Posts Tagged Curia

Steady now. Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook. The CJEU on jurisdiction and removal of hate speech.

My interest in C-18/18 Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook as I noted in my short first review of the case, concerns mostly the territorial reach of any measures taken by data protection authorities against hosting providers. The Court held last week and o boy did it provoke a lot of comment.

The case to a large degree illustrates the relationship between secondary and primary law, and the art of reading EU secondary law. Here: Article 15 of the e-commerce Directive 2001/31 which limits what can be imposed upon a provider; and the recitals of the Directive which seem to leave more leeway to the Member States. Scant harmonisation of tort law in the EU does not assist the Institutions in their attempts to impose a co-ordinated approach.

The crucial issue in the case was whether Article 15 prohibits the imposition on a hosting provider (Facebook, in this case) of an obligation to remove not only notified illegal content, but also identical and similar content, at a national or worldwide level? The Court held the Directive does not as such preclude such order, and that as to the worldwide injunctive issue, EU law has not harmonised and that it is up to the Member States to direct in any such orders in compliance with public international law.

The judgment to a large degree concerns statutory interpretation on filtering content, which Daphne Keller has already reviewed pre the judgment succinctly here, Dan Svantesson post the judgment here, as did Lorna Woods, and a frenzied Twitter on the day of the judgment e.g. in this thread. A most balanced analysis is provided by Andrej Savin here. e-Commerce law is not the focus of this blog, neither my professed area of expertise (choices, choices). I do want to emphasise though

  • that as always it pays to bear in mind the CJEU’s judicial economy. Here: the need to interpret its judgment in line with the circumstances of the case. As Steve Peers noted, the Austrian court had ruled that the post was defamatory, which is a recognised basis for limiting freedom of expression; see also at 40: ‘In that regard, it should be made clear that the illegality of the content of information does not in itself stem from the use of certain terms combined in a certain way, but from the fact that the message conveyed by that content is held to be illegal, when, as in the present case, it concerns defamatory statements made against a specific person.‘ Nota bene, the same need to read the judgment in context goes for the earlier Google v CNIL case, applying Directive 95/46 and the GDPR, which I review here.
  • that speaking strictly as a member of the public who has seen the devastating effect of ‘social’ media on people close to me, the technical discussions on filtering (‘what filter does the CJEU think might possibly ever be available to FB to remove content in the way the Court wishes’) are emphatically beside the point. The public justifiably are not interested in the how. A service is offered which clearly has negative effects on EU citisens. Remedy those effects, or remove the service from those citisens. That is true for the negative impacts of goods (in 25 years of regulatory Bar practice I have seen plenty of that). There is no reason it should be any less true for services.

The jurisdictional issues are what interest me more from the blog’s point of view: the territorial scope of any removal or filtering obligation. In Google viz the GDPR and the data protection Directive, the Court confirmed my reading, against that of most others’, of Szpunar AG’s Opinion. EU law does not harmonise the worldwide removal issue. Reasons of personal indemnification may argue in specific circumstances for universal jurisdiction and ditto reach of injunctive relief on ‘right to be forgotten’ issues. Public international law and EU primary law are the ultimate benchmark (Google V CNIL). It is little surprise the Court held similarly in Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, even if unlike in Google, it did not flag the arguments that might speak against such order. As I noted in my review of Google, for the GDPR and the data protection Directive, it is not entirely clear whether the Court suggests EU secondary law simply did not address extraterritoriality or decided against it. For the e-commerce Directive in Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek the Court notes at 50-52

Directive 2000/31 does not preclude those injunction measures from producing effects worldwide. However, it is apparent from recitals 58 and 60 of that directive that, in view of the global dimension of electronic commerce, the EU legislature considered it necessary to ensure that EU rules in that area are consistent with the rules applicable at international level.  It is up to Member States to ensure that the measures which they adopt and which produce effects worldwide take due account of those rules.

In conclusion, Member States may order a host provider to remove information covered by the injunction or to block access to that information worldwide within the framework of the relevant international law. To my knowledge, the Brussels Court of Appeal is the only national court so far to consider public international law extensively viz the issue of jurisdiction, and decided against it, nota bene in a case against Facebook Inc.

Any suggestion that the floodgates are open underestimates the sophisticated engagement of national courts with public international law.

In general, the CJEU’s approach is very much aligned with the US (SCOTUS in particular) judicial approach in similar extraterritoriality issues (sanctions law; export controls; ATS;…). There is no madness to the CJEU’s approach. Incomplete: sure (see deference to national courts and the clear lack of EU law-making up its legislative mind on the issues). Challenging and work in progress: undoubtedly. But far from mad.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2, Heading 2.2.8.2.5.

