Venezuela as a third country before the ECJ

Tiago Paixão (Master’s in Administrative Law)

The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (“Venezuela”) brought an action for annulment before the General Court to annul certain restrictive measures imposed by the Council of the European Union here. Those restrictive measures were imposed because of concerns about democracy, rule of law and human rights principles and are set out on Regulation 2017/2063, Regulation of Execution 2018/1653 and Decision 2018/1656.

Concretely, the General Court had to solve two major questions, before the substance of the annulment. On the one hand, to determine if Venezuela is a legal person for Article 263 TFUE and, in case of having given a positive answer, if Venezuela is directly affected by those measures.

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Review of Portuguese Association of European Law’s webinar on the rule of law protection in the European Union

by Alessandra Silveira and Joana Covelo de Abreu (Editors)

On 28 May 2021 a webinar was held at the School of Law of the University of Minho under the theme “Rule of law protection in the European Union”, organized by the initiative of the Portuguese Association of European Law (APDE). The event had the moderation of Carlos Botelho Moniz (APDE’s President) and the interventions of Alessandra Silveira (Editor), Joana Covelo de Abreu (Editor) and José Manuel Fernandes (Member of the European Parliament, EPP’s Coordinator of the Committee on Budgets and Recovery and Resilience Facility Mechanism’s negotiator). In order to keep a record for future memory, some ideas presented by the participants will be reproduced in this review.

Speakers reflected on how the European Union has been playing a relevant role on the rule of law protection and has been proclaiming itself as a “Union of law”. They started by analysing the concept of rule of law and its implications from the Treaties, the CFREU and the Court of Justice jurisprudence – mainly from Les Verts[1] and Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses[2] judgments (the later also known as “Portuguese Judges”)[3]. They also focused legal procedures that act against violations of the rule of law enshrined on Article 7 TEU, and the infringement procedure steaming from Article 258 TFEU, envisaging the possibility of Member States to explore the procedural way opened by Article 259 TFEU, namely because the political tension escalade within the European Union. But the preliminary ruling procedure of Article 267 TFEU was also mentioned as continuing to play an important role to national judicial authorities when they are facing the need to comply with EU law. Lastly, speakers also devoted their attention on the Rule of Law Conditionality (Regulation 2020/2092 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2020 on a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget) and on the debate around its approval and implementation.

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The rule of law and the defense of citizens against any power: on the case C-650/18 Hungary v European Parliament

by Alessandra Silveira (Editor) and Maria Inês Costa (Master´s student in Human Rights at the University of Minho)

The expression rule of law means that the exercise of public power is subject to legal norms and procedures – legislative, executive, judicial procedures –, which allow citizens to monitor and eventually challenge the legitimacy of decisions taken by the public power. The basic idea of the value of the rule of law is to submit power to law, restraining the natural tendency of power to expand and operate in an arbitrary manner – be it the traditional power of the State, or the power of novel political structures such as the European Union, be it the power of private organizational complexes – such as market forces, internet forces, sports forces, etc.

The procedure provided by Article 7 TEU is the most emblematic political instrument to defend the rule of law in the European Union. Article 7(1) TEU constitutes the initial phase in the procedure in the event of a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the common values enshrined in Article 2 TEU. Article 7(2) TEU governs the next stage in which a serious and persistent breach by a Member State of the values laid down in Article 2 TEU can be established. Article 7(3) TEU ultimately provides for the issuing of sanctions against the Member State concerned.

Article 7(1) TEU provides that on a reasoned proposal by the European Parliament, the Council acting by a majority of 4/5 of its members may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the common values of the Union referred to in Article 2 TEU. Moreover, Article 7(5) TUE provides that the voting arrangements applicable to the European Parliament are laid down in Article 354 TFEU – which provides that the European Parliament shall act by a 2/3 majority of the votes cast, representing the majority of its component Members.

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Summaries of judgments: Ryanair DAC/Commission (T-388/20)

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judges and référendaire of the General Court (Maria José Costeira, Ricardo Silva Passos and Esperança Mealha)
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Judgment of the General Court of 14 April 2021 (Tenth Chamber) Case T‑388/20 Ryanair DAC v Commission

State Aid – Aid granted by Finland to Finnair in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic – Decision not to raise any objections- Compatibility with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU – Measure intended to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a Member State – Equal treatment – Freedom of establishment – Freedom to provide services – Duty to state reasons

1. Facts

On 13 May 2020, Finland notified the Commission of an aid measure in the form of a State guarantee in favour of the Finnish airline, Finnair, aimed at helping the latter obtain a loan of €600 million from a pension fund to cover its working capital needs. The guarantee, which was supposed to cover 90% of that loan, was limited to a maximum duration of three years.

