BUAK. The concept of ‘court’ (Article 267 TFEU), ‘civil and commercial’, and the social security exception in the Brussels I Recast.

I reported on Bot AG’s Opinion in  Case C-579/17 BUAK (Bauarbeiter-Urlaubs- u. Abfertigungskasse v Gradbeništvo Korana d.o.o.) here. He focussed on admissibility viz the preliminary review procedure. He left the questions on ‘civil and commercial’, and the social security exception unanswered, suggesting these are now acte claire. The Court at the end of February did answer all questions. (For completeness sake I already note that for the latter, the CJEU referred to secondary EU law to find the payment not to be one in social security).

First, on the issue of admissibility under Article 267 TFEU. In the absence of discussion by the original court on the applicability of Brussels Ia, by determining whether it is competent to issue the certificate under Article 53 Brussels Ia (replacing exequatur), the court of origin implicitly confirms that the judgment given in default which must be recognised and enforced in another Member State falls within the scope of application of that Regulation: for evidently the issue of the certificate is possible only on that condition. That procedure in those circumstances is judicial in character, with the result that a national court ruling in the context of such a procedure is entitled to refer questions to the Court for a preliminary ruling. (But only in those circumstances: for otherwise the issuing of the certificate becomes a potential anchor for stalling quick enforcement, via preliminary review to Luxembourg).

Next, on the issue of ‘civil and commercial’, some usual suspects are discussed including in particular Pula Parking. flyLAL, and Sapir (but not Fahnenbrock or Kuhn). What needs to be examined, is firstly the legal relationship between the parties to the dispute and secondly the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of the action.

As to the former, BUAK may be governed by public law however its calculations of wage supplements and annual leave, the formula for which is determined by decree, are superimposed upon wage negotiations which employers either negotiate entirely freely with employees or agree so on the basis of collective agreements between employers and employees to which employers freely consent. And at 54: ‘in so far as the employer’s obligation to pay the wage supplements is intrinsically linked with the rights, which are of a civil nature, of workers to annual leave pay, …BUAK’s claim and, therefore, an action for payment of that claim, is also of a civil nature.’ (Note that Eurocontrol, not too dissimilar in context (here too the root cause of the debt incurred is one of free will: whether to use certain airspace and airports or not), did lead to a finding of non-civil and commercial matters). I do not find this application straightforward at all; ‘the parties’ are the employer (Korana, a Slovenian company which had posted workers to Austria) and BUAK. Their legal relationship is removed from the contract and /or collective agreements negotiations.

As for the second criterion, the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of the action, unlike purely internal situations, in which BUAK may itself issue an execution title in the form of a statement of arrears, with respect to arrears relating to posted workers who do not have their habitual place of work in Austria it must initiate legal proceedings for the payment of unpaid wage supplements. However there is divergence of views between the referring court and Austria and the EC before the CJEU: the former maintains that its hands are tied and that it cannot pursue a de novo review of the application by BUAC; the latter suggest the court seized does carry out a full review of all of the elements of the application. The CJEU at 60 would seem to lean on the side of the referring court but leaves it to take the final decision.

I will turn to this again when I work on the third edition of the handbook this summer yet it is clear that the formula for deciding civil and commercial is still not entirely settled. The First chamber issued Fahnenbrock (Tizzano (Rapporteur), Rodin, Levits, Berger and Biltgen), and Kuhn (Silva de Lapuerta (Rapporteur), Bonichot, Regan, Fernlund and Rodin; the latter the only common denominator in both), which are arguably more like the Lechoritou formula, which in turn applies Eurcontrol: exclusion of certain legal actions and judicial decisions from the scope of Regulation No 1215/2012, by reason either of the legal relationships between the parties to the action or of the subject matter of the action.

The Second chamber (K. Lenaerts, A. Prechal, Toader, Rosas and Ilešič; quite a few conflicts scholars indeed including the President of the CJEU) now focuses on Sapir which was issued by the third Chamber, comprising at the time Toader (Rapporteur), Ilešič, Jarašiūnas, Ó Caoimh,  Fernlund. Toader and Ilešič are the common denominator with current judment in BUAK). Sapir has focus also firstly on the legal relationship between the parties to the dispute, but secondly the basis and the detailed rules governing the bringing of the action (not: the to my knowledge never applied criterion of ‘subject matter’ of the action).

To ponder over the summer.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16.1.1.

 

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