Religious freedom, equal treatment in employment and occupation and case C-193/17 (22 January 2019)

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 by Maria João Lourenço, Assistant lecturer at UMinho

The phenomenon of globalization, contrary to expectations, has made cultural diversity and pluralism even more evident[i]. Because of multiculturalism, States are confronted with an increasing number of conflicts between minority legal orders and their national law, which is intended for the cultural majority.

In this chronicle, based on a recent decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union, we will reflect on a question which, although not new, continues to deserve particular attention since it violates the most basic principle of equality and, in the context of industrial relations, a clear discrimination on grounds of religion.

The case

A request for a preliminary ruling was made about the interpretation of Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and Article 11, Article 2(2)(a), Article 2(5) and Article 7(1) of Directive 2000/78/EC, which establishes a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation during professional activity.

The reference for a preliminary ruling was made in the context of a dispute between Cresco Investigation GmbH and Markus Achatzi concerning the right of the applicant to receive a supplementary compensation in respect of the remuneration paid due to work on a Good Friday.
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Surrogacy in the light of European Union law: brief considerations

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 by Diana Coutinho, Invited Assistant at the Law School of UMinho

On 22 August, 2016, Law no. 25/2016 was published, regulating the access to surrogacy and performing the fourth amendment to the Portuguese law on medically assisted procreation (Law no. 32/2006, of 26 July). Before Law no. 25/2016 comes into force, resorting to surrogacy was expressly prohibited (whether for a price or free of charge). With the aforementioned legislative amendment, access to surrogacy became possible, provided that under exceptional circumstances (namely, absence of uterus, injury or disease of this organ that absolutely and definitively prevents the woman’s pregnancy or in clinical situations that justify it), free of charge and resorting to the genetic material from at least one of the beneficiaries. However, the new law was not exempt from criticism, culminating in the judgment of the Portuguese Constitutional Court no. 225/2018 and consequent suspension of access to surrogacy. According to the Portuguese Constitutional Court, surrogacy performed under the terms of Law no. 25/2016 – with an exceptional and gratuitous nature and limited only to the cases authorized by law – does not violate the principle of human dignity (neither of the surrogate mother nor of the child), nor the State’s duty of child protection. However, the excessive indeterminacy of the law (as in the case of paragraphs 4, 10 and 11 of Article 8), the absence of the surrogate’s right to repentance (restricted to the possibility of withdrawal of the consent provided by the surrogate only until the beginning of medical assisted procreation’s therapeutic proceedings) and the failure to implement the surrogacy’s nullity regime (paragraph 12 of Article 8, since the law does not distinguish between the effects of a valid contract and a null contract) substantiate the declaration of unconstitutionality. Amendments to the regulation of the surrogacy are greatly expected, in particular the solution that the legislator will find to protect the interests of the parties involved: surrogate mother, beneficiaries and, in particular, the child.
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Blockchain and art market

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 by Geo Magri, Professor at the University of Torino

In recent times, blockchain technology has begun to be used to ensure certainty in the circulation of works of art.  Through the blockchain it is possible to record the existence of any author’s rights concerning the work, or the transfer of ownership of an art object, in order to make its circulation safer. These are aspects that, for a global market like this one, are of central importance and that allow us to understand why the first projects were launched to create chains aimed at meeting the specific needs of this sector, overcoming the critical issues that the art market traditionally brings.

Already in the seventies an attempt was made to achieve a result like that which today guarantees the blockchain. At the time it was decided to use the analogic recording of works of art, through the deposit of a picture and the recording of data that allowed the reconstruction of transactions related to the work. The project was proposed by Bolaffi of Turin and was aimed at ensuring the origin and traceability of the works sold. The idea of the analogical register was not successful in the practice of the art market and this was not difficult to predict since it was an excessively large market for an efficient analogical register.
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Building the ECJ puzzle on judicial independence in a Union based on the rule of law (Commission v Poland in the light of ASJP)

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 by Alessandra Silveira, Editor


On 27 February 2018, the ECJ delivered its judgment in the
Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses case (C-64/16).[i] It is a judgment of far-reaching consequences for effective judicial protection and the rule of law within the European Union – and, arguably, for the construction of the legal-constitutional model that supports the European integration. Mainly because the question of judicial independence was assessed without any relevance having been given to the issue of whether or not the austerity measures in question were covered by EU law.[ii] It is worth recalling the circumstances of this case law to understand the following ECJ steps.