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Blaise and others: The CJEU on precaution and regulatory approval.

Starting with the infamous and fundamentally flawed Laws of Fear by Cass Sunstein, Europe’s precautionary principle has been under constant attack by industry both within and outside of the EU. My postings on the principle here and the section on it in my Handbook of EU environmental law with Leonie Reins attempt to show that despite industry propaganda against it, the principle has never been a blind ‘when in doubt, don’t do it’ approach to risk management.

In C-616/17 Blaise and others, the Court once again shows its measured approach. Defendants in national criminal proceedings, argued that they should be let off in a criminal damage prosecution. They are environmental activists and are charged with causing criminal damage to containers of herbicidal products (specifically ‘Roundup’) containing the chemical glyphosate. In their defence, they argue that the products present an unacceptable potential risk to human health and the environment and that the EU approval process is defective and therefore unlawful.

The Court found that the approval process on the basis of EU law is entirely in line with EU law, including the precautionary principle. Steptoe have excellent overview here and I am happy to refer entirely.

Geert.

EU environmental law (with Leonie Reins), Edward Elgar, 2018, p.28 ff.

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Skarb Państwa v Stephan Riel (qq insolvency trustee Alpine Bau).

Salzburg-based Alpine Bau had been carrying out a considerable amount of roadwork engineering for the Polish State. The courts at Vienna started insolvency proceedings in 2013, appointing Mr Riel as what is now called the ‘insolvency practitioner’. Austria is the centre of main interests, the Austrian procedure the main proceedings. A little later a secondary proceeding is opened in Poland. Skarb Państwa, the Polish finance ministry or treasury, seeks in those proceedings the payment of debt it claims is outstanding vis-a-vis the Polish State. It also seizes the Austrian courts in a separate proceeding, asking it to confirm the existence of debt owed to it (the amount almost exactly the amount it specified in the Polish secondary proceedings) and at the same time a stay in its pronouncement until the Polish courts have ruled on the fate of the claim in Poland. Essentially therefore the Austrian action is a conservatory action, a hedging of the treasury’s bets.

An interesting angle is that in the Austrian proceedings the Treasury claims application of the Brussels Ia Regulation, particularly its Article 29 lis alibi pendens rule. The Austrian courts reject the existence of the debt and they do not entertain the lis alibi pendens request (the request for a stay).

The first question in C-47/18 (judgment 18 September) was whether Brussels Ia or the Insolvency Regulation are engaged. The CJEU (at 33) emphasises the need for both avoidance of overlap and of non-cover by either (‘doivent être interprétés de façon à éviter tout chevauchement entre les règles de droit que ces textes énoncent et tout vide juridique’), in the relation between the two Regulations: the infamous dovetail which as I have flagged in earlier posts, the Court in my view does not get entirely right. References are to Valach, Wiemer & Trachte, Feniks, Nickel & Goeldner). Here, the Treasury bases its action on Article 110 of the Austrian insolvency act (allowing, and urging first-tier creditors (such as, inevitably, Inland Revenue) to have their claims properly registered so as to ensure the priority in the picking order against the other creditors). The claim therefore is subject to the Insolvency Regulation 1346/2000.

The Court subsequently and unsurprisingly holds that Brussels Ia’s lis alibi pendens rule cannot somehow apply deus ex machina. At 43: insolvency is excluded from the Regulation; this exclusion is all or nothing: if the Regulation does not apply, none of it applies, including its procedural rules. These have, in BIa context, the clear purpose of ruling out as much as possible procedures pending in more than one Member State on the same issue. The Insolvency Regulation, by contrast, allows for concurrent proceedings, albeit primary and secondary ones, and (in Article 31 of the old Regulation; tightened in the current version 2015/848) encourages co-operation and exchange of information to avoid irreconcilable judgments.

(The further question asked refers to debt documentation requirements).

Geert.

Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5 Heading 5.4.1. Chapter 2 Heading 2.2.2.10.1

 

 

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Court of Justice in Google sees no objection in principle to EU ‘Right to be forgotten’ leading to worldwide delisting orders. Holds that as EU law stands, however, it is limited to EU-wide application, leaves the door open to national authorities holding otherwise.

