Editorial of January 2020

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by Tiago Cabral, master in EU Law - UMinho


Legislative Initiative for the European Parliament: A Wish for 2020

1. It is challenging to argue that the selection of Ursula von der Leyen for President of the European Commission (hereinafter “EC”) was the result, in any conceivable way, shape or form, of a victory by the European Parliament (“hereinafter “EP”) in the traditional power struggle between the Institutions. The spitzenkandidaten (lead candidate), a process which the EP swore that it would uphold, was left completely broken by the selection. It also served as a reminder that the “election” of the President of the EC is, if we rigorous in our analysis, a nomination by the European Council (hereinafter “ECON”) where the EP has veto power but is highly unlikely to use it. In fact, in a remarkable twist of fate, the ECON ended not only choosing the President of the EC but, arguably, also the President of the EP[i]. Even though there are some positive aspects that we should point out, such as the fact that the new EC will be more gender-balanced, that is certainly not enough to counterbalance the fact that no European citizen cast a vote thinking of, let alone desiring, the coming to pass of the current scenario.

2. Indeed, in a purely result-oriented perspective, the new Commission may go on to do a stellar job, thereby acquiring a high degree of output legitimacy. The College of Commissioners 2019-2024 possesses some worthy names, including two former lead candidates in Vice-Presidents Frans Timmermans and Margrethe Vestager[ii]. However, in terms of input legitimacy, the choice and the procedure leading to the current executive, does not strengthen the EU in any manner. Thereby, and until there is a broader reform of the European electoral process, it is necessary to search for other manners to widen the EU’s legitimacy.
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Editorial of December 2019

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by João Marques, member of the Portuguese Data Protection National Commission


Portuguese DPA won’t apply the country’s GDPR law

In spite of its nature[i], the GDPR leaves some room of manoeuvre to the Member States. This European legal instrument has even been called a hybrid[ii] between a directive and a regulation, precisely because there is a significant amount of issues where national legislation can in fact diverge from the general solutions the GDPR brings to the table. Although such leeway is not to be misunderstood for a “carte blanche” to the Member States, there is nevertheless a relevant part to be played by national legislators.

From the definition of a minimum legal age for children’s consent to be considered valid for its personal data to be processed (in relation to information society services), which can vary between 13 and 16 years of age, to the waiver on fines being applied to the public sector (Article 83, 7), there is a vast array of subjects left for the Member States to determine. In fact, a whole chapter of the GDPR[iii] is dedicated to these subjects, namely: Processing and freedom of expression and information (Article 85); Processing and freedom of expression and information (Article 86); Processing of the national identification number (Article 87); Processing in the context of employment (Article 88); Safeguards and derogations relating to processing for archiving purposes in the public interest, scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes (Article 89); Obligations of secrecy (Article 90) and Existing data protection rules of churches and religious associations (Article 91).

Additionally, matters of procedural law, according to the Principle of Conferral (Article 5 of the Treaty on the European Union) are almost entirely left for Member States to regulate, with few exceptions such as the deadlines and the (in)formalities of the reply to a data subject rights request (Article 12) and, most notably, the one-stop shop procedure (instated in Article 60) and all its related and non-related issues that are undertaken by the European Data Protection Board, the new European Union Body provided by the GDPR (section 3 of Chapter VII).

The task that lied ahead of the Portuguese legislator, concerning the national reform of the Data Protection Law[iv], was therefore demanding but framed in a way that should have helped steer its drafting in a comprehensive and relatively straightforward manner[v].

The legislative procedure in Portugal took some time to be jumpstarted and it wasn’t until the 22nd of March 2018 that a proposal from the government was finally approved and forwarded to the Parliament, as this is a matter of its competence under Article 165(1)(b) of the Portuguese Constitution.
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Editorial of November 2019

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 by Allan F. Tatham, Professor at Facultad de Derecho, Universidad San Pablo CEU


“Does Britain have a great future behind it?”: The stress of Brexit on a (Dis)United Kingdom

Introduction

Whatever the results of the British general election on 12 December 2019, Brexit will have major implications for the populations and governance arrangements of the four nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and their continuing membership of the United Kingdom (UK). The present author has already discussed the constitutional implications of a vote to leave the European Union (EU).[i] This discussion instead will briefly highlight how the results of that referendum and the ensuing three years or so have increasingly led two of the smaller “devolved” nations (England makes up over 85% of the UK’s total population of some 66.5 million people) to reassess their position in the UK.

The Brexit referendum itself of June 2016 revealed both inter-nation and intra-nation division. According to the figures,[ii] majorities in England and Wales voted to leave, while most voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland (as well as Gibraltar) opted for remain. Yet even these results are more nuanced than first appear: London also voted to remain as did some other cities (e.g., Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle) though by differing margins. Moreover recent research[iii] has shown that in Wales, areas with predominantly Welsh-speakers had voted to remain (as did Cardiff) while many of the 21% English-born voters had voted leave. The picture in Northern Ireland was no less complex: there, the nationalist community voted overwhelmingly for remain, while the unionist community voted largely (though much less decisively) for leave.

