Archive for category EU law – General

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

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.

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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Now you see me, now you don’t. The CJEU on the precautionary principle in Fidenato.

Hang on a minute. Were not the EU and its Member States supposed to be precaution obsessed? Don’t the EU and its Member States alike adopt bans on all things GMO for no other reason than that they simply do not want them? How then can the CJEU hold in C-111/16 Fidenato that Member States do not have the option of adopting, in accordance with Article 54 of Regulation 178/2002, the EU’s general food safety law, interim emergency measures solely on the basis of the precautionary principle?

The reason lies in pre-emption, aka exhaustion, and in the balance between EU and national risk management which EU law strikes in the specific field of GM cultivation. Of note is that in the meantime most biotech companies have given up on cultivation of GM varieties in the EU.

As extremely well summarised by Bobek AG in his Opinion in the case, the formulation of the relevant EU legislation is such as to provide that post EU authorisation (here: of genetically modified maize MON 810) Member States may only take emergency measures where the continued cultivation of the approved products is ‘likely to constitute a serious risk’. While the precautionary principle may play its role fully at the level of the EU’s risk management preceding authorisation, and indeed post such authorisation, too, Member States are given less leeway in their national emergency measures. In prescribing these rules, the EU safeguards the harmonised approach to the GM varieties at issue.

(Mr Fidenato nb is something of a cause celebre among the GM community). Please note, again, that the case concerns the growing (‘cultivation’) of GM crops. Not the import, export or use of products containing GM.

Finally it is important to point out that the Court does not equate precaution with the absence of science. It is the degree of scientific certainty here which is relevant, not the absence ‘v’ presence thereof.

Geert.

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Farrell and direct effect. Sharpston AG: Patron Saint of examiners.

Perhaps it’s the warm weather or the balmy number of exams I am having to compile this term, but my imagination was running dry. One more exam to compose and it is for my American University summer law school students. A course on EU integration. Scratching my head on trying to find yet another variation on the direct effect theme, Advocate General Sharpston came to the rescue. So far I have only seen the press release (the Opinion itself is not on Curia yet) in C-413/15 Farrell which considers the C-188/89 Foster criteria on what constitutes an ’emanation from the state’. From the press release:

‘Ever since the Court developed the doctrine of the direct effect of directives and rendered it applicable to ‘vertical’ disputes between the individual and the State, but declined to extend that doctrine ‘horizontally’ to cover disputes between private parties, it has been essential to know what are the boundaries of ‘the State’ for the purposes of applying that doctrine. In its judgment in Foster, the Court set out a series of tests for determining the types of bodies that might be treated as ‘the State’ or, although it did not use that expression in its judgment, ‘an emanation of the State’ in that context. It did so by reference to existing case-law, which included a reference to the body in question having ‘special powers’.’

The focus of the Opinion is on those ‘special powers’.

In C-365/05, the Court had already held that Ireland had not properly implemented Directive 90/232. the question now before the court si whether the Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland (MIBI) is an emanation of the State, engaging therefore vertical direct effect. The Irish High Court held it does. The Irish Supreme Court now asks whether the Foster criteria need to be applied cumulatively. Sharpston AG clearly suggests they do not, indeed that they are not limitative either: see the text for more detail of the criteria examined by Ms Sharpston.

Now, once the full text is out, one can of course chew over this a bit more. But for an introductory course, the press release suffices.

Geert.

 

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No sugar rush. CJEU rejects appeal in Dextro Energy labelling case.

The CJEU held yesterday in Case C-296/16P Dextro Energy (text of judgment available in French and German only at the time of posting), an appeal against the General Court’s ruling in T-100/15. The General Court had declined to annul the European Commission Regulation which refused to authorise certain health claims made on foods, other than those referring to the reduction of disease risk and to children’s development and health. Dextro Energy had wanted to include health claims such as  ‘glucose supports normal physical activity’ and ‘glucose contributes to normal muscle function’. The EC had refused: citing (in Regulation 1215/8)

‘Pursuant to Articles 6(1) and 13(1) of Regulation … No 1924/2006 health claims need to be based on generally accepted scientific evidence. Authorisation may also legitimately be withheld if health claims do not comply with other general and specific requirements of Regulation … No 1924/2006, even in the case of a favourable scientific assessment by [EFSA]. Health claims inconsistent with generally accepted nutrition and health principles should not be made. [EFSA] concluded that a cause and effect relationship has been established between the consumption of glucose and contribution to energy-yielding metabolism. However, the use of such a health claim would convey a conflicting and confusing message to consumers, because it would encourage consumption of sugars for which, on the basis of generally accepted scientific advance, national and international authorities inform the consumer that their intake should be reduced. Therefore, such a health claim does not comply with point (a) of the second paragraph of Article 3 of Regulation … No 1924/2006 which foresees that the use of claims should not be ambiguous or misleading. Furthermore, even if the concerned health claim was to be authorised only under specific conditions of use and/or accompanied by additional statements or warnings, it would not be sufficient to alleviate the confusion of the consumer, and consequently the claim should not be authorised.’

The General Court performed its standard review in the face of a wide discretionary room for manoeuvre for the EC, and decided the EC had not exceeded its authority in holding as it did – even in the face of more lenient EFSA recommendations. The Court of Justice has now entirely sided with the General Court. The Judgment is a good reminder of aforementioned standard test (no de novo or merits review; annulment in the event of manifest transgression of power or error in judgment only), and readers best refer to reading the judgment itself.

One consideration however, I should like to highlight: Dextro Energy had suggested the health claims needed to be assessed in light of the target group (determined in the product’s advertising), which, it was suggested, were physically active people for whom consumption of the glucose tablets in question is not harmless. The Court rejected this approach: the population as a whole, for whom the product is available, are the group which the EC justifiably seeks to protect. The manufacturer’s professed target group is not the relevant group to consider (do bear in mind that this is a product which is widely available and not restricted in any way at points of sale):

At 76-77: si les allégations de santé en cause étaient autorisées, elles s’adresseraient à la population en général, pouvant ainsi encourager la consommation de sucres par les personnes autres que les hommes et les femmes bien entraînés. Dans ces conditions, le Tribunal n’a pas commis d’erreur de droit lorsqu’il a rejeté, au point 57 de l’arrêt attaqué, l’argument de Dextro Energy, selon lequel c’était le groupe cible qui importait aux fins de l’appréciation des allégations de santé en cause.

Geert.

 

 

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‘Right to be forgotten’ /data protection laws and the internet referred to CJEU.

Update 23 May 2017 the Case is C-136/17 and the relevant  dossier (partially in Dutch) is here, on the unparalleled website of the Dutch foreign ministry.

Many thanks to KU Leuven law student Dzsenifer Orosz (she is writing a paper on the issues for one of my conflict of laws courses) for alerting me to the French Conseil D’Etat having referred ‘right to be forgotten’ issues to the European Court of Justice.  I have of course on occasion reported the application of data protection laws /privacy issues on this blog (try ‘Google’ as a search on the blog’s search function). I also have a paper out on the case against applying the right to be forgotten to the .com domain, and with co-authors, one where we catalogue the application of RTBF until December 2016. See also my post on the Koln courts refusing application to .com.

The Conseil d’Etat has referred one or two specific Qs but also, just to be sure, has also asked the Court of Justice for general insight into how data protection laws apply to the internet. The Court is unlikely to offer such tutorial (not that it would not be useful). However any Advocate General’s opinion of course will offer 360 insight.

One to look forward to.

Geert.

 

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