In British Airways v Sindicato Espanol de Pilotos de Lineas Aereas – SEPLA, crucial consideration was whether the court had jurisdiction under the Brussels I Regulation to determine the claim brought by BA against SEPLA, a Spanish trade union, for damages and declaratory and injunctive relief alleging that strikes of Spanish airline pilots organised by SEPLA were unlawful under Spanish law in that they were in breach of the Claimants’ right to freedom of establishment and to provide cross border services under Articles 49 and 56 TFEU. The international federation of airline pilots association acted as anchor defendant (being domiciled in the UK at the time the action was introduced (it had since moved to Canada) and the case against both arguably being closely linked within the meaning of Article 6 of the Jurisdiction Regulation).
The High Court accepted the ‘knock-out point’ of defendant: that the matter was not ‘civil and commercial’ and therefore not within the scope of application of the Regulation. Field J argued with reference to the ECJ’s judgment in Viking (or more specifically, the AG’s Opinion in same) that ‘it remains the case that the source of the fundamental freedoms are treaty provisions imposing obligations on states‘, and that ‘a court having to decide whether SEPLA was in breach of Articles 49 and/or 56 TFEU will have to conduct a sensitive balancing exercise in which it weighs SEPLA’s constitutional right to strike and the fundamental right to strike which forms part of the general principles of Community Law against the fundamental freedoms enshrined in Articles 49 and 56. In my judgment, such an exercise will involve a resort to notions of public law rather than to private law.‘
I am not so sure. Firstly, the horizontal (i.e. between individuals) direct effect of the Treaty Articles concerned is quite established. Moreover, under the Eurocontrol and subsequent case-law formula, the public authority (here: merely a private organisation, a trade union, perhaps carrying out duties of a quasi-public law nature (the right to strike)) involved needs to have acted iure imperii. It is only if the legal relationship (not: the underlying applicable law) between the parties to the action is of a public law nature, giving one of them extraordinary authority which the other lacks, that the Regulation may not apply. There was no indication that the trade union in the specific case acted in some kind of iure imperii matter. This was not acte claire I would have thought, but the High Court evidently thought otherwise.