Posts Tagged COJ

Non multa, sed multum. Sovereign debt litigation in Kuhn leads to surprising final (?) curtain in Vienna.

In C-308/17 Leo Kuhn the CJEU held that Brussels Ia was not engaged for the matter is acta iure imperii. I suggested in my review of the judgment that in solely emphasising context, the Court casts the net too wide. I also emphasised that Greece’s sovereign immunity defense, lonely an argument as it may be, is a strong argument (I referred to the German approach to same): non multa sed multum.

Thank you Stephan Walter for alerting us to, and analysing the final judgment in Vienna: Greece enjoys immunity; and even if it had not (this is how I understand Stephan’s analysis – I trust he will correct me should I be wrong), the court would have declined jurisdiction given that the ‘assets held in Austria’ head of jurisdiction, was not mentioned in the particulars of claim.

Stephan clearly is not happy with the judgment: the Supreme Court not only reverses its earlier stance on immunity; it also could be argued it should be estopped as it were (my words, not Stephan’s) from disciplining a claimant’s absence of reference to residual private international law rules, given that hitherto the Supreme Court had never strayed from steering the course of Brussels Ia applying.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.

 

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Sovereign debt litigation in Kuhn: ‘Civil and commercial’ viz bearers of Greek bonds. CJEU holds litigation falls outside of Brussels I Recast. Pays lip-service only to Fahnenbrock.

Update 22 November 2018 see yesterday’s comments by prof Mankowski here. He is right to point out that defence mechanisms available to Greece, are effeitvely limited to sovereign immunity. However that defence is of course a strong one, as I pointed out here, given that even the German courts have acepted it.

I had earlier reviewed Bot AG’s Opinion in C-308/17 Leo Kuhn, in which the Court held on Thursday. The case concerns the retrofit introduction of CACs – Collective Action Clauses, in Greek bonds, allowing the amendment to the initial borrowing terms by decisions adopted by a qualified majority, of the remaining capital owed and applying also to the minority.

Along the lines suggested by the AG, the Court finds the litigation not to relate to civil and commercial matters (likely also leading to a finding on the basis of national law, of sovereign immunity).

Extensive reference is made of course to Fahnenbrock , among others. Yet the Court pays lip service only to Fahnenbrock: in that judgment, it launched the ‘direct and immediate’ formula: in that case it found it was the bondholders’ vote, which led directly and immediately to changes to the financial conditions of the securities in question, not the public authorities’ actions essentially dictating it: therefore that litigation was held not to be actum iure imperii, and it was found to be subject to the service of documents Regulation.

In Kuhn, Brussels I Recast is engaged and here the Court would seem to be inclined to follow (also) Bot AG’s Opinion in Fahenbrock (where he was not so followed): there, Bot AG had opined that the Greek State’s intervention in the contracts was direct and not at a distance from the contract. His focus was more on the circumstances of the case than on the legal nitty-gritty. There are certainly many similarities between Fahnenbrock and Kuhn: in the latter, the crammed-down haircut was formally the result of a majority decision of bondholders to accept the restructuring offer made by the Greek State. Not unlike Fahnenbrock were as noted it was also a bondholders’ vote which was the formal trigger.

In Kuhn, the Court emphasises the context, like Bot to no avail had done in Fahnenbrock: after a succinct tour d’horizon of the debt crisis leading to the CACs, the Court concludes ‘It follows that, having regard to the exceptional character of the conditions and the circumstances surrounding the adoption of Law 4050/2012, according to which the initial borrowing terms of the sovereign bonds at issue in the main proceedings were unilaterally and retroactively amended by the introduction of a CAC, and to the public interest objective that it pursues, the origin of the dispute in the main proceeding stems from the manifestation of public authority and results from the acts of the Greek State in the exercise of that public authority, in such a way that that dispute does not fall within ‘civil and commercial matters’ within the meaning of Article 1(1) of Regulation No 1215/2012.’

I suggested at the time that ‘direct and immediate effect’ is not a criterion which is easy to handle. Yet in solely emphasising context, the Court now casts the net too wide in my view, and at the very least leads to more speculation (pun intended) in the litigation context of sovereign debt.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.

 

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Kuhn: ‘Civil and commercial’ viz bearers of Greek bonds. Bot AG applies Fahnenbrock’s ‘direct and immediate effect’ and distinguishes Kolassa.

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.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2, Heading 2.2, Heading 2.2.9.

 

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Ach no! CJEU distinguishes rather than extinguishes its Preussen Elektra case-law in Germany v EC. State aid for renewable energy.

Update May 2019. The General Court’s judgment upon appeal was annulled by the CJEU in Case C-405/16 P at the end of March. In essence, as TaylorWessing point out, although the German State controlled the implementation of the EEG surcharge, it did not control the sums generated, so that the existence of State aid is ruled out.

 

The rather long judgment in T-47/15 Germany v Commission is neatly summarised by the CJEU here. I have reported before on both the State Aid and the free movement implications of the Court’s seminal findings in Preussen Elektra. In current case, the Court essentially upholds the EC’s finding of the more recent German regime amounting to illegal State aid and incompatibility with the Internal Market – in contrast with its earlier findings in Preussen Elektra.

Disappointingly, Preussen Elektra was distinguished rather than its merits called into question. Rather like Advocate-General Bot I stubbornly insist that Preussen Elektra is bad case-law and I continue to call upon the Court to scrap its findings in same.

Geert.

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‘We did not like it. Not one little bit!’ Bot AG reads Dr Seuss in Essent 2.0.

Perhaps because it so reflected our children’s character [all ‘Duracell‘ kids] there is one part of Dr Seuss’ Cat in the Hat which has always stuck with me:

so all we could do was to

sit!

   sit!

      sit!

         sit!

and we did not like it.

not one little bit.

I was reminded of the line, reading Bot AG’s Opinion in Case C-492/14, ‘Essent 2.0’ (not yet available in English at the time of writing). In order to promote the generation of renewable energy, Flanders law makes transmission of electricity generated from renewable sources, free of charge. However this courtesy is limited to electricity generated in installations directly connected to the grid. Essent imports (a considerable part of) its green electricity from The Netherlands. It does not therefore enjoy free transmission.

Bot’s disapproval of trade restrictions like these is well established and has often been reported on this blog. The CJEU disagrees with its AG on many of the issues. I am in general of the same view as the AG. Mr Bot continues to find the Court’s case-law unconvincing and makes no attempt to hide it. He repeatedly mentions that he is duty-bound to apply Essent /Vindkraft without believing they are good law. It is with obvious regret that he Opines that given the Court’s stand in Essent /Vindkraft, he has no option but to propose that the Court find the Flemish regime acceptable.

The AG does however leave open a future window for change: in particular, if and when the secondary law regime on renewable energy specifically, and energy as a whole, is amended, one may be able to distinguish Essent /Vindkraft.

Bot also reminds us of the unclear position of environmental exceptions under Article 36 TFEU and the Rule of Reason. He calls upon the Court formally to acknowledge that the Cassis de Dijon distinction between the Rule of Reason and Article 36 (the former does not allow ‘distinctly applicable’ national measures (read’ discrimination) while the latter does) no longer exists.

I do not like judgment in Preussen Elektra. Or in Essent. Not one little bit. It discourages the creation of a true European energy market. Perhaps the Court will surprise us all in Essent 2.0 and will correct some of the damage it has done with its standing case-law on the matter.

Geert.

 

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