Editorial of June 2017

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by Alessandra Silveira, Editor

Waiting for a federal big bang in EU? Updating the theory of federalism in times of liquid modernity

On May, 22-23, at Nova Law School, Lisbon, took place a conference on “The federal experience of the European Union: past, present and future”, organized by Professor Nuno Piçarra. Sixty years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome and twenty-five years after Maastricht, the EU may be living a true moment of “constitutional mutation” that may dramatically change its identity. Yes, it is possible to re-found the EU without revising the Treaties (as constitutional mutation is nothing new and it has been working since the beginning of the integration) and without committing “semantics imprudences” (avoiding the “blasted” nature of terms such as constitution and federation). Therefore, this is the right time to address the EU federative experience from an historic perspective and to analyse the role which such an acquis may play in the shaping of the future EU. For these reasons, the purpose of that conference was to tackle the following three questions. First, how should we evaluate the EU federative experience, sixty years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome? Second, which are the main challenges facing the EU in the light of its federative experience? Third, do these challenges and respective answers suggest that the European federative dream is over, or just undergoing a new form of development?

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Editorial of May 2017

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by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor

Europe: “Ceci c’est pas une pipe!”

Populism has manifested itself not only in the form of public (or at least published) streams of public opinion, but also through the result of (naturally) democratic and legitimate electoral acts. And such cases of populisms materialised in the exercise of representative democracy, generated in the democratic institutional functioning in the context of the rule of law, begin to not be unusual. Deep down, we have seen expressions of populism that acquire power and influence (sometimes determining), with an anti-democratic tendency, created by democracy itself.

Populism appears nowadays as especially adjusted, attractive and intellectually comfortable for a considerable part of the European and American population (in other words, for a large amount of the electorate). There are, as I see it, several reasons, mostly articulated, that cause this relative outbreak now with direct political consequences – that considerably surpass the juridical-constitutional dimension. Those causes are not exclusively attributable to dysfunctions in the dynamics of the democratic institutions.

Such reasons are rooted also in something deeper and concrete than the legal abstraction or the political activity and representation: it has to do, to a great extent, with our current way of life and cosmovision in the context of the technical societies of information and – why not say it – abundance. It should be noted that the intention is not to disregard the existence of reasons attributable to the bad juridical architecture and the bad political functioning (or even the bad performance of politicians); but they are not the only explanatory causes for populist phenomena that disturb democracy….

I won’t reflect or develop, at this occasion, the issue of the causes non-directly juridical, or institutional, of populism. They might also be sociological and cultural tendencies; they could be as well a reaction to extremisms, relativisms and the loss of collective references resulting from the erosion of gregarious institutions, social and natural. That erosion has a lot to do with the overvaluing and a revival of tendencies (neo)hedonist and (neo)utilitarianist which have been potentialized particularly well with the economic growth, modernity (especially in the post-war) and, lately, with the immediacy (created by technology and consequent globalisation). From the legal perspective, such relativism makes it difficult to understand normatively the basic principle of equality, turning it into a principle of the existential relativism: everything is equal to its opposite, blurring and even disabling normative senses, decisions and value options, as everything is equivalent.

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Editorial of April 2017

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by Alessandra Silveira, Editor

What future do we want for ourselves, for our children and for our Union? (as for the 60 years landmark of the Treaty of Rome: please open the fridge!)

Two weeks ago I went to Rome at the European’s Commission invitation for the celebrations of the 60 years of the constitutive treaties of the current European Union. The Commission had decided to gather a group of Jean Monnet chairs from 34 nationalities for a seminar with the title “The future of Europe: a commitment for You(th)” and for a meeting with the EC Vice President, Federica Mogherini, and the (rotating) President of the Council of the EU, Joseph Muscat (Prime-Minister of Malta). It is my duty to share on this blog what I have heard there.

The EC is moving forward with a series of proposals about the management of globalisation and the future of the European finances, but also tending to develop the European social dimension. And, mostly, proposals tending to conclude the Economic and Monetary Union – that takes monetary and exchange sovereignty from the Member States whilst keeps their financial and fiscal sovereignty, what provokes clear imbalances between the more and the less robust economies of the euro zone. Moreover, the Commission presented on 1 March 2017 a White Paper on the future of Europe[i]  – which prospects the changes we will be subject to over the course of the next 10 years and presents 5 scenarios to face the challenges.

After a large debate – that will take place at the European level in the next months and in which the European Parliament, national parliaments, local and regional authorities and the society in general will participate – President Jean-Claude Juncker will address his considerations on the occasion of the speech of the State of the Union, in September 2017, hence contributing with the European Council for reaching its first conclusions by the end of the year and deciding about the actions to take over the period that precedes the European Parliament’s elections, in June 2019.

