REPOWER EU – A challenge and an opportunity

By Maria Barros Silva (Associate Lawyer at SRS Advogados – Energy and Competition Law) and Nuno Calaim Lourenço (Managing Associate at SRS Advogados – Energy and Competition Law)

1. Context

The energy sector is cyclical by nature. History offers several examples of market expansion followed by very sudden contractions. Unfortunately, the current crisis differs from previous ones. To put things into dire perspective, the European Union (“EU”) heavily relies on fossil fuel (gas, oil and coal) imports for its energy needs, amounting to circa 60% of gross energy consumption in the past 5 years. The EU imports 90% of its gas, with Russia previously accounting for 45% of those imports, as well as for 25% of oil and 45% of coal. Although European domestic production of renewable energy sources has increased significantly in recent years, the intermittent nature of the so-called “green energy”, coupled with limited renewable-energy storage and a drastic and intransigent reduction in the production of EU coal, lignite and gas has meant that the EU remains energy dependent.

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Protecting Children’s Rights in the Digital Age: the new European strategy for a better internet for kids (BIK+)

By Maria Inês Costa (Master in Human Rights from UMinho)

Given the rapid technological evolution in the so-called Digital Decade, and the need for legal regulation in view of the emerging needs and circumstances that this evolution has brought about, the European Union has been taking a position to strengthen the protection of children’s rights in this context. One of the most recent paradigmatic examples of this approach is the new European strategy for a better internet for kids (BIK+), published in May 2022, about two years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic which increased the use of digital media.

According to Article 24(2) of the CFREU, “in all actions relating to children, whether taken by public authorities or private institutions, the child’s best interests must be a primary consideration[1], and to that extent, the digital transition should be carried out keeping in mind the advantages that these bring to children, for example, as a source of inexhaustible knowledge, but also the dangers it entails and the exacerbation of inequalities it leads to, when there is no governance of its use and access.

As per item 3 of the UN’s General comment N.º 25 (2021) on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment,[2] the children consulted asked questions regarding the new developments in the digital age that directly affect them – “I would like to obtain clarity about what really happens with my data… Why collect it? How is it being collected?”; “I am… worried about my data being shared” – and in the subsequent paragraph (item 4) one can read: “innovations in digital technologies affect children’s lives and their rights in ways that are wide-ranging and interdependent (…)”.

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Can a judge’s request for a preliminary ruling be illegal and lead to disciplinary action? – The Court of Justice conclusions in case C-564/19

By Joana Gama Gomes (Master in International and European Law from the University of Coimbra / Researcher at CIDEEFF - Centro de Investigação em Direito Europeu, Económico, Financeiro e Fiscal)

The request for a preliminary ruling was submitted by a Hungarian court in criminal proceedings brought against a Swedish national, for infringement of the provisions of Hungarian law governing the acquisition or transport of firearms or ammunition. Although the facts of this case seem unrelated to the problem at hand, subsequent developments in Hungary during the course of this procedure raised a fundamental issue of EU law.

A declaration of illegality from the Hungarian Supreme Court and disciplinary proceeding against the referring judge led him to ask the Court two crucial questions – whether EU law precludes a national court of last instance from declaring as unlawful a decision by which a lower court makes a request for a preliminary ruling, and whether the principle of judicial independence precludes disciplinary proceedings being brought against a judge for having made such a request for a preliminary ruling.

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The other side of War: disinformation

Ricardo de Macedo Menna Barreto (Guest Professor at the University of Minho Law School) 
 

Last Tuesday, March 8, 2022, during a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Josep Borrell, EU diplomacy chief, warned that the Russian government will systematically lie about Ukraine’s military situation. At his intervention, Borrell defended that: “(…)accompany Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, spreading false information among their own population about why this invasion has taken place and what is the situation in Ukraine(…) it not just bombing houses, infrastructure, the bodies of the people; they are bombing their minds, they are bombing their spirits”.[1] The EU diplomacy chief underlines a problem that, in his opinion, is getting worse as our lifetime goes by: the daily battle in the informational field. A battle whose main characteristic is the manipulation of information, a particular form of abuse of power, that is, of social domain. According to Teun van Dijk, manipulation is a form of illegitimate influence, achieved through discourse, in which manipulators make the manipulated believe in (or even do) things that are of special interest to the manipulator (and usually against the interests of the manipulated). In this sense, we can consider discursive manipulation as a complex social phenomenon, involving interaction and abuse of power (domination) between certain groups and social actors. It is also a complex phenomenon, taking into account that it presents itself in two ways: a) as a cognitive phenomenon, since it implies manipulation of the participants’ minds; b) as a discursive-semiotic phenomenon, since it can be expressed in the form of text, conversation or visual messages.[2]   

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Note from MEP José Manuel Fernandes regarding European Parliament resolution of 10 March 2022 on the rule of law and the consequences of the ECJ ruling

José Manuel Fernandes (Member of the European Parliament)

The principle of the rule of law is not just one among other basic principles of our democracy. It is more than that: it is a sine qua non condition for the recognition of all other fundamental rights. There is no effective freedom of speech, of association, of conscience, among others, in a community that is not governed by law. Where there is no “rule of law”, there is arbitrariness and lack of security. In such conditions, there is no freedom.

