Extradition to non-EU countries: the limits imposed by EU citizenship


Steve Peers

One of the best-known EU laws created the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), which replaced the prior rules governing extradition between Member States. But on the other hand, in principle EU law has nothing to do with extradition to non-EU countries, except where the EU has agreed a treaty on this issue (as it has with the USA and Norway and Iceland), or as regards asylum-seekers (the EU’s asylum procedures law limits their extradition to their country of origin, because it’s necessary to determine first if the country which seeks to prosecute them is in fact persecuting them).

Yesterday’s CJEU judgment in Petruhhin altered this legal position. EU law does apply to such issues, and the Court clarified some relevant issues while leaving others open. Furthermore, the judgment raises the question of future UK/EU relations on extradition following Brexit.


Extradition between the EU and non-EU countries is governed by a combination of national law and bilateral and multilateral treaties – most notably the Council of Europe Convention on Extradition, which has been ratified by all 47 European countries plus three non-EU countries. There are four further Protocols to this Convention, which have been ratified by fewer States.

A key feature of extradition law is that in principle most States will not extradite their own citizens, although within the EU, the EAW law has overruled any absolute ban on surrendering nationals as between Member States. While the refusal to extradite citizens could run a risk of impunity if those citizens commit criminal offences in another country, most States avoid that risk by extending their criminal jurisdiction to cover acts of their citizens committed outside their territory. In fact many EU laws and international treaties require States to assert such extraterritorial jurisdiction as regards specific transnational crimes.

The EAW law says a little about possible conflict between EAWs and extradition requests from third countries. It states simply that in the case of such a conflict, the national authority should decide which takes priority ‘with due consideration of all the circumstances’, including the relevant treaty and ‘the relative seriousness and place of the offences’, the relevant dates of the requests and whether the extradition request or EAW aims to obtain custody of a fugitive for trial or to serve a sentence already imposed.

This compares with the original proposal for the EAW law, which always gave priority to an EAW if the extradition request came from a country which was not party to the Council of Europe Convention. That clause was dropped following intensive lobbying from the US government, while the law was being negotiated in autumn 2001 (the EAW law was largely motivated by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, although it is not limited to terrorist offences).


The Petruhhin case concerned an Estonian citizen sought by the Russian government for prosecution for organised crime offences. He was safe from extradition to Russia as long as he stayed in Estonia, since that country will not extradite its nationals outside the EU. But at one point he was arrested in Latvia, which decided to implement the Russian request. While Latvia also refuses to extradite its own citizens outside the EU, an Estonian citizen prima facie obviously cannot rely on that protection.

So Mr Petruhhin tried to rely on his transnational form of citizenship instead, arguing that since he was an EU citizen in another Member State, he was entitled to equal treatment with Latvians – therefore protecting him from extradition from Latvia to Russia, just like them. (Logically if his argument had worked, he would also be protected from extradition from any other Member State which refuses to extradite its own citizens to Russia).

The CJEU ruled first of all that the despite the absence of EU law on this issue, the dispute fell within the scope of EU free movement law, since Mr Petruhhin was exercising free movement rights. Therefore he had a right to equal treatment with nationals of Latvia in principle. However, a breach of that equality right could be justified on the grounds of avoiding impunity from prosecution for alleged criminal offences: Latvia, like most States, extends its criminal jurisdiction to cover acts of its own citizens abroad, but not the acts of citizens of other countries abroad. This distinction between the position of Latvians and citizens of other Member States can justify different treatment as regards protection from an extradition request.

Having said that, the Court added a crucial rider. To limit the effect of its ruling upon free movement rights (the proportionality principle), it ruled that Latvia has to contact the Estonian authorities first, to see if they wish to prosecute him there on the basis of theirextraterritorial jurisdiction, before handing him over to Russia. That’s an important proviso, as many people believe they are more likely to be treated fairly in the courts of their own State. At any rate, this likely means they will have access to defence and court proceedings in their own language, with any pre-trial detention closer to friends and family.

Finally, the Court stated that any extradition to Russia was subject to the ban on torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment set out in Article 4 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which transposes the standards set out in Article 3 ECHR and the relevant case-law of the European Court of Human Rights on this issue. That means that if there’s a real risk of such treatment in Russia, the fugitive cannot be extradited there in any case. It should be noted that the Charter equally bans extradition to face the death penalty.


First of all, the Court was correct to assert the link between EU free movement law and extradition to third States, although its rather abstract reasoning could be improved upon. The best argument supporting this part of the ruling is rather that Mr Petruhhin would have been deterred from leaving Estonia for another Member State if he ran a risk of being extradited to Russia every time he left the country.

Next, would EU law also apply to cases where a Member State considers extraditing itsown citizen to a non-EU country? The question may not arise often, since as noted already, many Member States don’t do this at all. But where they do, logically the case law on citizenship of the European Union (as distinct from free movement applies). As developed since the Zambrano judgment, this prevents citizens of their own Member State from being forced outside the EU in principle, as they are thereby deprived of EU citizenship. But logically the same limits apply by analogy: extradition of citizens can be justified on grounds of preventing immunity, but that is qualified if the extraditing State subjects its own citizens to prosecution for acts committed abroad (most do, as noted already).

Third, could there be other grounds justifying extradition to a non-EU state, besides preventing impunity? This isn’t clear from the judgment. But logically the judgment would apply by analogy to cases where a fugitive has already been sentenced to a term of imprisonment. In such cases, Latvia (say) would contact Estonia to see if the latter country could take over the punishment imposed by Russia, pursuant to the Council of Europe treaty on the transfer of prisoners or another relevant international treaty.

Could there be further grounds preventing extradition to a non-EU state, besides the Charter ban on the death penalty and torture et al, and the priority for EAWs? For instance, what if the person concerned has already been tried in a Member State, or in a third State? The EU has a cross-border ban on double jeopardy, but it only applies to Member States and Schengen associates, not to countries like Russia and the USA. Extradition treaties sometimes address this issue, but don’t always cover every double jeopardy scenario. A pending case before the CJEU should clarify this issue.

Next, logically the ruling would also apply by analogy if a third Member State could apply its jurisdiction: say an Estonian in Latvia was wanted by Russia but could potentially be prosecuted or serve a sentence in France, due to an [alleged] assault against a Russian citizen in France, or a French citizen in Russia. (Some countries assert criminal jurisdiction where one of their citizens was a victim of crime).

This brings us to the issue of conflict between an EAW and an extradition request from a non-EU state. The CJEU didn’t have to comment on this issue in its judgment, because no EAW had been issued yet. But the Court’s judgment necessarily means that there is more likely to be such a conflict in future, if Estonia indeed issues an EAW. And if that happens, the new judgment implies that the open-ended conflict rule in the EAW has to give way to the primary law of the Treaties: so the Estonian EAW has to take precedence over the Russian extradition request. The Court has in effect enshrined priority for EAWs over (almost) all non-EU extradition requests, whereas the original Commission proposal, as noted above, would have given such priority only over extradition requests from non-Council of Europe states. Perhaps the Americans should also have lobbied the Court of Justice.

But then, the USA has its own extradition deal already with the EU, as noted at the outset. (The deal with Norway and Iceland has not been ratified yet). The Court says several times in its judgment that the general rules it elaborates here are without prejudice to extradition treaties concluded between the EU and third countries. Presumably it can interpret the EU/USA treaty, since it can interpret any treaties which the EU signs with non-EU states. In fact, there’s a pending case before the CJEU which asks the Court to interpret this very treaty.


This judgment is probably relevant for Brexit. The UK government has recently hintedthat it will seek some continuation of criminal law cooperation with the EU. There will be transitional issues with EAWs pending on Brexit Day, which the EU/UK withdrawal treaty concluded under Article 50 TEU will hopefully address. In fact there are already possible complications arising from Brexit in this area, as there are several challenges in Irelandto the execution of UK EAWs on the grounds that Brexit is coming. The CJEU may well be called on to address these issues even before Brexit Day.

For the position after Brexit, it’s undoubtedly possible for the EU to conclude an extradition arrangement with the UK, as the Court’s judgment actively encourages the EU to sign such treaties. In fact, the judgment might arguably be the basis of an argument for EU exclusive competence over extradition treaties with non-EU countries, on the basis that any Member State agreements would affect the operation of the EAW law, at least as regards EU citizens. That would mean that the UK could no longer sign extradition deals with individual EU countries, but only with the EU as a whole.

