Chronos vs. Brexit: why extending Article 50 and delaying Brexit might not be a feasible solution for the EU

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 by Tiago Cabral, Member of CEDU

1. If everything goes according to plan, the United Kingdom (UK) is currently set to leave the European Union (EU) on 29 March 2019 at 11.00 p.m. That is the date enshrined on the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the British Government has a deal that, in theory, allows the UK to leave in the planned timeframe. Remarkably, the EU has managed to keep an extremely (and surprising) united front regarding the Brexit negotiations. It is noteworthy that the message from the Chairman of the Austrian People’s Party and current Austrian Prime-Minister Sebastian Kurz perfectly mirrors the one expressed by Jean-Claude Juncker or Donald Tusk.

2. However, in the UK nothing is going according to plan for Prime-Minister Theresa May. After the deal was announced and its contents revealed a number of ministers – both brexiters and remainers – resigned from the cabinet. Seizing the opportunity to press for a harder Brexit, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the current chairman of the “European Research Group” (a group of hard-Brexit leaning MPs) started pushing for a vote on May’s leadership of the conservative party and (in practice) premiership. Said attempted failed to get the backing of enough MPs (for now) but could find new breath if the current deal is rejected by parliament. On that note, the current deal is most likely than not to be indeed rejected. About 100 conservative MPs have already stated on record that they would vote against it, and most of the opposition parties (including the DUP that has been keeping the government afloat) promised to do the same. The vote is set to happen on 11 December.
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Editorial of December 2018

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 by Sergio Maia, Managing Editor

Multiannual financial framework, budgets and elections: is there room for convergence?

Current status of EU politics barely hides that convergence seems more and more dramatic, as the elections next May are rapidly approaching amidst uncertainty, Brexit and national populisms. Despite the signal Emmanuel Macron attempted to send recently by addressing the German Bundestag – the first French president to do so in 18 years – in favour of unity against chaos, there is little doubt that the moment is of euro-tension, somewhat of pre-storm. Italy is (literally) stepping on the European Commission’s budgetary recommendations; Brexit withdrawal agreement conclusion is an incognita on the British side (there is also the preliminary reference on its revocability under appreciation in CJEU); Steve Bannon is trying to fund extremist right-wing candidates for the European Parliament election; Poland is disguising its real commitment to implement CJEU interim measures; new migration rules are not settled, etc.

On top of that, there is an ongoing negotiation for the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) and in parallel proposals for a Eurozone specific budget as of 2021 – which was the underlying pretext for Macron’s speech at the Bundestag. The original idea of the French president was to equip the Eurozone with a separate budget to assist Member States experiencing instabilities in their economies. In other words, it would serve as a sort of debt mutualisation guarantee in critical times. This was only insidiously mentioned in the Meseberg Declaration, but it was mentioned nevertheless. The motivation for this tool was to provide an enhancement of the general balance between European economies so that the different levels of development in the EMU could be compensated for the benefit of Euro (stabilisation, prices) and trade flow in the internal market.
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Brexit and the possibility of “withdrawing the withdrawal”: a hypothetical question?

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 by Alessandra Silveira, Editor

In case C-621/18, Wightman and others, pending judgment by the ECJ, the request for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Article 50 TEU. It has been made in proceedings where the opposing Scots parties are Andy Wightman and o., on the one hand, and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, on the other, raising the question whether it is possible to revoke the notification of the intention of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to withdraw from the European Union. The Court of Session, Inner House, First Division (Scotland), seeks, in essence, to ascertain whether, where a Member State has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union in accordance with Article 50 TEU, EU law permits that Member State to unilaterally revoke its notification before the end of the period of two years referred to in that Article. If so, the referring court is uncertain as to the conditions governing such a revocation and its effects relative to that Member State remaining within the European Union.

The referring court states that, under Section 13 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the withdrawal agreement which might be concluded between the United Kingdom and the Union under Article 50(2) TEU, setting out the arrangements for that withdrawal, may be ratified only if that agreement and the framework for the future relationship of the United Kingdom and the European Union has been approved by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The referring court states that, where the withdrawal agreement is not approved by that Parliament, and if no other proposal is made, the departure of the United Kingdom from the Union will nonetheless take effect as from 29 March 2019. The referring court adds that it is uncertain whether it is possible to revoke the notification unilaterally and to remain within the European Union. That court also states that an answer from the ECJ will clarify the options open to the parliamentarians when they vote on those matters.
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Editorial of November 2018

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 by Alessandra Silveira, Editor


In the face of globalised populism, European Union as a kind of “life insurance”

In case C-619/18, Commission v Poland, pending judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), the European Commission has requested the Court, in the context of interim proceedings, to order Poland to suspend the application of the provisions of national legislation relating to the lowering of the retirement age for Supreme Court judges,[i] among other measures.

