Editorial of April 2020

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by Alessandra Silveira, Editor


Health-related personal data – regarding COVID-19 and digital surveillance

Article 9 of the Regulation (EU) 2016/679 – General Data Protection Regulation (hereinafter, “GDPR”) prohibits the processing of special categories of personal data, amongst them (and the ones relevant for the subject of this essay): genetic data; biometric data for the purpose of uniquely identifying a natural person; and data concerning health. However, this prohibition shall not apply if processing is necessary for the purposes of medical diagnosis; the provision of health care or treatment;  the management of health care systems; or pursuant to contract with a health professional, in accordance to point h), of Article 9/2 of GDPR and under the further conditions established in Article 9/3. In particular, the general prohibition shall not apply if the “processing is necessary for reasons of public interest in the area of public health, such as protecting against serious cross-border threats to health or ensuring high standards of quality and safety of health care and of medicinal products or medical devices”, under point i), of Article 9/2.
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The EU reaction to Covid-19 crisis

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 by Joaquim Freitas da Rocha, Professor of Tax Law, University of Minho

With the spread of the COVID-19 disease, Europe is facing an unprecedented and unparalleled crisis which requires special and exceptional solutions, particularly with restrictive effect. For sure, this is not an exclusive European problem, quite the contrary – it is a real pandemic situation, with global extent, threating and affecting all continents; even so, the following considerations will take into account only the European context and the European Union (EU).

This emergency crises requires special and exceptional solutions, carried out either by the EU itself and by the Member States, but, in any case, legal, temporary and proportional. Even in a context like this, it cannot be forgotten that the EU and all its Member States are democratic systems and all of them are based on the rule of law. Consequently, unconstitutional, disproportional and disruptive measures shall be avoided. Probably this is not the best moment to say so, but the COVID-19 cannot be the justification to put aside the European civilizational model based on solidarity, equality and democratic freedoms.
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Citizens pro Europe’s letter to the EU institutions

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Dear Presidents,

In the face of the health crisis lashing Europe and the world, and costing the lives of thousands of citizens, Citizens Pro Europe, a non-governmental organisation present in 10 EU-Member countries, would like to present a number of considerations, for this crisis calls for determination and courage from political leaders and democratic institutions, the industry, and European civil society. In these times of great need, we are all called upon to contribute our bit.

Firstly, we must work to save lives. Member States are the first line of defence. We want to thank all workers who make it possible for our fellow European citizens to be taken care of. In order for all national health systems to be able to absorb the avalanche of those seriously affected by COVID-19, these workers must have at their disposal all the necessary financial and material means.

Secondly, we would like to highlight the importance of a joint action by all Member States and European Institutions in this grave moment. We make an appeal to their political leaders to act, at all times, with solidarity, Europe’s true hallmark. In this sense, we regret some Member States’ decisions to ban the sale and distribution of essential equipment to other Member States. We are pleased to see that, owing to the European Commission’s intervention, these bans will not be put in place and that mutual assistance mechanisms are being implemented. In these times of great need, it is critical to maintain channels for trade and the distribution of essential goods on the common market open. We congratulate the European Institutions for their proposal of green corridors ensuring the transit of these goods. We condemn the obstacles to the freedom of movement of these merchandises taking place at the borders of several Member States. This is a very serious error that jeopardizes citizens’ lives and will notably hinder the economic recovery once this health crisis abates. The common market is a source of prosperity for all and a relying factor on the speedy recovery of our economies after this crisis. Today, it is an instrument that can save many lives.
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The European Union and covid-19

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 by Teresa Freixes, Professor of Constitutional Law and Jean Monnet Chair ad personam

In these difficult days, many of us look up at the European Union, as no country is oblivious to this health crisis that we are facing. Many wonder what the EU is doing while the virus crosses borders, endangers the health and life of citizens and also likely causes a major economic crisis. More coordinated action by the EU is lacking in this regard, but we must remember all the framework: the EU has pre-standards that it is applying; it has reached important agreements to deal with the various issues in place and it is planning future policies so that the effects of the health crisis and its economic outcomes are as limited as possible.

To start, it should be noted that Decision 1082/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 October 2013 on serious cross-border threats to health provides that: “Article 168 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) states, inter alia, that a high level of human health protection is to be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Union policies and activities. That Article further provides that Union action is to complement national policies, is to cover monitoring, early warning of, and combating serious cross-border threats to health, and that Member States are, in liaison with the Commission, to coordinate among themselves their policies and programmes in the areas covered by Union action in the field of public health”.
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Effective judicial protection of credit rights in the European Union

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 by Marco C. Gonçalves, Professor of Civil Procedure, University of Minho

The free movement of people, goods and services in the European Union – as a fundamental pillar for the construction of an internal market – led, inevitably, to an increase of the cross-border disputes, that is to say, disputes that are connected with two or more different Member States.