If no deal were reached, the UK and EU could fall back on the Council of Europe extradition Convention. But as I have noted before, this would mean far less extradition (and much slower extradition) as compared to the EAW.

If there were a UK/EU deal, Member States may still want to refuse to extradite their own citizens to the UK, as they have under the treaty with Norway and Iceland. But even if they are willing to extradite them to the UK, on whatever treaty basis, it may be arguable on the basis of the new judgment that they can’t, as long as the fugitive can be tried or serve her sentence in the remaining EU. And although the UK can still assist an EU Member State in prosecuting its own citizens, that will be far more expensive for the UK authorities than trying the person in the UK.

The final UK renegotiation deal: immigration issues

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

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




by Steve Peers*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

‘Emergency brake’ on in-work benefits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Export of child benefit

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits for those out of work

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

EU citizens’ family members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Declaration also states that the Commission will clarify that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criminality and free movement law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Barnard & Peers: chapter 13

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

Posted by Steve Peers at 01:35 15 comments:

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

Thursday, 18 February 2016

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

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

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

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

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

The cases

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

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

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

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

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

The first argument – mutual trust means blind trust!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When is the obligation to examine a potential risk triggered?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The consequence of denying surrender

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

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

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

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

What next?

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

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

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


Dr. Katarzyna Granat, (*)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schengen, un coupable idéal ?


par Henri Labayle, 

Les réalisations européennes servent de bouc émissaire aux crises nationales. Ce n’est pas chose nouvelle. Après l’Euro, l’espace « Schengen » de l’Union est aujourd’hui sur la sellette. Les attentats terroristes lui auraient donné le coup de grâce, après ceux de la crise des migrants. Est-ce bien réaliste, est-ce vraiment opportun ?

Les discours officiels relèvent ici de la vieille fable de la paille et de la poutre. C’est aux Etats membres eux-mêmes que le conseil du ministre de l’Intérieur français de « se reprendre » devrait être donné tant la construction de Schengen est dépendante de leur volonté. Néanmoins, le réalisme interdit l’optimisme. Ayant perdu de vue ses caractéristiques initiales, Schengen n’échappera pas à une remise en question profonde.
Le fabuleux destin de l’espace Schengen, sa « success story », enregistrent incontestablement au coup d’arrêt, dont il conviendra de mesurer l’impact réel. Il y a des explications à cela.

1. Une construction datée

Les principes de Schengen sont inscrits désormais dans les traités : abolition des contrôles aux frontières intérieures, reportés là où l’espace commun est en contact avec les pays tiers. Sont-ils toujours à la hauteur des défis ? Répondent-ils à la menace terroriste comme à la pression migratoire ? A trop raisonner à logiciel constant, on peut en douter.

Le contexte de la création de Schengen, en 1985, a été oublié. Fruit d’un accord bilatéral franco-allemand, rejoint par les Etats du Bénélux, Schengen s’inscrivait dans un paysage aujourd’hui disparu : peu de participants, ensemble homogène animé des mêmes buts. Au point d’être scellé dans une convention d’application dont la date n’est pas indifférente : 1990, au lendemain de la chute du mur de Berlin …

En attendre une réponse efficace à des défis qui n’existaient pas lors de sa conception est un peu simpliste.
Que Schengen n’ait pas été à même, en 2015, d’arrêter les flots de réfugiés remontant le ventre mou du couloir des Balkans s’explique : il a été conçu en 1990 dans la logique d’un continent fermé, d’une Europe coupée en deux par le rideau de fer, ignorant les 7700 kilomètres de frontières terrestres devenues les siennes aujourd’hui. Figée dans une problématique Nord/Sud, l’Europe de l’époque n’avait aucune idée de la dimension Est/Ouest qui s’y est surajoutée.
Le contexte géopolitique de l’époque le confirme. L’environnement de Schengen était fait de l’Union soviétique de Gromyko au Maroc d’Hassan II en passant par la Tunisie de Ben Ali et la Libye de Kadhafi, sans parler de la Syrie ou de la Yougoslavie de Tito. Les dictateurs qui l’entouraient étaient ses meilleurs garde-frontières et la vague migratoire de 2015 inimaginable …

L’argument vaut aussi en matière terroriste. Oubli ou mauvaise foi des partisans d’un retour aux frontières nationales, celles-ci font obstacle à la lutte anti-terroriste. D’ETA réfugié en France à l’IRA en République d’Irlande ou à la bande à Baader en France, les exemples ne manquent pas. Leur maîtrise nationale empêcha-t-elle la vague d’attentats des années 80 en France ? Evidemment non.
Pour autant, « l’obsession » de la frontière justement décrite par Michel Foucher n’a pas disparu. En fait, Schengen se borne à déplacer le lieu où la frontière joue toujours son rôle de barrière, de protection. Il est un compromis entre l’ouverture d’un continent, notamment pour des besoins économiques, et sa fermeture, pour des raisons sécuritaires.

La crise de 2015 met ouvertement en question l’équilibre de ce compromis, sa capacité à assumer la fonction sécuritaire de la frontière commune. Les Etats, en trente ans, l’ont construit et maintenu envers toute logique, d’où leur responsabilité centrale.

2. Des compromis boiteux

Habillé d’un prétexte sécuritaire, ce que l’on appelait à l’époque le « déficit sécuritaire », Schengen répondait en fait à une autre réalité : celle du besoin économique d’un continent asphyxié, cloisonné en Etats aussi nombreux que petits. Le marché intérieur, lancé exactement à la même période, ne pouvait s’en satisfaire.
Le détour par la case « sécurité » dissimule à peine cette vérité. Ouvrir l’espace intérieur était d’abord un impératif économique, satisfaisant les opérateurs mais plus facile à assumer en mettant en avant la lutte contre l’immigration ou le crime. La réinstauration des contrôles provoquée par la crise des attentats de Paris confirme l’impact économique de cette ouverture : retards dans les aéroports, kilomètres de bouchons sur les autoroutes aux passages frontaliers avec l’Espagne ou l’Italie… Le compromis entre mobilité et sécurité, pourtant exclusivement au cœur du projet initial Schengen, s’est réalisé au détriment de la seconde. Quitte à ignorer les aspirations des citoyens européens.
D’autant que, dans sa quête de points d’appui, la construction européenne s’est emparée de Schengen pour en faire un symbole. Curieux retournement des choses, Schengen vilipendé lors de sa création, stigmatisé parce que qualifié de « liberticide » et que « l’Europe des polices » était alors un gros mot, fut ensuite présenté comme l’acquis principal de la liberté des citoyens européens. Avant aujourd’hui d’être à nouveau accusé de tous les maux d’une intégration européenne qu’il ne réalise pourtant pas.

La vérité se cache ailleurs. A force de non-dits et de compromis étatiques, la démarche sécuritaire quasi-exclusive sur laquelle reposait Schengen initialement s’est progressivement banalisée.
Elle imposait le respect d’un certain nombre de principes. Avant toute autre chose, celui de la responsabilité de chaque Etat, garant par son sérieux de la sécurité de tous. D’où le refus initial de l’ouvrir à des partenaires jugés peu fiables, de l’Italie à la péninsule ibérique ou à la Grèce.
La logique communautaire, celle des élargissements, l’a emporté sur ce paramètre. Une prétendue « confiance mutuelle » entre Etats a été vantée dans un univers où la méfiance demeure la règle, peu sensible au credo du monde libéral.

Puisque, depuis des années, la Grèce était une passoire et ne remplissait plus ses obligations, comment s’étonner que le système ait volé en éclat au début de l’été ? Puisque, depuis des années, le système dit de « Dublin » (imaginé à Schengen) ne remplissait pas son office, pourquoi s’étonner de l’abcès de fixation ouvert hier à Sangatte, aujourd’hui à Calais ? Enfin, faute de donner un sens au mot « sanction », pourquoi l’Union européenne ne s’est-elle pas préoccupée d’une réaction vigoureuse, réservant ses foudres aux eaux de baignade et aux aides d’Etat …

Arbitrant au moyen de compromis médiocres, quand il aurait sans doute fallu établir publiquement et respecter des priorités politiques, l’Union s’est donc trouvée démunie lorsque la bise est venue, lorsque les urnes nationales et européennes se sont emplies de votes protestataires. Faisant l’aubaine de partis extrémistes dépourvus de toute réponse réaliste, elle s’est ainsi placée sur la défensive.
L’impasse faite sur la dimension économique du contrôle des frontières illustre cette absence de pilotage. Le mirage des solutions technologiques de demain, les « smarts borders » et la biométrie, ajouté au lobbying des grandes multinationales désireuses d’obtenir les marchés publics y sacrifiant, ne peut dissimuler l’aberration consistant à confier la sécurité de tous à un Etat membre, la Grèce, étranglé financièrement et budgétairement pour les raisons que l’on sait …

S’il est exact que les Etats Unis consacrent 32 milliards de dollars à leur politique migratoire dont la moitié au contrôle des frontières, comment comprendre les 142 millions d’Euros du budget de Frontex ?

