertaines concernant l’Union elle-même et les doutes que l’on peut légitimement éprouver quant à la situation des droits fondamentaux dans l’Union en général comme en particulier invitent à la réserve.

En 2015, la Commission canadienne de l’immigration et du statut de réfugié fait ainsi état de la grande diversité des pratiques nationales au sein de l’Union à l’égard de ce protocole, principalement en raison des divergences portant sur la présence des Etats membres de l’Union sur les listes nationales de pays d’origine « sûrs ». Seuls la Belgique et les Pays Bas auraient, à ce jour, rendu des décisions positives de protection.

Pour ce qui est plus précisément de la Belgique, susceptible d’accueillir M. Puigdemont, si elle semble ne pas avoir renouvelé à Lisbonne sa déclaration d’Amsterdam, elle conserve néanmoins la possibilité de procéder à une évaluation des situations individuelles. Quasiment exclusivement saisie par des nouveaux Etats membres, le plus souvent à propos de la question des Roms, elle fait un usage très parcimonieux de cette possibilité puisque près d’un millier de demandes auraient été déposées depuis 2011 pour moins de quinze reconnaissances au total.

La déclaration de la Belgique, qui a certainement une valeur politique, conserve sa valeur juridique, même si elle n’a pas été répétée, comme elle aurait dû être révoquée. En tout état de cause, les Etats membres conservent le droit souverain d’accorder l’asile sur la base de leur droit interne. Ainsi, dans la Constitution d’un État membre comme l’Italie, il existe une disposition fondamentale, à l’instar du troisième paragraphe de l’article 10, qui prévoit qu’un étranger qui est effectivement empêché d’exercer ses libertés démocratiques garanties de la Constitution italienne, a le droit à l’asile sur le territoire de la République, dans les conditions prévues par la loi. Bien que l’Italie n’ait fait aucune déclaration, il n’y a aucun doute que l’Etat garde sa souveraineté quant à la concession de l’asile, aussi appelé asile constitutionnel et qui fait abstraction des obligations internationales ou de l’Union. De même, en droit français, le préambule de la Constitution de 1946 prévoit-il que« tout homme persécuté en raison de son action en faveur de la liberté a droit d’asile sur les territoires de la République ». Ces formes d’asile particulier n’ont pas été prises en considération par M. Puigdemont , la Belgique lui paraissant un Etat plus sûr ou protecteur.

En Italie, d’un autre côté, dans la jurisprudence administrative, il s’est posé également la question de ne pas expulser vers la Grèce mais aussi vers la Bulgarie, considérés comme des pays non sûrs, malgré leur statut d’Etats membres de l’Union. Les juges administratifs ont ainsi démontré, s’il y en avait besoin, que la confiance mutuelle entre pays membres, dans la réalité et pratique courante, est souvent théorique…

C’est dans ce contexte peu encourageant que l’accueil de l’ex-président catalan peut être évalué.

2. La recherche d’une terre de refuge    

Deux hypothèses se présentent alors : celle d’un accueil en bonne et due forme au plan de l’asile et celle d’une réponse à un éventuel mandat d’arrêt européen. Les dénégations de M. Puigdemont quant à son éventuelle demande de protection ne sont pas aussi catégoriques qu’il y paraît au premier abord. Il a, en effet, ouvertement évoqué des « menaces » et un « besoin de sécurité » que les autorités espagnoles ne seraient plus à même de lui assurer soit en raison de la nature des poursuites exercées à son encontre soit en ne le protégeant pas efficacement des menaces pesant sur sa personne. On retrouve là derrière ces arguments des questions très classiques du droit de l’asile dont les réponses ne sont pas sans intérêt du point de vue de la recherche d’un refuge devant le risque pénal.

a. Même s’il s’avère que la Belgique n’a pas renouvelé sa déclaration d’Amsterdam, elle se trouve placée comme tout Etat membre de l’Union devant à une double contrainte posée par le Protocole n° 24. La première est de nature procédurale et elle consiste à « informer le Conseil » de sa volonté. Nul doute qu’ici surgiront des tensions diplomatiques avec d’autres Etats membres, au premier rang desquels l’Espagne se situera, et qu’elles mettront également à rude épreuve la coalition gouvernementale gouvernant la Belgique. A en rester sur le terrain politique, les déclarations des partis nationalistes flamands sur la nécessité de soutenir « ses amis » le laissent présager. A venir sur le terrain juridique, le soulagement politique pourrait alors naître de l’impossibilité de répondre favorablement à une quelconque demande, au vu de la réalité du droit de l’Union.

La seconde contrainte est matérielle et elle consiste à renverser la présomption posée par le protocole Aznar. Le point d) de son article unique spécifie bien que « la demande est traitée sur la base de la présomption qu’elle est manifestement non fondée ». Il convient donc pour les autorités nationales saisies de renverser cette présomption pour se placer en conformité avec le droit de l’Union.

On se trouve ici dans un schéma tout à fait comparable à celui que la Cour a dégagé avec force dans l’avis 2/13relatif à l’adhésion à la Convention EDH lorsqu’elle met en relief cette « prémisse fondamentale selon laquelle chaque État membre partage avec tous les autres Etats membres, et reconnaît que ceux-ci partagent avec lui, une série de valeurs communes sur lesquelles l’Union est fondée, comme il est précisé à l’article 2 TUE. Cette prémisse implique et justifie l’existence de la confiance mutuelle entre les Etats membres dans la reconnaissance de ces valeurs et, donc, dans le respect du droit de l’Union qui les met en œuvre » (point 168). « Fondamentale » car elle « permet la création et le maintien d’un espace sans frontières intérieures. Or, ce principe impose, notamment en ce qui concerne l’espace de liberté, de sécurité et de justice, à chacun de ces Etats de considérer … que tous les autres Etats membres respectent le droit de l’Union et, tout particulièrement, les droits fondamentaux reconnus par ce droit » (point 191).

S’atteler au défi de prouver que le Royaume d’Espagne ne respecte pas les valeurs de l’Union, au point de justifier d’accorder protection à l’un de ses citoyens au prétexte que son pays lui demande des comptes de sa violation d’une légalité établie par la juridiction constitutionnelle de ce pays, ne sera donc pas aisé. Une chose est en effet de se réclamer de la démocratie et de l’exercice des droits qui y sont attachés et une autre est de faire la preuve que cet exercice est légal. Dénoncer une éventuelle « politisation de la justice espagnole et son absence d’impartialité » comme « l’injustice du gouvernement espagnol » et son « désir de vengeance » ne se paie pas seulement de mots.

Or, rien dans l’état du droit positif n’accrédite une accusation d’une telle gravité, laquelle n’a été portée ni devant les juridictions suprêmes européennes ni au sein de leurs organes internes. Il sera donc difficile aux autorités d’un autre Etat membre de la reprendre à leur compte en allant jusqu’au point de renverser la présomption établie par le protocole et de la confiance mutuelle entre Etats membres. Bien au contraire, l’unanimité des déclarations des représentants des autres Etats membres comme des institutions de l’Union s’est attachée depuis le début de la crise à souligner la nécessité de respecter le cadre légal national ainsi contesté.

b. C’est donc sur le terrain pénal que la suite de la partie se jouera. Avec la convocation à Madrid de l’ex-président et de treize de ses ministres par une juge d’instruction de l’Audience nationale, saisie par le parquet espagnol qui a requis des poursuites notamment pour « rébellion et sédition », chefs passibles respectivement d’un maximum de 30 et 15 ans de prison. Mettre en cause la partialité de la juridiction espagnole et son mode de fonctionnement nécessitera des arguments forts qu’aucune juridiction européenne n’a jusqu’alors établi, même en des cas autrement dramatiques.

