Editorial of December 2022

By Nataly Machado (Master in European Union Law from the School of Law of the University of Minho)

What if mechanisms of solidarity had more effectiveness beyond the borders of the European Union? At least for the climate crisis?

On 24 November last, the European Union (“EU”) energy ministers reached an initial agreement, albeit with some differences[1], on the content of the proposed Council regulation on enhanced solidarity for further temporary emergency measures aimed at curbing high energy prices through better coordination of joint gas purchases on world markets, with the objective of the Member States not competing with each other. Furthermore, they decided on gas exchanges across borders, with “measures enabling Member States to request solidarity from other Member States in cases where they are unable to secure the quantities of gas essential to ensure the operability of their electricity system[2], and reliable price reference standards, which will provide stability and predictability for Liquified Natural Gas “LNG” transaction prices, with the new index until 31 March 2023. Also, the EU energy ministers agreed on the content of a Council regulation laying down a temporary framework to accelerate the permit-granting process and the deployment of renewable energy projects[3].

The abovementioned shows that solidarity in the context of the EU should have a more pragmatic and concrete approach – and explained by the cooperation between Member States –, since it imposes legal obligations, such as being loyal in mutual relations and undertaking all necessary efforts to achieve common goals. In other words, the possibility of justification for an imposition of solidarity linked to legal duties remains clear, since it is a question of a sharing of common tasks/responsibilities[4].

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The future regulation on non-contractual civil liability for AI systems

By Susana Navas Navarro (Professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona)

I was surprised and struck by the fact that, after all the work carried out within the European Union (“EU”), on the subject of civil liability for Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) Systems, the European Commission has opted for a Directive (the Proposal for a Directive on adapting non contractual civil liability rules to artificial intelligence or “Proposal for a Directive”) as the instrument to regulate this issue. Moreover, a Directive with a content focused exclusively on two issues: a) the disclosure of relevant information for evidence purposes or to decide whether or not to bring forth a lawsuit and against whom (Article 3) and b) the presumption of the causal link between the defendant’s fault and the result or absence thereof that an AI system should produce (Article 4). The argument for this is the disparity of civil liability regimes in Europe and the difficulties there have always existed in harmonization (see the Explanatory Memorandum accompanying the Proposal, p. 7). Choosing a Regulation as proposed by the European Parliament[1] or the proposals of the White Paper on AI would have allowed such harmonisation, and could have included rules on evidence. It seems to me that behind this decision lies the invisible struggle, previously evidenced in other issues, between the Commission and the European Parliament. I believe that the risks for all involved in the use and handling of AI systems, especially high-risk ones, are compelling reasons in favour of harmonization and strict liability.

In relation to this aspect, the Proposal for a Directive abandons the risk-based approach that had been prevailing in this area, since it assumes that the civil liability regimes in most of the Member States are based on fault. This is referred to, for example, in Article 3(5) when presuming the breach of duty of care by the defendant or directly in Article 2(5) when defining the action for damages, or Article 4(1) when admitting the presumption of the causal link between it and the result produced by the IA system or by the absence or failure in the production of such a result which causes the damage. Therefore, if in the national civil liability regime, the case was subsumed under a strict liability regime (e.g., equated to the use or operation of a machine or vicarious liability of the employer), these rules would not apply. National procedural systems, in relation to access to evidence, are not so far r from the provisions of this future Directive.

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What is “Reality”? An overview to the potential legal implications of Extended Reality technologies

By Manuel Protásio (PhD Candidate at the School of Law of the University of Minho)

When Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality become ubiquitous in our most mundane actions and inter-personal relations, they will certainly bring many changes in how Law addresses human behavior.

The need for a coherent discussion regarding the potential cognitive effects of these technologies and, subsequently, the legal consequences that may be triggered by their effects is highly relevant and necessary to avoid possible misconceptions in courts and legal systems.

The use of these technologies may result in alterations of our cognitive functions, significant enough to be considered a type of an altered state of consciousness, amenable to different legal consequences. On that premise, it is important to realize that these technologies can have both positive[1] and negative effects. [2] 

These technologies are built and defined with reference to the concept of reality. Such terminology is used to contrast actual reality.  Reality, as it is defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them”.[3] This reality, or the “the thing in itself” as Kant proposed, in the information age and especially in the light of technologies like Augmented and Virtual Reality, has become harder to ascertain, since the human model of perception[4] is being exposed to more filter layers than it is used to.[5]

The ontological dimension of reality has always shifted depending on the criteria and discourse used to define it. John Locke for instance, in his Essay on Human Understanding in 1690, describes reality as the knowledge that we convey on the objects that surround us. That knowledge – he states – comes from our observational Experience, which in turn comes from the external interaction of our senses with “sensible objects” followed by the internal operations of our mind.[6] He describes these internal operations as being a cognitive reflective process on the perceived objects, which can be interpreted as employing meaning – or affections as he says- to those “sensible objects”. From this systematic process, sensible qualities are born, such as “Yellow, White, Heat, Cold, Soft, Hard, Bitter, Sweet”.   

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Do spinach and smart cities benefit your health?

By Cecília Pires (PhD Candidate at the School of Law of the University of Minho)

The pure and simple acquisition of technologies to make the city smarter is a bit like the analogy employed by Arnstein[1] and resembles eating spinach – at first nobody is against it because, after all, it is only beneficial to one’s health. So how can these positive effects be denied? Indeed, it is not simply because a solution proposes to be smart that it will in fact be so for everyone. Hence, what is the real goal of a smart city?