Dilué, Schengen a perdu de vue l’originalité de sa charge pour être appréhendé comme une politique ordinaire. Sauf que les Etats membres n’ont en rien abdiqué.

3. Une logique intergouvernementale

Laboratoire de la construction européenne, Schengen demeure une construction aux mains des Etats.
Au prix d’une certaine schizophrénie, les Etats ont en effet prétendu à la fois intégrer leur action mais en conserver la maîtrise. Entre ceux qui voulaient mais ne pouvaient pas en faire partie (la Bulgarie, la Roumanie), ceux qui pouvaient mais ne le voulaient pas (les iles britanniques), ceux qui ne pouvaient pas mais que l’on a voulu (la Suisse, la Norvège, l’Islande) et ceux qui ne pouvaient pas et dont on aurait pas du vouloir (la Grèce), Schengen est devenu un véritable patchwork.

La greffe aurait pu prendre. Elle n’a été qu’imparfaite.
D’abord car la diversité des situations nationales n’a pas disparu. D’une part, les législations et pratiques nationales demeurent suffisamment éloignées pour que l’effet « vases communicants » ne joue pas. Migrants comme criminels ont parfaitement identifié ces points faibles. D’autre part car le degré d’attraction des Etats membres de cet espace ne s’est pas réduit, rendant inutile le souhait de responsabiliser l’ensemble. Convaincus que l’Allemagne et la Suède étaient des eldorados, les demandeurs de refuge n’envisagent pas d’autre destination, pour la plus grande satisfaction des Etats membres qu’ils traversent et qui vont jusqu’à leur faciliter la tâche.

Ensuite, parce que les Etats refusent toujours la contrainte. En indiquant clairement dans son article 4 que « la sécurité nationale relève de la seule souveraineté de chaque Etat membre », le traité sur l’Union fixe une barrière infranchissable.

Les enseignements des commissions d’enquête au lendemain des attentats de Charlie Hebdo le confirment. Le dispositif européen est moins en cause que les conditions de sa mise en œuvre. La faillite de Schengen n’est pas dans la poursuite mais dans la prévention, dans le renseignement en amont des attentats et l’alimentation des outils communs qui n’est pas obligatoire. La qualité remarquable de l’action policière et judiciaire, y compris par delà la frontière franco-belge, ne dissimule la faillite de la prévention politique et policière, des deux cotés de cette frontière.
Comment Mehdi Nemmouche hier, Abaaoud ou les frères Abdeslam cette semaine, ont-ils pu perpétrer leurs crimes sans obstacle réel, échappant aux contrôles Schengen autant que nationaux ? Qui refusait jusqu’au Conseil de vendredi dernier d’inclure les « combattants étrangers » dans le SIS et pourquoi 5 Etats seulement fournissent-ils plus de la moitié des informations sur leurs déplacements au Système d’information d’Europol de l’aveu du coordinateur européen de la lutte contre le terrorisme ?

L’absence de transparence de l’Union ne facilite pas la réponse. La responsabilité des Etats membres est pourtant au cœur de ce fiasco, constat déjà posé après Charlie Hebdo, sans réelle suite.

La France n’y échappe pas, étonne par l’arrogance de notre discours public. Des failles de son contrôle judiciaire aux pannes de son système de fichier Chéops, à sa gestion des documents d’identité, aux  erreurs de ses services de renseignements ou aux moyens alloués et à l’autisme de ses gouvernants qui qualifient de simples « complicités françaises » l’action des terroristes de Paris, elle n’est pas en situation d’administrer les leçons qu’elle prétend donner à la Belgique et à l’Union.

Celle-ci doit pourtant se remettre en question.

Quant au périmètre de son action d’abord. Malgré le politiquement correct, la composition de l’espace commun où contrôles comme échanges de renseignement s’effectuent est une question ouverte. Les Pays Bas, comme d’autres, semblent réfléchir à un redimensionnement effectué soit par un repli, sur un petit nombre de partenaires performants, soit par une mise à l’écart, de membres jugés non fiables.

Quand au fond ensuite. Les principes d’organisation sur lesquels Schengen repose, frontières intérieures/extérieures demeurent aussi pertinents qu’hier. En revanche, ils ne peuvent plus se satisfaire du vide politique actuel. La cohérence exige de percevoir l’asile comme un même devoir, réclame de criminaliser le radicalisme et le terrorisme de façon identique. Ce préalable n’est pas satisfait aujourd’hui dans l’Union. De même que la « solidarité » doit avoir un sens concret pour les Etats membres, ces derniers doivent partager l’accueil des réfugiés et privilégier la coopération et la police judiciaires et la coordination des poursuites à l’action exclusive des services de renseignement. Dans tous les cas, il faut y mettre le prix.

Alors, pourquoi n’entendons nous pas les mots de « parquet européen », « d’équipes communes d’enquête », « d’Eurojust » ? Pourquoi l’essentiel du contingent de la relocalisation est-il encore vacant ? Parce que nous n’osons pas lever le tabou de l’action commune, de la quasi-fédéralisation qu’impliquent le développement des agences se substituant aux Etats défaillants, que nous prétendons que l’administration nationale des politiques européennes est toujours l’alpha et l’oméga de la construction européenne ?

L’hypothèse de l’avancée, même si celle du repli est peu crédible sinon impossible, est donc incertaine. A l’image de celle du projet européen tout entier dont Schengen demeure bien, toujours, un « laboratoire ».



Authors: Prof Gerard Rene’ DE GROOT, Katja SWIDER, Olivier WONK


The aim of the present study is to describe the practices and approaches in all EU Member States concerning the prevention and eradication of statelessness. For that purpose the study analyses the relevant international and European standards (Chapter 2) and assesses the national practices in light of these standards (Chapter 3). Since the prevention and eradication of statelessness depends on proper mechanisms to identify stateless populations, the subject of procedures for determining statelessness is addressed. We also investigate whether installing such a procedure creates a ‘pull factor’ (Chapter 4). The study ends with a detailed analysis of the possible role of the European Union in preventing and reducing statelessness (Chapter 5).

Key Findings

International and European standards to prevent and end statelessness

  1. Important standards on the avoidance and reduction of statelessness can be found in the 1954 United Nations (UN) Convention relating to the status of stateless persons, the 1961 United Nations (UN) Convention on the reduction on statelessness and the 1997 Council of Europe (CoE) Convention on Nationality.
  2. The European Union pledged at the UN High-level Rule of Law Meeting in New York, which took place in September 2012, to stimulate EU Member States to address the issue of statelessness by ratifying the 1954 UN Convention and considering the ratification of the 1961 UN Convention.
  3. For the interpretation and further development of standards following from these conventions, the UNHCR Guidelines on Statelessness, published in 2012, and Recommendation 2009/13 of the Council of Europe on the position of children in nationality law are of paramount importance.
  4. Landmark court decisions are the 2010 decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Janko Rottmann v. Freistaat Bayern (C-135/08) (concluding that deprivation of nationality, with statelessness as a result, may only happen after applying a proportionality test to such a measure) and the 2011 European Court of Human Rights decision in Genovese v. Malta (application no. 53124/09) (concluding that nationality is part of one’s personal identity and as such protected by the concept of private life under Article 8 ECHR) as well as the 2014 decision in Sylvie Mennesson v. France (application no. 65192/11) and Francis Labassee v. France (application no. 65941/11) (stipulating that aspects relating to one’s social identity need to have consequences for the nationality position of children born from cross-border surrogacy arrangements).