Car pour le reste, et sous couvert de l’intitulé exact de l’émission inévitable du mandat d’arrêt européen qui suivra le refus annoncé de déférer à cette convocation judiciaire, le scénario est écrit. La décision-cadre 2002/584 établissant le mandat d’arrêt européen est inflexible : « rien dans la présente décision-cadre ne peut être interprété comme une interdiction de refuser la remise d’une personne qui fait l’objet d’un mandat d’arrêt européen s’il y a des raisons de croire, sur la base d’éléments objectifs, que ledit mandat a été émis dans le but de poursuivre ou de punir une personne en raison de son sexe, de sa race, de sa religion, de son origine ethnique, de sa nationalité, de sa langue, de ses opinions politiques ou de son orientation sexuelle, ou qu’il peut être porté atteinte à la situation de cette personne pour l’une de ces raisons ». Malgré le libellé peu clair du considérant n° 12 de la décision-cadre 2002/584, celui-ci invoque l’hypothèse d’un refus d’exécution d’un mandat d’arrêt européen s’il y a des raisons de présumer que la personne est persécutée pour ses opinions politiques. On remarquera d’une part qu’il s’agit d’une disposition non contraignante et d’autre part que la partie contraignante de la décision-cadre ne formule aucun motif de cette nature empêchant la coopération et donc l’exécution du mandat dans ces cas, hors les hypothèses des articles 3 et 4. Son article premier se borne à rappeler que « la présente décision-cadre ne saurait avoir pour effet de modifier l’obligation de respecter les droits fondamentaux et les principes juridiques fondamentaux tels qu’ils sont consacrés par l’article 6 du traité sur l’Union européenne ».

Et il est vrai à cet égard que la jurisprudence de la Cour de justice, évoquée à plusieurs reprises dans ces colonnes, confirme la rigueur de la force obligatoire de l’exécution d’un mandat. Ceci vaut sans exception, dans le sens où la Cour a considéré les raisons/motifs de refus prévues par la décision-cadre comme exhaustives (voir spécialement affaire C‑192/12 PPU West, pt. 55; affaire C‑399/11 Melloni, pt. 38). A la lumière de la jurisprudence dans les affaires Aranyosi et Caldararu, une certaine atténuation du principe établi apparait admissible si l’exécution implique une violation grave d’un droit fondamental bénéficiant d’une protection absolue, tel que la dignité de la personne humaine. Il semble difficile d’imaginer, au cas où la question serait adressée à la Cour de justice, que celle-ci puisse parvenir à intégrer la législation de l’UE en identifiant une raison supplémentaire pour cette hypothèse, la logique de l’avis 2/13 devrait alors être renversée et, en fait, la présomption même de non-octroi de l’asile.

En revanche, et pour ce que l’on en sait à travers la presse, les infractions pour lesquelles un mandat d’arrêt européen pourrait être émis (rébellion et sédition ?) contre M. Puigdemont ne semblent pas figurer sur la liste positive visée à l’art. 2, par. 2 de la décision cadre qui permet de procéder à une remise même en l’absence de double incrimination. Par conséquent, l’État d’exécution que serait la Belgique pourrait soumettre la remise à la vérification que les infractions couvertes par le mandat d’arrêt européen émis par l’Espagne soient également des infractions pénales en droit belge (art. 2, par. 4, et art. 4, par. 1, de la décision cadre).

Le scénario judiciaire risque donc, par l’automaticité de sa réponse, d’écarter toute hypothèse de refuge, de négociation ou autres compromis que le droit de l’extradition, hier, permettait encore. Là encore, prendre la décision de déférer à la demande de remise impliquera de procéder sous le feu des caméras à une arrestation pour y parvenir … Lourde responsabilité à prendre dans une coalition gouvernementale belge fragilisée sur la question nationaliste…

Sauf à croire qu’il n’y a finalement là que faux semblant, épisode nouveau d’une guerre de communication accréditée par la proximité de la consultation électorale en Catalogne. Jouer la carte de « l’exil » comme aux heures les plus noires, victimiser l’acteur principal de la crise, dénoncer la poursuite étatique en la discréditant dessinent les ressorts à peine dissimulés d’une stratégie dont nul ne sait si elle sera payante, pariant qu’elle parviendra à convaincre les hésitants. Donner en spectacle l’arrestation et l’emprisonnement ou même leurs simples éventualités permettra de prendre ainsi chacun à témoin de la justesse de la cause défendue. La brièveté des délais d’exécution du mandat d’arrêt européen, deux mois en vertu de l’article 17, pourrait alors pousser les uns ou les autres à une véritable course de lenteur pour l’éviter avant des élections cruciales …

Un seul enseignement mérite alors d’en être tiré, à ce stade de la crise. Son théâtre n’est plus national mais il est européen, faisant émerger un paradoxe imprévu mais dont il faudra tirer les leçons. S’il est banal chez les souverainistes de prétendre que l’Union a pu affaiblir ses Etats membres, la crise catalane et son déroulement révèlent très exactement l’inverse. D’abord car l’attrait européen et le risque de devoir s’en priver, comme nous l’avons démontré, constitue une puissante barrière défensive pour le maintien au sein de l’Etat que l’on est tenté de quitter. Ensuite car l’Union, ses dirigeants et son droit, ainsi pris à témoin par le choix des nationalistes d’européaniser la crise pour espérer la dénouer, s’avèrent être les premiers défenseurs de l’intégrité territoriale d’Etats membres. Ceux-ci se découvrent là une alliée inattendue. Ont-ils aussi compris qu’ils partagent désormais avec elle le choix de la décision finale sans en demeurer les seuls maîtres ?

Counter-terrorism and the inflation of EU databases

Original published on Statewatch (*) on May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Unnoticed in the Schengen area’ Continue reading “Counter-terrorism and the inflation of EU databases”

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

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

Professor Steve Peers

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

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

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

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

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

Judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Headscarf bans at work: explaining the ECJ rulings

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

Professor Steve Peers

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

Background

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

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

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

The rulings

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

 

Parliamentary Tracker: European and national parliaments debates on the (third) Reform of the Common European Asylum System (28-02-17)

3rdReformAsylum280217

NOTA BENE : THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL RECORDING  See the LIBE official page (with background documents – webstreaming) here                   

by Luigi LIMONE (FREE Group trainee)                                                                                                                                                                        

UP TO THE CHALLENGE

Opening remarks by Claude Moraes, Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament :  According to Claude Moraes this meeting was taking place at very crucial moment of the reform which will  be needed to overcome the crisis which erupted at the EU external borders  in 2015 under the mass influx of migrants coming notably from the war zones in Syria and Iraq. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty it should be now a common parliamentary endeavor to succeed in reforming these sensitive policies.

