Archive for category EU law – General

Altun: Fraud and social dumping. The CJEU emphasises the double sides of the mutual trust coin.

When I reported on Saugmandsgaard ØE’s Opinion in C-359/16 Altun, I emphasised the issue of mutual trust. I noted that the AG effectively flipped the coin: sincere co-operation requires sincerity on both sides (my words, not the AG’s). The AG had recalled the Halifax case-law of the CJEU: EU law cannot be relied on for abusive or fraudulent ends and that national courts may, case by case, take account — on the basis of objective evidence — of abuse or fraudulent conduct on the part of the persons concerned in order, where appropriate, to deny them the benefit of the provisions of EU law, in the light of the objectives pursued by the provisions of EU law concerned. In November 2017 the CJEU confirmed in C-251/16 Cussens that this principle has direct effect and is directly applicable: it is a general principle of EU law which does not require a national measure transposing it.

In the case at issue, the facts point to non-fulfillment of one of the substantive criteria for the E101 certificate to be issued, namely that only an undertaking which habitually carries on significant activities in the Member State in which it is established may be issued an E101 of that State.

The Court today has confirmed the AG’s view (only the Dutch and French version were available at the time of writing). Mutual trust implies responsibilities on both sides. Upon receiving indications of fraud, the Member State of origin is duty-bound to investigate diligently and either confirm or refute the suspicions. (In the event of continuing divergence, there is an appeals procedure within the relevant secondary law, and if need be the possibility for the host State to pursue infringement proceedings with the home State). Like its AG, the Court emphasises that the fraud must be established in the context of adversarial proceedings with legal guarantees for the persons concerned and in compliance with their fundamental rights, in particular the right to an effective remedy enshrined.

This remains relevant even after the planned changes to the posted workers Directive. In the future system, too, Member States will issue certificates, feed data into the newly created register etc.

Geert.

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Unstunned slaughter and EU law. Wahl AG finds no justification for total ban.

A post suited to be this year’s last, given the religious context of the current holiday period: Wahl AG advised late November in C-426/16. See my previous posts on the issue. A European Regulation (1099/2009) provides for an unclear, and conditional,  exemption from a requirement of stunning animals for religious slaughter. (Regularly the practise is also called ‘ritual’; including in current Opinion. ‘Religious’ must be the preferred term).

Practised in particular by the Jewish (Shechita; leading to ‘kosher’ meat) and Muslim (Zabihah; with halal meat) faith, a core aspect of the practice is that animals are not stunned prior to slaughter. The science on the effect of stunned or unstunned slaughter is equivocal. What is certain is that neither stunned nor unstunned slaughter, when carried out incorrectly (well documented in the case of stunned slaughter) aids the welfare of the animal.

The Flemish Minister responsible for animal welfare announced that, from 2015 onwards, he would no longer issue approvals for temporary slaughter plants at which religious slaughtering could be practised during the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice because such approvals in his view were contrary to EU legislation, in particular the provisions of Regulation 1099/2009. The muslim community objects to the discontinuation of temporary slaughter plants.

The Advocate-General’s Opinion is lengthy, and there is a lot to chew on.  There is little point in rehashing all the AG’s points: readers are best referred to the Opinion itself. Of note however is

  • Firstly, the AG’s attempt strictly to delineate the issue.

The case he suggests is simply about what material conditions, in terms of equipment and operating obligations, must accompany unstunned slaughter in order for it to comply with the relevant EU rules. He suggests a rephrasing of the referring court’s questions in that direction. Along these lines he also in substance refuses to entertain the questions as to the validity of Regulation 1099/2009 itself, or the exemption from the duty to use approved slaughterhouses under the Regulation’s ‘cultural’ exception. (See footnote 13). In my view the Regulation is very vulnerable on this issue: sporting and cultural events are entirely excluded from its scope of application; religious rites are subject to a qualified exemption. That to me cannot survive a discrimination test.

