Posts Tagged Curia

Forget what you have read. Szpunar AG does not restrict EU ‘Right to be forgotten’ /data protection laws to European territory.

I have previously reported extensively on various national and European developments re the right to have search results delisted, more popularly referred to as the ‘right to be forgotten’ (‘RTBF’ – a product of the CJEU in Google Spain) and its territorial limits. (Search string ‘Google’ or ‘rtbf’ ought to assist the reader). Szpunar AG opined mercifully  succinctly last Thursday in C-505/17.

Possibly because of the English-language press release (‘Advocate General Szpunar proposes that the Court should limit the scope of the de-referencing that search engine operators are required to carry out to the EU‘) and because of the actual text of the Opinion hitherto being available in French only, general reporting has been almost unequivocally (note Michèle Finck’s 10th Tweet in an early thread on the Opinion as a cautious exception), that the AG suggests that the RTBF is limited to EU soil only.

Except, he does not.

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 AG of course departs from the core objective of the data protection Directive and now the GDPR, and Google Spain, and points out that the CJEU has put the protection of the fundamental rights of the data subject at the centre. At 46 he summarises his view before justifying it:

‘in my opinion one should distinguish according to the place in which the search is carried out. Searches carried out outside the EU ought not to be made subject to delisting’. (My translation from the French).

Geo-blocking can be ordered and ensures that within the EU territory, no Google extension may be used to access the information at issue (at 64 ff) after duly having balanced the right of freedom of information against the right to be forgotten.

Turning to his arguments, the AG points out at 47 ff first of all – briefly: see e.g. Belgian case-law on Facebook for more extensive discussion –  that public international law defines the borders of the EU and its Member States. The AG sees no reason (48-49) exceptionally to extend the scope of application beyond that border in the case of the Directive or the GDPR.

(51-52) Other examples of ‘extraterritoriality’ do not sway him, such as the Trademark Directive or EU competition law. He argues that in these cases the Internal Market is impacted and EU law applies to these situations ex-EU only because the Internal Market is a finite, territorial unit. The internet is not (at 53: Le marché intérieur est un territoire clairement délimité par les traités. En revanche, l’internet est, par nature, mondial et, d’une certaine manière, est présent partout. Il est donc difficile de faire des analogies et des comparaisons).

Note that references to other instances of ‘extraterritoriality’ (or not) could have been made: such as the cases surrounding animal welfare (Zuchtvieh), cosmetics, or the EU’s emissions trading scheme.

The AG also briefly discusses ‘extraterritorial’ protection of rights under the ECHR, but distinguishes the EU Charter from same. (On the topic of the ‘extraterritorial’ impact of the EU’s human rights obligations, see excellently Lorand Bartels here).

At 60-61 the AG argues (paras which have been more or less literally translated in the Press release) that if worldwide de-referencing were permitted, the EU authorities would not be able to define and determine a right to receive information, let alone balance it against the other fundamental rights to data protection and to privacy. This, the AG argues, is all the more so since ‘the right of the public to access such information’ (un tel intérêt du public à accéder à une information; this word string bizarrely translated in the press release as ‘such a publication’) will necessarily vary from one third State to another depending on its geographic location. There would be a risk, the AG suggests, that if worldwide de-referencing were possible, persons in third States would be prevented from accessing information and, in turn, that third States would prevent persons in the EU Member States from accessing information. This might in turn lead to a race to the bottom in the right to access of information.

This is an important point, because it essentially encapsulates a core argument made by Google: that particularly in the US, the constitutional right to free speech and the corollary of the freedom to receive information, gazumps a right to be forgotten – putting Google in the event of worldwide delisting orders between SCOTUS’ rock and CJEU’s hard place.

Crucially however at 62 the AG then in my view perhaps not quite torpedoes but certainly seriously softens his overall general analysis by suggesting that his views on territoriality are the default position only, which may be varied should specific instances of the balancing act of fundamental rights, so require: it’s just that the specific circumstances of the case do not.