As the ECJ Press Release No 159/18 briefly explains, on 3 April 2018 the new Polish Law on the Supreme Court entered into force. Under that Law, the retirement age for Supreme Court judges has been lowered to 65. The new age limit applies as of the date of entry into force of that Law. It is possible for Supreme Court judges to continue in active judicial service beyond the age of 65 but this is subject to the submission of a statement indicating the desire of the judge concerned to continue to perform his/her duties and a certificate stating that his/her health conditions allow him/her to serve, and must be consented to by the President of the Republic of Poland. Thus, according to the Law, serving Supreme Court judges who reached the age of 65 before that Law entered into force or, at the latest, on 3 July 2018, were required to retire on 4 July 2018, unless they had submitted such a statement and such a certificate by 3 May 2018 inclusive and the President of the Republic of Poland had granted them permission to continue in active service at the Supreme Court. In making his decision, the President of the Republic of Poland is not bound by any criteria and that decision is not subject to any form of judicial review. Furthermore, the Law on the Supreme Court gives the President of the Republic of Poland the power to freely decide, until 3 April 2019, to increase the number of Supreme Court judges.

As we know, the Vice-President of the Court, Ms Rosario de Lapuerta, on 19 October 2018, provisionally granted all the Commission’s requests – and Poland must immediately suspend the application of the new Polish Law on the Supreme Court.[ii] The legal basis of such ruling, relying upon judicial independence as a general principle of EU law and as a fundamental right protected in its order, has been built in the recent ECJ case-law, especially in judgments Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses (ASJP) and LM[iii].
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The impact of Brexit on international trade taxation

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

On 23 June 2016, the British people decided to leave the European Union, re-launching the idea that belonging to the European Union, in the light of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, does not seem to be an obligation, but a choice. States have the (unilateral) right to leave.

The actual effects of Brexit are not yet fully known. In fact, its exact consequences will only be effectively known when the negotiations are over – which will only happen, predictably, in early 2019.

There are, however, more likely scenarios than others and, consequently, more likely effects than others. Among the most immediate scenarios and effects, are those relating to the commercial transactions between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Because, of course, one of the most important ideals of the European Union is the free movement of goods, based on the existence of a single market without technical and physical frontiers in the free movement of persons, services, goods and capital­. So, the question arises as to the terms under which trade in goods between the United Kingdom and the Member States of the European Union will take place.
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The EU and the adoption of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs): heading towards a vetocracy?

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 by Francisco Pereira Coutinho, Professor at the NOVA Law School, UNL

Few would disagree that signing free trade agreements (FTAs) is one of the raisons d ´être of the European Union (EU). As the United Kingdom will probably discover after leaving the EU, the bargaining power of a State, even a member of the G8, is far inferior to that of the world largest economy, which is also the one that most imports, exports, receives and sends foreign direct investment. Ever since the Rome Treaty (1957) granted ius tractum to the European Economic Community, dozens of FTAs were adopted. The latter are pivotal to the European economy: around 31 million employments in the EU (1/7 of the total) depend, direct or indirectly, from the external trade.

The Lisbon Treaty broadened the legal capacity of the EU to adopt ‘new generation’ FTAs, which are trade agreements which contains, in addition to the classical provisions on the reduction of customs duties and of non-tariff barriers to trade in goods and services, provisions on various matters related to trade, such as intellectual property protection, investment, public procurement, competition and sustainable development (ECJ, Opinion 2/15, para. 17).

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is a ´new generation’ bilateral FTA that was signed on 30 October 2016 between Canada, of one part, and the EU and the Member States, of the other part. It is expected to increase EU-Canada trade in goods and services by 23% and boost EU GDP by about €12 billion a year.
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Past a “Great Perhaps”, the transnational lists for the European Parliament Election become a great doubt

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by Sergio Maia, Managing Editor

Considering the “Great Perhaps” – as Rabelais stated in his very last words when passing away to the final destination – surrounding Brexit, one great doubt has just emerged. Yesterday, the European Parliament voted and approved in plenary (431 x 182. There were 61 abstentions) the report on the new seats distribution of MEPs for the period after the UK withdrawal. Yet, the inclusion of a joint constituency comprising the entire territory of the Union, the well-known transnational lists topic, was rejected. Previously and long evaluated, the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) had approved (17 x 8) the future structure in Jan., 24th. That would mean that in the next elections, besides the usual ballot, there’d be one separate “section” in which the European citizens and residents would vote for representatives not on a Member State-by-Member State basis, but on a general basis instead. Such “section” would have 27 seats (ideally with preannounced runners) to be fulfilled by the most voted candidates in the ballots across the whole Union without national divisions. The Council still would have to unanimously agree on the issue before the new system entered into force (and the Parliament would need to vote again confirming) but the proposal is in this part (for) now off the table.