Northern Ireland

Of the four nations, this is the one most directly affected by Brexit since it will be the only part of the UK with an external border with the EU (Ireland). It is also the only devolved nation, according to the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Peace Agreement, that has in effect the legal right to secede from the UK, once a referendum has been held. In fact the most intractable issue in the Brexit negotiations has proved to be finding a solution to the Northern Irish trilemma: fulfilling the UK Government’s promise to leave the EU customs union and single market; to preserve British “territorial integrity”; and to continue its commitment to the peace agreement. However, leaving the customs union and single market would have meant the re-imposition a hard (or physical) border between the North and the South of the island of Ireland, entailing checks and customs duties: this represented for all parties a direct threat to the peace agreements. A way forward out of this trilemma was needed in order to avoid (or at least minimise) the immense social and economic dislocation implicit in a no-deal Brexit; this presented the negotiators with an immense task.
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Editorial of October 2019

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 by Tamara Álvarez Robles, Lecturer at the University of Vigo


On the reform of national law on data protection: the special incorporation of digital rights in Spain

The reform of the Spanish Organic Law on Data Protection (LO 3/2018), to adapt it to the General Regulation of Data Protection has introduced together with the European requirements a catalogue of digital rights. Title X “Guarantee of digital rights” has meant, undoubtedly one of the biggest novelties to data protection regulations. It is composed of a set of Articles, from 79 to 97, which present, for the first time in the Spanish national legislative sphere, the new generation of digital rights[i], inter alia, right to Internet neutrality, right to digital security, right to digital education, protection of minors on the Internet, right to rectification on the Internet, right to privacy and use of digital devices in the workplace, right to digital disconnection in the workplace, right to digital testament.

The inclusion in-extremis of the present Title X, of digital rights, through amendment of the Congress of Deputies dated April 18, 2018, responds to the fundamental importance, to the ever-present and dominating reality of the Internet, which reaches all spheres of our lives. That is why, Organic Law 3/2018 in section IV of the Preamble already points to the involvement of public authorities through the provision of public policies (Article 9.2 SC) in order to make effective the catalogue of digital rights based on the Principle of Equality (Article 14 SC), stating that: “it is the responsibility of the public authorities to promote policies that make effective the rights of citizens on the Internet, promoting the equality of citizens and the groups in which they are integrated in order to possible the full exercise of fundamental rights in the digital reality”.
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Editorial of September 2019

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 by Alessandra Silveira, Editor
 and Tiago Cabral, Master's student in EU Law at UMinho


Google v. CNIL: Is a new landmark judgment for personal data protection on the horizon?

1. In the 2014 landmark Judgment Google Spain (C-131/12), the Court of Justice of the European Union (hereinafter, “ECJ”) was called upon to answer the question of whether data subjects had the right to request that some (or all) search results referring to them are suppressed from a search engine’s results. In its decision, the ECJ clarified that search engines engage in data processing activities and recognised the data subject’s right to have certain results suppressed from the results (even if maintained on the original webpage).

2. This right encountered its legal basis on Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data (hereinafter, “Directive 95/46”) jointly with Articles 7 (respect for private and family life) and 8 (protection of personal data) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (hereinafter, “Charter”). In accordance with the Court’s decision, it can be exercised against search engines acting as data controllers (Google, Bing, Ask, amongst others) and does not depend on effective harm having befallen the data subject due to the inclusion of personal data in the search engine’s results. Data subject’s rights should override the economic rights of the data controller and the public’s interest in having access to the abovementioned information unless a pressing public interest in having access to the information is present.

3. Google Spain offered some clarity on a number of extremely relevant aspects such as: i) the [existence of] processing of personal data by search engines; ii) their status as data controllers under EU law; iii) the applicability of the EU’s data protection rules even if the undertaking is not headquartered in the Union; iv) the obligation of a search engine to suppress certain results containing personal data at the request of the data subject; v) the extension, range and (material) limits to the data subjects’ rights. The natural conclusion to arrive is that Google Spain granted European citizens the right to no longer be linked by name to a list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of said name.

4. What the judgment did not clarify, however, is the territorial scope of the right (i.e. where in the world does the connection have to be suppressed?). Is it a global obligation? European-wide? Only within the territory of a specific Member State? In 2018, the European Data Protection Board (hereinafter, “EDPB”) issued Guidelines on the territorial scope of the GDPR, but their focus is Article 3 of the legal instrument and therefore they offer no clarity on this issue (even if they did, they would not bind the ECJ).
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Editorial of July 2019

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 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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Editorial of June 2019

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 by Alessandra Silveira, Editor
 and Sergio Maia, Managing Editor


Strengthening the rule of law in the EU on the D-Day 75th Anniversary

On 3 April 2019, the European Commission opened a debate to strengthen the rule of law in the EU and setting out possible avenues for future action. The Commission invited the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council, and the Member States as well as relevant stakeholders, including legal networks and civil society, to reflect on this issue and contribute with concrete ideas on how the rule of law toolbox could be enhanced in the future. Building on this reflection process and the ongoing debate, the Commission will return to this issue with its own conclusions and proposals in June 2019. As first Vice-President Frans Timmermans said, the Union’s capacity to uphold the rule of law is essential, now more than ever. First because it is an issue of fundamental values, a matter of “who we are”. Second, because the functioning of the EU as a whole depends on the rule of law in all Member States. The confidence of all EU citizens and national authorities in the legal systems of all other Member States is vital for the functioning of the whole EU as “an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers”.[i]