Consequently, this requires the European Union to adopt appropriate procedural instruments to allow the fast and effective resolution of these conflicts, within an area of freedom, security and justice.

In this regard, it is a fact that the European Union has been adopting a set of normative instruments of particular importance to guarantee access to justice in civil and commercial matters, mainly focused on judicial cooperation between the different Member States. In particular, stands out the definition of common rules on jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters [1], service of judicial and extrajudicial acts [2], taking of evidence [3] and recovery of debts [4].

In any case, with regard to the judicial protection of credit rights in the European Union, the difficulties and problems that arise with regard to the effective satisfaction of creditors demand the urgent adoption of normative instruments that guarantee the protection and adequate satisfaction of these rights.
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Produce more with less: CAP and digital divide

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by Isabel Espín, Professor at the Law School of Universidade de Santiago de Compostela


1. In a global perspective, the FAO Agenda calls attention to the increase in the world’s population, the rise in average income and the new consumer habits that will result in a greater demand for food in the coming decades, while the impact of climate change on natural resources makes it necessary to reduce the ecological footprint of our food production system. This sends the message that it will be necessary to improve both the productivity and the sustainability of the agricultural sector, which means that farmers will have to “produce more with less”.

Like any other productive sector, global agriculture is undergoing profound transformations related to new digital technologies and artificial intelligence, which gave rise to the concept of Smart Agriculture or Precision Agriculture, in other words, a modern farming management concept using digital techniques to monitor and optimise agricultural production processes.

The aim is to save costs, reduce environmental impact and produce more food, and for this purpose a number of technologies are made available to the farm “used for object identification, geo-referencing, measurement of specific parameters, Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), connectivity, data storage and analysis, advisory systems, robotics and autonomous navigation”([i]).

2. In the case of the European Union, the 4.0 revolution in agriculture is also confronted with the particularities of a sector of the economy in constant crisis and always in search of a necessary revitalization. It should not be forgotten that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is one of the most complex policies of the European Union, and which receives a significant share of the Community budget.
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Editorial of March 2020

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by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor


An “idea of Europe” – on George Steiner and Brexit

The result of the 2016 UK referendum (Brexit) undoubtedly posed a series of questions and triggered a set of concerns that, in a way, were already underlying European collective thinking – rectius, underlined and involved the dynamics of European integration.

Following the Brexit referendum, many considered (or even predicted) the progressive disintegration of the Union, a contagious effect on the rest of integrated Europe, especially in the face of the emergence of outbreaks of nationalist populism in countries such as Italy, Poland, Hungary, Malta, Spain, as well as the strengthening of these political currents in other Member States – with the already traditional Front National in France, besides Holland and Germany.

However, instead of these forecasts, during the entire negotiation period of the exit agreement, until January 31, 2020, the contagion effect occurred in the opposite direction to what these currents (which bet on the breakdown) supposed. There was a political reinforcement of the Member States’ common position to renew the will to maintain and deepen the integration process. In other words, a position with a single voice from all the remaining 27 Member States, so that, in that plan, Brexit represented – despite everything and until now – a factor of strengthening the union around the need, commonly felt, to maintain the “European dream” (expression by George Steiner, in a posthumous interview, published in the newspaper El País, on February 7, 2020). So, being naturally a disastrous mishap, Brexit can also be a positive event. There are thorns that oblige us, at times, to pay more attention – treating it with more care – to the beauty of the rose (because “there are no roses without thorns”!).
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Summaries of judgments

 

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judge and référendaires of the CJEU (Nuno Piçarra, Mariana Tavares and Sophie Perez)
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Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 12 November 2019, Zubair Haqbin v Federaal Agentschap voor de opvang van asielzoekers – Case C-233/18, EU:C:2019:956

Reference for a preliminary ruling — Applicants for international protection — Directive 2013/33/EU — Article 20(4) and (5) — Serious breaches of the rules of the accommodation centres as well as seriously violent behaviour — Scope of the Member States’ right to determine the sanctions applicable — Unaccompanied minor — Reduction or withdrawal of material reception conditions

Facts

The Court of Justice ruled for the first time on the scope of the right conferred on Member States by Article 20(4) Directive 2013/33/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (OJ 2013 L 180, p. 96). The request for a preliminary ruling has been made in proceedings between Z. Haqbin and the Federaal Agentschap voor de opvang van asielzoekers (Federal agency for the reception of asylum seekers, Belgium) concerning a claim for compensation brought by the former following a decision to temporarily excluded him from material reception conditions.

Z. Haqbin, of Afghan nationality, arrived in Belgium as an unaccompanied minor and lodged an application for international protection on December 2015. He was then hosted in a reception centre. In that centre, Z. Haqbin was involved in a brawl with other residents of various ethnic origins. Following that brawl, the director of the reception centre decided to exclude Z. Haqbin for a period of 15 days from material aid in a reception facility. During that period of exclusion (between April and May 2016), Z. Haqbin, according to his own statements, spent his nights in a park in Brussels and stayed with friends.

