by Alessandra Silveira, Joana Abreu and Pedro M. Froufe, Editors and Jean Monnet Module eUjust Team
The German Presidency of the Council of the European Union – the European digital path in justice fields in times of COVID-19
On the 1st July 2020, the Federal Republic of Germany has received the task of holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union until the 31st December 2020, as this European Institution operates through a system of rotating presidency. This Member State will be closely working in a group of three – the so-called “trio” – which will also be composed by Portugal and Slovenia.
Therefore, as the world is still struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is experiencing a “time of unprecedented crisis”, which has to be strongly addressed by this presidency and has to be perceived as its transversal priority so a more resilient European Union can emerge from this challenge.
Insofar, the motto of this Germany’s presidency is “Together for Europe’s recovery” since, as Chancellor Merkel underlined, “[w]e know that we can only master this extraordinary crisis in the best possible way if we work together”, “together” has to mean the engagement of governments, parliaments and citizens all across Europe.
Under the Programme for Germany’s presidency[i], “[o]nly by containing the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the long term, investing in Europe’s economy, fully exploiting our innovative potential and strengthening social cohesion can the European Union and its Member States overcome the crisis effectively and permanently”. As crisis were always doors that led to new opportunities in the European Union, this presidency believes there is a need to “focus [the] attention on the major transformation processes of our time such as climate change, digitalisation and the changing world of work”.
In this sense, on justice matters, COVID-19 crisis has showcased the need to further improve European justice systems’ update to the digital era. In fact, “[t]he use of digital technology – including artificial intelligence – is one of the key issues here”, particularly concerning “further implementation of the European e-Justice Strategy”. Therefore, the Programme for Germany’s presidency states that “[i]n the area of the judiciary, the issue of access to justice – especially in the digital domain – has a taken on the new dimension owing to the COVID-19 pandemic also at the EU level and is an issue that we will address during our Presidency”.
In this sense, the Jean Monnet Module “eUjust – EU Procedure and credits’ claim: approaching digital solutions under e-Justice paradigm” might have a particularly important role in the times to come. In fact, as the motto of this presidency leads us to believe, solutions that the European Union will be looking for have to rely on the togetherness feeling and action – and effective judicial protection has to be addressed in a joint manner for two main reasons.
The first is the one that e-Justice efforts – concerning making national and European justice schemes up to the digital age – must be thought in a wider manner, by engaging Member States’ judicial systems and the Court of Justice of the European Union to act more closely, as can be derived from a wider notion of European Procedure, as digital efforts demand features of scalability that can only be achieved if put in place in a joint manner.
The second one relates directly with the European rule of law – a true Union of law, to update the term. In fact, major setbacks on the Union of law are being perceived as affecting Member States’ judiciary independence and separation of powers. In this sense, the idea of togetherness also rises strong in the justice field where digital solutions must be set in motion as soon as possible, reaching the Council’s Strategy on e-Justice goals faster and in a proper manner to answer COVID-19 pandemic effect on justice celerity and equality of parties in the litigation. In fact, in times of crisis, the European Union was always able to answer by enforcing the rights steaming from its legal order. In this new crisis, this cannot be different…
So, as the Jean Monnet Module eUjust aims at, by fostering learning components under European Procedure, understanding this European discipline in wider terms, both organic and materially, it is (and will continue to be) engaged on making more clear that both the Court of Justice of the European Union and national courts – when acting as functioning European courts – are part of the study of EU Procedure, as preliminary ruling procedure depends on their reciprocal and synergetic articulation to continue to deepen effective judicial protection. Furthermore, under national procedural autonomy principle, when a right provided by the European legal order has to be enforced, national courts are going to be the ones that firstly will tackle the situation and, in that sense, national procedural solutions must be brought to the equation and to be seen as being part of the European acquis.
In this sense, digital solutions – mainly when applicable based on interoperable mechanisms (and the path taken by the European Union focuses precisely on this method and general principle) – in justice fields have to be addressed and branded in the European context, as they need to be sufficiently scalable to interoperate before national courts and the European Court of Justice when they need to interact more hastily. As COVID-19 has already impacted on economy’s behaviour, economic operators have to be supported by European means to hastily claim their credits, particularly those emerging from fundamental freedoms. Insofar, despite many procedural solutions are already thought to be implemented in digital terms, their terms, concepts and methodologies must be academically scrutinised with these new eyes and demands.
In this sense, by testing interoperable solutions made available before national courts and the Court of Justice, eUjust can also evaluate, in an academic standpoint, whether these Germany’s presidency digital solutions in justice fields are able to both meet effective judicial protection in material terms but also can be thought in a way where the principle of a Union based in the rule of law (= a Union of law) can rise as more protected and widespread.
[i] See the programme here: https://www.eu2020.de/blob/2360248/e0312c50f910931819ab67f630d15b2f/06-30-pdf-programm-en-data.pdf.
Pictures credits: Europe palace flags by USA-Reiseblogger.