Les enjeux en cause n’exigent donc pas que les dispositions de la directive 95/46 soient d’application au-delà du territoire de l’Union. Cela ne signifie pas pour autant que le droit de l’Union ne saurait jamais imposer à un exploitant de moteur de recherche tel que Google qu’il entreprenne des actions au niveau mondial. Je n’exclus pas qu’il puisse y avoir des situations dans lesquelles l’intérêt de l’Union exige une application des dispositions de la directive 95/46 au-delà du territoire de l’Union. Mais dans une situation telle que celle de la présente affaire, il n’y a pas de raison d’appliquer les dispositions de la directive 95/46 d’une telle manière.

The circumstances of the case do not justify worldwide blocking. Yet other circumstances might. This is a crucial section for the French data protection authority’s (CNIL) decision at issue, 2016/054 [thank you again to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs for providing the factual background to the case; also note that in the French decision Google’s name, amusingly, is anonymised] is a general CNIL instruction to Google to carry out global delisting in instances where natural persons request removal; not a case-specific one. In other words the ‘circumstances of the case’ concern a generic, not a factual balancing.

In yet other words: there could be many instances where national data protection authorities might find worldwide delisting to be the only proper means to balance the various fundamental rights at stake. The AG Opinion offers little to no support that such worldwide delisting in concrete cases were to infringe the Directive /the GDPR. Such balancing act would be akin to X v Google LLC at the Tribunal de grande instance de Paris on which I reported last week.

Note that in his Opinion of the same day in C-136/17, the AG Opines that the default response of search engine providers must be to honour requests for delisting, and to only exceptionally not do so.

Some issues for the Grand Chamber to chew on. And then some more.

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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SAS Institute v World Programming. Ordre Public, res judicata, fraus and (European) statute conspire against enforcement.

SAS Institute Inc v World Programming Limited [2018] EWHC 3452 (Comm) is a rare example of refusal by an English court of enforcement of a US judgment. 20 Essex Street have excellent analysis here and I am happy generally to refer.

The outcome of English Proceedings was that WPL defeated SAS’ claims regarding software licence and copyright infringements, with an important role played by the European software Directive as applied by the CJEU in Case C-406/10 upon preliminary reference in the very case.

Meanwhile SAS had commenced concurrent proceedings in the US. WPL initially objected to the US Proceedings on forum non conveniens and other jurisdictional grounds. These objections were later withdrawn and WPL submitted to the jurisdiction of the US District Court and participated in the process before it. Judgment was awarded against it. SAS curtailed its claim of enforcement to as to increase chances of success: it only seeks to enforce the US Judgment in England insofar as it is for compensatory damages based on WPL’s fraud (an issue which was litigated in the US but not in the UK); it does not seek to enforce the breach of contract claim or that part of the US Judgment which awarded multiple damages.

At 35-36 Cockerill J summarises the law: ‘There are three strands of potential preclusion: cause of action estoppel (not live here) issue estoppel and Henderson v Henderson abuse of process. As Lord Sumption observed in Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd v Zodiac Seats UK Ltd [2013] UKSC 46[2014] AC 160 at p.180H at [17]:

“…the policy underlying all of the…[res judicata] principles…” is “…the more general procedural rule against abusive proceedings…”.

The different doctrines therefore have different requirements, but they shoot at the same target – that of ensuring that nobody should be vexed twice in respect of one and the same cause: “nemo debet bis vexari pro una et eadem causa“: as it was put by Lord Diplock in Vervaeke v Smith [1983] AC 145 at p.160A-B, G. A more modern version was given by Lord Bingham in Johnson v Gore Wood [2002] 2 AC 1 at p.31A-B in the context of the Henderson doctrine:

Henderson v Henderson abuse of process, as now understood, although separate and distinct from cause of action estoppel and issue estoppel, has much in common with them. The underlying public interest is the same: that there should be finality in litigation and that a party should not be twice vexed in the same matter. This public interest is reinforced by the current emphasis on efficiency and economy in the conduct of litigation, in the interests of the parties and the public as a whole.” ‘

Issue estoppel per Dicey (referred to by Cockerill J) at paragraph 14-156 means that a “foreign judgment will not be recognised if it is inconsistent with a previous decision of a competent English court in proceedings between the same parties“. Akin therefore in residual English private international law (EU law is not engaged, the judgment having been issued ex-EU) to Brussels I Recast’s Article 45(1)c ‘s rule.