Referring to its communication on the Temporary Framework for State aid measures to support the economy in the current COVID-19 outbreak, the Commission classified the guarantee granted to Finnair as State aid which is compatible with the internal market in accordance with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU. Under that provision, aid intended to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a Member State may, under certain circumstances, be considered to be compatible with the internal market.

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Summaries of judgments: DB v Commissione Nazionale per le Società e la Borsa (Consob) | A.B. and Others v Krajowa Rada Sądownictwa and Others

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judge and référendaire of the CJEU (Nuno Piçarra and Sophie Perez)

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Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 2 February 2021, DB v Commissione Nazionale per le Società e la Borsa (Consob), Case C-481/19, EU:C:2021:84

Reference for a preliminary ruling – Approximation of laws – Directive 2003/6/EC – Article 14(3) – Regulation (EU) No 596/2014 – Article 30(1)(b) – Market abuse – Administrative sanctions of a criminal nature – Failure to cooperate with the competent authorities – Articles 47 and 48 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – Right to remain silent and to avoid self-incrimination

1. Facts

The request for a preliminary ruling was made in proceedings between DB and the Commissione Nazionale per le Società e la Borsa (Consob) (National Companies and Stock Exchange Commission, Italy) concerning the lawfulness of two financial penalties imposed on DB for an administrative offence of insider trading and for failure to cooperate in the context of an investigation conducted by Consob. Regarding the latter, after applying on several occasions for postponement of the date of the hearing to which he had been summoned in his capacity as a person aware of the facts, DB had declined to answer the questions put to him when he appeared at that hearing.

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Summaries of judgments: Ryanair DAC/Commission (T-259/20)

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judges and référendaire of the General Court (Maria José Costeira, Ricardo Silva Passos and Esperança Mealha)
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Judgment from General Court (Tenth Chamber, Extended Composition) of 17 February 2021, T – 259/20, Ryanair DAC/Commission

State aid – French air transport market – Deferral of payment of civil aviation tax and solidarity tax on airline tickets due on a monthly basis during the period from March to December 2020 in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic – Decision not to raise any objections – Aid intended to make good the damage caused by an exceptional occurrence – Free provision of services – Equal treatment – Criterion of holding a license issued by the French authorities – Proportionality – Article 107(2)(b) TFEU – Duty to state reasons

1. Facts

On 24 March 2020, French Republic notified the Commission of an aid scheme in the form of a deferral of the payment of civil aviation tax and solidarity tax on airline tickets due on a monthly basis during the period from March to December 2020, accordingly with Article 108(3) TFUE. This aid is designed to guarantee that the airlines holding an operating license issued in France are able to maintain sufficient liquidity until the restrictions, prohibitions on movement are lifted, and normal commercial activity is resumed. With this measure, the French Republic differs the referred tax payment until the 1 January 2021 and then spreads payments over a period of 24 months, until 31 December 2022.

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Summaries of judgments: J & S Service | VL v Szpital Kliniczny im. dra J. Babińskiego Samodzielny Publiczny Zakład Opieki Zdrowotnej w Krakowie

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judge and référendaire of the CJEU (Nuno Piçarra and Sophie Perez)

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Judgment of the Court (First Chamber) of 10 December 2020, J & S Service, Case C-620/19, EU:C:2020:1011.

Reference for a preliminary ruling – Personal data – Regulation (UE) 2016/679 – Article 23 – Restrictions – Important financial interest – Enforcement of civil law claims – National regulation referring to provisions of Union law – Tax data relating to legal persons – Incompetence of the Court

Facts

The dispute in the main proceedings opposes the Land Nordrhein‑Westfalen to D.‑H. T., acting as trustee in bankruptcy for J & S Service UG, in connection with a request for obtaining tax data concerning this company.

The tax administration having rejected this request, D.-H. T. appealed to the competent Verwaltungsgericht, which essentially upheld his appeal. The competent Oberverwaltungsgericht dismissed the appeal lodged by the Land Nordrhein-Westfalen against the judgment at first instance. This court considered in particular that the right of access to information, exercised on the basis of the law on freedom of information, was not precluded by existing specific rules in tax matters. Therefore, although the information requested was covered by tax secrecy, D.-H. T. was entitled, in his capacity as trustee in bankruptcy, to ask J & S Service for any information relating to the insolvency proceedings. The Land Nordrhein-Westfalen appealed against this decision to the Bundesverwaltungsgericht.