FIRST SESSION: Challenges related to the Common European Asylum System – Chaired by Claude Moraes, LIBE Committee Chair

a) Intervention of Hon. Carmelo Abela, Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Maltese Presidency Council.  According to Hon. Carmelo Abela, when it comes to asylum, the EU is facing significant challenges like the urgent need to define future approaches for the solution of the migration crisis. The current EU legislative framework does not address the problem as it should do. Several amendments have been proposed by the Commission in order to reform the package on asylum legislation. The December 2016 Council conclusions on solidarity within the Dublin system provided that the EU should create a system built on solidarity, equal responsibility and based on political legitimacy. Discussions on the proposals already started and the Maltese presidency has already done some important efforts, but the road is still long.  The Minister confirmed that the reform was a priority for the Maltese Presidency. For him, the EU and the Maltese Presidency itself are facing significant challenges which should be addressed decisively and conclusively. He stated that the Maltese presidency would make every effort to achieve its objectives. However, it is worth noting that the presidency cannot succeed alone, it needs the help of the national Parliaments in order to create a durable and successful system of asylum.

b) Intervention by Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. Avramopoulos said that the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) remained a key priority of the EU. For this reform to be successful the EU needs to build a constructive dialogue between the Union and the representatives of the national Parliaments. According to him, purely national measures do not bring positive results, since nationalist approaches simply undermine the common strategy the EU wishes to adopt. A true spirit of solidarity and shared responsibility is required in order to: define a functioning system for asylum seekers; protect the EU external borders; dismantle the trafficking system; regulate irregular migration; manage return and readmission; accelerate the relocation process. The EU should face the challenge of the large amount of unaccompanied minors as well, together with the fight against secondary movement and asylum shopping. The renovated CEAS would help strengthen mutual trust among Member States, which is necessary not only for the efficiency of the system but also to provide asylum applicants with dignified treatment. The reform is therefore necessary to obtain a higher degree of harmonisation and greater convergence of measures, as well as an equal repartition of responsibilities among Member States.  The success of this reform depends on the implementation of solidarity mechanisms. A clear, predictable and efficient Dublin system is fundamental for the realization of a Union without internal borders. In this respect, sanctions for non-compliance with the rules are necessary, especially to fight secondary movement. Furthermore, resettlement and relocation should become compulsory for all Member States, especially with regard to unaccompanied minors. Ultimately, Avramopoulos proposed to have a Union resettlement framework for persons in need of international protection, which would enable to eliminate differences among national practices. Member States have to show their political willingness to work together and the EU needs to achieve a common understanding on how the future CEAS should function. This should happen through the support of the Maltese Presidency. It is the time to move on with this proposal and look at the migration phenomenon in a more strategic, comprehensive and positive manner. The sooner migrants and refugees are integrated in the host societies and in the labor markets, the more the Union can take advantage of their inclusion. In order to accomplish these goals, the EU needs the involvement of all stakeholders and EU citizens.

c) Interventions of National Parliaments representatives and of MEPs. Continue reading “Parliamentary Tracker: European and national parliaments debates on the (third) Reform of the Common European Asylum System (28-02-17)”

Parliamentary Tracker : a new episode of the EU-US visa waiver saga…

by Emilio De Capitani

Yesterday March 2nd the European Parliament has adopted a resolution (see below ) by which it has set a deadline to the Commission to adopt a delegated act which will trigger the reciprocity mechanism with the US because it still  does not grant a visa waiver to all the EU citizens. The latest Plenary debate on this subject took place following an oral question on December 14, 2016 (see here  and below the intervention of the LIBE Chairman and of the Commissioner Avramopoulos)

It is worth recalling that Reciprocity  is a basic principle framing the relations between States in the international arena and that in the visa policy domain the EU Member States may no more trigger alone this mechanism since the transfer of visa policies to the  EU 25 years ago with the Treaty of Maastricht.

The main EU legislative text dealing with reciprocity in visa domain is the Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 of 15 March 2001  which has been amended dozen times also in codecision  since the entry into force of the Amsterdam treaty (1999) and the gradual transfer of these policies under the “ordinary” regime.  The problem is that this transfer of competence from the MS to the EU has been recognized by almost all the third States except Canada, and ..the US. However, as far as Canada is concerned Prime Minister Trudeau has just confirmed that  the visa requirement will be lifted for all EU citizens  in December this year.

As far as the US are concerned  the European Commission was notified on April 2014, that  the EU citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania still cannot enter US territory without a visa, while US citizens can travel to all EU countries visa-free.

On the US side the visa issue has still to be settled bilaterally with each EU member state concerned (see the US legal framework here) and to obtain the US visa waiver the Country concerned should give access to a vast amount of confidential information and respect some strict thresholds connected to the return of its nationals. The point is that if the same standards were applied to the EU as a whole the visa waiver would be granted to everyone but for the US the EU is still not yet a valid counterpart because national  passport remain …national (?!). Needless to say this situation make furious the EU member states whose citizens are not granted the visa waiver (see the Polish position here) because they are no more competent in this domain. Their only possibility is to notify the situation to the Commission (as they did on 12 April 2014) so that the Commission can do its best to find in a two years time a positive solution with the third State concerned. According to the EU regulation into force if the situation is not settled the Commission should adopt a delegated act ( to which both Parliament and the Council may object following art 290 of TFEU) suspending the visa waiver for the third Country national for 12 months.

By so doing not only the EU will preserve the equality between its member states (who can no more protect themselves) but will ensure that all the EU citizens enjoy the same protection. The point is that  the Commission should have acted before 12 April 2016 as far as the US and Canada were concerned but almost one year later it has yet to take any legal measure  (see the latest Commission communication here )

Will the Commission obtain from the Trump administration what has been unable to obtain from the previous Bush and Obama administration ? We may have some doubts but the road ahead looks rather bumpy ..

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European Parliament resolution of 2 March 2017 on obligations of the Commission in the field of visa reciprocity in accordance with Article 1(4) of Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 (2016/2986(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–      having regard to Council Regulation (EC) No 539/20011, in particular Article 1(4)

thereof (‘the reciprocity mechanism’),

–      having regard to the Commission communication of 12 April 2016 entitled ‘State of play and the possible ways forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy’ (COM(2016)0221),

–      having regard to the Commission communication of 13 July 2016 entitled ‘State of play and the possible ways forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy (Follow-up of the Communication of 12 April)’ (COM(2016)0481),

–      having regard to the Commission communication of 21 December 2016 entitled ‘State of play and the possible ways forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy (Follow-up to the Communication of 12 April)’ (COM(2016)0816),

–      having regard to Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Articles 80, 265 and 290 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

–      having regard to its debate on ‘Obligations in the field of visa reciprocity’ held on 14 December 2016 in Strasbourg,

–      having regard to the question to the Commission on obligations of the Commission in the field of visa reciprocity in accordance with Article 1(4) of Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 (O-000142/2016 – B8-1820/2016),

–      having regard to the motion for a resolution of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs,

–      having regard to Rules 128(5) and 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A. whereas the criterion of visa reciprocity as one of the criteria guiding the EU’s visa
policy is generally understood to imply that EU citizens should be subject to the same
conditions when travelling to a third country as the nationals of that third country are when travelling to the EU;