On this 6 June 2019, D-Day 75th Anniversary, we add more one reason:  European integration emerged as an anti-fascist response to the collapse of the rule of law in the period between the two World Wars. What is important to highlight now is that all the legal-constitutional construction of the post-war in Europe is based on the idea that democracy, in the absent of the rule of law, becomes the tyranny of majority. Without the rule of law, we have nothing, only the nationalist populism and its disastrous consequences. Nationalist populism knows that, being a form of political communication that attempts to reach its goals by breaking the dialectic connection between democracy and rule of law.  So, as the rule of law can be improperly used, the main question in this context is to know what is the substance of the Union based on the rule of law.
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Editorial of May 2019

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 by Célia Zolynski, Professor of Law at Université Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne
 and Alexandre Veronese, Professor of Law at University of Brasília


Blockchain and security: an important debate for the legal community (especially from the civil law tradition)*

When we read and listen about the Blockchain technology, its main revolutionary character is the praised new manner by which the users would extract a new kind of trust from the operations endorsed. At some point, some writers even detail its technical design as being trustless. This technology – as some of their enthusiasts say – would therefore make it possible to replace, rather than displace, the trusted third party – an important technical feature that exists in most of the modern designs of private or public relationships – in various kinds of transactions and operations. The Blockchain enables this feature because it makes possible to guarantee the keeping of an unforgeable and updated register of digital records in real time. The technical functions of the Blockchain promise to secure many possible applications. An example is the use of the technology to ensure the integrity of a document or a digital archive over the time by anchoring it in the Blockchain. In addition, it is possible to create Blockchain systems to control or trace the circulation of digital archives and packages and even their usage. The Blockchain technology could therefore be able to guarantee the security of the storage files in the blocks using asymmetric encryption protocols in a peer-to-peer model. However, ten years after the launch of Bitcoin, in 2009, we are still largely in an exploratory phase of that technology. The blockchain and its applications remain immature: technically immature and, we should say, legally immature too. Several difficulties hinder the transition from the small-scale operations to bigger ones. One of the main concerns of the Blockchain technology is the safety of the designed applications. Such issue – the safety of the Blockchain – needs to be more debated than praised in order to avoid some misjudgments and overstatements. Just to begin, we are going to provide a provocative statement: Blockchain does not grant actual and complete security; from itself, the technology – and its prophets – indulge us with the illusion of safe and security. Why? We will divide the text in three parts, in order to pose problems to the Blockchain. First, we are going to describe that some technical issues that are entrenched in the design can be vulnerable to attacks and difficulties. Second, we are going to mention that – in legal terms – the Blockchain registers still will need a third party to be feasible as evidence in the courts. Lastly, we will remark that the so-called “smart contracts” are not contracts after all.
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Editorial of April 2019

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 by Sophie Perez Fernandes, Editor


First steps in a literacy campaign for a European political community – what is the EU based on the Rule of Law?

When one is asked to approach the legal dimension in a panel on the theme «European political community and cosmopolitan literacy»[i], one is confronted with the vastness and multiplicity of the subject, the critical nature of its importance and the overwhelming responsibility of the task… Underlying it are crucial questions about how to approach – in the sense of conceiving, accepting and, above all, living – the European Union as our collective destiny. And the challenge is also to discern the role of the Law in this endeavour aimed at building, revealing the meaning and living in a European political community.

That said, before embarking on an EU literacy campaign, a preliminary step would likely be to undertake what could be called a literacy campaign of the Law. And the reason is obvious: the European integration process is, above all, a process of integration through Law. From the very beginning, the European integration process has sought to «unite the peoples of Europe», to employ the terminology of the Treaties, not by the force of weapons, but by the force of norms – which, to a certain extent, consequently converts jurists into soldiers of the European integration process and of building a European political community – hence the overwhelming responsibility…
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Editorial of March 2019

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 by Allan F. Tatham, Professor at the Faculty of Law of University CEU San Pablo


Shindler’s Wish” Fulfilled and More? The Possibilities for Re-enfranchisement of UK nationals and EU citizens in a future People’s Vote on Brexit

Introduction

In the afternoon of 25 February 2019, with just over four weeks to go before the country’s expected withdrawal from the European Union, the UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, finally announced his party’s support for a second referendum on the issue.[1] Having already been passed as a resolution by the Labour Party conference in autumn 2018[2] and supported by the majority of party members,[3] it no doubt took the recent resignations of MPs from the party[4] finally to persuade the widely-regarded Eurosceptic Corbyn to swallow the bitter pill for a People’s Vote (PV) on the Brexit deal, “secured” by the cabinet of Prime Minister Theresa May.[5]

However, within the furore caused by his change of heart still hanging in the air, even if (and, at this stage, it is still a very big “if”) the UK Parliament were to vote in favour of a second popular vote, several points will need to be addressed anew.
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