On the Catalan separatism and the political comprehension: democracy is (must be) more than voting…

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 by Alessandra Silveira, Editor 

On October 1st, we watched stupefied and live the events around the unilateral declaration of the independence of Catalonia. The European Commission has resisted the persevering attempt of the Catalan separatists of converting the Catalan question into a European question.  President Juncker considers that is an internal issue of Spain and the decisions of the Spanish courts and of the Spanish Parliament should be respected. Unpleased, the separatists spread on social medias messages claiming the application of article 7, Treaty on the European Union, i. e., calling on the suspension of the rights of a Member State due to the use of military force against its population.

We shall then make a brief exercise to test the conformity of such argument and try to understand why the EU has resisted taking parting in this imbroglio. What were the Spanish police doing in the voting pools? They were assuring the execution of judicial decisions – of the Spanish Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Catalonia itself – aimed at preventing the realization of an unconstitutional and illegal referendum, organised in clear violation of the rule of law. Or, more concretely, the policemen were apprehending documents and instruments destined to facilitate the voting, especially ballot boxes, computer equipment, ballot papers and propaganda papers – and reacted against the ones who were trying to hinder their action.

Continue reading “On the Catalan separatism and the political comprehension: democracy is (must be) more than voting…”

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State of the Union 2017 scenario: with full breath ahead

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by Sergio Maia, Managing Editor

On September, 13th President Jean-Claude Juncker addressed the annual speech of the State of the Union (here). Against the background of the White Paper on the Future of Europe and in solid dialogue with the European Parliament, President Juncker presented some new ideas as well as highlighted previous proposals. More importantly, the European Commission demonstrates that it is effectively holding the position of initiative with which the Treaties empower it – in close democratic discussion with the Parliament.

Here we intend to comment the first impressions about key aspects of some of the topics the Juncker Commission brought to life and debate.

1. After valuing the European institutions role on “helping the wind change” for growth, job creation and control of public deficits, he expressed the will to strengthen the European trade agenda by negotiating international agreements. It seems that after the cases of the Paris agreement (on environmental issues) and the uncertainty around TTIP, there are two messages underlying this point. The first is to make the EU the main business platform worldwide (Canada, Japan, Mexico, South America and the proposal to open negotiations with Australia and New Zealand). Reliable and stable, Europe wants to be the ideal partner and the first in line in global economy. With many interrogations amounting over the US, this also seems to be an external policy strategy (“we are not naïve free traders”, he said). Alongside investment, the idea is to make the industry stronger and more competitive as well as being the leader in fighting climate change. More and more signals of the projection of the leadership of the Union in the world.

2. As far as migration, external borders and the Schengen area are concerned, migration will remain a priority. So will the support to Italian authorities who are “saving Europe’s honour in the Mediterranean”. In parallel, the Commission wants to work on legal pathways to end illegal activities like trafficking at the same time it calls for solidarity in welcoming refugees. This is a novelty. After Germany’s policy of opening doors, now the EC looks like the new leading actor in this matter. Contrary to the position of his political family, which never clearly came out, President Juncker took on a stand closer to the approach of S&D. It will be interesting to follow the next parliamentary debates and what the EPP’s reaction will be, even though its following remarks were in a more agreeable way to these terms. Finally, suggesting that Romania, Bulgaria and soon Croatia should become members of the Schengen area is a political movement on a critical region where Russia has been growingly active. The idea seems to be to overpower its influence there – the direct reference of the 100th anniversary of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania proves just that.

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A brief reference to the ongoing review of the EU system of social security coordination

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by Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor

The right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, which is granted to EU citizens and members of their families, is one of the freedoms on which the European integration process is based. Apart from fundamental economic freedom, which is embedded in the professional freedoms guaranteed by the Treaties as pillars of the internal market (free movement of workers, freedom of establishment and freedom to provide services)[i], the free movement and residence of nationals of the Member States forms part of the essential core of their status as EU citizens[ii], as well as being recognized as a fundamental right[iii].

Although so framed in EU primary law, this right to move and reside freely would not be practicable if were not protected the social security rights of those who actually exercised it by moving from one Member State to another, accompanied or not by their families. For the so-called dynamic citizens, it was necessary for EU law to provide them with adequate protection in the fields of social security with the aim of avoiding that the particularities of the national social security systems of the different Member States would hinder the exercise of their freedom of movement. The first EU regulation in this area dates back to the 1950s, and over the ensuing decades the normative and jurisprudential acquis framing the coordination of social security systems has been solidified and complexified, seeking to balance the preservation of the competences of the Member States in the fields of social security and to ensure the continuity of social protection of individuals beyond Member States.
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Judgment TTK, of 13 July 2017, clears the air (and land) on environmental liability in the EU as Trump keeps tumbling on climate issues

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by Ana Torres Rego, student of the Master's degree in EU Law of UMinho

Living in the most powerful technological society carries with it advanced innovation and a better quality of life, while simultaneously, a massive number of challenges to deal with, mainly at the environment field. As the progress goes on, the ozone hole gets bigger, the temperatures are crazily increasing, the icebergs in Antarctic are melting and biodiversity is being lost. The planet as a huge ecosystem, where everything flows cyclically and harmonious, is suffering huge threats due to human ambition, every single day.