Assessment of Member State rules in light of international and European standards

  1. The comparative analysis shows that several Member States violate international and European standards regarding protection against statelessness.
  2. This is not only true for Member States that are not bound by the relevant international treaties, but also for Member States that have acceded to these conventions.
  1. Moreover, the standards of protection against statelessness differ considerably between the Member States.
  2. This is particularly problematic for the grounds for loss, since the loss of a Member State’s nationality, resulting in statelessness, implies the loss of European citizenship.
  3. Exclusion from both the protection that nationality offers and the benefits of EU citizenship prevent people from accessing fundamental civil, political, economic, cultural and social rights and put them at risk of repeated or prolonged detention and destitution.
  4. There is a need for greater clarity as regards the legal position of permanent resident non-citizens in Latvia and Estonia, who formerly held the citizenship of the Soviet Union, in light of international and European law. Indeed, in order to avoid that the activation of statelessness will prevent or reduce provisions, States sometimes deliberately do not classify a person as “stateless”, but assign the person involved a different label. This occurred in Latvia and Estonia with the introduction of the special status of “permanent resident non-citizen” in Latvia or a “person of undefined nationality” in Estonia.

Protection of stateless persons in the migratory context and statelessness determination procedures Continue reading “PRACTICES AND APPROACHES IN EU MEMBER STATES TO PREVENT AND END STATELESSNESS”


PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS on Wednesday, 7 October 2015

by Charlotte O’Brien,

Senior Lecturer, York Law School

The political message being sent by irate governments to ‘back off’ from national welfare systems’ assumed prerogative to discriminate between home nationals and EU nationals is being received and applied with alacrity by the Court of Justice. The current direction of travel resiles from earlier progressive visions of EU citizenship, and in C-140/12 Brey, C-333/13 Dano and C-67/14 Alimanovic we see that which was once ‘destined to be [our] fundamental status’ receding ever further from view. Advocate General Cruz Villalón’s Opinion in Commission v UK continues the retreat, arguing that the Commission’s action challenging the UK right to reside test for family benefits should be dismissed. The result may, in the current environment, be unsurprising. But getting there with existing legal tools is problematic.

The Opinion contains a number of uncomfortable contortions to give undue deference to the national rules, and avoid tackling the underlying conflict of rules and approaches. It represents quite startling judicial activism in embroidering the legislation with unwritten limitations as to personal scope, tinkering with the subject matter, and asserting an unwritten licence to discriminate whenever something smells like a welfare benefit. The effect is as though the Court’s new teleological guiding principle should be that the legislature would have wanted at all costs to avoid offending the UK government.

The UK right to reside (RTR) test prevents any EU national who does not meet the criteria in Art 7 Directive 2004/38 from receiving Child Benefit or Child Tax Credit, both of which were accepted as being ‘family benefits’, so ‘pure social security’ (rather than special non-contributory benefits in Brey, Dano and Alimanovic) under Regulation 883/2004. The Commission challenged the test’s lawfulness on two grounds – that it imported extra conditions into the ‘habitual residence’ test, to undermine the effects of Regulation 883/2004, and that it is discriminatory since it only applies to non-UK citizens. The AG’s Opinion is remarkable, in its ability to reject both without engaging with either. This analysis deals with four key issues arising from the Opinion: (i) stitching, splicing and embroidering Reg 883/2004; (ii) the ‘inherent’, ‘inevitable’ and ex ante discrimination fudge; (iii) the parallel reality in which the UK does not presume unlawful residence; and (iv) the failure to notice that the UK automatically refuses social assistance to those reliant on ‘sufficient resources’.

(i) stitching, splicing and embroidering Regulation 883/2004

The AG is at some pains to determine whether the ‘right to reside’ test is part of the habitual residence test (HRT), or a separate test added on, suggesting that it is only if it is presented as the former, does the Commission have a case. As the UK government ‘distanced’ itself during proceedings from the combined test approach, and argued that it was a separate test of lawful residence, so the AG commented that the Commission’s case was ‘weakening over the course of the dispute’. Indeed, on the basis that the test was ‘independent’ of the HRT, the AG argued that the first ground should be dismissed. This is perplexing. It seems to be a matter of regulatory semantics whether the RTR is part of the HRT, or is applied as well as the HRT, if the effect – to undermine Regulation 883/2004 – is the same.

For the record, the conclusion that they are separate tests is unconvincing anyway. For all benefits with an official ‘habitual residence test’ the regulations provide that a claimant cannot be habitually resident unless she has the right to reside in the CTA (Income Support (General) Regulations 1987, reg 21AA; Jobseeker Allowance Regulations 1996, reg 85A; Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2008, reg 70(2); State Pension Credit Regulations, reg 2; see DWP, DMG, 072771). For CB and CTC the terminology is slightly different – the words ‘habitually resident’ are not used, but a person must be treated as being in the UK. And to be treated as being in the UK, you have to have a right to reside (Child Benefit Regulations 2006, Reg 23(4)(a); Tax Credits (Residence) Regulations 2003, Reg. 3(5); CBTM10010 – Residence and immigration: residence – introduction).

However, whether we treat the RTR as part of habitual residence, or as an extra test, the effect in both cases is to add conditions onto the circumstances in which a person is treated as meeting the ‘residence’ criteria of Regulation 883/2004. That Regulation offers a clear, exhaustive list for allocating ‘competence’ of Member States for benefits, providing a residual category for the economically inactive, at Art 11(3)(e) in which the Member State of residence is competent. Once competence has been established, that State is then responsible for the payment of family benefits, subject to the non-discrimination provision.

The scheme of the Regulation is intentionally broader than that of Directive 2004/38 – applying a different personal scope for a start (covering all those who ‘are or have been subject to the legislation of one or more Member States’), and covering pensioners, those between jobs, those who might fall outside of the Dir 2004/38 Article 7(3) retention provisions – essentially, those who should be covered by social security provisions. To apply the right to reside test is to hack down the rationae personae of the Regulation to emulate that of Directive 2004/38 – an approach not endorsed, implied or merited in the Regulation. The AG’s assertion that law should not exist in ‘separate compartments’ as justification for splicing the instruments together and embroidering an extra condition into the Regulation rather too easily ignores the different purposes and scopes of the instruments. Similarly, the different material issues – the restriction of social assistance now embodied in Directive 2004/38, versus award of social security, are inappropriately assimilated. The AG notes, apparently approvingly, the UK’s assertion that ‘the two benefits at issue in the present case have some characteristics of social assistance’. This goes unexamined, and helps form the context in which the different nature of social security, and different subject matter of the Regulation, is effectively ignored. In sum, we have an approach in which if a benefit is a ‘bit like’ social assistance, and a legal instrument is in roughly the same area as Directive 2004/38, then unwritten restrictions kick in.

In the specific case of family benefits, the Regulation’s residual category should provide a guarantee that families do not fall through the cracks and find themselves disentitled to any family benefits, since many Child Benefits are tied to residence. This also serves the ‘bonus’ purpose of protecting children, who are not the agents of migration, and who the legislature and the Court have hitherto taken pains to protect from suffering the penalties of their parents’ choices and/or misfortunes – either out of an interest in child welfare, or as an instrumental way of avoiding disincentives (risks to their children’s welfare) for workers to migrate.

Here it is worth emphasising that when we speak of falling through the cracks, we mostly speak of people who have been working (rather than those who have never worked). The right to reside test results in a strict bifurcation between those ‘working’ and those not. The rules on retention of worker status are stringent and exclusionary, so that people can be working and contributing for many years and still fall over welfare cliff edges. Regulation 883/2004 should offer some protection to their pre-school children in such cases, even where Directive 2004/38 is (according to emerging case law) rather harsher to the parents.

However, in the AG’s approach we can see the Directive, having already been transformed from an instrument to promote free movement into a instrument to prevent benefit tourism (Dano); being promoted to the status of a fundamental principle of limitation, to be (retrospectively) mainstreamed into other (higher) legislative instruments – exerting restrictions that are not there written.

(ii) the ‘inherent’, ‘inevitable’ and ex ante discrimination fudge;

The AG avoided dealing with the question of whether the RTR test discriminates contrary to Regulation 883/2004, by finding that the RTR prevented the Regulation from being applicable at all – apparently treating ex ante discrimination as de facto lawful. This conceptual approach is deeply problematic – can Member States really avoid the non-discrimination obligations contained in legislation by applying discriminatory gateways to access that legislation?

As noted above, once competence of a Member State has been established for the purposes of Regulation 883/2004, it is then – according to that instrument, bound by non-discrimination duties (Article 4). However, under the proposed approach, there will be people for whom no Member State has competence, because competence is to be determined according to a set of restrictions in a completely different instrument which apply a different concept to a different set of people for a different set of benefits. And if they are in this way found not be within any State’s competence, the question of discrimination is avoided.