B. whereas the purpose of the visa reciprocity mechanism is to achieve such visa
reciprocity; whereas the EU’s visa policy prohibits individual Member States from
introducing a visa requirement for nationals of a third country if this country is listed in Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 (countries whose nationals are exempt from the visa requirement for short stays);

C. whereas the reciprocity mechanism was revised in 2013, with Parliament acting as co-legislator, as it needed to be adapted in the light of the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon and of the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union on secondary legal bases and ‘to provide for a Union response as an act of solidarity, if a third country listed in Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 applies a visa requirement for nationals of at least one Member State’ (Recital 1 of Regulation (EU) No 1289/2013);

D. whereas the reciprocity mechanism sets out a procedure starting with a situation of non-reciprocity with precise timeframes and actions to be taken with a view to ending a situation of non-reciprocity; whereas its inherent logic entails measures of increasing severity vis-à-vis the third country concerned, including ultimately the suspension of the exemption from the visa requirement for all nationals of the third country concerned (‘second phase of application of the reciprocity mechanism’);

E. whereas ‘in order to ensure the adequate involvement of the European Parliament and of the Council in the second phase of application of the reciprocity mechanism, given the particularly sensitive political nature of the suspension of the exemption from the visa requirement for all the nationals of a third country listed in Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 and its horizontal implications for the Member States, the Schengen associated countries and the Union itself, in particular for their external relations and for the overall functioning of the Schengen area, the power to adopt acts in accordance with Article 290 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union [was] delegated to the Commission in respect of certain elements of the reciprocity mechanism’ including the suspension of the exemption from the visa requirement for all nationals of the third country concerned;

F. whereas ‘the European Parliament or the Council may decide to revoke the delegation’ (Article 290(2)(a) TFEU);

G. whereas a delegated act ‘may enter into force only if no objection has been expressed by the European Parliament or the Council within a period set by the legislative act’
(Article 290(2)(b) TFEU);

H. whereas the Commission contested the choice of delegated acts in the second phase of application of the reciprocity mechanism before the Court of Justice of the European Union, and whereas the Court considered however the choice of the legislator to be correct (Case C-88/14);

I. whereas the mechanism thereby clearly assigns obligations and responsibilities to Parliament and the Council and to the Commission in the different phases of the reciprocity mechanism;

  1. Considers the Commission to be legally obliged to adopt a delegated act – temporarily suspending the exemption from the visa requirement for nationals of third countries which have not lifted the visa requirement for citizens of certain Member States – within a period of 24 months from the date of publication of the notifications in this regard, which ended on 12 April 2016;
  2. Calls on the Commission, on the basis of Article 265 TFEU, to adopt the required delegated act within two months from the date of adoption of this resolution at the latest;
  3. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Commission, the European Council, the Council and the national parliaments.

(1) 1 OJ L 81, 21.3.2001, p. 1.

EXCERPT EP DEBATE (December 14) VISA RECIPROCITY

Claude MORAES (author of the Oral Question). – Mr President, (…) We now come to the important oral question, which many colleagues have been waiting for, on the very important, compelling and urgent issue of visa reciprocity. As colleagues will know, this is an ongoing issue of urgency, not just for those five countries and the citizens of those five countries – Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus – but indeed a matter of principle for the whole House on questions of symmetry and equality in our relationship with the United States.

In 2013, Parliament and the Council adopted a regulation modifying, amongst other elements, the so-called reciprocity mechanism. It entered into force in January 2014. Under EU law and according to this mechanism, if a third country does not lift visa requirements 24 months after notification of a situation of non—reciprocity, the Commission is obliged to suspend the visa waiver for citizens of that country for 12 months, via a delegated act to which Parliament and the Council could object.

Notifications of five Member States – and I have named them – were published by the Commission on 12 April 2014. There were at times cases of non—reciprocity also affecting Australia, Japan and Brunei and all of them have now been solved. After 24 months had elapsed, on 12 April 2016, the Commission, instead of presenting the delegated act as we required, decided to publish a communication asking the Council and Parliament for their views. This communication was followed by another communication on 13 July updating the situation and again failing to fulfil the Commission’s obligations.

As Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, it is my view that the reciprocity mechanism sets out a procedure with precise time frames and actions not subject to discretionality by the Commission. Therefore, the Commission is under an obligation to adopt a delegated act pursuant to Article 1(4)(f) of Regulation 539/2001.

As the Commissioner knows, on 7 June 2016, I sent a letter reminding you, Commissioner, of the legal obligations of the Commission here. On 12 October, during the exchange we had with you in the Civil Liberties Committee, the Commission was again urged to act and all the Members who took the floor made it clear that the Commission does have some more room for manoeuvre. This was our view.

In this context, and with an overwhelming majority, we have in the Civil Liberties Committee adopted the following oral question for answer today: do you share the legal assessment according to which the Commission is obliged to adopt a delegated act – temporarily suspending the exemption from the visa requirement for nationals of third countries which have not lifted the visa requirement for citizens of certain EU Member States – within a period of 24 months from the date of publication of the notifications in this regard, which ended on 12 April 2016? In the event that the Commission agrees with the assessment that it is obliged to adopt a delegated act, by when will the Commission present this delegated act? And finally, if the Commission does not agree, what are the reasons for not agreeing with that assessment?

This issue, as I said at the beginning of my presentation of this oral question, is not just about the deep and very understandable concerns of our colleagues from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus; it is about the idea that we in the EU have the right to expect symmetry and equality with the United States in our relationship. We are right to expect fairness. The right to expect fairness is something that we have transmitted directly to our United States partners and to the State Department in Washington, and we did so respectfully and forcefully

(…)

Commissioner AVRAMOPOULOS : Mr President, honourable Members of the Parliament, let me start by telling you that I welcome the opportunity to discuss this very important matter, being already fully aware of your expectations. In October I discussed this with the members of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). You will remember that, Mr Moraes. It should be clear that we all share the same objective. Full visa reciprocity is the central principle of our visa policy framework. With the United States and Canada it is a challenging and sensitive issue, and we all hope for tangible progress.

Before responding to the questions, let me start with the good news concerning Canada. As I told you in the past, I used the window of opportunity offered to us, the EU-Canada summit. A series of meetings and discussions were held ahead in order to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement. I took the plane myself to meet in person the Canadian Immigration Minister John McCallum, in order to address the real situation at political and not at technocratic level. We had a very constructive discussion with the minister and we agreed to engage in a political process to address each other’s concerns and make the lifting of visa obligations for Romania and Bulgaria possible. Indeed, and as I had hinted in my meeting with LIBE, Canada took a positive decision in line with the commitment of McCallum in July. At the summit Canada announced its decision to lift in late 2017 the visa requirements for all Bulgarian and Romanian citizens. Moreover, certain categories of Bulgarian and Romanian travellers who visited Canada in the past 10 years, or who currently possess a valid visa issued by the United States, will already become visa-free from 1 May 2017.

We all welcome very much this outcome. It is a strong indication that diplomatic channels and engagement can achieve positive results. On this point, I would like to thank Members of Parliament for their constructive contribution too. We worked in close coordination with Bulgaria and Romania and they played a central role in addressing Canadian concerns. We have to continue this path to ensure that full visa waiver is achieved. The Commission will continue to do its part, in full cooperation with both Member States.