The Brussels court had given the case a much wider scope: it suggested that the contested Flemish decision creates a limitation on the exercise of freedom of religion and undermines Belgian customs relating to religious rites, since it obliges Muslims to perform the ritual slaughter of the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice in slaughterhouses that have been approved in accordance with Regulation No 853/2004. In the opinion of that court, this limitation is neither relevant nor proportionate in order to attain the legitimate objective of protecting the welfare of animals and human health (at 20). The AG however sees no limitation of freedom of religion at all, resulting from the general obligation to use approved slaughterhouses.

  • Despite the attempt at delineation, the background to the case is undeniable and filters through in the Opinion.

If only because the AG has to complete the analysis should the CJEU disagree with his view that freedom of religion is not being limited, he does review the legality of a total ban on slaughtering other than in plants that have been approved in accordance with the rules established in Annex III to Regulation No 853/2004.

First of all he refers to European Commission audits of the previously approved temporary slaughterhouses to make the point that they protected animal welfare sufficiently. He directly criticises the Regulation for its arguably disproportionate criteria in this respect: see in particular at 127.

Religious slaughter falls squarely within the European Convention of Human Rights Article 9’s freedom of religious expression. It is clear that the AG believes that the ban on unstunned slaughter other than in approved abattoirs, in the name of animal welfare or otherwise,  offends freedom of religious expression to such a degree that it simply must not pass: para 133 and the preceding argumentation is very clear.

The AG’s reasoning holds all the more for a total ban un unstunned slaughter full stop. That is the clear implication of this Opinion and one which must be welcomed.

Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!

Geert.

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Booze bikes banned from Amsterdam. Time for a pousse-cafe:the EU law analysis that never was.

At the end of October the Rechtbank Amsterdam held that ‘booze bikes’ can be kept from parts of Amsterdam. The municipality had resorted to the ban both to address congestion (the bikes are slow and chunky; the roads in the part of Amsterdam concerned, narrow) and rowdiness (the bikes are often used for stag parties and let’s just say that the ‘bike’ part of the trip is not the one that attracts its users). In my experience (from a resident’s point of view) these bikes are a bit like Brexit: attractive for five minutes to some; a right nuisance for the remainder of the journey.

In 2009 I wrote a short piece reflecting on use restrictions from an EU point of view. In it I refer ia to C-142/05 Mickelsson and to C-110/05 Commission v Italy (motorcyle trailers) – my analysis and that of Peter Oliver may be applied here mutatis mutandis. The degree to which lawfully marketed products may be restricted in their use has so far not entertained the Court of Justice in great numbers. Yet the use of such restrictions is bound to increase, with local authorities in particular imposing restrictions for environmental, public health and other ‘sustainable development’ purposes. Witness e.g. Venice banning wheeled suitcases, historic city centres banning diesel cars etc.

In the booze bike case the Court at Amsterdam (at 2.9) simply said that applicants should have provided detail of their argument as to why the ban might contravene EU law. Expect a second round on similar cases at some point.

Geert.

 

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Mengozzi AG saves ETS in energy policy legal basis opinion.

Others have studied the EU’s legal basis for energy policy much better than I have. Chiefly among them prof Leonie Reins. e.g.  for RECIEL here and in her Phd here. The impact of this discussion is high: since the introduction of an energy Title in the EU Treaties (following Lisbon) whether so designed or not, the prospect of that Title’s requirement on unanimity for measures which ‘have a significant effect on a Member State’s choice between different energy sources’ looms heavily over the EU’s environment policy. The EU’s emissions trading system – ETS is the prime candidate for falling victim to an extensive interpretation of Article 192(2)c TFEU, which harbours the unanimity requirement within the Treaty’s environment Title. [The energy Title, Article 194, has similar challenges].

In C-5/16 Poland v EP and Council Mengozzi AG Opined last week. At issue is Poland’s opposition to a MSR – a market stability reserve for the Union greenhouse gas emission trading scheme, essentially a long-term parking for surplus allowances to enable the ETS to safeguard collapse of prices in the event of excess supply. The resulting increase in the price of allowances was inter alia intended to encourage fuel switching and to discourage investments in coal-fired power stations (hence of course Poland’s interest).