To the extent that the AG does engage with non-discrimination duties, it is part of an imprecise discussion about the likelihood of the lawfulness of curbing benefits from non-nationals (benefit restrictions are ‘traditionally associated’ with requirements of legal residence). In drawing upon Dano and Brey, the fact that those cases dealt with benefits therein defined as social assistance is swept aside somewhat as the AG finds ‘there is nothing in those judgments to indicate that such findings apply exclusively to the social assistance benefits or the special non-contributory cash benefits with which those cases were concerned and not to other social benefits’. But there is plenty to indicate that social security benefits should be treated differently in their coverage in a different piece of legislation. It is surely very odd to suggest that the Court should list those instruments on which it was not ruling.

Recognising that the rules do treat UK nationals and non nationals differently, the Opinion makes some rhetorical points about discrimination as part of the natural ecosystem of free movement – ‘one way of looking at it is that this difference in treatment as regards the right of residence is inherent in the system and, to a certain extent, inevitable… In other words, the difference in treatment between UK nationals and nationals of other Member States stems from the very nature of the system.’ None of this does anything to address the question of the problem of direct versus indirect discrimination – the latter being rather easier to justify. It almost suggests that some degree of direct discrimination has to be accepted as a matter of pragmatism. Indeed, the characterisation of the rules asindirectly discriminating on the grounds of nationality is one of the most contentious issues in the case. Much as in C-184/99 Grzelczyk, an extra condition is imposed only upon non-nationals. Hiding behind the banner of indirect discrimination seems unconvincing if we posit a brief thought experiment. Imagine all EU national men automatically had an RTR, but all EU national women had to pass the RTR test; that could not be described asindirectly discriminating on the grounds of sex. While it could be argued that nationality is a different type of ground to sex, and so different differences are acceptable, the fact that we are dealing with direct discrimination remains. And this is not explored. The only thing that needs justification, under this analysis, is not the test, but the procedural checking, which we look at next.

(iii) the parallel reality in which the UK does not presume unlawful residence

The AG states that it cannot be inferred that the UK presumes that claimants are unlawfully resident, adding that European citizenship would preclude such a presumption, and that claimants should not systematically be required to prove they are not unlawfully resident.

However, the whole claims process in the UK does systematically require proof of claimants that they are (not un)lawfully resident. The right to reside test takes the limitations of Directive 2004/38 and makes them a priori conditions of the existence of the right to move and reside. There is no general citizenship-based right to reside that can be modified by limitations, with some discretion. The conditions come first, and must be demonstrably met, in each and every case. The UK’s assertion that ‘In cases in which there is doubt as to whether the claimant has a right of residence, an individual assessment of the claimant’s personal circumstances is carried out’ rather masks the process of assessment that decision makers are required to undertake according to the decision maker guidance on establishing whether a claimant really is or was a worker – using the UK’s own definition. That definition is flawed in itself, requiring evidence to meet a higher threshold than set in EU law, and the evidential hurdles can be considerable. Even for the most straightforward cases of worker, proof is required that earnings have been at or above the Minimum Earnings Threshold for a continuous period of at least three months. Those with variable earnings are expected to provide considerable evidence if they wish to ‘prove’ their right to reside. In cases where HMRC have reason to doubt conditions continue to be met for tax credit awards, they issue further, penetrating compliance checks, and in the UK government’s Budget Policy costings document, the government announced that the restrictions on benefits ‘will be augmented by additional HMRC compliance checks to improve detection of when EEA migrants cease to be entitled to these benefits. The checks will apply to all EEA migrant claims’. The system is set up to make the conditions constitutive of the right to free movement, effectively requiring all claimants to prove that they are not unlawfully resident, notwithstanding the apparent ‘background’ of EU citizenship, and claims are subject to systematic checking, notwithstanding Article 14(2) of Directive 2004/38.

The AG however, took the position that such checks are not systematic, but may be indirectly discriminatory, but that they were lawful, with the briefest of nods to justification – as though the mere mention of the UK’s public finances is sufficient to provoke a reverential hush, genuflection and swift retreat from the subject:

without any need to pursue the argument further, I consider that the necessity of protecting the host Member State’s public finances, (75) an argument relied on by the United Kingdom, (76) is in principle sufficient justification for a Member State to check the lawfulness of residence at that point.’

No data, it seems, is required.

Nor is any engagement with the question as to whether purely economic aims are legitimate aims for the purpose of justifying discrimination or restricting a fundamental freedom – on this, see AG Sharpston’s Opinion in C-73/08 Bressol.

(iv) the failure to notice that the UK automatically refuses social assistance to those reliant on ‘sufficient resources’.

The AG rounds up the Opinion by noting that in any case, the economically inactive are not completely hung out to dry – they should have their circumstances examined to determine whether they have sufficient resources not to become a burden on the public purse. Here, the AG emphasises that mere recourse to public funds should not bar a claimant from having a right to reside based on sufficient resources, and that their case should be assessed as to whether they are an ‘excessive’ burden. This is all very well, but speaks to a rather different reality to that experienced in the UK, in which the economically inactive are automatically barred from claiming social assistance because they are automatically treated as not having sufficient resources at the point of claim. Moreover, the Upper Tribunal has suggested that ‘sufficient resources’ means sufficient to provide for the migrant’s family for five years; a migrant cannot claim to have had sufficient resources for a short period of time between jobs if those resources would not have lasted for five years.

In short, the Court should be wary of following the AG’s lead in backing off from the apparently prohibited area of UK welfare benefits quite so hastily. The Regulation’s personal and material scope, and purpose, cannot simply be ignored or modified, nor can the Directive be transformed into an all-encompassing, higher principle, through pro-Member State judicial activism. The right to reside test adds conditions to the application of the Regulation’s provisions, and it does so in a directly discriminatory way. The Court must address these points honestly; if it is prevented from doing so by the political wind – or if it too conjures up a default forcefield around benefits regardless of type, and gives licence to ‘inevitable’ discrimination – the ramifications will tell not only upon claimants, their children, the vanishing strands of EU citizenship and the obstructed freedom to move, but also upon the Court’s credibility.

The European citizens’ initiative and the new (and surprising) routes of EU competence litigation

by Daniel Sarmiento, * 

EU competence is a touchy area of EU law. It has become very complex, together with the also intricate case-law on legal bases, which, after several decades of case-law, is not always easy to follow. After the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, EU competence has become a major domain for EU constitutional lawyers and it deserves very careful attention. The fact that the Treaties now include a typology and enumerate EU competences is a sign that many future battles in EU law will be fought in this terrain.

Furthermore, cases like Pringle, Gauweiler or Vodafone prove that issues of competence and legal bases are not the exclusive domain of institutional litigation, but areas that can be brought to the courts by private parties too. The Court has always been sensitive to these cases and it has dealt with them with utmost care, mostly in Grand Chamber formation.

Last week a rather surprising route for EU competence litigation came under the radar. In the case of Anagnostakis (no English version available, I’m afraid), the General Court ruled on an action of annulment brought by a private party against the decision of the Commission to reject, on the grounds of lack of competence, a European citizens’ initiative. Mr. Anagnostakis, together with more than a million supporters, brought a proposal pursuant to article 11.4 TEU and Regulation 211/2011, demanding the Commission to introduce in EU legislation “the principle of state of necessity, according to which, when the financial and political subsistence of a State is at stake due to its duty to comply with an odious debt, the refusal of payment is necessary and justified”. According to the promoters, the legal base of the initiative was to be found in articles 119 TFEU and 144 TFEU.

The Commission did not seem very impressed and, pursuant to articles 4.2,b and 3 of Regulation 211/2011, it refused to register the proposal, based on a lack of competence.

Mr. Anagnostakis introduced an action of annulment before the General Court, attacking the Commission’s Decision for breach of articles 122.1 and 2 TFEU, 136.1 TFEU and rules of international law.

The General Court dismissed the action, but it did not limit itself to scrutinize the Commission’s duty to state reasons. The General Court went into some detail in order to ascertain if haircuts in government debt are not only a competence of the EU, but also in conformity with EU Law. In a rather surprising format and procedural context, the General Court dealt quite openly with one of the Union’s hottest potato at the time: the Greek unsustainable public debt.

It is true that the judgment is quite laconic in its reasoning, but it relies several times on Pringle and Gauweiler when interpreting articles 122 and 136 TFEU. But no matter how laconic it may be, the judgment makes an assertion that will probably not go unnoticed when the Greek public debt becomes politically toxic again. In paragraph 58 of the judgment, the General Court states that “the adoption of a legislative act authorizing a member State to not reimburse its debt, far from being a part of the concept of economic policy guidelines in the sense of article 136.1.b) TFEU […] it would have the effect of substituting the free will of the contracting parties by a legislative instrument allowing for a unilateral abandonment of public debt, which is clearly not what the provision allows” (free translation).