The general seat change has happened because the composition of the EP needed to go through modifications given the MEPs from the United Kingdom end their terms in 2019 and will not be candidates again following Brexit.
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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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Brexit, The Supreme Court (UK) and the principle of loyalty: on the question of irrevocability of a withdrawal notice

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by Alessandra Silveira, Editor

Article 50, TEU is silent on several issues concerning the withdrawal of a Member State from the European Union. Such article establishes that the Member State shall notify the European Council of its withdrawal intention in accordance with its own constitutional requirements. But it does not provide for, for instance, about the hypothesis of revoking the notification of the withdrawal intention, perhaps – before the certainty of revocability – to prevent the Member States of being tempted to influence the destiny of the EU through a false threat of exit. Therefore the doubts raised by article 50, TEU will have to be solved in the light of the principles of the EU law, in special the principle of loyalty [Article 4(3), TEU]. According to this principle of friendly conduct, inherent to all known federative systems, the EU and the Member States respect and assist each other mutually in the fulfilment of the missions resulting from the Treaties.

In 24 January 2017, The Supreme Court issued its expected ruling on whether a notice withdrawing the UK from the EU Treaties can, under the UK’s constitutional arrangements, lawfully be given by Government ministers without prior authorisation by an Act of Parliament.[i] Probably to justify the absence of a reference for a preliminary ruling on the question of irrevocability of a withdrawal notice pursuant to Article 50 TEU, The Supreme Court  highlights that UK’s constitutional requirements are a matter of domestic law should be determined by UK judges. Moreover, The Supreme Court asserted that the issues in those appeals have nothing to do with political issues such as the merits of the decision to withdraw, the timetable and terms of so doing, or the details of any future relationship between the UK and the EU.

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R (Miller) v The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2016] EWHC 2768 (Admin) : Realpolitik and the Revocation of an Article 50 TEU Notification to Withdraw

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by John Cotter, Senior Lecturer at University of Wolverhampton Law School

The opening lines of a judgment – in common law jurisdictions, at least – can very often be revealing of a court’s concerns. The first five paragraphs of the collegiate High Court judgment (Lord Thomas CJ, Sir Terence Etherton MR and Sales LJ) in Miller indicate very clearly the judges’ worry that their judgment would be misunderstood by sections of the media and the wider public. This judgment did not have “any bearing on the question of the merits or demerits of a withdrawal of the [UK] from the [EU]”, the Court stated. Rather, the question before the Court was a narrow constitutional issue, and a purely legal matter: whether the government could use Royal prerogative powers to give notification of withdrawal from the EU pursuant to Article 50 TEU or whether this was a matter for the Houses of Parliament. On this question, the High Court ruled that the notification under Article 50 TEU may not be given by means of Royal prerogative; rather, such notification is a matter for Parliament exclusively. While the conducting of international relations and the signing of and withdrawal from international treaties were powers generally to be exercised by the executive on behalf of the Crown, the High Court reasoned that where withdrawal from a treaty would result in changes to domestic law (as withdrawal from the EU would), such withdrawal could not be effected without Parliament.

The Court’s attempt to avoid misinterpretation of its role appears, however, to have fallen on deaf or wilfully closed ears, with the judges being subjected to attacks in sections of the media that were astonishing even by the standards of Britain’s rather histrionic tabloid press (one publication’s front page contained the headline “Enemies of the People” along with photographs of the three judges). To many of those advocating Brexit, the judgment was an unelected court playing politics and frustrating the will of the people (even though the European Union Referendum Act 2015 had not provided that the referendum result be binding). To the Court’s defenders, the judgment was the latest in a line of rulings in which the courts upheld the supremacy of Parliament over Royal prerogative powers. It is certainly the case that the High Court judgment, if upheld by the Supreme Court (which is due to hear an appeal in early December), has the potential to make the giving of the Article 50 notification a more lengthy and complex process. It is conceivable that both Houses of Parliament could use their leverage to require the government to reveal more detail on their post-notification negotiating aims. However, as a matter of realpolitik, the judgment is unlikely prevent Article 50 being triggered: Labour, the largest opposition party in the Commons has indicated that it will not vote against a Bill to give notification under Article 50, and it is unlikely that the Lords would provoke further questions about their relevance in modern Britain by blocking Brexit.

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