Now the situation with the United States is different. While I continue discussions with our US partners, most recently at the EU-US JHA Ministerial Meeting on 5 December in Washington, there is no progress to report. But I want to assure you that I will keep this issue high on the agenda with the new administration and Congress. I will personally immediately engage in conference with my new counterparts. I call on all of you to give a chance for the political discussion to take place and to explain the mutual obligations, reservations, goals and work to find a solution.

It is very important to understand that the role of Congress is crucial. The visa waiver programme cannot be expanded without Congress, particularly if Member States do not meet the thresholds of US legislation. It seems certain that temporarily suspending the visa waiver for US citizens would immediately lead to a visa requirement imposed on all EU citizens. We are aiming for the opposite, not a reciprocal visa requirement but a reciprocal visa waiver. Let me be very clear. The Commission would not hesitate to adopt the respective acts if that would improve the situation of EU citizens, and lead to the visa waiver for all. At the same time, the Commission has a responsibility to inform you, the co-legislators, about negative consequences on the EU and its citizens from the implementation of our rules.

And this leads me to your questions. There is a regulation that says ‘the Commission shall adopt a delegated act’. But there are also other requirements and obligations to be followed which are difficult to reconcile with this obligation, and which are equally important. The same regulation says that: ‘the Commission shall take into account the consequences of the suspension of the exemption from the visa requirements for the external relations of the Union and its Member States with the third country in question’.

The approach we put forward back in April outlined these adverse consequences. We still consider that the negative impacts we identified, which were not questioned by other institutions and stakeholders, should be taken fully into account. If a visa requirement is reintroduced, it will be difficult to explain to millions of EU citizens travelling to the United States every year that the EU serves their interests and that the EU action was appropriate in this case. Would legal arguments be convincing for thousands of EU citizens that would likely lose their jobs due to the expected decrease of US visitors? I very much doubt it.

A recent study for the World Travel and Tourism Council suggests that suspending the visa waiver would annually lead to a 22% drop in visitors to the European Union, or 5.5 million fewer visitors from the United States and Canada. This will be equal to a loss of EUR 6.8 billion annually, risking the loss of 140 000 jobs in the tourism industry. The most affected Member States will be Italy, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. I am asking the question: can we really afford that loss?

Dear Members of Parliament, we are in a very unpleasant situation, but determined to work to achieve visa-free travel for all EU citizens to the United States, as we managed to do with Canada. Let us work together in this effort

 

 

Bargaining Chips No More: The Status of EU and UK citizens after Brexit

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS 

by Steve Peers

Introduction

Today, the results of an inquiry into the status of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit, set up by the NGO British Future, are released. I was a member of the panel of that inquiry, which sought to bring together supporters of both the Leave and the Remain side, from different political parties and from outside Parliament as well.

This blog post has three related objectives: a) to set out and defend the main recommendations of the inquiry regarding EU citizens in the UK after Brexit; b) to set out my own recommendations for what should happen to UK citizens in the EU after Brexit; and c) to discuss the idea (floated recently) of ‘associate citizenship’ of the EU for UK citizens after Brexit. Just to make clear, the second and third points were outside the remit of the British Future inquiry – but I think it makes sense to look at those issues in parallel today. Obviously, the comments here on the latter two points are mine alone, and my views on them are not necessarily shared by any of the other people on the panel.

Results of the Inquiry: Recommendations on EU citizens in the UK

The basic starting point of the inquiry is that EU citizens who were in the UK exercising rights on the basis of EU law before a cut-off date should retain their rights after Brexit. This was the explicit position of many senior people on the Leave side during the referendum campaign, and necessarily also reflects the views of those on the Remain side, who were advocating the continued application of EU free movement law to the UK.

It is also consistent with the international law principle of ‘acquired rights’ in international law. It’s unlikely that this principle could, by itself, ensure enforceable protection of specific individual rights in British law, for the reasons explained by Professor Douglas-Scott. However, the UK certainly ought to act to give practical effect to this principle. Equally, the proposal takes account of the barriers to expelling many EU citizens imposed by human rights law, discussed by Matthew White here.

Quite apart from legal considerations and political promises, it would give effect to basic ethical principles of humanity and fairness: it would be morally wrong to disrupt the lives of people who came to the UK legally and have contributed a great deal to it. Their anxiety and uncertainty about the future should be alleviated as soon as possible.

Our recommendation would in effect create a special ‘ex-EU’ status for EU citizens who were resident in the UK before the cut-off date. Those who were already entitled topermanent residence status as of the cut-off date would keep that status (or their entitlement to apply for it). Those who were resident in the UK as of the cut-off date, but who had not yet earned entitlement to permanent residence status could still obtain it over the next five years. Those who first arrive after the cut-off date would be entitled to invoke EU free movement law in the UK until Brexit Day, after which point they would switch to ‘ordinary’ UK immigration law status, whatever that might be. (It remains to be seen whether the EU and the UK negotiate some agreement on immigration issues, which might entail a preferential status falling short of free movement of people, after Brexit).

Ex-EU status for EU citizens in the UK would entail keeping all the same rights they would have had if the UK had stayed in the EU, in terms of access to employment and equal treatment. There are several advantages to this approach.

First of all, this approach would be easy to reciprocate on the EU side, for UK citizens living in the EU (more on that below). Secondly, it would be easier to administer: forcing all EU citizens in the UK to apply for a completely new distinctly British status would cost a fortune, and it would take years to process all the applications. Having said that, there will be some difficulties of implementation in practice, although some complications are unavoidable no matter what approach is taken to this issue. The report of the inquiry makes some detailed suggestions about how implementation could work.

Thirdly, the proposed approach would come with built-in legal clarity, since the rules governing EU free movement law are already the subject of EU legislation and many court judgments. Finally, it would be consistent with the government’s plans for a ‘Great Repeal Act’, which will keep EU law on the British statute book until Parliament (or, if given power, the executive) decides to amend or repeal it.

We chose a cut-off date of the official start of the process of leaving the EU. This is earlier than Brexit Day, on the basis that people that come after the notification date cannot expect to enjoy EU free movement rights in the UK indefinitely after Brexit Day. However, it is later than the referendum date, on the basis that EU citizens who arrived before the process of leaving the EU officially began should not be prejudiced.

Finally, why recommend that the UK act unilaterally, before the EU guarantees the status of UK citizens in the EU? Firstly, because of the principles of humanity and fairness discussed above: EU citizens in the UK should be regarded as ends and not means, and certainly not as bargaining chips. Secondly, because a principled position taken unilaterally by the UK could reduce the political tension on this issue, and make it easier to reach a bilateral agreement once talks start. If it adopts our recommendations as regards the position of EU citizens in UK law, the UK government could and should point out that it expects the EU side to agree to the same principles, particularly given that our recommendation would be easy for them to reciprocate.

UK citizens in the EU

So far, the EU has refused to negotiate on the status of EU and UK citizens post-Brexit, because the UK has not yet officially notified its intention to leave the EU. While it is unfortunate that negotiations have not already started, those who condemn the EU for its position but who also voted Leave should reflect that it was their vote that threatened the status of the people concerned in the first place.