Constructed under an economic structure, the European Union soon realised that without taking care of Mother Nature, so much progress and improvement would be worthless for the next generations, once their planet would be destroyed if nothing interrupts the rhythm of the consumption of Earth’s resources. Accordingly, the decrease of fossil fuel dependency – which primarily contributes to side effects of global warming caused by the consequent emissions of carbon dioxide – is the trickiest and demanding subject that Member States are concerned about, in the scope of such matters. Actually, that’s because there’s a complex paradox demanding urgent answers between, on one hand, the economic competition and the need to protect the environment through green economic measures, on the other.
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Taricco continues – between constitutional national identity and highest level of protection of fundamental rights, where does effectiveness of EU law stand?

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 by Alessandra Silveira, Editor 
 and Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor

In September 2015, and in the wake of the case-law set in Fransson, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) detailed in Taricco the scope of the Member States’ obligations to combat VAT fraud (see comment here). The ECJ is now faced with the repercussions of said judgment as the Corte costituzionale [the Italian Constitutional Court (ICC)] questions the compatibility of the solution established therein with supreme principles of the Italian constitutional order.

As is well known, the Taricco case called into question the Italian regime on limitation periods for criminal offenses. The national provisions in question were such that, given the complexity and duration of criminal proceedings, defendants accused of VAT evasion constituting serious fraud affecting the EU’s financial interests were likely to enjoy de facto impunity as a result of the expiration of the limitation period. Having established that the Italian regime in question was not in conformity with EU law, the ECJ interpreted Article 325 TFEU as having “the effect, in accordance with the principle of the precedence of EU law, in their relationship with the domestic law of the Member States, of rendering automatically inapplicable, merely by their entering into force, any conflicting provision of national law”. Therefore, national courts were to “ensure that EU law is given full effect, if need be by disapplying those provisions (…), without having to request or await the prior repeal of those articles by way of legislation or any other constitutional procedure”. The ECJ significantly added that, if a national court decides to disapply the national provisions at issue, “it must also ensure that the fundamental rights of the persons concerned are respected” as penalties might be applied to them, which, in all likelihood, would not have been imposed under those national provisions. In this regard, the ECJ did not consider that such a disapplication of national law would infringe the rights of the accused as guaranteed by Article 49 CFREU on the principles of legality and proportionality of criminal offences and penalties.

The Taricco judgment caused some stir within the Italian legal community. A few days after the delivery of the judgment, the Corte d’appello di Milano (Court of Appeal of Milan), instead of applying the solution formulated therein in a case pending before it concerning serious fraud in relation to VAT, stayed the proceedings to raise a question of constitutionality before the ICC, which would be followed months later by the Corte suprema di cassazione (Court of Cassation). Both courts have doubts as to the compatibility of the case-law established in Taricco with supreme principles of the Italian constitutional order and with the requirement to respect inalienable human rights as laid down by the Italian Constitution, with particular reference to the principle of legality in criminal matters [Article 25(2) of the Italian Constitution]. Hearing such concerns, the ICC sought a preliminary reference from the ECJ (here and here) according to an expedited procedure, the application of which was deferred (here). Advocate-General Yves Bot recently rendered its Opinion (here).

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Competition authorities have a new “top model”

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by Joana Whyte, Associate Lawyer at SRS Advogados and member of CEDU

Until recently, the fashion industry had never been an obvious sector of focus for competition authorities. However, in the past few months, national competition authorities from Italy, the United Kingdom and France have been particularly attentive to this industry, initiating investigations for competition law infringements which culminated in the imposition of fines on several entities, reminding us all that competition law applies to all sectors of the economy.

In November 2016, the Italian Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato concluded that eight major modelling agencies, representing 80% of Italy’s market share, including Elite Model Management, Major Model Management and the association of the fashion industry – Assem, had participated in a cartel during the relevant period from May 2007 to March 2015. The activity occurred in the context of negotiations with customers, including fashion houses, luxury car dealers, consumer goods brands and advertising companies on services ranging from runway shows to photoshoots for catalogues and promotional events.

The investigation was triggered by a leniency application put forward by IMG Italy, S.r.L on 18th September 2014. Following a thorough investigation, the Italian Competition Authority applied a total fine of €4.5 million on the investigated entities[i]. The evidence provided by IMG was considered to be decisive for the investigation. In particular, IMG provided useful elements for understanding the nature of the cartel, the purposes it pursued, and the ways in which it was achieved, and therefore was granted total immunity by the Autorità.
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Data Protection Officer according to GDPR

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by André Mendes Costa, masters student at University of Minho
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In an ever changing world of information technologies, privacy and data protection inevitably attracts considerable attention.