Many commentators were wrong-footed on reading Advocate-General Szpunar’s Opinion in C-505/17 Google Inc v Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL), concerning the territorial limits to right to have search results delisted, more popularly referred to as ‘the right to erasure’ or the ‘right to be forgotten’ (‘RTBF’ – a product of the CJEU in Google Spain). Far from ruling out ‘extraterritorial’ or worldwide force of the right, the AG saw no objection to it in principle, even if he suggested non-application to the case at issue (he did so again in his Opinion in C-18/18 Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook, which I review here and on which judgment is forthcoming next week).

The Court yesterday held (the Twitter storm it created was later somewhat drowned by the UK Supreme Court’s decision in the prorogation case) and overall confirmed the AG’s views. As with the AG’s Opinion, it is important to read the Judgment for what it actually says, not just how the headlines saw it. For immediate analysis, readers may also want to read Daphne Keller’s and Michèle Finck’s threads and Dan Svantesson’s impromptu assessment.

It is again important to point out that the French data protection authority’s (CNIL) decision at issue, 2016/054 is a general CNIL instruction to Google to carry out global delisting in instances where natural persons request removal; not a case-specific one. 

I have a case-note on the case and on C-137/17 (judgment also yesterday) forthcoming with Yuliya Miadzvetskaya, but here are my initial thoughts on what I think is of particular note.

1. The Court of Justice (in Grand Chamber) first of all, unusually, examines the questions in the light of both Directive 95/46, applicable to the facts at issue, and the GDPR Regulation ‘in order to ensure that its answers will be of use to the referring court in any event’ (at 41).

2. Next, at 52, the Court dismisses a fanciful distributive approach towards the computing reality of data processing:

Google’s establishment in French territory carries on, inter alia, commercial and advertising activities, which are inextricably linked to the processing of personal data carried out for the purposes of operating the search engine concerned, and, second, that that search engine must, in view of, inter alia, the existence of gateways between its various national versions, be regarded as carrying out a single act of personal data processing. The referring court considers that (and the CJEU clearly agrees, GAVC), in those circumstances, that act of processing is carried out within the framework of Google’s establishment in French territory.

3. At 55, the Court points out that de-referencing carried out on all the versions of a search engine would meet the objective of data protection in full, particularly (at 56) given the fact that ‘(t)he internet is a global network without borders and search engines render the information and links contained in a list of results displayed following a search conducted on the basis of an individual’s name ubiquitous (the Court restating here its finding in both Google Spain and Bolagsupplysningen). 

At 58 the Court employs that finding of ubiquitousness to ‘justify the existence of a competence on the part of the EU legislature to lay down the obligation, for a search engine operator, to carry out, when granting a request for de-referencing made by such a person, a de-referencing on all the versions of its search engine.’ No grand statements on public international law’s views on adjudicative extraterritoriality /universality. Just a simple observation.

The Court subsequently however (at 59-60) notes other States’ absence of a right to de-referencing and their different views on the balancing act between privacy and freedom of speech in particular. At 61-62 it then notes

While the EU legislature has, in Article 17(3)(a) of Regulation 2016/679, struck a balance between that right and that freedom so far as the Union is concerned (see, to that effect, today’s judgment, GC and Others (De-referencing of sensitive data), C‑136/17, paragraph 59), it must be found that, by contrast, it has not, to date, struck such a balance as regards the scope of a de-referencing outside the Union.

In particular, it is in no way apparent from the wording of Article 12(b) and subparagraph (a) of the first paragraph of Article 14 of Directive 95/46 or Article 17 of Regulation 2016/679 that the EU legislature would, for the purposes of ensuring that the objective referred to in paragraph 54 above is met, have chosen to confer a scope on the rights enshrined in those provisions which would go beyond the territory of the Member States and that it would have intended to impose on an operator which, like Google, falls within the scope of that directive or that regulation a de-referencing obligation which also concerns the national versions of its search engine that do not correspond to the Member States.

In other words the Court has adopted the same approach as the United States Supreme Court has done in Morrison v. National Australia Bank; and Kiobel: there is a presumption against extraterritoriality, however it is not excluded. In the absence of indications of the legislator wish to extend the right to delisting extraterritorially it does not so exist in the current state of the law.

4. At 63 the Court hints at what might be required as part of such future potential extraterritorial extension: EU law does not currently provide for cooperation instruments and mechanisms as regards the scope of a de-referencing outside the Union – in contrast with the regime it has intra-EU. This also hints at the CJEU taking a more multilateral approach to the issue than its SCOTUS counterpart.

5. At 69 the Court then adds that intra-EU, a delisting order covering all of the search engine’s EU extensions is both possible and may be appropriate: co-operation between authorities may lead to ‘where appropriate, a de-referencing decision which covers all searches conducted from the territory of the Union on the basis of that data subject’s name.’