Once Brexit negotiations begin, hopefully the negotiators will tackle this issue first and aim to reach early agreement on it, so that the people affected can make firm decisions about their future and administrations can prepare to implement the rules in practice. In principle, it should be easy to reach agreement, if both sides aim for a reciprocal ‘ex-EU’ status. Since the issue logically falls within the scope of Article 50 TEU, as an issue to be agreed as part of the Brexit process, it should not be necessary to get unanimous agreement of Member States or to subject the deal to national ratification by Member States (the Article 50 deal can be approved by a qualified majority of Member States in the EU Council).

As I suggested on the day after the referendum, it would be best to have rules in the withdrawal treaty on this issue which are legally binding, define the exact scope of the rule, can be supplemented by further joint measures if needed, and must be fully applied in further detail in national law. I suggested some wording for the Article 50 treaty (now amended to make clear that non-EU family members of UK and EU citizens are covered):

  1. Any citizens of the UK residing in the EU as of [Brexit Day] and their family members, and any EU citizens residing in the UK as of that date and their family members, shall retain any rights which they acquired pursuant to EU free movement law before that date. They shall also continue to acquire rights which were in the process of acquisition as of that date.
  1. The parties shall give full effect to this principle in EU or national law, as the case may be.
  1. The EU/UK Joint Committee may adopt further measures to implement this rule.

The British Future report describes how the UK could implement such a legal obligation in its law. The EU side could best implement its corresponding legal obligation in the form of a short Regulation or Directive setting out general rules on ex-EU status, making consequential amendments to other EU laws. Later EU laws can then cross-refer to this basic law and/or the Article 50 deal.

Associate EU citizenship  Continue reading “Bargaining Chips No More: The Status of EU and UK citizens after Brexit”

CS and Rendón Marín: Union Citizens and their Third-Country National Parents – A Resurgence of the Ruiz Zambrano Ruling?

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS


by Maria Haag, PhD Researcher, European University Institute (Florence, Italy) & Michigan Grotius Research Scholar, University of Michigan Law School (Ann Arbor, Michigan)

Background

Five years ago, the CJEU delivered its infamous Grand Chamber decision in C-34/09Ruiz Zambrano. It held that “Article 20 TFEU precludes national measures which have the effect of depriving citizens of the Union of the genuine enjoyment of the substance of the rights conferred by virtue of their status as citizens of the Union” (para 42, emphasis added). This ‘genuine enjoyment’-protection had two consequences. First, Union citizens could rely on Article 20 TFEU against their Member State of nationality without having previously made use of their rights to free movement and thus bypassing the Court’s general lack of jurisdiction in ‘purely internal’ situations. Secondly, Member States were precluded from denying a right of residence to third-country national (‘TCN’) parents or caretakers of minor citizens of that Member State, as these children would otherwise be forced to leave the territory of the EU and thus no longer able to make use of the rights granted by Union citizenship.

Shortly after the delivery of this ground-breaking judgment, the Court of Justice proceeded to interpret Ruiz Zambrano very narrowly in a series of cases (C-434/09McCarthy, C-256/11 Dereci and Others, C-40/11 Iida, C-356&357/11 O. and S., C-87/12Ymeraga and Others, C‑86/12 Alokpa and Moudoulou and C-115/15 NA) leading many to wonder about the original significance of the Ruiz Zambrano decision. In contrast to Ruiz Zambrano, these subsequent cases mostly concerned the significance of Article 20 TFEU in a host Member State. The Court held that the applicants fell outside the scope of Article 20, even if they had never moved to another Member State, i.e. had been born in a Member State other than their Member State of nationality and had never left. The most recent cases – C-304/14 CS and C-165/14 Rendón Marín – however, Ruiz Zambrano decision, fully address the right under Article 20 TFEU in the home Member State. On the 13th of September 2016, the Grand Chamber delivered these two decisions in which it considered the effect of a criminal record of a TCN parent on his or her derived residence right under Article 20 TFEU and to what extent this right can be derogated on grounds of public policy or public security.

C-304/14 CS: facts and judgment

The case in CS concerned a Moroccan national, who resided in the UK together with her British national son. In 2012, she was convicted of a criminal offence and given a prison sentence of 12 months. Following her conviction, she was notified of her deportation liability. Her subsequent application for asylum was denied. Upon her appeal, the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) found that her deportation would violate her child’s rights under Article 20 TFEU. The Home Secretary was granted permission to appeal this decision before the Upper Tribunal, which asked the CJEU, under which circumstances the expulsion of a TCN caretaker of a Union citizen could be permitted under EU law and whether Article 27 and 28 of the Directive 2004/38 (the ‘citizens’ Directive’, which sets out the main rules on EU citizens who move to another Member State) had any effect in this case.

In its two-part decision, the Court firstly answered the question whether a TCN parent of a Union citizen has a derived right of residence in the home Member State under Article 20 TFEU and, secondly, if such a right can be limited on grounds of public policy or public security.

The Court first firmly restated its holding in Ruiz Zambrano. It explained that Article 20 TFEU “precludes national measures which have the effect of depriving Union citizens of the genuine enjoyment of the substance of the rights conferred by virtue of their status as Union citizens” (para 26; citing Ruiz Zambrano para 42). Furthermore, this means that “a right of residence must … be granted to a third-country national who is a family member of [a minor Union citizen] since the effectiveness of citizenship of the Union would otherwise be undermined, if, as a consequence of refusal of such a right that citizen would be obliged in practice to leave the territory of the European Union as whole” (para 29). CS thus had a derived right of residence under Article 20 TFEU in her son’s home Member State.

Secondly, the Court held that, as a general rule, such a derived residence right can be derogated for reasons of public policy or public security: “where the exclusion decision is founded on the existence of a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to the requirements of public policy or of public security … that decision could be consistent with EU law” (para 40, emphasis added). However, a deportation decision cannot be made “automatically on the basis solely of the criminal record of the person concerned” (para 41). Thus the UK legislation at issue, which obliges the Home Secretary to make a deportation order of any non-national who is sentenced to a period of imprisonment of 12 months or more, establishes “a systematic and automatic link between the criminal conviction of a person … and the expulsion measure” (para 44) and therefore violates EU law. Instead, it is for the national courts to weigh up “the personal conduct of the individual concerned, the length and legality of his residence on the territory of the Member State concerned, the nature and gravity of the offence committed, the extent to which the person concerned is currently a danger to society, the age of the child at issue and his state of health, as well as his economic and family situation” (para 42, emphasis added).

Furthermore, derogations for reasons of ‘public policy’ or ‘public security’ must be interpreted strictly and decisions are subject to review by the EU institutions (para 37). Lastly, and most notably, the assessment of the individual situation must take account of the principle of proportionality and the rights protected in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘CFREU’), especially Article 7 on the right to respect of private and family life and Article 24(2) on the obligation of consideration of the child’s best interests (paras 48 and 49).

C-165/14 Rendón Marín: facts and judgment

The facts in Rendón Marín are very similar to the ones in CS and essentially raise the same question, presumably why the Court decided these cases on the same day and why Advocate General Szpunar did not give separate opinions in these cases, but combined the two. Rendón Marín concerned a Colombian national father, who lived in Spain together with his Spanish national son and his Polish national daughter. His application for a residence permit was rejected due to his criminal record. The crucial difference between the facts of the two cases is that Mr Rendón Marín has a Union citizen daughter who lives in a host Member State and a son who lives in his home Member State. There thus exists a cross-border element in the situation of his daughter, but not in his son’s (For further discussion on the cross-border element, see C-200/02Zhu and Chen, especially para 19.).