The fundamental point is that issue estoppel bars relitigation not of all issues, but only of issues determined as an essential part of the cause of action (at 40). The Henderson principle is concerned with protecting the integrity of the cause of action and issue estoppel defences and preventing them from being deliberately or inadvertently circumvented by a party which did not advance an argument in England which would otherwise have created such an estoppel (at 47).

This is the core of the abuse investigation and this formulated one can see why it is a difficult test to apply.

At 55: ‘There are two issues: was the Fraud claim “parasitic” on the breach of contract claim and the related question of whether the Fraud claim was a separate, distinct and independent cause of action. Both of these really go to the question of whether there is sufficient identity of issue.’ At 73 Cockerill J concludes that there was such abuse: ‘Ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that the existence of the terms of the contract was a fundamental building block for the Fraud Claim and that without it that claim – as it was formulated in the US – could not have been run. The essence of the case in the US Proceedings related to alleged fraudulent representations concerning its “present intention to comply with those terms”. It was fundamental to the claim that WPL “had no intention of abiding by those terms“. It was inherent in that case that those terms did exist; and yet the courts of this country had already held that those terms did not exist.’

Obiter, at 156 ff, Cockerill J adds that enforcement would also have been refused for reasons of the public policy embodied in the Software Directive. Authority in the arbitration context was referred to to pro inspiratio, including CJEU authority C-168/05 Mostaza Claro and C-126/97 Eco Swiss (at 163). At 179: ‘The fundamental problem for SAS is that the Directive plainly envisages the rendering null and void of provisions such as those on which SAS wants to rely, indeed that is explicitly the policy enunciated in the case-law and yet SAS’s fraud case is dependent upon those terms’ existence. The effect of the Directive is, as I have indicated above, to make SAS’s fraud claim (as formulated) impossible to express. It is therefore unrealistic to analyse the matter as the Directive “authorising frauds“.’ And at 184: ‘It is clear that the Software Directive gives expression to two important public policy objectives of preventing the monopolisation of ideas and promoting competition and consumer welfare.’

A very lengthy judgment which merits full reading.

Geert.

 

 

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Territoriality and delisting. Google score (cautious) French points ahead of Thursday’s AG Opinion in CJEU case.

On Thursday the Advocate-General will opine in C-136/17 G.C. e.a. and  C-507/17 Google (FR) – on which I reported ia here. The issue is, in the main, the territorial scope of EU data protection laws.

X v Google LLC at the Tribunal de grande instance de Paris on 14 November 2018 is a good warm-up, forwarded to me (for which many thanks) by Jef Ausloos (I have copy for those interested). The case concerns an article in Le Monde linking a French resident, active in international hotel management, to a Moroccan enquiry into pedophilia. The court’s review of the facts suggests an unsubstantiated link between X and the case – yet the damage to claimant’s reputation evidently is done nevertheless. Claimant requests delinking not just for searches performed in France on all Google extensions, but rather for all searches performed globally.

The court first of all observes that for searches performed in France, delisting of many of the identified urls has already happened – and orders on the basis of French law (which it applies, it suggests, per the GDPR) Google LLC to carry out delisting for the others in as far as searches are carried out from French territory. X’s privacy is given priority over freedom of expression and Google LLC’s US domicile is not mentioned as being relevant (no verbatim discussion of same is recorded in the judgment. X’s French nationality and domicile however, are, hence presumably it is the infamous Article 14  Code Civil which is at play here). Google’s argument that the as listed urls link to articles in languages other than French and relating to facts taking place outside of France is dismissed as irrelevant.

Claimant however had requested global delisting, regardless of the user’s geographical location. That, the court holds, is a request it cannot grant. Its refusal is justified in one sentence only: a global delisting order would be disproportionate in the case of a French national and resident, simply because his employment record is international:

‘une telle mesure apparaît ici disproportionnée, s’agissant d’un résident français, le seul caractère international de ces démarches d’emploi ne pouvant justifier d’une telle restriction, qui conduirait in fine à soumettre le réseau internet à une injonction de portée globale.’ 