When the “rule of law” is abandoned, explicitly or implicitly, we embark on a path that leads from civility to barbarism, from equality before the law, to the rule of the strongest; from the liberal democratic system built and perfected over the last decades, to alternative, authoritarian regimes that restrict freedoms. Whoever foregoes the “rule of law” necessarily foregoes the fundamental principles on which the Portuguese constitutional order and the European Union Treaties are founded (see art. 2 TEU). Therefore, respect for the rule of law is not an option but an obligation in order to be eligible to be a member of the European Union.

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The EU Circular Economy Strategy: a strong step towards more ecological products design and manufacturing?

Beltrán Puentes Cociña (PhD Candidate at the University of Santiago de Compostela) 

Humanity has been engaged in the struggle for sustainability for at least 30 years. Since the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, there have been many political, economic, and social initiatives for a sustainable development that makes human activities compatible with the ecological limits of the planet. One of the latest and most relevant is the circular economy strategy[i]/[ii].

1. The first EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy (2015)[iii]

The current model of production and consumption follows a linear sequence. It is based on the extraction of natural resources, the mass manufacture of products, the over-consumption of short-lived products and the generation of a huge amount of waste that is either incinerated or landfilled. Growth policies encourage the demand for more and more products, so that a country’s economy grows when its consumption and production increase.[iv]

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The GDPR may no longer be a paper tiger

Tiago Sérgio Cabral (Managing Editor). 

1. It is a known fact that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has suffered from an enforcement problem. The theoretical administrative fines of up to €20 000 000, or in the case of an undertaking, up to 4 % of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher, that appear impressive on paper largely failed to properly materialize in the first few years of application of the “new” data protection framework.

2. Fines under the GDPR finally overcame the €1 billion threshold in 2021, a sevenfold increase from 2021. In fact, fines under the GDPR have been steadily growing since 2018. Of course, one should not forget that a significant percentage of the total amount of fines levied in 2021 is comprised by the €746 million fine levied by Luxembourg Data Protection Supervisory Authority (DPA) against Amazon and the €225 million fine levied by the Irish DPA against Whatsapp. In addition, the total amount of the fines still pales in comparison with other areas, such as competition law.

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Editorial of February 2022

By Sandra Fernandes (Professor at UMinho - School of Management and Economics /Researcher of the CICP)

Making the Europeans visible again: on the Ukrainian-Russian crisis

The world has its eyes turned to the uncertain faith of Ukraine, a country whose geopolitical situation has settled as an “in-between” State in post-soviet Europe. Since the annexation-reintegration of Crimea in 2014, and the war in Donbass and Luhansk, Kiev has de facto lost sovereignty over parts of its territory. The growing mobilization of Russian military resources at the Ukrainian border since 2021 has escalated the crisis, together with straightforward Russian demands on a new security pact for Europe with less NATO.

In this context, the media have been underlying that the European Union (EU) and the Ukrainians themselves are the noticeable absents from the tentative dialogues amid the diplomatic iron arm that is ongoing between Washington and Moscow. How to make sense of this apparent void? A few days ago, the words of the High Representative/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, helped us in addressing this question.

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Next Generation EU: the empowerment of the Executive(s) and the weakening of the Legislator(s)? A national perspective

Pedro Petiz Viana (Master in Law and Informatics from UMinho / LL.M student in European Law at the University of Leiden). 

Von der Leyen: ‘A lot of work ahead of you…’

António Costa: ‘Now I can go to the bank?’

Von der Leyen: ‘You can go to the bank’

News Conference on the approval by the Commission of Portugal’s Recovery Plan, July 2021.

This dialogue summarizes the increased importance of the Commission stemming from Next Generation EU. In the first line, the Commission takes on its technocratic, ‘administrative-executive’ role, guiding the Member States in their path to economic reforms. In the remaining dialogue, the Commission assumes a more political role, as the guardian of the 750 billion euros vault: Von der Leyen, ‘cheque’ in hand, flying across the Union and holding various press conferences, showing the European public that the Commission is the symbol of European funds to come. Alongside the Commission, national governments have also been empowered by NextGenEU, having been tasked with drafting national recovery plans.

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Holiday break

By Editorial Board 

Dear readers,

We will be taking a short 1-week break for holidays. We will resume our regular publishing schedule on 3 January 2022.

In the meantime, we are always open to receiving new academic contributions from our readers. If you have an innovative, dynamic, thoughtful piece that you believe would fit in this blog, feel free to send it to us at: unio.cedu@direito.uminho.pt.

If you would like to catch up on some reading on EU matters please check our news, commentsessaysreviews, and case law of the ECJ sections. Do not forget to subscribe to the blog by filling your email on the “FOLLOW THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF UNIO” section in the sidebar so you can be updated on all our latest posts.


Pictures credits: cocoparisienne