Naturally, the outcome will also depend on the electoral results in France and Germany – it couldn’t be any different. Not exactly for the narrative of the “French-German axis”, but because 40% of everything that is built with European funds is money from the French or the German tax payer. Is it not of the most elementary coherence that who pays the most should have a word? Anyhow, the European citizens from the other Member States may not be unrelated to the definition of their future – that’s why they need to know the proposals and pressure political decision-makers towards better choices. The European Union is not made by aliens – it’s our representatives who are there: in the Parliament, in the Council, in the Commission.

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Editorial of March 2017

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by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor

The future (in White Paper) of Europe, according to Juncker

The European Commission has presented the White Paper on the Future of Europe precisely now in the year of the milestone celebration of 60 years of integration[i] and when it is taking place the technical and diplomatic operation of materialising Brexit.

It is always good and never inopportune to launch a debate on the future of integration, especially when the Union faces a political, economic and social turbulence and, at the external level, the geopolitical indetermination which makes this debate an existential issue. Incidentally, by promoting this debate, it is indispensible that it is rapidly consequent.

The White Paper was then presented at the European Parliament, on 1st March, by the President of the Commission who intended to propose options to strengthen the Union in the post-Brexit. Juncker wanted to highlight, by all means and with certainty before the context and the dark and hesitant note with which the integration and the EU have been marked, a sign/memory of hope: “Our darkest days are still far brighter than any spent by our forefathers imprisoned in Ventotene” [the Italian prison where Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi were kept during the II World War].

The intention of the Commission and its President is understandable (in fact, he has already announced he won’t be running for a second term). Indeed, this motivating intention of the newly presented White Paper was explicitly affirmed: as we face a Europe post-Brexit, the integration of 28-1 and with risks of not being able to stem possible propensities for new withdrawals, we must quickly define a new path. A definition that will mean necessarily a commitment of deepening the integration, among all. The question is precisely knowing/defining how to advance to this deepening. Furthermore: what does it mean, realistically and consequently today, such deepening? That is, which path to define to the future (nearly) immediate of the Union?

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Editorial of February 2017

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by Alessandra Silveira, Editor
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On the Southern EU countries summit – challenges of democracy in times of austerity and dismay

Last Saturday, 28 January 2017, seven Member States from the south of Europe (Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain) gathered in Lisbon to send the message of their national public opinions to the public opinions of the other Member States of the Union: surely the EU has to fight terrorism and to adopt a cohesive migration policy but such issues cannot bypass the attention towards the economic problem. It is a clamour of the Southern Europe in the regard that economic convergence becomes priority in the EU’s strategy through policies that create financial capacity in the euro zone and the development of European programmes to support investment. In the horizon, there would be solutions which involve a larger risk sharing – as the adoption of common taxes, an European system of bank deposit guarantee, common debt issue (eurobonds) as well as policies of positive discrimination in favour of indebted Member States that fulfil the adjustment rules.

The message of the citizens from the south of Europe holds that they advanced in the structural reforms and budgetary consolidation as much as it was possible (and the results in Spain and Portugal, mostly, are clear). But under the current circumstances of strong indebtedness and high unemployment it’s impossible to carry on without some relief from the financing constraints. Otherwise the Mediterranean societies will be driven to a situation of social rupture with unpredictable consequences, considering the populisms that lurk around. All that is inserted in a broader debate that the European institutions are facing on how to produce more jobs and better economic performance so that the European citizens can again see the European integration as an asset in their lives. It wasn’t for a different reason that in the first session of January the European Parliament approved a report on the Social Pillar (here). In the same regard, in March the European Commission will submit proposals aiming at reinforcing the social rights – that is, the access to minimum wage and minimum insertion allowances, access to a compulsory health insurance, extinction of unpaid internships, etc. In a year in which there are elections in several Member States, the strengthening of social protection means a European strategy to hinder the adhesion to populist movements.

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Editorial of January 2017

 

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by Joana Covelo de Abreu, Junior Editor
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New year’s resolutions: digital single market in 2017 – the year of interoperability

Digital Single Market is one of the major political goals for EU and its Member States since digital tools have shaped, for the past last decade, how economy behaves and how economic growth is relying on IT tools. In fact, digital economy can create growth and employment all across our continent. On the other hand, digital mechanisms cover almost every economic field, from transportation to clothes, from movies to sports since online platforms have the ability to create and shape new markets, challenging traditional ones.

The Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) is one of the initiatives under Europe 2020 Strategy and it aims to promote economic growth and social benefits by achieving the digital single market. So it is named as one of the secondary public interests that must be pursued by European administration – both national public administrations (when they apply EU law and act as European functioning administrations) and European institutions and, in that sense, especially national public administrations must feel engaged to promote this end and objective, otherwise if those are the ones to firstly resist to innovation, Internal Market adaptation to new framework standards will suffer and economic prosperity in Europe can be undermined.

