Editorial of August 2021

By Daniel Silva (Master’s student in EU Law, UMinho) 

The fight against greenwashing in the EU

In January of 2021, the European Commission and national consumer authorities shared their conclusions pursuant to a screening of websites performed to identify breaches of EU consumer law in online markets focused on greenwashing practices[1]. This screening included a variety of online green claims from a wide range of business sectors, including cosmetics, clothing, and household equipment. The results estimated that 42% of analyzed claims were exaggerated, false or deceptive and could even potentially be considered unfair commercial practices under EU law. The sweep also concluded that the practice of greenwashing has been growing as consumers demand in green products also grows.

The term greenwashing was coined by the American environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, at the time regarding the practice of the hotel industry incentivizing the reuse of towels for environmental reasons, when in fact it was a ploy meant to increase their margin of profit[2]. The EU defines greenwashing as “companies giving a false impression of their environmental impact or benefits”. This, however, does not seem to encompass the magnitude and many facets that greenwashing has. There is not a unanimous agreement on a precise definition of the term, however, most definitions agree on two aspects about greenwashing: there is repression on information that suggests the company might be environmentally unfriendly and a strong push on having an environmentally friendly image. Hence, we can see greenwashing as a phenomenon of selective information disclosure on the environmental impact of a certain product or service that does not necessarily correspond to reality or is even false. We can look at greenwashing as somewhat of a marketing strategy, capitalizing on the growing consumer environmental conscience that has been on the rise in recent years. Therefore, the companies that practice greenwashing do not actually have any real environmental concern, focusing purely on economic gain.

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An instrument out of tune: the EU –Mercosur Trade Agreement

Nataly Machado (Master’s student in EU Law, UMinho)

Brazil is one of the countries with the largest environmental heritage in the world. However, in breach of the existing legislation that helps protect the environment, Brazilian biomes are increasingly threatened by the poor political and environmental management of this country in recent years.

If we consider the Amazon biome, the largest tropical forest in the world, which occupies 59% of Brazil’s territory, holds a large part of the available freshwater in the world and is home to the largest number of species of flora and fauna in the world, the numbers of environmental setbacks are alarming (to say the least). For example, in April 2021, record shows that deforestation reached 778 km2, which is the highest rate for that month in the last ten years[1].

The gap between the discourse of goals and commitments to take care of the Brazilian forests and what happens in practice – an old and repeated script in the history of unbridled destruction of the Amazon – has not worked as a strategy to consolidate the trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), which has been the breeding ground for controversy before the final approval of the EU Member States and the European Parliament.

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The Schrems II Judgment: First two investigations by the European Data Protection Supervisor

by Joana Campos e Matos (Senior Consultant at Vieira de Almeida & Associados)

On May 27, 2021, the European Data Protection Supervisor (“EDPS”) announced that it has opened two investigations regarding the use of Amazon and Microsoft services by European Union institutions (EUIs)[1].

In a press release, the EDPS announced the opening of two investigations, one concerning the use of cloud services provided by Amazon Web Services and Microsoft under Cloud II contracts by European Union institutions, bodies and agencies and the other regarding the use of Microsoft Office 365 by the European Commission.

The EDPS underlined that these investigations are part of the EDPS’ strategy for EU institutions to comply with the “Schrems II” Judgement[2].

1. Legal framework for international data transfers by EUIs

According to the Regulation (EU) 2018/1725 [3], international data transfers[4] are only permitted if the third country to which the data are transferred, ensures that the conditions set out in the Regulation are respected, in such a way that the level of protection of natural persons guaranteed by the Regulation is not undermined (Article 46). Thus, data transfers to countries located outside the European Economic Area (“EEA”) can only occur within the strict terms provided for by the Regulation.

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Summaries of judgments: Repubblika v Il-Prim Ministru | Asociaţia «Forumul Judecătorilor din România» and Others

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judge and référendaire of the CJEU (Nuno Piçarra and Sophie Perez)

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Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 20 April 2021, Repubblika v Il-Prim Ministru, Case C-896/19, EU:C:2021:311

Reference for a preliminary ruling – Article 2 TEU – Values of the European Union – Rule of law – Article 49 TEU – Accession to the European Union – No reduction in the level of protection of the values of the European Union – Effective judicial protection – Article 19 TEU – Article 47 CFREU – Scope – Independence of the members of the judiciary of a Member State – Appointments procedure – Power of the Prime Minister – Involvement of a judicial appointments committee