The Portuguese Data Protection Law and the EU Directive 95/46 will be soon replaced by a new European and National legal framework. In fact, the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) alters profoundly the paradigm of the personal data protection legal regime. The 679/2016 Regulation (GDPR) is part of a new European community legislative package which also includes a directive that lays down the procedures for dealing with personal data by the competent authorities for the purposes of prevention, research, detection and prosecution of criminal offences or the execution of criminal penalties. The Regulation came into force on 25th May and establishes a vacancy period of 2 years, providing the necessary time for the public and private sectors to equip themselves to face the new regulatory demands.

This brief analysis concentrates on the post of the data protection officer (DPO), on his/her duties and competencies and on those entities who are responsible for his/her appointment.

In the new European legislation there is an important change of paradigm in the protection of personal data namely the suppression – with a few exceptions contained in the Regulation – of the requisite of pre notification to the National Commission of Data Protection (NCDP). This change assigns to the person responsible for the processing of data the onus of legal guarantor of his/her cases, thus fully observing the Regulation. In fact, in the cases where there is no prior notification to the competent authority (NCDP), the Regulation has found other forms of guarantying that the processing of personal data is legally protected by creating the post of a data protection officer (DPO).
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Modernisation and supermodernisation of the state aid law – silent deepening of European integration?

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by Ana Filipa Afonseca, student of the Master´s degree in EU Law of UMinho

In general, the Member States have always had a bad understanding about the importance of the prohibition of the state aid, pursuant Article 107, TFEU, in fact, in 1966 and in 1987, the Member States rejected the proposal of the Commission to assume a legal definition of aid.

Truly, in the past – not so distant – Member States escaped the application of the prohibition of the state aid in a simple way: they didn’t notify the European Commission about the aid that they had conceded to their companies.

The importance of the state aid prohibition started to become clear to the Member States when they noticed this article plays an important role on improving the growth of the internal market. And the main reason this prohibition was learned by the Member States was due to its control for a non-differentiated growth of the Member States and distortion of competition. Besides that, it ended an obscure and dubious policy practice of the destination of public funds to the eyes of the citizens… until, shall we say, the beginning of the crisis in 2008.
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Europe and the train of the Digital Single Market

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

The European Union must not miss the train of a true digital single market that will keep the momentum of its important digital content industry and make it more competitive without losing the essence of European cultural identity.

The Communication from the Commission on a strategy for the Single Digital Market in Europe of 6 May 2015 takes account of this and calls for a comprehensive legislative reform in order to combat fragmentation and barriers in the European digital market, a situation that has been affecting Europe’s leadership capacity in the global digital economy.

The basis for such regulatory initiatives are Article 4 (2) (a) and Articles 26, 27, 114 and 115 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. There are many topics involved in a comprehensive and integrated single market initiative: data protection, e-commerce, consumer protection, access (broadband and interoperability), competition law, taxation, etc.

From the point of view of copyright, the Commission’s communication on promoting a European economy founded on fair, efficient and competitive copyright in the digital single market, of 14 September 2016, is the instrument that point out the initiatives concerning the protection of copyright in the digital single market. Such initiatives are: the Proposal for a Regulation regulating copyright and related rights for online television broadcasts and rebroadcasts on online TV and radio programs; Proposal for a Regulation governing the exchange of accessible copies between the EU and third countries part of the Marrakesh Treaty; Proposal for a Directive to facilitate access to public works for blind and or visually impaired persons (Marrakech Treaty).

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Eurogroup and secrecy

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by Andreia Barbosa, PhD student at the Law School of UMinho

It is clear from Article 1 of Protocol No 14, annexed to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, that Eurogroup meetings take place informally.

Informality is reflected in two aspects. First, according to the terms in which the meetings are held, that is, as to the procedure adopted therein. In fact, there is no set of rules defining the procedure to be followed, for example, to ensure the involvement of all actors and to determine the order in which such interventions can be carried out and the duration they may have. Secondly, the terms in which «decisions» are taken and how they are made known to the public. It is through press conferences that the outcome of the meetings is presented to citizens of the Union (and when they are).

It should be noted that we refer to «decisions» as a result of Eurogroup meetings, even though we know that the formal, final, and binding decision on the subject is actually taken at the Ecofin meeting. However, we are also aware of the fact that the votes made at Ecofin express the outcome of the previous Eurogroup meeting. The final decision of Ecofin was born in the Eurogroup.

So, the informality resulting from Article 1 of Protocol No 14 actually means «opacity». Contrary to the idea of necessary transparency and publicity in all decision-making centers, no minutes or documents are signed in the Eurogroup, there are no transcripts or records relating to the respective meetings. No database has ever been set up to add up the «decisions» taken. The proposals under discussion, the presented votes, the conflicts of interest that have arisen and the commitments made are not known. Moreover, the acts of the Eurogroup can not be syndicated before the Court of Justice of the European Union, even though they are not documented, neither on paper nor in audio or video.

Although a certain procedural informality is admitted (but still susceptible of criticism), it does not seem to admit an opacity in the decisions. In abstract, a procedure can be informal and simultaneously transparent. In particular, the functioning of the Eurogroup may be informal, but its «decisions» should not be opaque. And the lack of transparency that exists goes beyond mere confidentiality.

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