Therefore, EU has created several mechanisms to foster interoperability solutions that would bring together institutions, national public administrations, companies and individuals. In this context, interoperability stands for “the ability of disparate and diverse organizations to interact towards mutually beneficial and agreed common goals, involving the sharing of information and knowledge between organizations, through the business processes they support, by means of the exchange of data between their respective ICT systems”. It demands and implies an effective interconnection between digital components where standardization has an essential role to play in increasing the interoperability of new technologies within the Digital Single Market. It aims to facilitate access to data and services in a protected and interoperable environment, promoting fair competition and data protection.

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Editorial of December 2016

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by Mariana Canotilho, Editor
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‘Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground’

The 6th EASO Consultative Forum Plenary took place in Athens on 28-29 November 2016. I took part in it, as an academic, interested in EU law, and a volunteer working with refugees. A feeling of deep frustration seemed to be shared by most of the attendants (academics, NGO’s workers, EU and UN agencies’ representatives). What is being done is not enough. It is too slow, too bureaucratic; the legal framework is either insufficient or absurd and counterproductive.

EASO is the European Asylum Support Office. It plays a central role in the implementation of the EU Migration agenda and the new hotspot approach. It is the European agency more focused on the specific problems of refugees, trying to strengthen the practical cooperation among Member States on the many aspects of asylum, and providing practical and technical support to Member States and the European Commission, especially to those whose asylum and reception systems are under particular pressure.

However, it can only do so much. The meagre means don’t help, but neither does the competence set, nor the legal framework being applied. The most worrisome feature, repeatedly questioned by NGOs, UN agencies and volunteers is the ‘safe country of origin’ criteria. As part of the European Agenda on Migration, the Commission proposed on 9 September 2015 to establish a common EU list of safe countries of origin that would enable fast-tracking of asylum applications from citizens of these countries, which are considered ‘safe’ according to the criteria set out in the Asylum Procedures Directive and in full compliance with the principle of non-refoulement. This might seem a reasonable idea. However, the criteria are so strict, that countries like Turkey and Afghanistan are considered safe based on their ‘stable democratic system and compliance with international human‐rights treaties’. As this does not stop people from fleeing war and human rights violations, it only aggravates the problems, creating a group of ‘second-class refugees’, who cannot even apply to the relocation mechanism.

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Editorial of November 2016

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

Unveiling the meaning of freedom of religion in the workplace

Two preliminary proceedings are currently pending before the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) concerning the question of religious expression at work. In both cases, Achbita (C-157/15), originated in Belgium, and Bougnaoui (C-188/15), originated in France, the ECJ is called upon to rule on a highly sensitive issue – the wearing of Islamic headscarves (and not the full veil) in the workplace. The questions are fundamentally the following: is a private employer allowed to prohibit a female employee of Muslim faith from wearing a headscarf in the workplace?; is the dismissal of an employee who refuses to comply with such rules restricting the wearing of religious symbols at work unlawful?

It is the first time that the ECJ is called upon to address such questions. In the meantime, both AG Kokott (in Achbita) and AG Sharpston (in Bougnaoui) have rendered their opinions. The issues raised in both cases require the interpretation of the concept of ‘discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief’ within the meaning of the Anti-Discrimination Directive – the Directive 2000/78[i]. Both Advocates General concluded that a ban, such as those at issue in the main proceedings, could be regarded as indirect discrimination: the rules in question, although apparently neutral, were likely to put individuals of certain religions or beliefs at a particular disadvantage by comparison with other employees. Such discrimination may nevertheless be permitted if i) objectively justified by a legitimate aim, such as the interest of the employer’s business to enforce a policy of religious and ideological neutrality, and ii) so far as the principle of proportionality is observed (Article 2/2/b of Directive 2000/78).

However, the Advocates General disagree as to whether such a ban could be found as constituting direct discrimination (Article 2/2/a of Directive 2000/78). According to AG Kokott, a ban such as that at issue in Achbita could not be regarded as direct discrimination based on religion: a company rule prohibiting the wearing of visible signs of religious, political or philosophical beliefs, only creates a difference of treatment between employees who wish to give active expression to a particular belief and their colleagues who do not feel the same need. Thus, Ms Achbita had not been treated less favourably than another person on account of religion directly and specifically. On the contrary, AG Sharpston firstly concluded that Ms Bougnaoui’s dismissal amounted to direct discrimination against her on the basis of her religion as the right to manifest one’s religion is to be understood as an intrinsic part of the right to freedom of religion enshrined in both Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFREU). The distinction between direct and indirect discrimination is relevant as their possible justifications are different. In her analysis, AG Sharpston concluded that neither Article 4(1) of Directive 2000/78, nor any of the other derogations from the prohibition of direct discrimination on grounds of religion which that directive lays down, applied.