1. Facts

Following the appointment, in April 2019, of new members of the judiciary, Repubblika – an association whose purpose is to promote the protection of justice and the rule of law in Malta – brought an actio popularis before the Prim’Awla tal-Qorti Ċivili – Ġurisdizzjoni Kostituzzjonali (First Hall of the Civil Court, sitting as a Constitutional Court, Malta), with a view, in particular, to seek a declaration that, by reason of the existing system for the appointment of members of the judiciary, as governed by the Constitution, the Republic of Malta is in breach of its obligations under, inter alia, the combined provisions of the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU and of Article 47 CFREU. The constitutional provisions concerned, which had remained unchanged from the time of their adoption in 1964 until a reform in 2016, confer on Il-Prim Ministru (Prime Minister, Malta) the power to submit to the President of the Republic the appointment of a candidate to such office. The candidates must satisfy certain conditions, also laid down by the Constitution, and, since the 2016 reform, a Judicial Appointments Committee has been established, which is charged with assessing candidates and providing an opinion to the Prime Minister. However, Repubblika challenges the conformity of national constitutional provisions concerning the procedure for the appointment of members of the Maltese judiciary with, in particular, the requirements laid down by EU law for the independence of the judicial system of the Member States.

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Editorial of July 2021

By Carlos Abreu Amorim (Professor of Administrative and Environmental Law, UMinho)

European Climate Law – the point of non-return of environmental protection

There are a number of reasons for how significant the European Climate Law (ECL), the final text of which was adopted in May 2021 should be considered. It is not only because it is the first binding legal instrument to come from the European Green Deal (EGD). Not even because of its primary intention: to convert this environmental plan launched by the Commission of Ursula von der Leyen in December 2019 into a fundamental European plan of energy decarbonisation targets and mandatory commitments with the intention of transforming the generality of production processes on the path of climate neutrality.

Even more than the reasons mentioned in previous paragraph, the success of the ECL has now become a sine qua non test for the European Union’s integration project.

European integration has increasing economic, political, geostrategic, ambitions for social achievement and full rights for its citizens. A wide range of purposes and effective peace, happiness and welfare have been achieved like never before in history. Likewise, its path of undisputed success has also seen some setbacks in these and other areas. Nevertheless, more than ever, the scale of the climate emergency and the essential responses that the environmental quality of the planet today requires in terms of public policies clearly outweigh the limited unit of account provided by the unique action of States (even countries that are large in power, population and territory). If it was already a settled truth that there are no nations capable of competing or even subsisting on their own, the deterioration of the planet’s environmental status has raised the need for extended common projects in pursuing sustainable and efficient environmental public policies. Environmental protection is one of the areas of public policies where the natural shortcomings of actions carried out alone within the framework of the old logic of the Nation State are most noted and where the broad integration of these public policies is most necessary. Climate changes will not be able to be fought with success through reactive pipelines, targeted solutions or disunited strategies. Unilateral actions will also not succeed, not even the best designed ones. The urgency of climate responses implies firm resolutions, consistency in the ends, breadth and cross-cutting and supranational scope in public policies. Above all, it requires political choices with a degree of permanence that will only be possible if there is a political consensus and the sharing of these concerns by much of the public.

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The Hungary question: how are the rights of LGBTIQ people in the EU?

by Ana Cardoso (Master’s student in European Union Law at the School of Law of the University of Minho)

On 23 June 2021, the Hungarian President Jánus Áder promulgated a law which forbids schools and the media of “promoting or portraying” homosexuality or sex reassignment to minors and limits sexual education in schools. The abovementioned law was approved by the Hungarian Parliament on 15 June 2021 and initially started as a way of introducing heavier sanctions on sexual crimes against minors, boosted by the scandal that happened earlier in the year involving the Hungarian ambassador to Peru, Gábor Kaleta, who was found in possession of nearly 20,000 pornographic pictures of minors. However, on 9 June 2021 MPs from the ruling party, Fidesz, submitted last-minute amendments to the law which target sexual minorities, in practice linking homosexuality to paedophilia.

The law (including the last-minute amendments) forbids that any content featuring portrayals of homosexuality or sex reassignment be made available to minors, states that school sex educators can no longer “promote” homosexuality or sex reassignment and that sexual education classes can only be held by registered organisations, limiting more liberal NGOs, and finally puts restrictions upon ads with LGBTIQ content. President Áder maintains that this new law only aims to protect children and give their parents the rule over sexual education, and that it does not affect the right of adults to choose how they live their own lives, or the right to private life enshrined in the Hungarian Constitution. Furthermore, Prime Minister Viktor Órban has stated that the law passed and that it was final, showing no intention of backing down.

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The architecture of direct effect: an introduction

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

1. Direct effect: paving the road for the European integration

On 5 February 1963, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”)[1] issued a judgment that would become a cornerstone of the European Union (“EU”), notwithstanding the fact that the substance of the matter under judgement was quite mundane: was the import duty applied to the import of a chemical component, used mostly to produce adhesive materials, contrary to Article 12 of the European Economic Community Treaty (“EEC Treaty”)[2]?

