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.

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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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Editorial of September 2017

Pile of debt

by Joana Covelo de Abreu, Junior Editor


Effective judicial protection concerning debt recovery: branding the judicial reentrée

The European Union is now living a post crisis’ recovery and, to achieve that, the Commission understood in its 2013 Citizenship Report the European Union was now pursuing two new goals: an economic recovery and a sustainable growth. To meet those political objectives, the European Union adopted Regulation (EU) No. 2015/2421 which revised both European Small Claims Procedure [Regulation (EC) No. 861/2007] and the European order for payment procedure [Regulation (EC) No. 1896/2006]. In fact, both these instruments were reputed, already in 2013, as being able to definitely influence European economic recovery by boosting Internal Market functioning and delivering better observance of fundamental freedoms by protecting those economic agents that interacted in a cross-border context.

The changes brought by Regulation No. 2015/2421 are applicable since 14th July 2017 and, so, as the courts’ recession is going on – for instance, in Portugal this started in the 16th July 2017 and it will end in the 31st August 2017 – the real impact of these legislative precisions are going only to be felt when the judicial réentrée happens.

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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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The right to withdraw the notification to leave the European Union under Article 50 TEU: can we still save the marriage?

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by Mariana Alvim, PhD candidate at University of Lisbon

The 29 March 2017 will be always recalled as the date the United Kingdom has served divorce papers on the European Union, following a referendum that took place on the 23 June 2016 where the majority of the British people decided to leave the EU.

The EU institutions and the Member States have limited instruments at their disposal to persuade other Member State to remain a member of the Union against their will; therefore if exit cannot be prevented at least it can be regulated.

The decision to depart is always taken in accordance with the Member State’s domestic law but once Article 50 TEU is triggered the law of the European Union governs the withdrawal process and the departure itself.

And despite its rapid rise to fame in the result of the British referendum, this sparsely worded Treaty provision still raises more questions that it answers.

It is important to underline that Article 50 TEU imposes substantive and procedural conditions on the withdrawing Member State. But once it has given notice under Article 50(1) TEU, all that the withdrawing Member State is apparently required to do, before the Treaties cease to apply, is to wait out the two-year period stipulated in Article 50(2) TEU.

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Editorial of July 2017

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by Maria José Costeira, Portuguese Judge at the General Court of the CJEU

The transposition of the Private Enforcement Directive: a critical perspective

On 26th November 2014 the Directive 2014/104/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on certain rules governing actions for damages under national law for infringements of the competition law provisions of the Member States and of the European Union was approved. That directive, usually called Directive Enforcement, has to be transposed into national law by Member States until the 27th December 2016 (Article 21).

In Portugal, the National Competition Authority (Autoridade da Concorrência – AdC) entity in charge of preparing the transposition, presented, on the 22nd June 2016, the last proposal of a preliminary draft[i] for the transposition, which resulted from a process of public discussion.

Here, I intend to draw attention to some aspects that could be improved in the proposal.

Article 2 of the proposal gives the definition of cartel as “the agreement or concerted action between two or more competing companies which aims at coordinating their competition behaviour in the market or influencing the relevant competition standards through acts such as, namely, fixing or coordinating the prices of acquisition or sell or other conditions of transactions, including in relation to rights of intellectual property, attribution of production or sell quotas, sharing markets and clients, including the concertation in auctions and public procurements, restricting importations or exportations or conducting anti-competitive acts against other competitors as prohibited by Article 9 of the Law nº. 19/2012, of 8th May, and if applicable by Article 101, TFEU”.

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Portuguese Constitutional Court’s decision n.º 591/2016, of 9 November 2016 or when the Constitutional Court looked to EU law legal aid matters: figuring out the treasure’s map…

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by Joana Covelo de Abreu, Junior Editor

The dispute in the main proceedings

On 9th November 2016, the Portuguese Constitutional Court issued decision n.º 591/2016, concerning an incidental and concrete constitutionality control presented before this court.

In the litigation, a legal person presented before the competent national administrative authority (Instituto da Segurança Social, I.P. – Centro Distrital de Braga) a request for legal aid, which was refused without further consideration since article 7(3) of the Portuguese legislation (Lei n.º 34/2004) is clear when it states that “legal persons operating for profit and individual establishments of limited liability do not have the right to legal aid”[i].

Not accepting that decision, the legal person presented an action before the national first instance court where pleaded for the unconstitutionality of the mentioned article 7(3) of Portuguese legislation (Lei n.º 34/2004) and, simultaneously, for the infringement of article 47 of the CFREU.

The court ruled against the legal person because there was a “clear impracticability” in the litigation, understanding among others that the national legislation was not unconstitutional since article 20 of the Portuguese Constitution demands concretization approaches and, for that matter, the limitation steaming from the national legislation was not compromising the Constitution’s setting since other legal mechanisms could be used by the litigator so that it could react under financial stress.

However, the national court did not mention anything concerning EU law and the interpretation national legal rules should meet under EU general principles.

Continue reading “Portuguese Constitutional Court’s decision n.º 591/2016, of 9 November 2016 or when the Constitutional Court looked to EU law legal aid matters: figuring out the treasure’s map…”