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Editorial of October 2016

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by Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor

Engaging EU liability within the European Stability Mechanism framework

Last September 20th, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered two judgments regarding the role of the European Commission and, to a lesser extent, the European Central Bank, in the negotiation and signing of the Memorandum of Understanding concluded between the Republic of Cyprus and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) during the 2012-2013 financial crisis, and, in particular, in the restructuring of the banking sector in Cyprus imposed as a condition for the grant of financial assistance.

In Mallis and Malli (Joined Cases C-105/15 P to C-109/15 P), actions were brought against the European Commission and the European Central Bank for the annulment of the Eurogroup’s statement of 25 March 2013 concerning, inter alia, the restructuring of the banking sector in Cyprus. In turn, in Ledra Advertising (Joined Cases C-8/15 P to C-10/15 P), depositors of two large Cypriot banks brought actions against the European Commission and the European Central Bank for the partial annulment of the Memorandum of Understanding of 26 April 2013 adopted jointly by the ESM and the Republic of Cyprus and also for compensation for damages allegedly suffered following the request for financial assistance and the ensuing restructuring of the two banks in question.

The ECJ had already been called upon to rule on judicial protection questions raised by the ESM framework. Created in order to provide, where needed, financial assistance to the Member States whose currency is the euro, the ESM was instituted through an international agreement between euro area Member States – the Treaty establishing the ESM, concluded in Brussels the 2th February 2012, in force since the 27th September 2012. Thus, the ESM Treaty is not part of the EU legal order, as confirmed by the ECJ in the famous Pringle judgment (C-370/12). As a consequence, when creating the ESM, or acting within its framework, Member States do not act within the scope of application of EU law for the purposes, in particular, of Article 51(1) CFREU. Individuals seeking to challenge Member States’ measures adopted pursuant the conditions laid down in a Memorandum of Understanding would not, therefore, find in the preliminary ruling mechanism an indirect means of access to the ECJ in order to assess their compliance with EU law and, in particular, the CFREU as the former was not in question and the latter was hence out of reach.

What the above mentioned judgments, and especially Ledra Advertising, emphasize is the link nonetheless existing between the ESM framework and the EU legal order. Quoting Alicia Hinarejos (EU Law Analysis), in order to carry out its functions, the ESM “borrows” two EU institutions, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, two thirds of the infamously known Troika. The question is whether (and, if so, when) EU institutions’ actions within the ESM framework might be reviewed and, when harmful, give rise to compensation under EU law and, in particular, in light of the CFREU.

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Editorial of September 2016

Pepper Police @ Dresden Nazi Frei

by Mariana Canotilho, Editor
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Democracy at the crossroads

A little over one month ago, the European Commission advanced its disciplinary procedure against Poland, after accusing Warsaw of failing to address concerns over democracy and the rule of law in the country. The Polish government reacted harshly, stating that this is not the kind of presence in the EU they have agreed on, and affirming that the procedure goes beyond the Treaties and the Commission’s competences.

The situation in Poland is serious but it is not unique. Hungary was the precursor in the authoritarian drift. The Tavares report on the country, published in 2013, denounces the weakening of checks and balances, especially the actions against the Constitutional Court, the Parliament and the Data Protection Authority, the undermining of the independence of the judiciary, the restrictions to the rights of persons belonging to minorities and the interference with the media and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The Union has strong reasons to fear the dissolution of the rule of law in the East. But the process of re-engagement with it is long, difficult and complex. One of the more obvious difficulties, from a constitutional law point of view, is that the EU’s own track record concerning democracy and the rule of law during the last ‘crisis years’ is at least fuzzy.

The ongoing crisis has been used to contest the steps taken during the last 15 years towards the parliamentarisation of the EU. In fact, there is a remarkable institutional change within the Union – both at national and European levels – promoted in the framework of an ‘emergency politics’ that tends to enhance the powers of executive authorities and of informal, non-accountable, decision mechanisms, in detriment of democratic representative institutions.

Furthermore, the EU has promoted necessity over democratic consent and effectiveness over deliberative reason as decision’s criteria. It has allowed, justified and sometimes even actively furthered the weakening of constitutional mechanisms that control and limit the exercise of power. This has clearly limited the space for well-minded critics, for alternative proposals, for self-reflection and correction of mistakes. Paradoxically, it has also, as the cases of Hungary and Poland sadly demonstrate, opened the floor for the true enemies of European integration and European democratic values. Will the Union still be able – and willing – to save them?

Picture credits: Pepper Police  by MonteCruz Foto.