Algorithm-driven collusion

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 by Virgílio Pereira, collaborating member of CEDU

It has been said that digital markets are new and different.[i]  Indeed, competition enforcement reforms have already begun their journey, tackling the unorthodox dynamic of digital markets. Examples include the reforms taking place in Germany.[ii] They have entailed, among others, the possibility of setting up a digital agency, responsible for the supervision of digital markets, whose tasks would include dispute resolution in competition issues.[iii] Becoming vigilant and gathering know-how is certainly a valuable starting point.

Recently, the Council adopted the Commission’s proposal intended to empower Member States’ competition authorities to be more effective enforcers.[iv] It includes reinforcing competition authorities’ investigative powers, including their power to collect digital evidence. Discussion on the unorthodoxy of digital markets and challenges arising from them should take place within the context of the implementation of the Directive, or more generally, within the context of the European Competition Network.
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Indirect taxation on 3D printing – A new challenge for the European Union

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 by Andreia Barbosa, PhD candidate at UMINHO

3D printing (or rapid prototyping) is a form of additive manufacturing technology through which a three-dimensional model (height, depth and width, maxime, embossed) is created by successive layers of material. Think of the production of a computer mouse. The traditional production of this property implies that, in the first instance, the respective components are separately produced and subsequently assembled, giving rise to the mouse. Differently, through 3D printing the mouse for the computer will be printed as a whole, layer by layer – making the assembly process obsolete – and with the possibility of the product being customized, according to the model that has been developed.

That said, it is easy to conclude that in the case of models for 3D printing there is no corporeality to which we refer, so that, then, there will be no merchandise, which will only assume this quality when it is actually printed. That is to say, the 3D printing model, which is the subject of an international transaction, will not be regarded as a ‘good’ for customs purposes. Consequently, as customs duties constitute charges imposed on goods on the ground that they have crossed a customs line, no customs duties may be levied by the transmission of the model to be printed (which will be carried out electronically).
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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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Poland and the Crisis of Rule of Law: “Alea Jacta Est?”

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 by José Igreja Matos, President of the European Association of Judges

October 19th 2018. The Vice-President of the Court of Justice ordered the Republic of Poland to immediately suspend provisions of the recent Polish law on the Supreme Court that lowered the retirement age for Supreme Court judges to 65 years, which would have the effect of removing nearly one-third of the Court’s judges.

One month has passed. Nothing happened.

Quite the opposite, in fact: on 9th November 2018 the new Polish National Council of Judiciary issued a resolution that concretely blocks the interim measure of October 19th. To be more precise, the resolution contains a threat of disciplinary responsibility for the reinstated Supreme Court Judges, if they perform official duties. Obviously this resolution may have a considerable negative impact on the way the order of the Vice-President of the CJEU is being carried out.

In this context, it must be underlined that, on 17th September 2018, the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ), after considering that an essential condition of ENCJ membership is “that institutions are independent of the executive and legislature and ensure the final responsibility for the support of the judiciary in the independent delivery of justice” decided to suspend the membership of the Polish National Judicial Council, the KRS, in the ENCJ.
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The concept of undertaking strikes back – the activity of religious orders and congregations

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by Ana Filipa Afonseca, member of CEDU

The Court of Justice, final interpreter of the Treaties, has dealt with a broad spectrum of concepts of undertaking, making certain decisions somewhat perplexing to lawyers unsuspicious of the particularity of the concept of undertaking in the context of competition rules. These decisions are still the living proof that competition is at the heart of legal (and political) modeling process of European integration.

On the other hand, regarding the field of state aids, in the Congregación de Escuelas Pisa’s ruling, Case C-74/16, 27th June 2017, the Court of Justice had the important and difficult task of deciding whether the activities carried out by Spanish religious establishments were of economic nature. With this assumption, the Congregación de Escuelas Pías had received an illegal fiscal exemption and this measure is a forbidden state aid in the terms of the Article 107(1).

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The latest on the Zambrano front – the Chavez-Vilchez judgment

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by Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor

Back in 2011, the ECJ delivered a pivotal decision in the Zambrano case. With reference to the Rottmann case, the ECJ held that “Article 20 TFEU precludes national measures which have the effect of depriving citizens of the Union of the genuine enjoyment of the substance of the rights conferred by virtue of their status as citizens of the Union.”

By this criterion are included within the scope of application of EU law situations which, a priori, fall within the competence of the Member States (the so-called purely internal situations). The Zambrano-criterion indeed allows EU citizens to rely on their status as EU citizens against their own Member States of nationality even when they have not exercised their rights of free movement. The immediate consequence of the Zambrano ruling was to preclude Member States (in casu, Belgium) from refusing third country national parents of minor EU citizens a right of residence in the Member State of residence and nationality of those children in so far as such decisions would result in the children having to leave the territory of the Union as a whole.

The subsequent case-law gave a rather narrow interpretation to the criterion, as can be confirmed by the judgments delivered in McCarthy, Dereci, Iida, O and S, Ymeraga, Alokpa and NA. The ECJ held the Zambrano-criterion as a specific criterion as it relates to “very specific situations” in which a right of residence may not, exceptionally, be refused to a third country national without the EU citizenship enjoyed by (minor) Member States nationals being (fundamentally) undermined. It thus follows that any right of residence conferred on third country nationals pursuant to Article 20 TFEU are rights derived from those enjoyed by the EU citizen of which they are members of the family and have, in particular, “an intrinsic connection with the freedom of movement and residence of a Union citizen”.