6. A final twist then follows at 72:

Lastly, it should be emphasised that, while, as noted in paragraph 64 above, EU law does not currently require that the de-referencing granted concern all versions of the search engine in question, it also does not prohibit such a practice. Accordingly, a supervisory or judicial authority of a Member State remains competent to weigh up, in the light of national standards of protection of fundamental rights (references to CJEU authority omitted, GAVC), a data subject’s right to privacy and the protection of personal data concerning him or her, on the one hand, and the right to freedom of information, on the other, and, after weighing those rights against each other, to order, where appropriate, the operator of that search engine to carry out a de-referencing concerning all versions of that search engine.

Here I do not follow the Court: one could argue that the harmonised EU’s approach is currently not to extend the right to delisting extraterritorially. The Court on the other hand seems to be suggesting that the extraterritoriality issue was not discussed in the Directive or Regulation, that EU law does not occupy (‘pre-empt’) that regulatory space and consequently leaves it up to the Member States to regulate that right. (Update 27 September 2019: Other interpretations are collated here).

I shall need more detailed reading of the GDPR’s preparatory works to form a view as to whether the extraterritorial element was considered, and rejected, or simply not discussed. However I also want to already point out that if the decision is left to the Member States, the case-law and theory of pre-emption clarifies that such national action has to be taken in full compatibility with EU law. including free movement of services, say, which Google may rightfully invoke should there be a disproportionate impact on the Internal Market.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2, Heading 2.2.8.2.5.

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Saugmandsgaard ØE on Rome I’s lex societatis exception applied to trusts /’Treuhand’ in Verein für Konsumenteninformation v TVP Treuhand.

Advocate General Saugmandsgaard ØE in C-272/18 Verein für Konsumenteninformation v TVP Treuhand opined early September (I have been busy) that the Rome Convention’s and Rome I’s lex societatis exception does not apply to ‘Treuhand’ (a trust-like construction) contracts between investors and the corporation they entrust to manage investment in real estate companies located in Germany. The relevant choice of court rule follows the standard Rome I (cq Convention) rules.

At the time of adoption of the Rome Convention, the Giuliano Lagarde Report went into a bit more detail as to what is and is not excluded:

Confirming this exclusion, the Group stated that it affects all the complex acts (contractual administrative, registration) which are necessary to the creation of a company or firm and to the regulation of its internal organization and winding up, i. e. acts which fall within the scope of company law. On the other hand, acts or preliminary contracts whose sole purpose is to create obligations between interested parties (promoters) with a view to forming a company or firm are not covered by the exclusion.

The subject may be a body with or without legal personality, profit-making or non-profit-making. Having regard to the differences which exist, it may be that certain relationships will be regarded as within the scope of company law or might be treated as being governed by that law (for example, societe de droit civil nicht-rechtsfahiger Verein, partnership, Vennootschap onder firma, etc.) in some countries but not in others. The rule has been made flexible in order to take account of the diversity of national laws.

Examples of ‘internal organization’ are: the calling of meetings, the right to vote, the necessary quorum, the appointment of officers of the company or firm, etc. ‘Winding-up’ would cover either the termination of the company or firm as provided by its constitution or by operation of law, or its disappearance by merger or other similar process.

At the request of the German delegation the Group extended the subparagraph (e) exclusion to the personal liability of members and organs, and also to the legal capacity of companies or firms. On the other hand the Group did not adopt the proposal that mergers and groupings should also be expressly mentioned, most of the delegations being of the opinion that mergers and groupings were already covered by the present wording.

Particularly in KA Finanz, the Court could have done a lot to clarify the scope of the Convention, but did not. Current case however offered a lot less beef to that particular bone for only with a stretch in my view could the issue be considered to fall under the corporate exception. The argument made was that given that the contracts instruct the Treuhand to manage the companies, and that there was ‘alignment’ (‘imbrication’ is the word used in the French version of the Opinion at 36; no English version yet exists) between the contacts and the by-laws of the companies concerned: these were geared in part specifically to facilitate the investment in the companies by the Treuhand.

The AG points out that there is no European code for company law hence no possibility to use harmonised substantive law to help interpret private international law. He relies therefore on the general interpretative rules, including predictability, and sides in my view justifiably with the issue, in essence, being about contractual obligations: not life and death of companies. A link alone with questions relating to corporate law (at 53) is not enough.

Geert.