The assertion might be formally correct in light of the limited scope of article 136.1.b) TFEU, but the language of the judgment is politically explosive. Even in legal terms, one wonders if Pringle was openly precluding any kind of haircut of government debt by any means. After reading the General Court’s decision in Anagnostakis, it seems that haircuts will be mission impossible in the future, despite the circumstances, the consensus among Member States (the IMF has been explicitly positive about a future Greek haircut) and, above all, the terms and scope of the haircut.

But of course, this judgment could be just a superficial decision undertaking a superficial degree of scrutiny due to the peculiar procedural context of the case. It could be argued that highly contested issues such as the EU’s competence in the area of EMU is something should be left to the Court of Justice, but not to the General Court in the circumstances of a case like Anagnostakis. The General Court might be aware of this and thus the brief and straight-forward reasoning of the decision. However, after reading the judgment several times, the more I read it the more explosive it sounds to me.

(*) Professor of EU Law at the University Complutense of Madrid


ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS (on Wednesday, 7 October 2015)

by Steve Peers

The relationship between intelligence and law enforcement agencies (and companies like Google and Facebook) and personal data is much like the relationship between children and sweets at a birthday party. Imagine you’re a parent bringing out a huge bowl full of sweets (the personal data) during the birthday party – and then telling the children (the agencies and companies) thatthey can’t have any. But how can you enforce this rule? If you leave the room, even for a moment, the sweets will be gone within seconds, no matter how fervently you insist that the children leave them alone while you’re out. If you stay in the room, you will face incessant and increasingly shrill demands for access to the sweets, based on every conceivable self-interested and guilt-trippy argument. If you try to hide the sweets, the children will overturn everything to find them again.

When children find their demands thwarted by a strict parent, they have a time-honoured circumvention strategy: “When Mummy says No, ask Daddy”. But in the Safe Harbour case, things have happened the other way around. Mummy (the Commission) barely even resisted the children’s demands. In fact, she said Yes hours ago, and retired to the bath with an enormous glass of wine, occasionally shouting out feeble admonitions for the children to tone down their sugar-fuelled rampage. Now Daddy (the CJEU) is home, shocked at the chaos that results from lax parenting. He has immediately stopped the supply of further sweets. But the house is full of other sugary treats, and all the children are now crying. What now?

In this post, I’ll examine the reasons why the Court put its foot down, and invalidated the Commission’s ‘Safe Harbour’ decision which allows transfers of personal data to the USA, in the recent judgment in Schrems. Then I will examine the consequences of the Court’s ruling. But I should probably admit for the record that my parenting is more like Mummy’s than Daddy’s in the above example.


For more on the background to the Schrems case, see here; on the hearing, see Simon McGarr’s summary here; and on the Advocate-General’s opinion, seehere. But I’ll summarise the basics of the case again briefly.

Max Schrems is an Austrian Facebook user who was disturbed by Edward Snowden’s revelations about mass surveillance by US intelligence agencies. Since he believed that transfers of his data to Facebook were subject to such mass surveillance, he complained to the Irish data protection authority, which regulates Facebook’s transfers of personal data from the EU to the USA.

The substantive law governing these transfers of personal data was the ‘Safe Harbour’ agreement between the EU and the USA, agreed back in 2000. This agreement was put into effect in the EU by a decision of the Commission, which was adopted pursuant to powers conferred upon the Commission by the EU’s current data protection Directive. The latter law gives the Commission the power to decide that transfers of personal data outside the EU receive an ‘adequate level of protection’ in particular countries.

The ‘Safe Harbour’ agreement was enforced by self-certification of the companies that have signed up for it (note that not all transfers to the USA fell within the scope of the Safe Harbour decision, since not all American companies signed up). Those promises were in turn meant to be enforced by the US authorities. But it was also possible (not mandatory) for the national data protection authorities which enforce EU data protection law to suspend transfers of personal data under the agreement, if the US authorities or enforcement system found a breach of the rules, or on a list of limited grounds set out in the decision.

The Irish data protection authority refused to consider Schrems’ complaint, so he challenged that decision before the Irish High Court, which doubted that this system was compatible with EU law (or indeed the Irish constitution). So that court asked the CJEU to rule on whether national data protection authorities (DPAs) should have the power to prevent data transfers in cases like these.

The judgment

The CJEU first of all answers the question which the Irish court asks about DPA jurisdiction over data transfers (the procedural point), and then goes on to rule that the Safe Harbour decision is invalid (the substantive point).

Following the Advocate-General’s view, the Court ruled that national data protection authorities have to be able to consider claims that flows of personal data to third countries are not compatible with EU data protection laws if there is an inadequate level of data protection in those countries, even if the Commission has adopted a decision (such as the Safe Harbour decision) declaring that the level of protection is adequate. Like the Advocate-General, the Court based this conclusion on the powers and independence of those authorities, read in light of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which expressly refers to DPAs’ role and independence. (On the recent CJEU case law on DPA independence, see discussion here). In fact, the new EU data protection law currently under negotiation (the data protection Regulation) will likely confirm and even enhance the powers and independence of DPAs. (More on that aspect of the proposed Regulation here).

The Court then elaborates upon the ‘architecture’ of the EU’s data protection system as regards external transfers. It points out that either the Commission or Member States can decide that a third country has an ‘adequate’ level of data protection, although it focusses its analysis upon what happens if (as in this case) there is a Commission decision to this effect. In that case, national authorities (including DPAs) are bound by the Commission decision, and cannot issue a contrary ruling.

However, individuals like Max Schrems can still complain to the DPAs about alleged breaches of their data protection rights, despite the adoption of the Commission decision. If they do so, the Court implies that the validity of the Commission’s decision is therefore being called into question. While all EU acts must be subject to judicial review, the Court reiterates the usual rule that national courts can’t declare EU acts invalid, since that would fragment EU law: only the CJEU can do that. This restriction applies equally to national DPAs.

So how can a Commission decision on the adequacy of third countries’ data protection law be effectively challenged? The Court explains that DPAs must consider such claims seriously. If the DPA thinks that the claim is unfounded, the disgruntled complainant can challenge the DPA’s decision before the national courts, who must in turn refer the issue of the validity of the decision to the CJEU if they think it may be well founded. If, on the other hand, the DPA thinks the complaint is well-founded, there must be rules in national law allowing the DPA to go before the national courts in order to get the issue referred to the CJEU.

The Court then moves on to the substantive validity of the Safe Harbour decision. Although the national court didn’t ask it to examine this issue, the Court justifies its decision to do this by reference to its overall analysis of the architecture of EU data protection law, as well as the national court’s doubts about the Safe Harbour decision. Indeed, the Court is effectively putting its new architecture into use for the first time, and it’s quite an understatement to say that the national court had doubts about Safe Harbour (it had compared surveillance in the USA to that of Communist-era East Germany).

So what is an ‘adequate level of protection’ for personal data in third countries? The Court admits that the Directive is not clear on this point, so it has to interpret the rules. In the Court’s view, there must be a ‘high’ level of protection in the third country; this does not have to be ‘identical’ to the EU standard, but must be ‘substantially equivalent’ to it.  Otherwise, the objective of ensuring a high level of protection would not be met, and the EU’s internal standards for domestic data protection could easily be circumvented. Also, the means used in the third State to ensure data protection rights must be ‘effective…in practice’, although they ‘may differ’ from that in the EU. Furthermore, the assessment of adequacy must be dynamic, with regular automatic reviews and an obligation for a further review if evidence suggests that there are ‘doubts’ on this score; and the general changes in circumstances since the decision was adopted must be taken into account.

The Court then establishes that in light of the importance of privacy and data protection, and the large number of persons whose rights will be affected if data is transferred to a third country with an inadequate level of data protection, the Commission has reduced discretion, and is subject to ‘strict’ standards of judicial review. Applying this test, two provisions of the ‘Safe Harbour’ decision were invalid.

First of all, the basic decision declaring adequate data protection in the USA (in the context of Safe Harbour) was invalid. While such a decision could, in principle, be based on self-certification, this had to be accompanied by ‘effective detection and supervision mechanisms’ ensuring that infringements of fundamental rights had to be ‘identified and punished in practice’. Self-certification under the Safe Harbour rules did not apply to US public authorities; there was not a sufficient finding that the US law or commitments met EU standards; and the rules could be overridden by national security requirements set out in US law.