The judgment therefore does not tackle the conceptual issues surrounding jurisdiction (which the Belgian courts, for instance, have been tempted into in the Facebook case), neither does it rule out global injunctions in cases which have more than just a fleeting international element.

Happy 2019.

Geert.

 

 

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National Bank of Kazakhstan v Bank of New York Mellon. Branches’ activities, Article 7(5) Brussels I Recast and engagement of Article 30.

Thank you Ali Malek QC who acts for claimants (and who as I have noted, is a busy and efficient bee in international litigation land) for alerting me to a further episode of Kazakhstan v BNYM. This current jurisdictional challenge is part of a long-running saga relating to the enforcement of a Swedish arbitration award dated 19 December 2013 in favour of the “Stati parties”, the Second to Fifth Defendants, and against the Second Claimant, the Republic of Kazakhstan (“RoK”).

Many of the issues are ex-Brussels I Recast and /or Lugano Convention yet I report on them anyway for they reveal interesting issues on the relationship between foreign courts relevant to attachment (and enforcement generally), and courts with jurisdiction on the merits.

In [2017] EWHC 3512 (Comm) National Bank of Kazakhstan v Bank of New York Mellon (BNYM) which I reviewed here, Popplewell J had dismissed claims essentially designed to establish that BNYM is not obliged or entitled to freeze assets of the National Fund by reason of Belgian and Dutch court attachment orders.

Teare J has now held a few weeks back – helpfully in [2018] EWHC 3282 (Comm) also summarising the many proceedings which the blog has not always reported on. Trigger for this latest instalment of proceedings is claimants having sought to challenge a Belgian conservatory attachment before an “Attachment Judge” of the Belgian court. The Attachment Judge upheld the attachment order in a judgment dated 25 May 2018.

RoK seeks a declaration that the debts or assets held by BNYM(London) and said to be subject to the attachment order are in fact held by BNYM(L) solely for the National Bank of Kazakhstan (“NBK”), the First Claimant. They therefore submit that the attachment order has no subject-matter, because there are no assets to attach. The Claimants contend that this question was referred to this court by the Belgian court.

A provision of Belgian law cited by the Attachment Judge, article 1456(2) of the Belgian Judicial Code, provides as follows: “If the third-party debtor disputes the debt claimed by the creditor, the case is brought before the competent trial judge or, as the case may be, the case is referred to the competent trial judge by the enforcement court.” Further proceedings are now pending in Belgium, in which the Stati parties seek to convert the ‘conservatory’ attachment order into an ‘executory’ attachment order. In those proceedings, the Stati parties have raised a number of arguments in support of their contention that the GCA assets are properly held for RoK (rather than merely NBK). These include Belgian-law arguments relating (inter alia) to piercing of legal personality, sham trusts, and “abuse of law”.

The crucial consideration discussed by Teare J in current proceeding is that the Stati parties submit that there is no “serious issue to be tried” (hence no jurisdiction) as between the Claimants and the Second to Fourth Defendants, (i.a.) because “the declarations sought […] will not affect the Belgian Court’s decision” since that Court “faces a number of Belgian law arguments unrelated to the GCA with regard to the ROK debt question”.

There was a dispute between Belgian law experts as to precisely what had been remitted by the Attachment Judge to the High Court and it is worth repeating each assertion in full: at 28-29

‘The evidence of Mr Brijs (the Stati parties’ Belgian law expert [GAVC fellow Leuven Class of 1993] ) is that “a pure question of English contractual law will not resolve the core dispute” because “a Belgian enforcement court would still have to evaluate – amongst other things – the arguments raised by the Stati parties under Belgian attachment law” such as piercing legal personality, sham trusts, and abuse of law. Further, “the Belgian Enforcement court did not decide the arguments – not because the judge “envisaged” that these arguments should be resolved by an English Court or because the Belgian Enforcement Court found that it could not decide them (when in fact it can) – but solely because the Belgian Enforcement Court considered that it did not need to decide them… It is difficult to conceive why an English court should decide on e.g. matters that concern Belgian public policy, or on the question whether there is a sham trust structure to the prejudice of the creditors and what the sanction/effect thereof is on the Belgian attachment.”