Relevant to future reference is especially the AG’s view at 25, which I include in full: ‘as a derogation, Article 192(2)(c) TFEU is to be interpreted strictly, especially since an efficient modern environment policy cannot ignore energy questions. I share the fears expressed by the defendants and the interveners that the applicant’s proposed interpretation of Article 192(2)(c) TFEU and the conclusions which it draws from that interpretation for the examination of the legal basis of the contested decision would effectively block any legislative initiative by recognising a right of veto for Member States, as the Union would adopt measures inviting them only to rationalise their CO2-consuming activities. Furthermore, such an interpretation would doom the ETS to failure as it would prevent the EU legislature from correcting its structural deficiencies. In addition, although I would point out that the goal of introducing the MSR is not to form the price of allowances but simply to ensure the efficiency of the ETS, in any event, an operator’s choice of a certain energy source or production technology cannot depend on that price alone, which does not in itself define the production costs, which are determined by a variety of factors. Even with the introduction of the MSR, the choice of technology still remains in the hands of operators and is not dictated by the European Union.’

I am not sure to what degree the Court’s judgment will enable us to draw criteria with wider impact than just the current case – but it would certainly be helpful. Mengozzi AG firstly emphasises strict interpretation of the ‘energy mix’ exception. Further, in the paras preceeding the aforecited one, links amendments to existing laws largely to the latter’s legal basis. Supports the Institutions and Spain, France and Sweden (intervening; the position of Germany, also intervening, was not made clear) in their warning against veto power in the energy /climate change context; and finally further dilutes the exception by looking at policies as they work in practice, not just in theory. On this point, the AG looks at the ETS specifically however his view has broader appeal: it would essentially mean that when Member States’ and individuals’ /undertakings’ behaviour is determined by regulatory intervention, some of which clearly based on a legal basis other than Article 192(2)c TFEU, the latter is not determinant in deciding proper legal basis.

This is an important case for the future of EU environment and energy policy.

Geert.

 

 

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Saugmandsgaard ØE in Altun: Detection of fraud /fighting social dumping trumps mutual trust.

Update 15 January 2018: Judgment on 6 February.

Saugmandsgaard ØE’s would seem fast to become the CJEU’s Advocate General of choice in matters of social dumping – witness the recent Ryanair litigation. In C-359/16 Altun, at issue is the binding nature of the E101 certificate. This certifies that a worker moving within the EU is covered by the social security scheme of the Member State (‘MS’) to which the issuing institution belongs. Standing case-law is that the host MS is not entitled to scrutinise the validity of an E101 certificate in the light of the background against which it was issued: this is the result of the mutual trust built into the relevant secondary law.

In current case the Belgian Supreme Court queries whether that case-law applies where a court of the host MS finds that an E101 certificate was obtained or invoked fraudulently.

The AG summarises the relevant investigation at 10: ‘The Sociale Inspectie (Social Inspectorate, Belgium) conducted an investigation into the employment of the staff at Absa NV, an undertaking governed by Belgian law active in the construction sector in Belgium. That investigation established that from 2008 Absa had practically no staff in its employ and outsourced all manual labour to Bulgarian undertakings under subcontracting agreements. Those Bulgarian undertakings had no activities to speak of in Bulgaria and posted workers to work under subcontracting agreements in Belgium for Absa, partly with the involvement and cooperation of other Belgian companies. The employment of the workers concerned was not notified to the Belgian institution responsible for the collection of social security contributions, as they held E 101 certificates issued by the competent Bulgarian authority, certifying that they were covered by the Bulgarian social security system.’

What follows is essentially the Belgian authorities alleging that their Bulgarian counterparts, having been asked to withdraw the certificates, only answered halfheartedly if at all. The Court of Appeal found that the certificates had been obtained by fraud.

Saugmandsgaard ØE emphasises that the EU social security rules at issue effectively establish a private international law system for social security. They assign authorities competent to issue certificates; they designate the social security law applicable. The principle of mutual trust /sincere co-operation, laid down in Article 4(3) TEU, ensures that authorities in the host MS respect the certificates issued in the home MS. However, the AG then effectively flips the coin: sincere co-operation requires sincerity on both sides (my words, not the AG’s).