The part of the Court’s decision concerning the son’s circumstances – a Spanish national in Spain – is almost identical to the Court’s judgment in CS. In fact, some of the paragraphs can be found in exactly the same wording in both decisions (the two cases also had the same rapporteur, Allan Rosas). Interestingly, the Court in Rendón Marínmentioned the possibility of moving to Poland, as this is the Member State of nationality of Mr Rendón Marín’s daughter. Whilst the Court noted the applicant’s objection that the family had no ties to Poland, it did not go into this discussion. (See, in contrast, footnote 109 in Advocate General Szpunar’s Opinion in CS and Rendón Marín. For more on this, see also Advocate General Wathelet’s Opinion in NA, paras 112-117.) Here the Court simply holds that “it is for the referring court to check whether … the parent who is the sole carer of his children, may in fact enjoy the derived right to go with them to Poland and reside with them there” (para 79, citing Alokpa and Moudoulou paras 34-35). The Court therefore did not deny that moving to Poland could be a possible solution in case of the father’s deportation from Spain.

As for the legal status of the daughter, the Court held that, as a Polish national and Union citizen, she could rely on Article 21 TFEU and the Directive 2004/38 to grant her a right of residence in Spain (para 44). Furthermore, the Court stated that if the daughter fulfils the conditions laid down under Article 7(1) Directive 2004/38 (i.e. having sufficient resources and comprehensive health insurance) then the derived right of residence of Mr Rendón Marín, her father and sole caretaker, cannot be refused (para 53). Whilst this derived right of residence can be limited for reasons of public policy or public security (para 57), EU law precludes such limitations on “grounds of a general, preventive nature” (para 61). Instead, it is for the national courts to do a similar weighing-up exercise as laid out in CS (see Rendón Marín, paras 59-66). Derogations from derived rights of residence on the basis of Article 20 TFEU and Article 21 TFEU thus presumably have to withstand the same test.

Comment

After a longer period of silence on this issue, the Court in these cases seems at the very least willing to explore the scope of Ruiz Zambrano. (The Court should soon decide another case, Chavez-Vilchez, which raises some further important questions about the scope of that judgment). The two recent judgments, whilst they in some sense appear to diminish the scope of Ruiz Zambrano even further, can also be seen as a restatement of the fundamental significance of the original judgment.

The cases following the Ruiz Zambrano decision made it very clear that protection under Article 20 TFEU is only applicable to a very small number of people in “very specific situations” (Rendón Marín para 74; CS para 29): essentially only to minors who reside with their TCN parents in their home Member State. CS and Rendón Marín both confirm this, but also clarify that a very high level of protection is granted to those Union citizens who fall within the scope of the ‘Ruiz Zambrano-protection’. In fact, the substantive protection against expulsion is equivalent to that of EU citizens (and their family members) who move to another Member State (the Court refers to concepts found in the EU citizens’ Directive and its predecessors, as well as relevant case law), although it is not clear if the same procedural protection applies.

The Court certainly does not exclude the possibility that “in exceptional circumstances” (CS para 50) a criminal and dangerous parent who poses a threat to a Member State’s public policy or public security could be deported. Even if this means that his or her Union citizen children are forced to leave EU territory and thus deprived of the genuine enjoyment of their EU citizenship rights. Nevertheless, the Court insists on a very stringent test before such a decision can be taken.

Most notably, the Court refers to the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and stresses the fact that a deportation decision needs to take account of Article 7 and Article 24(2) of the Charter (see CS paras 36 and 48; Rendón Marín paras 66 and 85). In Dereci, the Court had previously held that “if the referring court considers … that the situation of the applicants in the main proceedings is covered by European Union law, it must examine whether the refusal of their right of residence undermines the right to respect for private and family life provided for in Article 7 of the Charter” (Dereci, para 72). In that case the Court had decided that the circumstances fell outside the scope of EU law, and that it was therefore beyond its jurisdiction to consider a violation of the Charter. In both CSand Rendón Marín, the Court found that the applicants’ circumstances fell within the scope of EU law and thus that the Charter applied.

It is also interesting to compare the protection granted in C-135/08 Rottmann against the deprivation of the legal status of Union citizenship altogether and the protection granted in CS and Rendón Marín against being deprived of the genuine enjoyment of the Union citizenship rights by means of a parent’s expulsion to a non-EU state. Whereas in Rottmann, the Court held that a decision to withdraw someone’s nationality needs to respect the principle of proportionality (Rottmann, para 59), in CS and Rendón Marín it established a list of criteria that need to be observed. Curiously, the Rottmann-test therefore appears to be narrower than the one established in CS and Rendon Marin, even if the potential outcome in circumstances like Rottmann, i.e. statelessness, might be much more serious for the individual concerned.

In its decision in CS, the Court cites the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in Jeunesse v the Netherlands. The EU Court states in paragraph 49:

“[A]ccount is to be taken of the child’s best interests when weighing up the interests involved. Particular attention must be paid to his age, his situation in the Member State concerned and the extent to which he is dependent on the parent (see, to this effect, ECtHR, 3 October 2014, Jeunesse v. the Netherlands, CE:ECHR:2014:1003JUD001273819, §118).”

Jeunesse v. the Netherlands, which was decided by the Strasbourg court in 2014, concerned a Surinamese national, who lived with her Dutch national husband and children in the Netherlands without a valid residence permit. The applicant argued that the refusal to allow her to reside in the Netherlands infringed her right to respect of her family life under Article 8 ECHR. The facts of this case are very similar to the ones inDereci, in which the Court of Justice held that such a denial of residence right did not conflict with EU law. The ECtHR, however, came to the conclusion that the Dutch authorities had failed “to secure the applicant’s right to respect for her family life as projected by Article 8 of the Convention” (Jeunesse v the Netherlands, §122).

So what does the reference to this judgment mean? First and foremost, the CJEU clarifies and stresses the utmost importance of taking account of the children’s best interests in these deportation decisions. Secondly, it signals the Court’s commitment to taking the fundamental rights of those who fall within the Ruiz Zambrano-protection very seriously.

Finally, the fact that the Court treats the situation of the daughter and the son separately in Rendón Marín reaffirms the Court’s findings in previous cases that a Union citizen in a host Member State first has to rely on Article 21 TFEU before Article 20 can be applied. In the NA judgment, which the Court delivered at the end of June 2016, it held that one first has to examine whether the citizen and their TCN caretaker have a right of residence under secondary EU law. Only if there is no such right, can Article 20 TFEU apply.

The NA case concerned a Pakistani national mother who lived in the UK with her German national children where she was refused a right of residence. The Court decided that because it had already held that both the children and their TCN mother had a right of residence in the host Member State under Article 12 of Regulation No. 1612/68 (paras 52-68), which guarantees children of current and former workers the right to access to education in the host Member State, with corollary residence rights for those children and their parents (for more, see CJEU decisions in C-480/08 Teixeiraand C-310/08 Ibrahim). Article 20 TFEU did not confer a right of residence in the host Member State. It is clear that the protection under Article 20 TFEU is one of last resort. Whilst the Court in NA and Rendón Marín does not directly rule out the possibility that the Ruiz Zambrano-protection might apply in a host Member State, it now almost seems impossible. It appears that that protection can only be granted by the home Member State.

