Case C-817/21, Inspecția Judiciară. Compatibility of the organization of an authority competent to carry out the disciplinary investigation of judges, which is under the total control of a single person, with the rules of the rule of law

Dragoș Călin [Judge at the Bucharest Court of Appeal, Co-President of the Romanian Judges' Forum Association, Director of the Judges' Forum Review (Revista Forumul Judecătorilor)]. 

The saga of requests for preliminary rulings by Romanian courts on the rule of law and the independence of judges continues, although, under pressure from the Romanian Constitutional Court’s decisions, ordinary judges have begun to refuse to apply European Union law. Failure to comply with the decisions of the Constitutional Court constitutes a disciplinary violation, a legislative solution that allows total disregard of the decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union, for fear of disciplinary action. A climate of fear among judges was created by disciplinary actions initiated without any reservations by the Judicial Inspection against the judge of the Pitești Court of Appeal who dared to apply the CJEU decision of 18 May 2021, but also the judges who proposed and/or referred to the CJEU in this case.

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Summaries of judgments: Consorzio Italian Management e Catania Multiservizi and Catania Multiservizi| IS (Illégalité de l’ordonnance de renvoi)

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 ECJ (Grand Chamber) of 6 October 2021,  Case C-561/19, Consorzio Italian Management and Catania Multiservizi,  EU:C:2021:799

Reference for a preliminary ruling – Article 267 TFEU – Scope of the obligation on national courts or tribunals of last instance to make a reference for a preliminary ruling – Exceptions to that obligation – Criteria – Question on the interpretation of EU law raised by the parties to the national proceedings after the Court has given a preliminary ruling in those proceedings – Failure to state the reasons justifying the need for an answer to the questions referred for a preliminary ruling – Partial inadmissibility of the request for a preliminary ruling

Facts

In proceedings between Consorzio Italian Management and Catania Multiservizi SpA, the successful tenderers for a public contract for cleaning services for the national railway infrastructure, and Rete Ferroviaria Italiana SpA, the Consiglio di Stato (Council of State, Italy) made a reference to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling. The ECJ delivered its judgment in 19 April 2018, Consorzio Italian Management and Catania Multiservizi (C‑152/17, EU:C:2018:264). However, the parties to those proceedings asked the Consiglio di Stato to refer other questions for a preliminary ruling.

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The national judge as judge of the Union (a view of the Judges’ Forum 2021 – CJEU)

Irene das Neves (Appeal Court Judge of the Northern Administrative Central Court - Tax Litigation Section), Dora Lucas Neto (Appeal Court Judge of the Southern Administrative Central Court - Administrative Litigation Section), and Isabel Silva (Judge of the Administrative and Fiscal Court of Braga - Tax Litigation)

The reference for a preliminary ruling, provided for in Article 19(3)(b) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), is a fundamental mechanism of EU law.[1] It is an “incident” within national proceedings that obliges the national judge to stay the proceedings because it is faced with the need to obtain a “preliminary” ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on the interpretation of EU law or the validity of the acts of its bodies, institutions or agencies, with a view to the proper administration of justice within the EU. To that extent, the national courts playing the role of guardians of EU law, ensuring the effective and homogenous application of the law, and seeking to avoid divergent interpretations by the various courts of the Member States.

It was on this theme of the reference, focused on the reference for the interpretation of EU law, that the President of the CJEU, Koen Lenaerts, opened the 2021 Judges’ Forum, which was held at the CJEU from 21 to 23 November and brought together judges from the courts of first instance and the appeal courts of the Member States, recalling that the reference for a preliminary ruling is an instrument of judicial cooperation by means of which the national judge and the EU judge are called upon, within the scope of their respective powers, to contribute to a decision ensuring the uniform application of EU law by the Member States.