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Summaries of judgments: Lietuvos geležinkeliai AB v. Commission

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judges and référendaire of the General Court (Maria José Costeira, Ricardo Silva Passos and Esperança Mealha)
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Judgment from General Court (First Chamber Extended Composition) of 18 November 2020, T-814/17, Lietuvos geležinkeliai AB v. Commission

Competition – Abuse of a dominant position – Rail freight market – Decision finding an infringement of Article 102 TFEU – Access by third-party undertakings to infrastructure managed by Lithuania’s national railway company – Removal of a section of railway track – Concept of “abuse” – Actual or likely exclusion of a competitor – Calculation of the amount of the fine – 2006 Guidelines on the method for setting fines – Remedies – Proportionality – Unlimited jurisdiction

Facts

Lietuvos geležinkeliai AB (LG) is a Lithuanian national railway company responsible for the management of the Lithuanian railway and provides rail transport services for freight and passengers. The Lithuanian undertaking Orlen Lietuva AB (Orlen) is specialized in refining crude oil and distributing refine oil products. Both had since 1999 an agreement according to which LG provided to the last undertaking transport services on the Lithuanian rail network, more precisely on the shorter route to Latvia. However, in 2008, following a commercial dispute between both undertakings regarding the rates paid by Orlen to LG for its transport services, Orlen explored the possibility of contracting the undertaking LDZ for rail transport services of its freight to Latvia.

In September 2008, LG suspended the traffic on a 19km long section of the shorter route to Latvia after identifying a defect in the rail track and later, in October 2008, LG proceeded with the complete removal of the entire track.

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Summaries of judgments: Privacy International | La Quadrature du Net and Others | R.N.N.S. and K.A. v Minister van Buitenlandse Zaken

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judge and référendaire of the CJEU (Nuno Piçarra and Sophie Perez)
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Judgments of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 6 October 2020 Privacy International (C‑623/17, EU:C:2020:790) and La Quadrature du Net and Others (C‑511/18, C‑512/18 and C‑520/18, EU:C:2020:791)

Reference for a preliminary ruling – Processing of personal data in the electronic communications sector – Providers of electronic communications services – Hosting service providers and Internet access providers – General and indiscriminate retention of traffic and location data – Automated analysis of data – Real-time access to data – Safeguarding national security and combating terrorism – Combating crime – Directive 2002/58/EC – Scope – Article 1(3) and Article 3 – Confidentiality of electronic communications – Protection – Article 5 and Article 15(1) – Directive 2000/31/EC – Scope – Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – Articles 4, 6, 7, 8 and 11 and Article 52(1) – Article 4(2) TEU

Facts

Following its judgments of 8 April 2014, Digital Rights Ireland and Others, C‑293/12 and C‑594/12, EU:C:2014:238, of 21 December 2016, Tele2 Sverige and Watson and Others (C‑203/15 and C‑698/15, EU:C:2016:970), and of 2 October 2018, Ministerio Fiscal (C‑207/16, EU:C:2018:788), the ECJ ruled on four requests for a preliminary ruling from jurisdictions in three Member States in proceedings concerning the lawfulness of legislation adopted by those Member States in the field of processing of personal data in the electronic communications sector, laying down in particular an obligation for providers of electronic communications services to retain traffic and location data for the purposes of protecting national security and combating crime.

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Summaries of judgments: Casino, Guichard-Perrachon and AMC v. Commission |Intermarché Casino Achats v. Commission | Les Mousquetaires and ITM Entreprises v. Commission

Summaries of judgments made in collaboration with the Portuguese judges and référendaire of the General Court (Maria José Costeira, Ricardo Silva Passos and Esperança Mealha)
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Judgments from General Court (Ninth Chamber Extended Composition) of 5th October 2020: T – 249/17, Casino, Guichard-Perrachon et Achats Merchandises Casino SAS (AMC)/Comission, T- 254/17, Intermarche Casino Achats/Comission e T- 255/17, Les Mousquetaires e ITM Entreprises/Comission

Competition – Administrative Procedure – Decision ordering an inspection– Illegality of Article 20 of Regulation (CE) n.º 1/2003 – Right to an effective remedy – Principle of equality of arms – Obligation to state reasons for the inspection decisions – Right to inviolability of the home – Sufficient strong evidence – Proportionality – Refusal to protect the confidentiality of data relating to private life

Facts

After receiving information about the existence of change of information between several undertakings and associations of undertakings from the food and non-food distribution sector the Commission in the scope of the powers conferred by Article 20, paragraphs 1 and 4 of Regulation (CE) no 1/2003 adopted, in February 2017, several decisions requesting inspections to several undertakings.

Within the scope of those inspections, Commission visited the undertakings offices and obtained copies of the IT records.

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