Will UK citizens have to pay to visit the EU after Brexit?

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Steve Peers

Following a Guardian article on Saturday, and the Home Secretary’s confirmation on Sunday, it’s clear that the EU is planning to institute some kind of Electronic System of Travel Authorisation (ESTA) in future, which could well apply to UK citizens visiting the EU after Brexit. I’ll examine the background, context and consequences in this post.

Background

What is an ESTA?

First of all, let’s establish what an ESTA is not. It’s not a means of regulating longer-term migration as such, although there is an indirect link between long-term migration rules and ESTA systems, as discussed below. Rather it’s a means of regulating short-term visits for tourism or other reasons.

Nor is an ESTA a tourist visa. A lot of people have confused it with one, perhaps because a Guardian sub-editor initially put an inaccurate headline on the original story (I see the online headline has since been corrected). A tourist visa is a bigger hassle for visitors than an ESTA, since travellers must visit a consulate or pay an agency to handle their application. It entails higher fees and a longer waiting period, and probably a bigger risk of rejection.

During the Brexit referendum campaign, the prospect of a visa regime between the UK and EU was not raised by the Leave side generally. However, it was raised by a junior minister, Dominic Raab, and at the time I trashed the idea here. Since then, Theresa May has shown sufficient judgment to return Raab to the backbenches, so hopefully we have heard the last of this idea for a while.

So what is an ESTA? It’s a way of gathering travellers’ information in advance of travel, usually for citizens of countries subject to a visa waiver, for instance the USA and Japan. In fact, the best-known example of an ESTA is the American version, although there are several other countries with one.  If a traveller fails to complete an ESTA in advance of travel, they will likely be denied boarding or admission at the border.  The US version includes a fee for administration and tourism promotion. Usually the form is completed, and the fee paid, online. It’s recommended to complete the ESTA form several days in advance, although on my last trip to the USA, I did it just before dashing out of the house to catch my plane. (I am not suggesting this as best practice).

The EU context

The EU has been considering an ESTA for a while. It would form part of the Schengen system of standardised external border controls, which are paralleled by the abolition (in principle) of internal border controls between Schengen States. The Schengen states comprise all the EU countries except Ireland – although Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Croatia do not fully participate yet – plus four non-EU Schengen associates (Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein).

A key feature of EU law in this area is that the Schengen system interacts with EU free movement law. So because the UK and Ireland have signed up to the free movement of EU citizens as EU Member States, their citizens are fast-tracked across the Schengen external borders. The same is true of the Schengen associates, because they have all signed up to free movement of their citizens with the EU as well.

Other non-EU citizens are subject to more intensive checks at the Schengen external border, as set out in the Schengen Borders Code. There’s a simple reason for this: they don’t have an underlying right to stay in the country, whereas citizens of EU Member States and the Schengen associates do – subject to exceptions. There are also distinctions between non-EU countries: some (like the US or Canada) have a visa waiver from the Schengen countries, while others (like India and China) don’t.

An ESTA was first discussed in a Commission discussion paper back in 2008. This was followed up by a very detailed study in 2011 which recommended against the idea, after which the Commission dismissed it.  In 2013, the Commission decided instead to propose an entry-exit system, which would record the movements of non-EU citizens (besides the Schengen associates) into and out of the Schengen external borders. Discussions on that proposal moved slowly, and the Commission proposed a new version of it in spring 2016. The intention is to agree on this system by the end of the year, although it will take several years afterward to get the system up and running in practice.

At the same time, the Commission revived talk of a possible EU ESTA, in a discussion paper on EU information systems. This excited many Member States, as can be seen by a Dutch EU Council Presidency paper published in the spring, which argued that the system could be a quid pro quo for visa waivers with countries like Ukraine and Turkey. Now the idea is on the agenda for the summit of the ‘EU27’ (ie the EU without the UK) to be held this week. It is being pushed by France and Germany in particular. Surely only a cynic would link this to the upcoming elections in those countries…

Consequences

Like the entry-exit system, an EU ESTA would take some time to set up. The details of how it would work would remain to be determined: the Commission is due to make a proposal this autumn, which would then be agreed by the Council (only Schengen States get a vote, so not the UK) and the European Parliament. So it might not follow the US model exactly, in terms of fees or the link to the broader border control system, or the two-year period of validity.

For one thing, some of the EU documents suggest an EU ESTA will apply at external land borders, whereas the US system does not. Also, some EU papers suggest an ESTA will be used as a method of screening people and denying them entry in advance, while others refer to it simply as generating information for border guards to use to speed up their work. It’s not clear whether an ESTA would apply to those UK citizens who live in the EU already, if they (for instance) visited the UK and then returned to France.

But it does seem very likely that it will apply to all non-EU countries which don’t have a treaty on free movement of citizens with the EU. This would follow the existing model of the Schengen Borders Code, the Schengen Information System (which includes data on non-EU citizens to be refused entry) and the proposed entry-exit system. It’s simply common sense: fast-track entry at the border for those who are not subject in principle to immigration controls, but scrutiny at the border (or in advance of it) for those who are.

It’s been suggested that the application of an EU ESTA to the UK would be an act of ‘spite’. This is simply ridiculous. If a country leaves the EU, it leaves behind both the pros and cons of membership. In short: divorce doesn’t come with bed privileges.

Many on the Leave side argued that the UK should leave the EU and then stop applying free movement law, so that it could exercise more control over EU citizens at the border. Applying an EU ESTA to UK citizens would just be exactly the same principle in reverse. Equally UK citizens would no longer be fast-tracked at Schengen external borders, would be subject to the EU entry-exit system and (for a few) would be listed in the Schengen Information System as people to be denied entry into any Schengen State. This isn’t ‘scaremongering’: it’s simply a description of existing and proposed EU law.

So will the UK be subject to an EU ESTA after Brexit? The obvious way to avoid it (and the other forms of stepped-up border control) would be to conclude a deal on free movement of persons with the EU (this need not mean joining Schengen). Arguably even a free movement deal with derogations – for instance, limiting the numbers of EU citizens who can work in the UK in some way – could justify an exemption from stepped-up border controls, as long as those UK controls are not applied at the border. I can foresee the counter-argument that ‘the EU will never negotiate an exception to free movement of people’; but has it occurred to anyone that this might simply be a negotiating position?

If an EU ESTA does end up being applied to UK citizens, the UK could reciprocate with a system of its own, applied to EU visitors. But this doesn’t rule out some form of deal on immigration flows between the UK and the EU, which could be agreed in return for continued UK participation in the single market.  The mere existence of a UK ESTA – perhaps accompanied by some other form of immigration safeguard on EU citizens – might arguably go some way to satisfying those who want additional border controls. It could be accompanied by further mutual sharing of data on serious convicted criminals, for use in the ESTA process. Latvia’s daft decision to release a convicted murderer after only a few years in prison should not have had tragic consequences in the UK, or any other Member State.