Smart cities emerge as a new urban planning paradigm that seeks to incorporate information and communication technologies (ICTs) to address urban issues in an innovative, sustainable, and resilient way to promote the quality of life for all citizens.

Cities have been given a central a role due to the need for effective responses to urban problems, mainly the high levels of energy consumption and CO2 production. Yet, there is no single definition for a smart city: it is a polysemic concept that can be understood from different perspectives, according to different areas of knowledge. Therefore, the understanding of what smart cities entail is gradually being built.

The Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities (2007),[2] the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2015),[3] the United Nations New Urban Agenda (2017),[4] the Urban Agenda for the European Union (2019/2021),[5] and the New Leipzig Charter (2020),[6] and other commitments and pacts are strategic references. Those instruments function as normative guidelines for urban planning, urban public policies, and actions by the EU Member States.

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A new strategy for EU law enforcement

By Pedro Pereira (Master’s student in European Union Law at the School of Law of the University of Minho)

The European Commission is regarded as the “Guardian of the Treaties” in the Treaty on the European Union (TEU), and according to its most recent Communication last October 13, it plans to ensure its own role with both a helping hand and watchful eye, all while honouring democratic transparency and (especially) EU law.

The Communication “Enforcing EU law for a Europe that delivers”[1] draws on the fact that the EU is an established community of both law and values. It reminds us that the EU’s best asset is its ability to create a homogenous background for its citizens and businesses alike. EU law lays the foundation and groundwork for a well-functioning internal market, for a more digital and greener Europe, ensures and promotes European values, provides for effective judicial cooperation, security and ultimately succeeds in showing the world the bastion of justice, democracy, and respect for fundamental rights. And bearing the responsibility as the Guardian of the Treaties and EU law, in its own words: “The Commission is committed to stepping up its work to promote and uphold people’s rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”

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“Brexit means Brexit” for the EU citizenship rights of British nationals – The Court of Justice conclusions in Préfet du Gers

By Joana Gama Gomes (Assistant Professor of European and International Law, University of Lisbon School of Law)

The United Kingdom (UK) officially withdrew from the European Union (EU) on February 1st, 2020, the date in which the Withdrawal Agreement (WA)[1] entered into force. As a result, and after the end of the transition period, all EU law stopped being applicable to and in the United Kingdom, including the provisions of EU law regarding the rights attached to EU citizenship.

EU citizenship is established in Article 9 TEU, which prescribes that “Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union”. In particular, in accordance with Articles 20 (2) (b) and 22 (1) TFEU, EU citizenship grants its citizens the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in municipal elections in the Member State of residence, under the same conditions as nationals of that State.

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EU Carbon Border Tax Mechanism: a potential Boon or Bane for India

By Aaiysha Topiwala (third year undergraduate student at Gujarat National Law University - India) 

As the world grapples with the rising frequency of catastrophic climate effects, all the nations have realized the urgent need for global efforts to tackle the mammoth challenge of climate change. In this scenario, the European Union (EU) has emerged as an environmental leader at the global level. The environmental laws and policies adopted by the EU are considered one of the most ambitious policies in the world. The recent policy brought out by the EU last year is yet another proof of its determination to remain at the forefront of tackling climate change. The European Parliament, in July 2021, announced that it would levy a carbon border tax on all imported carbon products. After almost a year of the announcement of this policy and with less than half a year left for the transition period set to begin in 2023, it becomes essential to revisit this policy and determine its effect on India along with the possible solutions.

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Editorial of October 2022

By Editorial Team 

Digital citizenship and technological sustainability (CitDig) –
Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence

As of October 1, 2022 the University of Minho (UMinho) is running a “Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence” coordinated by Alessandra Silveira (Editor of UNIO’s blog) entitled “Digital citizenship and technological sustainability: achieving CFREU effectiveness in the digital decade” (CitDig) under the Erasmus+ Programme. UMinho was deemed to be in a position to investigate pressing issues around the digital decade, advancing and developing synergies among various areas. What is the background and rationale of the CitDig Centre of Excellence?

Digitalization is understood as the way in which many domains of social life are restructured around digital communication and media infrastructures – or the way in which these media structure, shape and influence the contemporary world.[1] In the Communication “2030 Digital Compass: the European way for the Digital Decade” [COM(2021) 118 final], the European Commission (EC) notes that digital technologies and services must respect the values intrinsic to the “European way”. Furthermore, the human-centered, secure and open digital environment should enable people to enforce their fundamental rights.

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Summaries of judgments: RT France v Council (T-125/22)

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judges and référendaire of the General Court (Maria José Costeira, Ricardo Silva Passos and Esperança Mealha)
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Judgment of the General Court (Grand Chamber), 27 July 2022

Case T-125/22[1] RT France v Council

Common foreign and security policy — Restrictive measures adopted in view of Russia’s actions destabilising the situation in Ukraine — Temporary prohibition of dissemination and suspension of authorisations for the dissemination of certain media content — Inclusion on the list of entities to which the restrictive measures apply — Competence of the Council — Rights of the defence — Right to be heard — Freedom of expression and information — Proportionality — Freedom to conduct a business — Principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality

1. Facts

Following the military attack perpetrated by Russia against Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the Council of the European Union adopted, on 1 March 2022, new restrictive measures against Russia, namely Decision 2022/351[2] and Regulation 2022/350[3].

The purpose of those acts is the temporary prohibition of actions for propaganda of that military assault by means of certain media under Russian control. Thus, any operator established in the European Union is prohibited from broadcasting content produced by legal persons, entities or bodies set out in the annexes to the abovementioned acts.

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