Without calling into question or reversing this line of jurisprudence, the ECJ seems however willing to revive the Zambrano-criterion in more recent cases, addressing some issues so far left in the open. In CS and Rendón Marín, though admitting the possibility of limiting the derived right of residence flowing from Article 20 TFEU to third country nationals (limitation based on grounds of public policy or public security), the ECJ framed the scope of such a limitation, making its application conditional on a case-by-case analysis and upon respect for fundamental rights as protected by the CFREU, namely Articles 7 and 24(2) CFREU. The ECJ further clarified the scope of the Zambrano-criterion as the ultimate link with EU law for the purposes of the protection of fundamental rights in the Chavez-Vilchez judgment delivered last week.
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Humanitarian Visas and the X and X v. Belgium judgment (Case C-638/16 PPU)

 

by Teresa Alves, masters' student at University of Minho

The judgment in Case C-638/16 PPU, delivered by the Court of Justice of the European Union, on 7th March 2017[i] could represent a milestone in the history of the European Union, opening the door to an important legal path of access to international protection in the Member States and improving the Europe’s asylum policy. Particularly in a context of migration crisis that the European Union is trying to solve, adopting different measures. These measures include strengthening border controls, preventing human trafficking and trying to dismantle illegal forms of access to Member States’ borders through organized networks. Another measure is the EU-Turkey Statement that, despite some legal doubts, intends, not only, but also, to create a legal path of access to international protection in the Member States.

The story dates back to October 2016, when a Syrian family (mother, father – married to one another – and their three young children, from Aleppo) applied for a humanitarian visa at the embassy of Belgium in Lebanon. They hoped, with this, to legally enter in Belgium and to request asylum. They claimed that one of them had been abducted by an armed group, beaten and tortured, before being released on payment of a ransom. They emphasized, specially, the deterioration of the security situation in Syria, in general, and in Aleppo, in particular, as well as the fact that, as Orthodox Christians, they were at risk of persecution because of their religious beliefs. This family added that they could not register as refugees in neighboring countries, particularly in view of the fact that the Lebanese-Syrian border had been closed in the meantime.

The competent Belgian authorities promptly rejected the request, explaining that (i) the applicants planned to remain in Belgium for more than 90 days, and under the Visas Code, in accordance with Article 1, the issue of transit visas or visas within the territory of the Member States shall not exceed 90 days in a period of 180 days; (iii) in addition, Article 3 of the ECHR, according to which «no one shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment», shall not require States Parties to admit «persons living a catastrophic situation» and, lastly, they considered that (iii) Belgian diplomatic posts are not part of the authorities to which a foreigner may apply for asylum. For the reason that, authorizing an entry visa to the applicants in the main proceedings, for the purpose of submitting an application for asylum in Belgium, would be equivalent to allowing them to request this application for asylum in the diplomatic post.

The family appealed against the decision before the Conseil du Contentieux des Étrangers (Council for asylum and immigration proceedings, Belgium), which decided to refer to the Court of Justice questions relating to the granting of humanitarian visas. That is, «must Article 25(1)(a) of the Visa Code be interpreted as meaning that, subject to its discretion with regard to the circumstances of the case, a Member State to which an application for a visa with limited territorial validity has been made is required to issue the visa applied for, where a risk of infringement of Article 4 and/or Article 18 of the Charter or another international obligation by which it is bound is established?», «Does the existence of links between the applicant and the Member State to which the visa application was made (for example, family connections) affect the answer to that question?».
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Unveiling the meaning of freedom of religion in the workplace – or, unveiling the Achbita and Bougnaoui judgments

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by Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor

Our editorial of November 2016 related to two preliminary references proceedings at the time pending before the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) concerning the question of religious expression at work and, particularly, the highly sensitive issue of the wearing of Islamic headscarves (and not the full veil) in the workplace. The issues raised in both cases required 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]. Let us recall the fundamental questions at issue: 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?

On 14 March 2016, the Grand Chamber delivered both the Achbita (C-157/15) and the Bougnaoui (C-188/15) judgments, two significant decisions in relation to discrimination in employment on grounds of religion. The facts at the origin of each case were slightly different.

In the first case, Ms Achbita started to work for G4S as a receptionist in 2003 and complied with the rule according to which workers could not wear visible signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace, an unwritten rule at the time. In 2006 Ms Achbita informed her employers that she intended, in future, to wear an Islamic headscarf at work and, in reply, was informed that such intention was contrary to G4S’s position of neutrality. Shortly afterwards, the above mentioned unwritten rule was written down: the workplace regulations thus stipulated that «employees are prohibited, in the workplace, from wearing any visible signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs and/or from engaging in any observance of such beliefs». Shortly after the amendment was approved, Ms Achbita was dismissed on account of her continuing insistence that she wished to wear the Islamic headscarf at work.

In the second case, Ms Bougnaoui was informed at a student recruitment fair by a representative of Micropole that the wearing of an Islamic headscarf might pose a problem when she was in contact with customers of the company. When Ms Bougnaoui began to work at Micropole in 2008 as an intern, she was initially wearing a bandana and subsequently an Islamic headscarf. Micropole nevertheless employed her at the end of her internship. Almost a year later, Ms Bougnaoui was dismissed. A customer of Micropole’s with whom Ms Bouganoui had worked informed her employers that her wearing the headscarf had upset some of their employees and requested that there should be «no veil next time». Despite the request of her employers, Ms Bouganoui refused to agree not to wear the headscarf in the future and was thus fired in 2009.

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