Posts Tagged Marleasing
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.
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.
Update 29 December 2017. In Milieudefensie et al v The Netherlands the Rechtbank Den Haag was less accommodating to plaintiff in similar public interest litigation involving air pollution. Arguments included Directive 2008/50, WHO health standards, and Articles 2-8 ECHR. It is clear that cases like these will continue to be brought, and will not always side with environmental action groups. Yet there is no doubt that they are an essential part in making Governments sit up and take proper action rather than relying on the separation of powers principle effectively to do nothing. (Greenberg Traurig have good review here).
nUpdate 12 November 2015: the Belgian case has been held up due to the language regime in Belgium’s civil procedure rules.
I have reported previously on this action, when it was launched. The Court at The Hague held late June. For good (and impressive) measure, it immediately released an English translation of the judgment. Jolene Lin has excellent overview here, I will simply add the one or two things which I thought were particularly striking.
Firstly, this judgment was not written by a bunch of maverick ‘environmental’ judges. It is the commercial court at The Hague which issued it (see the reference to ‘team handel’, ‘handel’ meaning commerce, or trade).
The judgment hinges on the State’s duty of care which the court established. Urgenda, applicant, had suggested that regardless of the individual behaviour of Dutch citisens and corporations, the Government carries overall or ‘systemic’ responsibility (‘systeemverantwoordelijkheid’), as the representative of the sovereign Dutch nation, to ensure that it controls emissions emanating from The Netherlands. Article 21 of the Dutch Constitution and the international no harm (sic utere tuo) principle featured heavily in the court’s acceptance of the State duty of care. That the Dutch action might only be a drop in the ocean, did not impress the judge: plenty of pennies make a pound, and at any rate, The Netherlands, as a developed nation, were found to have increased responsibility.
At 4.42 and 4.43, the Court then applies what in EU law is known as the Marleasing principle.
‘From an international-law perspective, the State is bound to UN Climate Change Convention, the Kyoto Protocol (with the associated Doha Amendment as soon as it enters into force) and the “no harm” principle. However, this international-law binding force only involves obligations towards other states. When the State fails one of its obligations towards one or more other states, it does not imply that the State is acting unlawfully towards Urgenda. It is different when the written or unwritten rule of international law concerns a decree that “connects one and all”. After all, Article 93 of the Dutch Constitution determines that citizens can derive a right from it if its contents can connect one and all. The court – and the Parties – states first and foremost that the stipulations included in the convention, the protocol and the “no harm” principle do not have a binding force towards citizens (private individuals and legal persons). Urgenda therefore cannot directly rely on this principle, the convention and the protocol. (….)
This does not affect the fact that a state can be supposed to want to meet its international-law obligations. From this it follows that an international-law standard – a statutory provision or an unwritten legal standard – may not be explained or applied in a manner which would mean that the state in question has violated an international-law obligation, unless no other interpretation or application is possible. This is a generally acknowledged rule in the legal system. This means that when applying and interpreting national-law open standards and concepts, including social proprietary, reasonableness and propriety, the general interest or certain legal principles, the court takes account of such international-law obligations. This way, these obligations have a “reflex effect” in national law.‘
In this respect the court also referred extensively to the European Court of Human Rights’ case-law on the duty of a State to put into place a legislative and administrative framework to address the challenges posed by dangerous activities.
The Court also, with reference to international scientific consensus, concluded that climate mitigation, rather than adaptation, is the more effective, efficient and least expensive way to address climate change.
Eventually it settles for a finding of duty of care and ensuing responsibility to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by at least 25% viz 1990 levels, by 2020. This 25% is the floor of what the international scientific community suggests is needed properly to address the dangers of climate change. (The court, in deference to trias politica, therefore did not want to go higher than that floor).
Next up (other than appeal, one might imagine): the Belgian courts, which have been seised of a similar action.
Declaration of interest: I advice the Belgian litigation pro bono.