The AG recalls the Halifax case-law of the CJEU: EU law cannot be relied on for abusive or fraudulent ends and that national courts may, case by case, take account — on the basis of objective evidence — of abuse or fraudulent conduct on the part of the persons concerned in order, where appropriate, to deny them the benefit of the provisions of EU law, in the light of the objectives pursued by the provisions of EU law concerned. [Postscript 22 November 2017: The CJEU confirmed today in C-251/16 Cussens that this principle has direct effect and is directly applicable: it is a general principle of EU law which does not require a national measure transposing it).

The AG does not just refer to case-law on the very secondary law at issue. He opens up the debate to the wider implications of social dumping and regulatory competition:

At 46: ‘socio-economic considerations likewise support priority being given to the combating of fraud in such a situation. In the context of the system of conflict of laws established by … Regulation No 1408/71, fraud linked to the issue of E 101 certificates represents a threat to the coherence of the Member States’ social security schemes. In that regard, I consider that Member States have a legitimate interest in taking appropriate steps to protect their financial interests and to ensure the financial balance of their social security systems. In addition, the use of E 101 certificates obtained or invoked fraudulently is, in my view, a form of unfair competition and calls into question the equality of working conditions on national labour markets.‘ (footnotes omitted)

At 49, the AG suggest a finding of fraud requires the satisfaction of an objective criterion and of a subjective criterion. The objective criterion consists in the fact that the conditions for obtaining the advantage sought are not in fact satisfied. At 51, the subjective factor:  it is to be established that the persons concerned had the intention of concealing the fact that the conditions for the issue of the E 101 certificate were not in fact met, in order to obtain the advantage stemming from that certificate. Proof of the existence of such fraudulent intent may consist in an intentional act, in particular an inaccurate presentation of the true situation of the posted worker or of the undertaking posting that worker, or in an intentional omission, such as the non-disclosure of relevant information.

(In the case at issue, the facts point to non-fulfillment of one of the substantive criteria for the E101 to be issued, namely that only an undertaking which habitually carries on significant activities in the Member State in which it is established may be issued an E101 of that State).

The fraud must be established in the context of adversarial proceedings with legal guarantees for the persons concerned and in compliance with their fundamental rights, in particular the right to an effective remedy enshrined (at 52).

If the AG’s Opinion is followed, and taking into account Commissioner Thyssen’s recent progress on the reform of the relevant laws, the social dumping window is closing yet a bit more.

Geert.

 

 

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Farrell and direct effect. CJEU holds that Foster criteria apply disjunctively.

I reported on Sharpston AG’s Opinion in C-413/15 Farrell just before the summer break. The case considers the C-188/89 Foster criteria on what constitutes an ’emanation from the state’, for Directives to potentially have direct effect in individuals’ relations with that body. The CJEU held last week, in Grand Chamber, and decided the criteria apply disjunctively, not conjunctively. It is sufficient that the private body concerned have special powers beyond those which result from the normal rules applicable to relations between individuals; it need not, additionally, be a body under control of the State.

The Irish legislature conferred on the MIBI (Motor Insurance Bureau of Ireland) special powers beyond those which result from the normal rules applicable to relations between individuals, in that, on the basis of that statutory provision, that private organisation has the power to require all those insurers to become members of it and to contribute funds for the performance of the task conferred on it by the Irish State.

A further and important piece in the jigsaw that is direct effect. Next up no doubt: what exactly are the boundaries of ‘special powers’. Conflicts lawyers may recognise some of the discussions surrounding ‘civil and commercial’.

Geert.

 

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Emerald Supplies et al v BA: on the territorial scope of EU competition law.

This posting is really addressed to those with more of a full-time interest in competition law than yours truly. Particularly in the extraterritorial effect of same. In  [2017] EWHC 2420 (Ch) Emerald Supplies et al v British Airways defendants contend that as a matter of law there can be no claim for damages arising from the cartel at issue insofar as it affected freight charges between the EU and third countries on flights before 1 May 2004. That was the date on which air transport between the EU and third countries was brought within the regime implementing the EU competition rules set out in Regulation 1/2003.

Rose J after careful analysis sides with the defendants and rejects reference to the CJEU, citing acte clair (enough analysis of the CJEU on the same and related issues- I believe she is right). Happy reading.

Geert.

 

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