Archive for category EU law – General

Access to information: The Court of Justice acts to prevent water under the bridge in Client Earth.

Access to information ironically is subject to a myriad of rules and regulations at the EU level: some of a general nature (particularly: Regulation 1049/2001), some lex specialis (such as Directive 2003/35 and Regulation 1367/2006), but with a complex relationship between lex generalis and lex specialis. Add to the mix in the environmental field, public international law in the form of the Aarhus Convention and, well, what you get is an awful lot of regulatory intransparency. Leonie and I have made an attempt succinctly to summarise same in Chapter 5 of our Handbook on EU environmental law.

In C‑57/16 P Client Earth v EC, the CJEU’s Grand Chamber set aside a General Court judgment which had earlier sided largely with the EC viz two requests of information: the first of those requests sought access to the impact assessment report drawn up by the Commission on the implementation of the ‘access to justice’ pillar of the Aarhus Convention, while the second sought access to the impact assessment carried out by the Commission on the revision of the EU legal framework on environmental inspections and surveillance at national and EU level. Both were refused on the ground for exception provided in Regulation 1049/2001, that ‘access to a document, drawn up by an institution for internal use or received by an institution, which relates to a matter where the decision has not been taken by the institution, shall be refused if disclosure of the document would seriously undermine the institution’s decision-making process, unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.’

The Grand Chamber essentially held that access should be granted: core of its reasoning is at para 92: ‘Although the submission of a legislative proposal by the Commission is, at the impact assessment stage, uncertain, the disclosure of those documents is likely to increase the transparency and openness of the legislative process as a whole, in particular the preparatory steps of that process, and, thus, to enhance the democratic nature of the European Union by enabling its citizens to scrutinise that information and to attempt to influence that process. As is asserted, in essence, by Client Earth, such a disclosure, at a time when the Commission’s decision-making process is still ongoing, enables citizens to understand the options envisaged and the choices made by that institution and, thus, to be aware of the considerations underlying the legislative action of the European Union. In addition, that disclosure puts those citizens in a position effectively to make their views known regarding those choices before those choices have been definitively adopted, so far as both the Commission’s decision to submit a legislative proposal and the content of that proposal, on which the legislative action of the European Union depends, are concerned.

Essentially: a true transparent policy process requires citisens to be able to impact the flow of the water before it disappears under the bridge.

EC Institutions continue to fight rearguard actions against transparency, which subsequently have to be addressed by the likes of Client Earth. The CJEU could not be clearer in highlighting the patch access to EU policy should continue to follow.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Environmental Law, first ed.2017, Chapter 5. (With Leonie Reins).

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Climate change litigation reaches the CJEU’s desk.

One can say many things about climate change litigation by individuals. (See my earlier piece on the Dutch Urgenda case). Many argue that the separation of powers suggest that governments, not judges, should be making climate policy. Or that international environmental law lacks the type of direct effect potentially required for it to be validly invoked by citisens. Others point to the duty of care of Governments; to binding – even if fluffy – climate change obligations taken on since at least the 1990s, and to the utter lack of progress following more than 25 years of international climate change law.

It is therefore no surprise to see that this type of litigation has now also reached the European Court of Justice: the text of the application is here, see also brief legal (by Olivia Featherstone) and Guardian background.

Like cases before it, colleagues shy of preparation materials for an international environmental law course, with comparative EU law thrown in, can use the case to hinge an entire course on.

As Olivia reports, the legal principles involved are the following:

The claimants state that EU emissions leading to climate change are contrary to:

  • The principle of equality (Articles 20 and 21, EU Charter)
  • The principle of sustainable development (Article 3 TEU, Article 11 TFEU)
  • Article 37 EU Charter
  • Article 3 UNFCCC
  • The no harm principle in international law
  • Article 191 ff TFEU (the EU’s environmental policy

One to watch.

Geert.

EU Environmental Law, with Leonie Reins, Edward Elgar, 1st ed. 2017, part I Chapter 2 in particular.