In all likelihood, most of us would have gone by without ever reading the word “ureaformaldehyde” but fate, and mostly the Court, would have it another way. As it stands, the judgment of the Court in Case 26/62, commonly known as Van Gend & Loos (owing its designation to the plaintiff in the main action in the national court), introduced a new fundamental principle of EU Law, the principle of direct effect, which may be broadly defined as “the capacity of a provision of EU law to be invoked before a national court”[3]. To this broad definition we might add that those provisions must confer rights or impose obligations on those that seek the recognition of direct effect of a given provision[4]. The conditions under which direct effect might be conferred to a provision of EU law are specific and relate to the content and wording of the provision itself, the source of said provision and the nature of the parties in the dispute.

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Review of Portuguese Association of European Law’s webinar on the rule of law protection in the European Union

by Alessandra Silveira and Joana Covelo de Abreu (Editors)

On 28 May 2021 a webinar was held at the School of Law of the University of Minho under the theme “Rule of law protection in the European Union”, organized by the initiative of the Portuguese Association of European Law (APDE). The event had the moderation of Carlos Botelho Moniz (APDE’s President) and the interventions of Alessandra Silveira (Editor), Joana Covelo de Abreu (Editor) and José Manuel Fernandes (Member of the European Parliament, EPP’s Coordinator of the Committee on Budgets and Recovery and Resilience Facility Mechanism’s negotiator). In order to keep a record for future memory, some ideas presented by the participants will be reproduced in this review.

Speakers reflected on how the European Union has been playing a relevant role on the rule of law protection and has been proclaiming itself as a “Union of law”. They started by analysing the concept of rule of law and its implications from the Treaties, the CFREU and the Court of Justice jurisprudence – mainly from Les Verts[1] and Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses[2] judgments (the later also known as “Portuguese Judges”)[3]. They also focused legal procedures that act against violations of the rule of law enshrined on Article 7 TEU, and the infringement procedure steaming from Article 258 TFEU, envisaging the possibility of Member States to explore the procedural way opened by Article 259 TFEU, namely because the political tension escalade within the European Union. But the preliminary ruling procedure of Article 267 TFEU was also mentioned as continuing to play an important role to national judicial authorities when they are facing the need to comply with EU law. Lastly, speakers also devoted their attention on the Rule of Law Conditionality (Regulation 2020/2092 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2020 on a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget) and on the debate around its approval and implementation.

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Editorial of June 2021

By Tiago Sérgio Cabral (Managing Editor)

Data Governance and the AI Regulation: Interplay between the GDPR and the proposal for an AI Act

It is hardly surprising that the recent European Commission’s proposal for a Regulation on a European Approach for Artificial Intelligence (hereinafter the “proposal for an AI Act”) is heavily inspired by the GDPR. From taking note of the GDPR’s success in establishing worldwide standards to learning from its shortcomings, for example by suppressing the stop-shop mechanism (arguably responsible for some of its enforcement woes).[1]

The proposal for an AI Act should not be considered a GDPR for AI for one singular reason: there is already a GDPR for AI, and it is called the GDPR. The scope and aims of the proposal are different, but there is certainly a high degree of influence and the interplay between the two Regulations, if the AI Act is approved, will certainly be interesting. In this editorial we will address one particular aspect where the interplay between the GDPR and the AI act could be particularly relevant: data governance and data set management.

Before going specifically into this subject, it is important to know that the AI Act’s proposed fines have a higher ceiling than the GDPR’s: up to 30,000,000 euros or, if the offender is company, up to 6% of its total worldwide annual turnover for the preceding financial year (article 71(3) of the proposal for an AI Act). We should note, nonetheless, that this specific value is applicable to a restricted number of infringements, namely:

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The rule of law and the defense of citizens against any power: on the case C-650/18 Hungary v European Parliament

by Alessandra Silveira (Editor) and Maria Inês Costa (Master´s student in Human Rights at the University of Minho)

The expression rule of law means that the exercise of public power is subject to legal norms and procedures – legislative, executive, judicial procedures –, which allow citizens to monitor and eventually challenge the legitimacy of decisions taken by the public power. The basic idea of the value of the rule of law is to submit power to law, restraining the natural tendency of power to expand and operate in an arbitrary manner – be it the traditional power of the State, or the power of novel political structures such as the European Union, be it the power of private organizational complexes – such as market forces, internet forces, sports forces, etc.

The procedure provided by Article 7 TEU is the most emblematic political instrument to defend the rule of law in the European Union. Article 7(1) TEU constitutes the initial phase in the procedure in the event of a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the common values enshrined in Article 2 TEU. Article 7(2) TEU governs the next stage in which a serious and persistent breach by a Member State of the values laid down in Article 2 TEU can be established. Article 7(3) TEU ultimately provides for the issuing of sanctions against the Member State concerned.

Article 7(1) TEU provides that on a reasoned proposal by the European Parliament, the Council acting by a majority of 4/5 of its members may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the common values of the Union referred to in Article 2 TEU. Moreover, Article 7(5) TUE provides that the voting arrangements applicable to the European Parliament are laid down in Article 354 TFEU – which provides that the European Parliament shall act by a 2/3 majority of the votes cast, representing the majority of its component Members.

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