Data protection rules apply regardless of whether the information is sensitive, or whether there were adverse consequences for the persons concerned. The Decision had no finding concerning human rights protections as regards the national security exceptions under US law (although the CJEU acknowledged that such rules pursued a legitimate objective), or effective legal protection in that context. This was confirmed by the Commission’s review of the Safe Harbour decision, which found (a) that US authorities could access personal data transferred from the EU, and then process it for purposes incompatible with the original transfer ‘beyond what was strictly necessary and proportionate for the purposes of national security’, and (b) that there was no administrative or judicial means to ensure access to the data and its rectification or erasure.

Within the EU, interference with privacy and data protection rights requires ‘clear and precise rules’ which set out minimum safeguards, as well as strict application of derogations and limitations.  Those principles were breached where, ‘on a generalised basis’, legislation authorises ‘storage of all the personal data of all the persons whose data has been transferred’ to the US ‘without any differentiation, limitation or exception being made in light of the objective pursued’ and without any objective test limiting access of the public authorities for specific purposes. General access to the content of communications compromises the ‘essence’ of the right to privacy. On these points, the Court expressly reiterated the limits on mass surveillance set out in last year’s Digital Rights judgment (discussed here) on the validity of the EU’s data retention Directive. Furthermore, the absence of legal remedies in this regard compromises the essence of the right to judicial protection set out in the EU Charter. But the Commission made no findings to this effect.

Secondly, the restriction upon DPAs taking action to prevent data transfers in the event of an inadequate level of data protection in the USA (in the context of Safe Harbour) was also invalid. The Commission did not have the power under the data protection Directive (read in light of the Charter) to restrict DPA competence in that way. Since these two provisions were inseparable from the rest of the Safe Harbour decision, the entire Decision is invalid. The Court did not limit the effect of its ruling.


The Court’s judgment comes to the same conclusion as the Advocate-General’s opinion, but with subtle differences that I’ll examine as we go along. On the first issue, the Court’s finding that DPAs must be able to stop data flows if there is a breach of EU data protection laws in a third country, despite an adequacy Decision by the Commission, is clearly the correct result. Otherwise it would be too easy for the standards in the Directive to be undercut by means of transfers to third countries, which the Commission or national authorities might be willing to accept as a trade-off for a trade agreement or some other quid pro quowith the country concerned.

As for the Court’s discussion of the architecture of the data protection rules, the idea of the data protection authorities having to go to a national court if they agree with the complainant that the Commission’s adequacy decision is legally suspect is rather convoluted, since it’s not clear who the parties would be: it’s awkward that the Commission itself would probably not be a party.  It’s unfortunate that the Court did not consider the alternative route of the national DPA calling on the Commission to amend its decision, and bringing a ‘failure to act’ proceeding directly in the EU courts if it did not do so. In the medium term, it would be better for the future so-called ‘one-stop shop’ system under the new data protection Regulation (see discussion here) to address this issue, and provide for a centralised process of challenging the Commission directly.

It’s interesting that the CJEU finds that there can be a national decision on adequacy of data flows to third States, since there’s no express reference to this possibility in the Directive. If such a decision is adopted, or if Member States apply the various mandatory and optional exceptions from the general external data protection rules set out in Article 26 of the data protection Directive, much of the Court’s Schrems ruling would apply in the same way by analogy. In particular, national DPAs must surely have the jurisdiction to examine complaints about the validity of such decisions too. But EU law does not prohibit the DPAs from finding the national decisions invalid; the interesting question is whether it obliges national law to confer such power upon the DPAs. Arguably it does, to ensure the effectiveness of the EU rules. Any decisions on these issues could still be appealed to the national courts, which would have the option (though not the obligation, except for final courts) to ask the CJEU to interpret the EU rules.

As for the validity of the Safe Harbour Decision, the Court’s interpretation of the meaning of ‘adequate’ protection in third States should probably be sung out loud, to the tune of ‘We are the World’. The global reach of the EU’s general data protection rules was already strengthened by last year’s Google Spain judgment (discussed here); now the Court declares that even the separate regime for external transfers is very similar to the domestic regime anyway. There must be almost identical degrees of protection, although the Court does hint that modest differences are permissible: accepting the idea of self-certification, and avoiding the issue of whether third States need an independent DPA (the Advocate-General had argued that they did).

It’s a long way from the judgment in Lindqvist over a decade ago, when the Court anxiously insisted that the external regime should not be turned into a copy of the internal rules; now it’s insistent that there should be as little a gap as possible between them. With respect, the Court’s interpretation is not convincing, since the word ‘adequate’ suggests something less than ‘essentially equivalent’, and the EU Charter does not bind third States.

But having said that, the American rules on mass surveillance would violate even a far more generous interpretation of the meaning of the word ‘adequate’. It’s striking that (unlike the Advocate-General), the Court does not engage in a detailed interpretation of the grounds for limiting Charter rights, but rather states that general mass surveillance of the content of communications affects the ‘essence’ of the right to privacy. That is enough to find an unjustifiable violation of the Charter.

So where does the judgment leave us in practice? Since the Court refers frequently to the primary law rules in the Charter, there’s no real chance to escape what it says by signing new treaties (even the planned TTIP or TiSA), by adopting new decisions, or by amending the data protection Directive. In particular, the Safe Harbour decision is invalid, and the Commission could only replace it with a decision that meets the standards set out in this judgment. While the Court refers at some points to the inadequacy or non-existence of the Commission’s findings in the Decision, it’s hard to believe that a new Decision which purports to claim that the American system now meets the Court’s standards would be valid if the Commission were not telling the truth (or if circumstances subsequently changed).

What standards does the US have to meet? The Court reiterates even more clearly that mass surveillance is inherently a problem, regardless of the safeguards in place to limit its abuse. Indeed, as noted already, the Court ruled that mass surveillance of the content of communications breaches the essence of the right to privacy and so cannot be justified at all. (Surveillance of content which is targeted on suspected criminal activities or security threats is clearly justifiable, however). In addition to a ban on mass surveillance, there must also be detailed safeguards in place. The US might soon be reluctantly willing to address the latter, but it will be even more unwilling to address the former.

Are there other routes which could guarantee that external transfers to the USA take place, at least until the US law is changed? In principle, yes, since (as noted above) there are derogations from the general rule that transfers can only take place to countries with an ‘adequate’ level of data protection. A first set of derogations is mandatory (though Member States can have exceptions in ‘domestic law governing particular cases’): where the data subject gives ‘consent unambiguously’; where the transfer is necessary to perform a contract with (or in the interest of) the data subject, or for pre-contractual relations; where it’s ‘necessary or legally required on important public interest grounds’, or related to legal claims; where it’s ‘necessary to protect the vital interests of the data subject’; or where it’s made from a public register. A second derogation is optional: a Member State may authorise transfers where the controller offers sufficient safeguards, possibly in the form of contractual clauses. The use of the latter derogation can be controlled by the Commission.

It’s hard to see how the second derogation can be relevant, in light of the Court’s concerns about the sufficiency of safeguards under the current law. US access to the data is not necessary in relation to a contract, to protect the data subject, or related to legal claims.  An imaginative lawyer might argue that a search engine (though not a social network) is a modern form of public register; but the record of an individual’s use of a search engine is not.

This leaves us with consent and public interest grounds. Undoubtedly (as the CJEU accepted) national security interests are legitimate, but in the context of defining adequacy, they do not justify mass surveillance or insufficient safeguards. Would the Court’s ruling in Schrems still apply fully to the derogation regarding inadequate protection? Or would it apply in a modified way, or not at all?

As for consent, the CJEU ruled last year in a very different context (credibility assessment in LGBT asylum claims) that the rights to privacy and dignity could not be waived in certain situations (see discussion here). Is that also true to some extent in the context of data protection? And what does unambiguous consent mean exactly? Most people believe they are consenting only to (selected) people seeing what they post on Facebook, and are dimly aware that Facebook might do something with their data to earn money. They may be more aware of mass surveillance since the Snowden revelations; some don’t care, but some (like Max Schrems) would like to use Facebook without such surveillance. Would people have to consent separately to mass surveillance? In that case, would Facebook have to be accessible for those who did not want to sign that separate form? Or could a ‘spy on me’ clause be added at the end of a long (and unread) consent form?  Consent is a crucial issue also in the context of the purely domestic EU data protection rules.