The evidence of Mr Nuyts (the Claimants’ Belgian law expert [GAVC colleague and learned friend extraordinaire ) is that “[t]here is nothing in the Belgian judgment to show that the Belgian Court envisaged the English court deciding only some of the issues, and not the arguments raised by the Stati parties such as piercing of legal personality, sham trust, and abuse of law. These arguments had been raised at length by the Stati parties in written submissions in the Belgian proceedings, and the Belgian Court has distinctly decided not to address any of these arguments, leaving them to be decided by the English Court… The Belgian Judgment holds in general that the “challenge” relating to “the debt of the third party” must be referred to the English court… [and] that it is for the English court to decide in general “whether or not a debt exists from BNYM towards Kazakhstan”.”

It is Mr Nuyts’ evidence that convinced Tear J. At 31 ‘In this case, however [GAVC despite Meester Brijs’ correct statement that there are circumstances in which the enforcement court is competent to decide on the merits], the enforcement court has clearly decided that the English court is the competent court to decide the merits.’ At 35 the relevant passages of the Belgian Court are copied:

“The seized-debtor is entitled to challenge the declaration from the garnishee before the attachment judge. However, this challenge relates to the debt of the third party and must be referred to that trial court in the proceedings on the merits, under article 1456, 2nd para. BJC. The competent trial court is, as stated by Kazakhstan itself, the English court who must apply its own national substantive law. […] Both requests relate to the subject-matter of the attachment, notably whether or not a debt exists from BNYM towards Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan disputes the existence of such debt. The attachment judge cannot and may not settle such dispute, but only the judge on the merits. The judge on the merits is, as already mentioned above, the English court who must apply its own national law.”

That finding on the scope of referral to the English courts, also plays a role in the assessment of abuse: at 46: ‘I do not consider that it is an abuse of process for the Claimants to raise in these proceedings issues not argued before Popplewell J or the Court of Appeal in the earlier English proceedings. First, those proceedings served a different purpose, namely, the determination of BNYM(L)’s contractual entitlement to freeze the GCA assets and in particular the scope of clause 16(i). Second, it appears that the Claimants did in fact seek to raise the wider issue, or something like it, before Popplewell J. but were not permitted to because the Stati parties were not before the court. Third, it would be odd, to say the least, for this court to hold that these proceedings were an abuse of process in circumstances where the issues raised by the proceedings had been referred to it by the Belgian court. It cannot, I think, be in the public interest to frustrate the order of the Belgian court. On the contrary, comity and the public interest point to these proceedings serving a legitimate and proper purpose.’

Finally, a cursory look a the forum conveniens issue is warranted: at 58-61:

  1. Mr Sprange, for the Stati parties, submitted that “England is not a proper forum for a claim against the Second to Fourth Defendants, where that claim seeks (on the Claimants’ case) to conclusively determine issues of the validity of a Belgian executory attachment, which are properly the subject of Belgian attachment law for a Belgian attachment judge to decide”.
  2. Mr Malek, for the Claimants, submitted that the real dispute is not about “the validity of a Belgian executory attachment”, but rather “whether there is an obligation owed by BNYM London to RoK capable of forming the subject-matter of a Belgian attachment.” Further, he submitted that the effect of the Belgian Attachment Judge’s decision was to determine that England was the appropriate forum. Mr Malek relied upon this decision as giving rise to “an estoppel of a particular, autonomous, EU kind”; in the alternative, he submitted that it was a strong factor to be weighed in the analysis of the appropriate forum. Finally, Mr Malek submitted that the only realistic alternative to the jurisdiction of the English court would be the Belgian court, and that “the Belgian court is materially worse placed than this Court because it would be investigating matters by reference to an English-law governed contract, the GCA (so far as issues of Kazakh law, or facts in relation to the relationship between NBK and RoK, are concerned, the Belgian court enjoys no advantage over this Court).”
  3. I am unable to accept Mr. Sprange’s submission. This court will not be asked to determine the validity of the conservatory attachment order made in Belgium. Rather, it will be asked to determine what, if any, assets constitute the subject-matter of that order. The Belgian Attachment Judge plainly considered that a dispute concerning the content of the attachment – which, on its terms, constitutes only such assets (if any) as are held by BNYM(L) for RoK under the GCA – is a question for this court.
  4. The fact that the Belgian court has referred the dispute to this court is a cogent reason, indeed a compelling reason, for concluding that this court is a proper forum for determining the dispute. It would not be in accordance with comity to send the dispute back to Belgium. There is no need to consider Mr. Malek’s further submissions.