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Anchor defendants in follow-up competition law cases. The High Court in Vattenfall et al v Prysmian et al.

Thank you Brick Court and Stewarts, among other, for flagging Vattenfall et al v Prysmian et al in which the High Court dismissed a call for summary judgment on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction.

A classic case of follow-up damages litigation in competition law, here in the high voltage power cables cartel, fines for which were confirmed by the CJEU early July. Core to the case is the application of Article 8(1)’s anchor defendants mechanism. Only two of the defendants are UK incorporated companies – UK subsidiaries of companies that have been found by the European Commission to have infringed EU competition law.

Authority cited includes of course CDC, Roche Nederland and Painer, and Cooper Tyre (sale of the cartelised products can amount to implementation of the cartel). Vattenfall confirms that for the English courts, ‘knowingly implementing’ the cartel has a low threshold.

At 89 ff the Court refers to the pending case of (what I now know to be) C-724/17 Skanska Industrial Solutions e.a.: Finnish Courts are considering the application for cartel damages against parent companies on acquiring cartelist subsidiaries, had dissolved them. Relevance for Vattenfall lies with the issue of knowledge: the Finnish courts wonder what Article 101 TFEU has to say on the degree of knowledge of the cartelist activities, relevant for the liability of the parent company. An application of fraus, or abuse in other words. Elleray DJ however, did not consider the outcome of that reference to be relevant for the case at hand, in its current stage of procedure.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.12.1

 

 

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Smith v Meade. Horizontal direct effect under the spotlight yet again.

Motor insurance cases in Ireland keep on giving the CJEU opportunity to refine and re-emphasise the lack of horizontal direct effect of Directives. This time it is C-122/17 Smith v Meade.

I apologise to the readers if this sounds gobbledygook: [EU law tutorial] in short: one of the issues of the penetration of EU law into national legal orders, is whether individuals can, against other individuals (hence ‘horizontal’ relations), call upon rights given to them by EU ‘secondary’ law (as opposed to primary law, which mainly consists of the Treaties), particularly in the case of Directives, which unlike Regulations require Member States’ implementing measures.

The CJEU’s long-standing case-law answers this question in the negative (Marshall): mostly because it argues that any other conclusion would cancel out the Treaty-sanctioned difference between Regulations and Directives. The Court does do it utmost to assist individuals seeking to rely on EU law against national law: Directives can be called upon against the Member State and ’emanations from the state’ and the latter notion is stretched as much as possible (that was also the issue in Farrell); national law needs to as much as possible be interpreted to reflect the intention of the EU Directive, even if this requires setting aside long-standing interpretation of national law (Marleasing) – but this does not extend to interpretation contra legem (ex multi: Dominguez);  and if all else fails, the State owes its citisens compensation (Frankovich).  [EU law tutorial ends].

In the case at hand, the CJEU recalls all of the above succinctly, and confirms the absence of an overall possibility of relying on a directive in the sphere of relationships between private persons. EU law does not oblige a national court (question to EU institutional law experts: may a Member State ‘gold plate’ and do so anyway, even if this route might be unavailable to individuals in other Member States) to set aside in a horizontal relationship, national provisions that are incompatible with the Directive, and the contractual provisions between private individuals as a result of that national law.

The Irish Court’s referral to Luxembourg may seem odd given the established principles. Yet the Court of Justice does stretch its own case-law on these issues, ever so slowly while sticking to the Marshall principle. As a result national courts feel encouraged to ask the Court just where the boundaries lie.

Geert.

The answer of the Court in full:

EU law, in particular Article 288 TFEU, must be interpreted as meaning that a national court, hearing a dispute between private persons, which finds that it is unable to interpret the provisions of its national law that are contrary to a provision of a directive that satisfies all the conditions required for it to produce direct effect in a manner that is compatible with that provision, is not obliged, solely on the basis of EU law, to disapply those provisions of national law and a clause to be found, as a consequence of those provisions of national law, in an insurance contract.