The Court’s ruling has addressed some important points, but leaves an enormous number of issues open. It’s clear that it will take a long time to clear up the mess left from this particular poorly supervised party.

Barnard and Peers: chapter 9

Repetita Juvant ? The EDPS 2nd Opinion on the EU system of collection of passenger name records (PNR)

The systematic collection for prevention of terrorism of Air traveller’s personal data (PNR) from Airlines, Travel Agencies and Computer Reservation Systems started in the US, Australia, Canada after 9/11 and was considered illegal by the European Data Protection authorities as well by the European Parliament who challenged in 2004 before the Court of Justice the first EU-US agreement in this matter as well as the Commission Declaration (“Adequacy Finding”) which considered the adequate the condition of treatment of EU passengers data on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Court of Justice Judgment recognized in 2006 that the Commission’s “Adequacy Finding” and the EU-US Agreement were not founded on the correct legal basis but did not examined the EP plea on the fact that the agreement could had infringed the fundamental right to protection of personal data because of lack of clarity and of its incompatibility with a democratic society (at the time required by art.8 of the ECHR)

Therefore it has to be noted that already in 2004 the Commission considered that also the EU should develop its own PNR system for security purposes and after the CJ ruling decided to renegotiate with the US (on a security related legal basis) a new PNR agreements which explicitly made reference to the possibility of exchanging PNR data as soon as the EU would had has its own PNR related System.
In the absence of an EU internal legal framework for PNR data some EU Countries started building their own national systems with a more or less open support by the Commission notwithstanding the (vocal) opposition of the European Parliament.

Quite surprisingly it is after the entry into force of the LISBON Treaty and of the Charter of Fundamental Rights which recognize a self-standing fundamental right of protection of personal data that the Gericho Walls have fallen and the European Parliament has approved a transatlantic agreement in this matter (even if there was not yet an internal EU legal framework in this matter and the level of protection of Personal data in the agreement was much lower than the one that the same Parliament challenged before the Court of Justice in 2004…).

This change of strategy (due to an clear change of political majority) was seized by the Commission as the right signal to create an EU internal PNR system. After a first badly written proposal the Bruxelles Executive came back with a legislative proposal to authorise the collection of PNR data also by the EU Member States.

Needless to say this move was contested by the national data protection authorities and less convincingly by the European Parliament. Even if it blocked in the last legislature the legislative procedure it has finally decided to reopen the negotiations this year. This is probably due to the converging pressure of the European Council, of the Council Interior Ministers as well as by the convergence of the two biggest political groups (also thanks to the good offices of the EP President..).

From a procedural point of view, the legislative proposal is still in its first phase (parliamentary first reading) but the new majority (covering also the ALDE and ECR) has decided to try to obtain an early agreement with the Council in the framework of the so called “first reading agreements”.
As usual the informal (secret) dialogue has started and there is a clear political will to reach an agreement in the coming months (still under the Luxembourg Presidency).

This being the case both the National Data Protection Authorities and the European Data Protection Supervisor EDPS) are trying to slow down the process by repeating the constitutional, legislative and operational reservations which have also been summarized in the EDPS opinion adopted last week and published below.

Most of these arguments have been raised hundred of times (even by the European Parliament since its first resolution in march 2003) but quite paradoxically the new political majority in the EP, notwithstanding the stronger post-Lisbon constitutional framework of data protection, has decided to change its mind and is giving up the points which has defended in the previous legislatures.

Under such a new political situation it is more than likely that the very well drafted EDPS considerations will not be taken in account. But even if in this case REPETITA (will not) JUVANT other obstacles can arise before the adoption by the European Parliament of the EU PNR legislative proposal.

“There are still judges in Berlin”?

Like the humble miller who facing an unjust decision the Prussian King Frederick II, the Great exclaimed that “There are still judges in Berlin” our “Berlin” judges can be the European Court of Justice which will give an important judgment partially related to this matter on October 6.

The judgment deals with a case raised by Max SCHREMS, an Austrian Student who has considered that his personal data accessible via Facebook were not adequately protected in the US territory (because they can be too easily accessed by the US Security Services).

It will be interesting to see if the Court of Justice meeting as Grand Chamber (as it happens for “big” judgments) will follow the recent Conclusions of Advocate General Yves BOT who has raised strong concerns on the compatibility with the EU Charter of the current US data protection standards in the security domain.

If this was the case the same doubts could be extended on the envisaged EU PNR system which (badly) mirror the US PNR system… Will the determination of one European Citizen be more effective for the rights of each one of us of the hundred pages and countless debates of the European Parliament in the last twelve years? We will know it very soon and in the meantime let’s …fasten our seat belts.

Emilio De Capitani

EDPS SECOND OPINION ON EU PNR – ORIGINAL PUBLISHED HERE Continue reading “Repetita Juvant ? The EDPS 2nd Opinion on the EU system of collection of passenger name records (PNR)”

Schrems Versus Facebook: is the end of Safe Harbor approaching ?

by Emilio De Capitani

Today Advocate General Yves Bot has presented his long-awaited conclusions on the Case C‑362/14 Maximillian Schrems v Data Protection Commissioner. This case better described by the press as the “Schrems v Facebook” Case (why not “David V Goliath” ?)  put in question the so called Safe harbor “agreement” which frame the conditions under which personal data of the people under the EU jurisdiction can be transferred or treated by servers of US Companies (such as Facebook, Google, E-Bay) on the US territory.
As the protection of personal data is a fundamental right under EU law (notably after the entry into force of the art.8 of the EU Charter)  art. 25 of Directive 95/46 foresees that the transfer of these data to a third country is legitimate only if the data are “adequately” protected.
The problem is that in the US there is no comprehensive legal protection framework comparable to the one existing in the EU so that in 2000 the Commission negotiated with the US the establishment of a specific voluntary regime (the “Safe Harbor Principles”) which could had been considered granting an “adequate” protection of personal data  having regard to the standard applicable in Europe.

At the time the European Parliament voted against this regime but was unable to obtain stronger safeguards because of the unwillingness of the US authorities and moreover by the Commission which was more interested to the transfer of data than of their protection.

Since then the transatlantic flow of data has grown every day and with them the economic benefices of the US Companies without any real re-assesment of the compliance of the Safe Harbor principles on the US side (by the Federal Trade Commission) or on the EU side (by the Commission) even after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty which changed the legal basis of EU policies linked with the protection of personal data.

However when the Snowden revelations made clear to everybody that all these EU personal data could be massively analyzed without judicial overview by the US Intelligence Services someone in the EU  woke up.

Between the EU Institutions the European Parliament asked the suspension of the Safe Harbor agreement but its initiative was not followed by the Commission (as unfortunately happens more and more frequently); but it is thanks to the obstinacy of Maximilian Schrems, an Austrian law student that the case was finally been brought, first before to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, then before the Irish High Court and now before the Court of Justice.

This case is extremely interesting  not only because it confirms that in a democracy someone has to …watch the watchers be they at national or European level (notably if they are sleeping or hiding behind each other…) but also because it shows that also an “ordinary” Citizen can dare to do in name of the EU law and of his rights what the EU Institutions are less and less willing to do.

Enjoy now the reading the instructive and very detailed Yves BOT arguments drawing him to declare that the Commission initial “adequacy finding” was not adequate at all (as also the EP wrote in its 2000 resolution) and that National Authorities should fully play their role and not hiding behind the Commission “Adequacy decisions”.

Such a strong reasoning if endorsed by the Luxembourg Judges should inspire

  • a re-assessment of other EU-US ‘executive’ agreements dealing with data protection (the draft “Umbrella agreement” included)
  • a revision of the Data Protection package at least as far as the regime of Commission “adequacy finding” is concerned (which due to its large marge of discretion could no more be considered a simple “implementing measure” but at least a “delegated” power …) and a stronger role of the Data Protection Board which should have a direct jurisdiction at least for Data controller “over the top” such as Facebook, Google, E-Bay and so on…

It is only unfortunate that the European Parliament which on these issues was on the right side between 1999 and 2004 is now slowly sliding away notwithstanding a much stronger constitutional framework and a binding Charter …

Anyway many thanks Max!! Hope that 10, 100, 1000 of European citizens could follow your example…



delivered on 23 September 2015 (1Case C‑362/14 Maximillian Schrems Data Protection Commissioner

Continue reading “Schrems Versus Facebook: is the end of Safe Harbor approaching ?”