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Editorial of December 2021

By Alessandra Silveira (Editor)

AI systems and automated inferences – on the protection of inferred personal data

On 23 November 2021 the European Commission published the consultation results on a set of digital rights and principles to promote and uphold EU values in the digital space – which ran between 12 May and 6 September 2021.[1] This public consultation on digital principles is a key deliverable of the preparatory work for the upcoming “Declaration on digital rights and principles for the Digital Decade”, which European Commission will announce by the end of 2021. The consultation invited all interested people to share their views on the formulation of digital principles in 9 areas: i) universal access to internet services; ii) universal digital education and skills for people to take an active part in society and in democratic processes; iii) accessible and human-centric digital public services and administration; iv) access to digital health services; v) an open, secure and trusted online environment; vi) protecting and empowering children and young people in the online space; vii) a European digital identity; viii) access to digital devices, systems and services that respect the climate and environment; ix) ethical principles for human-centric algorithms.  

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Editorial of October 2021

By Alessandra Silveira (Editor) and Tiago Sérgio Cabral (Managing Editor)

Strange times and the need to remember the obvious…on the recent decision of the Polish Constitutional Court

The recent judgment of the Polish Constitutional Court calls into question one of the base pillars of the European legal order – namely the primacy of EU law over national law. As a result, it is likely that the European Commission will bring infringement proceedings against Poland. If the CJEU finds that Poland has not complied with its judgment, it may impose a financial penalty.

However, there is a possibility for de-escalation which would allow for this imbroglio to be first be resolved politically. This was the case regarding the German Constitutional Court’s astonishing decision of 5 May 2020, concerning the ECB’s bond buying programme for purchasing Member States’ public debt on the secondary market. The crux of the matter was that the German Constitutional Court’s judgment followed a judgment by CJEU which settled the issue of the validity of the ECB’s bond buying programme. The German Constitutional Court in its decision disregarded the decision of the competent court under Article 19(1) TEU, according to which the CJEU ensures that the law is observed in the interpretation and application of EU treaties. It did not take long for the so-called “illiberal democracies” in Europe to welcome the ruling of the German Constitutional Court, using it to subvert judicial independence and freedom of expression as recognised by the EU. Fortunately, the good sense of the German governmental and parliamentary authorities under Angela Merkel’s leadership prevailed – and the European institutions did not have to act accordingly (at least immediately). It is important to note that in a second decision regarding the ECB’s bond buying programme also appeared to walk back from the edge of the cliff.

In any case, such episodes recommend revisiting the elementary notions of European integration law, because there are occasions when certain civilisational achievements still need to be defended, and the reason behind some choices needs to be recalled. What functional reason justifies the primacy of Union law over national law? Does Union law take precedence over national constitutional norms (or, on the contrary, can it be declared unconstitutional or set aside on the grounds of alleged unconstitutionality)?

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Summaries of judgments: Commission v Poland (Régime disciplinaire des juges) | Wabe

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 15 July 2021, European Commission v Republic of Poland, Case C-791/19, EU:C:2021:596

Failure of a Member State to fulfil obligations – Disciplinary regime applicable to judges – Rule of law – Independence of judges – Effective legal protection in the fields covered by Union law – Second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU – Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – Disciplinary offences resulting from the content of judicial decisions – Independent disciplinary courts or tribunals established by law – Respect for reasonable time and the rights of the defence in disciplinary proceedings – Article 267 TFEU – Restriction of the right of national courts to submit requests for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice and of their obligation to do so

Facts

In 2017, Poland adopted a new disciplinary regime concerning judges of the Sąd Najwyższy (Supreme Court) and judges of the ordinary courts. In the context of that legislative reform, a new chamber, the Izba Dyscyplinarna (‘the Disciplinary Chamber’), was established within the Supreme Court and was made responsible, inter alia, for hearing disciplinary cases relating to judges of the Supreme Court and, on appeal, those relating to judges of the ordinary courts.

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Venezuela as a third country before the ECJ

Tiago Paixão (Master’s in Administrative Law - The Author’s opinions are his own and do not bind any other person or entity)

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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The priority of the EU law in Romania: between reality and Fata Morgana

Dragoș Călin (Judge at the Bucharest Court of Appeal and co-president of the Romanian Judges' Forum Association)

1. Are ordinary judges afraid to apply CJEU judgments?

The judgment of the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union, delivered in the joined cases C-83/19, C-127/19, C-195/19, C-291/19, C-355/19 and C-397/19, Asociația Forumul Judecătorilor din România și alții, on 18 May 2021, has caused a real earthquake in Romania.