In a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings, a party adversely affected by the incompatibility of national law with EU law or a person subrogated to the rights of that party could however rely on the case-law arising from the judgment of 19 November 1991, Francovich and Others (C‑6/90 and C‑9/90, EU:C:1991:428), in order to obtain from the Member State, if justified, compensation for any loss sustained.

 

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Unstunned slaughter and EU law. CJEU suggests total ban would be unjustified. Also keep an eye on tomorrow’s case re organic labelling and unstunned slaughter.

Wahl AG advised late November and the Court held late May in C-426/16 – see my post on his Opinion at the time and 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.

The CJEU as readers will know practices judicial economy. On the face of it, the case only deals with the Flemish decision no longer to authorise, from 2015 onwards, the ritual (sic; why the EU institutions stubbornly refuse to name the practice by its proper name of religious slaughter is beyond me) slaughter of animals without stunning in temporary slaughterhouses in the that region during the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha).

Readers best consult the text of the judgment for it is as concise as it is complete. As the Court points out at 56, the derogation authorised by Article 4(4) of Regulation 1099/2009 does not lay down any prohibition on the practice of religious slaughter in the EU but, on the contrary, gives expression to the positive commitment of the EU legislature to allow such slaughter of animals without prior stunning in order to ensure effective observance of the freedom of religion, in particular of practising Muslims during the Feast of Sacrifice.  That is a clear indication of the CJEU being against a total ban (or at the least giving expression to the reality of the EU legislator not approving of such a ban).

That technical framework, the CJEU holds, is not in itself of such a nature as to place a restriction on the right to freedom of religion of practising Muslims. Whether the specific circumstances in Flanders, including the investment needed to convert temporary spaces into licensed abattoirs, in effect hinder Muslims’ practice of their faith in forum externum (at 44), is neither here nor there for the argument under consideration, which is that Article 4(4) itself is incompatible with the Charter on Fundamental rights.

One issue nota bene which was not sub judice, is the incomprehensible discrimination between ‘culture’ (exempt as a whole from the Regulation), and religion (regulated). In short: if myself and a bunch of locals slaughter animals without stunning on a Flemish medieval square, citing local custom, the Regulation does not catch me. But if I do so because I am religiously motivated not to stun, the Regulation’s regime kicks in.

Finally, I introduced my students at American University Washington, College of Law this morning to Case C-497/17Oeuvre d’assistance aux bêtes d’abattoirs. In this case (hearing at Kirchberg tomorrow) an NGO requests a certification body to stop certifying as ‘organic’, products obtained from religious slaughter, even though neither Council Regulation 834/2007 nor the Commission implementing Regulation 889/2008 on organic production and labelling of organic products with regard to organic production, labelling and control, mention stunned or unstunned slaughter. That case turns around scope of application, I would suggest, albeit that the shadow of the human rights implications hangs over it.

Geert.

 

 

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The High Court on the right to be forgotten. Precise terms of delisting order to be finalised.

In  [2018] EWHC 799 (QB) the High Court granted one and refused another delisting request, otherwise known as the ‘right to be forgotten’ (rtbf or RTBF) following the CJEU’s judgment in Google Spain.

Of interest to data protection lawyers is Warby J’s excellent review of the test to be applied (particularly within the common law context of misuse of private information). Of interest to readers of this blog, is what is not yet part of the High Court’s ruling: the precise wording of the delisting order. Particularly: defendant is Google LLC, a US-based company. Will the eventual delisting order in the one case in which it was granted, include worldwide wording? For our discussion of relevant case-law worldwide, see here.

Geert.

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Towards an innovation principle: our paper on an industry horse knocking at the EU door.

Our paper on the innovation principle, with Kathleen Garnett and Leonie Reins is just out in Law, Innovation and Technology. We discuss how industry has been pushing for the principle to be added as a regulatory driver. Not as a trojan horse: industry knocks politely but firmly at the EU door, it is then simply let in by the European Commission. We discuss the ramifications of such principle and the wider consequences for EU policy making.

Happy reading.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Environmental Law (with Dr Reins), 1st ed. 2017, Chapter 2.

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