Advocate-General Bot opined on 4 July 2018 in the case of C-308/17 Leo Kuhn, domiciled at Vienna, who had purchased through an Austrian bank, Greek sovereign bonds. Pursuant to a forced exchanged /haircut carried out by Greece in March 2012, the bonds were replaced with new bonds with a lower nominal value. Mr Kuhn sued to have the initial borrowing terms enforced.
The Advocate-General is of course aware of the similarities with Fahnenbrock – in which he himself had also opined but was not followed by the Court. He first of all points out the similarities between the service Regulation and the Brussels I Recast (both e.g. limiting their scope of application to ‘civil and commercial’ matters), however also flags the specific recitals (in particular: recital 12) suggesting that in the context of the services Regulation the analysis needs to be done swiftly hence only cases which prima facie fall outside the scope of application (including where they manifestly (see the dictum of Fahnenbrock and para 50 of the AG’s Opinion in Kuhn) are not covered by that Regulation.
Coming next to the consideration of the application of ‘civil and commercial’, the facts of this case reflect very much the hybrid nature of much of sovereign debt litigation. In my view yes, the haircut took place within the wider institutional nature of Greece’s debt negotiations with the EU. Yet the ‘collective action clause’ (CAC) which was not part of the original terms and conditions (there was no CAC in the original lex causae, Greek law, but there is one in the newly applicable lex causae, English law: at 63 of the Opinion), was negotiated with the institutional holders of the bond and crammed down the minority holders like Mr Kuhn (at 66). The AG suggest that this does not impact on the qualification of the changes being ‘immediate and direct’, this being the formula employed by the Court in Fahnenbrock.
I am not so sure of the latter but it will be up to the CJEU to decide.
The Advocate General note bene subsequently ‘completes the analysis’ in case the CJEU disagrees with this view, and finds that if the issue is civil and commercial, it can be litigated under Article 7(1)’s rule on special jurisdiction for contractual obligations (the AG at para 88 ff distinguishes the case from C-375/13 Kolassa (in which the CJEU saw no contractual bond between the issuer of the bonds and the acquirer on the secondary market), the obligation at issue, he suggests, having to be performed in Greece. As for the latter element, the Advocate General does refer for the determination of the place of performance to the initially applicable law: Greek law, leaving the later lex causae, English law, undiscussed.
Whether the Court will follow the AG remains of course to be seen.