Z. Haqbin lodged an application to suspend the exclusion measure referred above. That application was dismissed for lack of extreme urgency, since Z. Haqbin had failed to show that he was homeless. Z. Haqbin then brought an action seeking cancellation of that measure and compensation for the damage suffered. The referring court before which Z. Haqbin lodged an appeal against the first-instance ruling that dismissed his action, asked the Court of Justice whether it was possible for the Belgian authorities to withdraw or reduce material reception conditions in respect of an applicant for international protection in Z. Haqbin’s situation. Moreover, with regard to his particular situation, the question arose as to the conditions under which such a sanction can be imposed on an unaccompanied minor.

Decision

Article 20(4) of Directive 2013/33 states that Member States may determine ‘sanctions’ applicable to serious breaches, by the applicant, of the rules of the accommodation centres as well as to seriously violent behaviour of the applicant. In that regard, the Court of Justice clarified that the ‘sanctions’ referred to in Article 20(4) of Directive 2013/33 may, in principle, concern material reception conditions. However, such sanctions must, in accordance with Article 20(5) of the directive, be objective, impartial, motivated and proportionate to the particular situation of the applicant and must, under all circumstances, ensure a dignified standard of living according to Article 1 CFREU.

Therefore, a sanction that is imposed exclusively on the basis of one of the reasons mentioned in Article 20(4) of Directive 2013/33 and consists in the withdrawal, even if only a temporary one, of the full set of material reception conditions or of material reception conditions relating to housing, food or clothing would be irreconcilable with the requirement, arising from Article 20(5) of the directive, to ensure a dignified standard of living for the applicant, since it would preclude the applicant from being allowed to meet his or her most basic needs. Such a sanction would also amount to a failure to comply with the proportionality requirement under Article 20(5) of Directive 2013/33, in so far as even the most stringent sanctions, whose objective is to punish, in criminal law, the breaches or behaviour referred to in Article 20(4) of the directive, cannot deprive the applicant of the possibility of meeting his or her most basic needs. The Court added that Member States are required to guarantee continuously and without interruption a dignified standard of living and that the authorities of the Member States are required to ensure, under their supervision and under their own responsibility, the provision of material reception conditions guaranteeing such a standard of living, including when they have recourse, where appropriate, to private natural or legal persons in order to carry out, under their authority, that obligation.
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Digital publications and protection of constitutional democracy

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 by Ana Aba Catoira, Professor of Constitutional Law, Universidade da Coruña


The strong impact that the irruption of digital channels has had on freedom of expression has led them to a reformulation process, because, as Lessig pointed out, “specifically the Internet has helped to show the true meaning of freedom of expression.” This profound transformation translates into a “paradigm shift” or change in the classical conception of the rights of information evident in the sender-receiver relationship of information, since all people are now active subjects in the new communicative process.

The prominence of the Internet and, more specifically, of social networks has been fundamental for the propagation of new “informative” practices that count on the invaluable help of artificial intelligence. This reality, already indicated as “information disorders”, was characterized by false news, post-truth, bots and other phenomena that distort the right to give and receive truthful information and intoxicate public opinion that is no longer free.
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Artificial intelligence and PSI Directive (EU) – open data and the re-use of public sector information before new digital demands

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 by Joana Abreu, Editor and Jean Monnet Module eUjust Coordinator


In Ursula von der Leyen’s speech entitled “A Union that strives for more”, one of nowadays President of the European Commission’s priorities was to establish “a Europe fit for digital age”. In this sense, von der Leyen’s aspirations were to grasp the opportunities from the digital age within safe and ethical boundaries, particularly those deriving from artificial intelligence as “[d]igital technologies […] are transforming the world at an unprecedented speed”. Therefore, the President of the European Commission established that “[i]n my first 100 days in office, I will put forward legislation for a coordinated European approach on the human and ethical implications of Artificial Intelligence”. Last 1st December 2019, the European Commission took office, led by President Ursula von der Leyen. As that time lapse is passing by, there is a need to understand how a Europe fit for the digital age is taking shape. There is to say, has the European Union already made efforts to meet that digital age?

In fact, recalling Digital4EU Stakeholder Forum, held in Brussels, on the 25th February 2016, Digital Single Market was thought by inception in order to materialise it as a primary public interest in action. Concerning digital public services, it was highlighted that some of them were not as transparent as they should and that “Governments need[ed] to look at how to re-use the information already available […] and open up the data they h[ad], while adapting to current trends and making use of public services easy and simple”. In order to do so, this forum established that “Member States should implement the once only principle: once only obligation, re-use of data, making the best use of key enablers and thinking cross-border services from inception”.
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