I quite like Ali Malek QC’s idea of “an estoppel of a particular, autonomous, EU kind”; linked to considerations of mutual trust, one assumes.

Finally, one of the defendants is based in Gribraltar and against it, (now) Article 8(2) Brussels I Recast applies, re third party proceedings. There is little to none CJEU authority. At 68 ‘I consider that the wording of article [8](2) is wide enough to encompass a situation in which a person is a proper party to a dispute between other parties to which he has a “close connection”, so long as that dispute has not been “instituted solely with the object of removing him from the jurisdiction of the court which would be competent in his case” and at 69 ‘This is a case in which “the efficacious conduct of proceedings” demands the presence of Terra Raf in this jurisdiction. I therefore find the requirements of article [8](2) to be satisfied.’

Teare J’s findings on this point also mean he need not consider (now) Article 7(5)’s jurisdiction for activities arising our of branch activity on which as I noted, I also have my doubts.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.11, Heading 2.2.14.

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AS Tallinna Vesi: Kokott AG on sludge and end of waste.

Case C-60/18 AS Tallinna Vesi could have been, as Advocate General Kokott noted yesterday, about much more. In particular about the exact scope of the Waste Framework Directive’s exclusion for sewage sludge and the relation between the WFD, the waste water Directive and the sewage sludge Directive. However the referring court at least for the time being sees no issue there (the AG’s comments may trigger the applicant into making it an issue, one imagines) and the AG therefore does not entertain it.

Instead the case focusses on whether waste may no longer be regarded as such only if and after it has been recovered as a product which complies with the general standards laid down as being applicable to it? And on whether, alternatively, a waste holder be permitted to request that the competent authorities decide, on a case-by-case basis and irrespective of whether any product standards are in place, whether waste is no longer to be regarded as such.

Ms Kokott emphasises the wide margin of discretion which the Member States have in implementing the Directive. End of waste (‘EoW’) criteria at the national level (in the absence of EU criteria) may not always be warranted particularly in the context of sewage sludge which is often hazardous. However precisely that need for ad hoc assessment should be mirrored by the existence of a procedure for waste operators to apply ad hoc for clarification on end of waste status.

Geert.

Handbook of EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, OUP, 1.166 ff and 1.189 ff.

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EDPB guidelines on the territorial reach of the GDPR: Some clear conflicts overlap.

GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) aficionados will have already seen the draft guidelines published by the EDPB – the European data protection board – on the territorial scope of the Regulation.

Of particular interest to conflicts lawyers is the Heading on the application of the ‘targeting’ criterion of GDPR’s Article 3(2). There are clear overlaps here between Brussels I, Rome I, and the GDPR and indeed the EDPB refers to relevant case-law in the ‘directed at’ criterion in Brussels and Rome.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.8.2.3, Heading 2.2.8.2.5.

 

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Dutch Supreme Court refers conflicts relevant questions on posted workers Directive to CJEU.

Update 4 December thank you to his Grace der Graf von Luxemburg for additionally pointing out pending case C-16/18 dealing with workers employed on international trains which also travel through the host Member State.

Thank you MPI’s Veerle Van Den Eeckhout for pointing out a highly relevant reference to the CJEU by the Dutch Supreme Court /Hoge Raad. The link between the posted workers Directive and conflict of laws is clear, as I have also explained here. The most interesting part of the reference for conflicts lawyers, are the questions relating to ‘cabotage’, particularly where a driver carries out work in a country where (s)he is not habitually employed (international trade lawyers will recognise the issue from i.a. NAFTA).

One to keep an eye on.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed 2016, Chapter 3, Heading 3.2.5.

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