At the origin of the request for a preliminary ruling was a special administrative action brought before the Supremo Tribunal Administrativo (Supreme Administrative Court, Portugal) seeking the annulment of salary-reduction (administrative) measures of the judges of the Tribunal de Contas (Court of Auditors, Portugal). According to the Supremo Tribunal Administrativo, the measures for the temporary reduction in the amount of public sector remuneration, also applied to the members of the judiciary, were based on mandatory requirements for reducing the Portuguese State’s excessive budget deficit during the year 2011. The referring court therefore considered those measures as measures adopted within the framework of EU law or, at least, as being European in origin, on the ground that those requirements were imposed on the Portuguese Government by EU decisions granting financial assistance.

Besides, the legal action brought before the Supremo Tribunal Administrativo was accompanied with an opinion presented by me and my Colleague Pedro Froufe, two of the editors of this blog. The opinion intended to clarify the extent to which the subject matter fell within the scope of application of EU law, triggering the need to refer to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling.[iii] However, this did not play any role in the interpretation which led the Court to conclude that the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU was applicable in the case in question. This is the password to understand this new standard and the following ECJ steps on judicial independence, in order to Article 19 TEU gives concrete expression to the value of the rule of law affirmed in Article 2 TEU.
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Editorial of July 2019

Shaking Hands Teamwork Staff Team Handshake

 by Pedro Froufe, Editor
 and Tiago Cabral, Master's student in EU Law at UMinho


Democracy, negotiation, personal ambitions and backroom deals: the moment of truth for the spitzenkandidaten

1. Last year we had the opportunity to write about the spitzenkandidaten procedure for selecting the President of the European Commission (hereinafter, “EC”) and the power struggle that was brewing between the Institutions with the spitzenkandidaten (lead candidate) at its centre. Knowing what the spitzenkandidaten procedure is and how it works is indispensable for understanding the current essay, thus if the reader is not familiar with it, we would ask you take a few minutes to read our May 2018 editorial before continuing.

2. With the Juncker’s Commission term of office about to reach its end (31 October 2019) and with a new European Parliament (hereinafter, “EP”) with a quite different composition starting its work on 2 July second it is time to select a new President of the EC and, in fact, also the Presidents of the European Parliament and of the European Council (hereinafter “ECON”). Moreover, a new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and a new President of the European Central Bank will have to be selected shortly. As it is possible to recognize there are a plethora of senior and highly influential positions that will be selected by one or both the EP and the ECON in a very short timeframe. This, of course, will lead to difficult negotiations which creates an obstacle for the spitzenkandidaten procedure because it takes out what is, arguably, the most valuable prize from the table before it can even be in play. As we know the EC has a truly European and supranational character and, for many, due to its powers and competences the EC can be seen as the true “executive” power in the European Union. Furthermore, even if the EP and the Council (of the European Union) are the co-legislators and the ECON defines the broad political priorities, it is the EC who has the prerogative of, in most cases, proposing the laws. The European constitutional design means that the balance in power tilts heavily in favour of the Commission.

3. Obviously, the spitzenkandidaten would not be in danger if there was a clear majority in the EP (either by a coalition or a single party) that could impose its lead candidate to the ECON. As we have stated previously, we are not of the opinion that the candidate of the party that got the most seats automatically gets the right to be President of the EC. That is no more than an oversimplification of the procedure and would be only suited for a system with direct elections (which we actually find the ideal solution). The leading candidate of the party with the largest parliamentary representation will, in most cases, be in the premium position to achieve this objective. After all, there is an unwritten rule or, more accurately, a democratic practice that whoever wins the elections, even absent a majority, should get the position or at least get the first opportunity to try to form the necessary coalition. However, we should not forget that democracy, whether in, is national or supranational is first and foremost the pursuit of consensus. The “burden” to find said consensus and build a coalition in the EP that allows him/her to be selected as President of the EC rests on the candidate. If the candidate that got the most votes, but no majority is unable to do and someone else is, it means that someone else is able to command a broader democratically elected coalition and, therefore, having superior democratic legitimacy should be selected instead.
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