 

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Principles, principles everywhere. First test of the ‘energy solidarity’ principle in Poland v EC (Nordstream /Gazprom).

As I continue to dabble in research and talks about the innovation ‘principle’ (not in existence), and find myself in court (an attachment procedure following judgment in Israel) discussing the common law principle that ‘he who comes to equity must approach the court with clean hands’, the CJEU (General Court) yesterday in T-883/16 held Poland v EC a first test of the TFEU Energy title’s ‘principle of energy solidarity’. Note Poland’s litigant friends (Latvia; Lithuania), and the EC’s (Germany). This tells you something about energy security of supply on our Eastern borders.

Article 194 TFEU: ‘1. In the context of the establishment and functioning of the internal market and with regard for the need to preserve and improve the environment, Union policy on energy shall aim, in a spirit of solidarity between Member States, to:…’

The gas pipeline Ostseepipeline-Anbindungsleitung ﴾OPAL) is the terrestrial section to the west of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline. Its entry point is located in Germany and its exit point is in the Czech Republic. In 2009, the Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA, the German regulatory authority) notified the Commission of two decisions that exempted the capacities for cross-border transmission of the planned OPAL pipeline from the application of the rules on third party access and tariff regulation laid down in Directive 2003/55. Those decisions concerned the shares belonging to the two owners of the OPAL pipeline. The same year, the Commission adopted a decision by which it requested the BNetzA to modify its decisions by adding certain conditions. Under those conditions, in particular, a dominant undertaking, such as Gazprom, could reserve only 50% of the cross-border capacities of the OPAL pipeline, unless it released onto the market a
volume of gas of 3 billion m³/year on that pipeline (‘the gas release programme’). In accordance with those three decisions of 2009, the capacities of the OPAL pipeline were exempted from the application of the rules on regulated third-party access and tariff regulation on the basis of Directive 2003/55. This decision was later (2016) slightly amended albeit not in substance.

Poland argue that the grant of a new exemption relating to the OPAL pipeline threatens the security of gas supply in the European Union, in particular in central Europe. Poland suggests that the 2016 decision breaches the principle of energy solidarity in that it enables Gazprom and undertakings in the Gazprom group to redirect additional volumes of gas onto the EU market by fully exploiting the capacities of the North Stream 1 pipeline. Taking into account the lack of significant growth in demand for natural gas in central Europe, according to Poland, that would, as its only possible consequence, influence the conditions of supply and use of transmission services on the pipelines competing with OPAL.

The General Court yesterday (the case no doubt may be appealed) held that the application of the principle of energy solidarity does not mean that the EU energy policy must never have negative impacts on the particular interests of a Member State in the field of energy. However, the EU institutions and the Member States are required to take into account, in the context of the implementation of that policy, the interests both of the European Union and of the various Member States and to balance those interests where there is a conflict. In neither the preparation of the 2016 decision nor its actual content is there any trace of the EC having considered the principle and its impact: the Decision is therefore annulled.

The case adds to the corpus of judgments where the CJEU is called upon to apply ‘principles’ and clearly emphasises preparatory due diligence, rather than second-guessing the actual application of the principle in substance.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Environmental Law (with Leonie Reins), 2017, Part I Chapter 2.

 

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Salvoni v Fiermonte. CJEU confirms quasi-notarial nature of Brussels Ia’s Article 53 certificate, other than for provisional measures. Consumer protection cannot be raised at that stage. Also rejects interpretative force of substantive consumer law rules for jurisdictional issues.

I reviewed Bobek AG Opinion in Case C-347/18 Salvoni v Fiermonte earlier. The referring court enquires whether the court of origin tasked with issuing the Article 53 Certificate (issued with a view to enabling swift recognition and enforcement) may, of its own motion, seek to ascertain whether the judgment whose enforcement is sought was issued in breach of the rules on jurisdiction over consumer contracts, so that it may, where appropriate, inform the consumer of any such breach and enable her to consider the possibility of opposing enforcement of the judgment in the Member State addressed.

The CJEU has entirely confirmed the AG’s Opinion (no English version at the time of posting): no such second-guessing of jurisdiction.

At 34 ff the Court points out an important distinction with certificates issued with a view to enforcing provisional measures: there, the court issuing the certificate does carry out jurisdictional review (whether the court ordering the measures  has jurisdiction as to the substance of the case).

At 40 ff the Court also confirms that substantive consumer protection laws (such as Directive 93/13) do not transfer to the procedural /jurisdictional rules of Brussels Ia: an important conclusion overall.

Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2, Heading 2.2.16.

 

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