It was so intense that, in order to maintain the previous state of affairs, the Constitutional Court of Romania immediately intervened, by Decision no. 390/2021, contrary to the CJEU judgment, ordering that national ordinary judges may not analyse the conformity of a national provision, which has already been found to be constitutional by a decision of the Constitutional Court, in relation to the provisions of European Union law.

More specifically, invoking the disregard of the national constitutional identity, “as a guarantee of a fundamental identity nucleus of the Romanian Constitution and which should not be relativised in the process of European integration”, the Constitutional Court of Romania found that “the CJEU, declaring the binding nature of Decision 2006/928/EC [establishing the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for Romania], limited its effects from a double perspective: on the one hand, it established that the obligations resulting from the decision fall within the responsibility of the competent Romanian authorities that have the competence to cooperate institutionally with the European Commission (paragraph 177 of the decision), therefore within the responsibility of the political institutions, the Romanian Parliament and Government, and, on the other hand, that the obligations shall be exercised under the principle of sincere cooperation, provided by Article 4 of TEU. From both perspectives, the obligations cannot be incumbent on the courts, State bodies that are not authorized to cooperate with a political institution of the European Union.” It was therefore established that the “implementation of paragraph 7 of the operative part of the judgment, according to which a court is authorized to set aside ex officio a national provision falling within the scope of Decision 2006/928 and which it considers, in the light of a Court judgment, to be contrary to this decision or to the second subparagraph of Article 19 (1) TEU, has no basis in the Romanian Constitution”.

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Editorial of September 2021

By Tiago Sérgio Cabral (Managing Editor)

On the recent Polish challenges to the primacy of EU Law

1. Some recent progress

On 14 July 2021 the Court of Justice of the European Union (hereinafter, “ECJ”) issued an Interim Order declaring that the Polish State should suspend the activity of the, widely regarded as breaching the principle of the independence of the judiciary, Disciplinary Chamber of the (Polish) Supreme Court. The ECJ’s decision came as no surprise both due to the nature of the Chamber itself and the fact the same Court had already issued a similar order a few months before. One day after, on 15 July 2021, the ECJ would issue a judgment confirming that the Chamber was in breach of Article 19(1) TEU and Article 267 TFEU.

What could be seen as a surprise is the fact that the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, whose level independence could hardly be called adequate after the reforms by the current ruling party, directly challenged (deciding on the previous order) the ECJ. The Polish Constitutional Tribunal argued that the interim measures ordered by the ECJ should be considered as incompatible with the Polish Constitution and therefore not enforced.

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The Schrems II Judgment: First two investigations by the European Data Protection Supervisor

by Joana Campos e Matos (Senior Consultant at Vieira de Almeida & Associados)

On May 27, 2021, the European Data Protection Supervisor (“EDPS”) announced that it has opened two investigations regarding the use of Amazon and Microsoft services by European Union institutions (EUIs)[1].

In a press release, the EDPS announced the opening of two investigations, one concerning the use of cloud services provided by Amazon Web Services and Microsoft under Cloud II contracts by European Union institutions, bodies and agencies and the other regarding the use of Microsoft Office 365 by the European Commission.

The EDPS underlined that these investigations are part of the EDPS’ strategy for EU institutions to comply with the “Schrems II” Judgement[2].

1. Legal framework for international data transfers by EUIs

According to the Regulation (EU) 2018/1725 [3], international data transfers[4] are only permitted if the third country to which the data are transferred, ensures that the conditions set out in the Regulation are respected, in such a way that the level of protection of natural persons guaranteed by the Regulation is not undermined (Article 46). Thus, data transfers to countries located outside the European Economic Area (“EEA”) can only occur within the strict terms provided for by the Regulation.

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