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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Summaries of judgments: Repubblika v Il-Prim Ministru | Asociaţia «Forumul Judecătorilor din România» 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 20 April 2021, Repubblika v Il-Prim Ministru, Case C-896/19, EU:C:2021:311

Reference for a preliminary ruling – Article 2 TEU – Values of the European Union – Rule of law – Article 49 TEU – Accession to the European Union – No reduction in the level of protection of the values of the European Union – Effective judicial protection – Article 19 TEU – Article 47 CFREU – Scope – Independence of the members of the judiciary of a Member State – Appointments procedure – Power of the Prime Minister – Involvement of a judicial appointments committee

1. Facts

Following the appointment, in April 2019, of new members of the judiciary, Repubblika – an association whose purpose is to promote the protection of justice and the rule of law in Malta – brought an actio popularis before the Prim’Awla tal-Qorti Ċivili – Ġurisdizzjoni Kostituzzjonali (First Hall of the Civil Court, sitting as a Constitutional Court, Malta), with a view, in particular, to seek a declaration that, by reason of the existing system for the appointment of members of the judiciary, as governed by the Constitution, the Republic of Malta is in breach of its obligations under, inter alia, the combined provisions of the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU and of Article 47 CFREU. The constitutional provisions concerned, which had remained unchanged from the time of their adoption in 1964 until a reform in 2016, confer on Il-Prim Ministru (Prime Minister, Malta) the power to submit to the President of the Republic the appointment of a candidate to such office. The candidates must satisfy certain conditions, also laid down by the Constitution, and, since the 2016 reform, a Judicial Appointments Committee has been established, which is charged with assessing candidates and providing an opinion to the Prime Minister. However, Repubblika challenges the conformity of national constitutional provisions concerning the procedure for the appointment of members of the Maltese judiciary with, in particular, the requirements laid down by EU law for the independence of the judicial system of the Member States.

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The Hungary question: how are the rights of LGBTIQ people in the EU?

by Ana Cardoso (Master’s student in European Union Law at the School of Law of the University of Minho)

On 23 June 2021, the Hungarian President Jánus Áder promulgated a law which forbids schools and the media of “promoting or portraying” homosexuality or sex reassignment to minors and limits sexual education in schools. The abovementioned law was approved by the Hungarian Parliament on 15 June 2021 and initially started as a way of introducing heavier sanctions on sexual crimes against minors, boosted by the scandal that happened earlier in the year involving the Hungarian ambassador to Peru, Gábor Kaleta, who was found in possession of nearly 20,000 pornographic pictures of minors. However, on 9 June 2021 MPs from the ruling party, Fidesz, submitted last-minute amendments to the law which target sexual minorities, in practice linking homosexuality to paedophilia.

The law (including the last-minute amendments) forbids that any content featuring portrayals of homosexuality or sex reassignment be made available to minors, states that school sex educators can no longer “promote” homosexuality or sex reassignment and that sexual education classes can only be held by registered organisations, limiting more liberal NGOs, and finally puts restrictions upon ads with LGBTIQ content. President Áder maintains that this new law only aims to protect children and give their parents the rule over sexual education, and that it does not affect the right of adults to choose how they live their own lives, or the right to private life enshrined in the Hungarian Constitution. Furthermore, Prime Minister Viktor Órban has stated that the law passed and that it was final, showing no intention of backing down.

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The architecture of direct effect: an introduction

Miguel Pereira (Master’s student in European Union Law at the School of Law of the University of Minho)

1. Direct effect: paving the road for the European integration

On 5 February 1963, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”)[1] issued a judgment that would become a cornerstone of the European Union (“EU”), notwithstanding the fact that the substance of the matter under judgement was quite mundane: was the import duty applied to the import of a chemical component, used mostly to produce adhesive materials, contrary to Article 12 of the European Economic Community Treaty (“EEC Treaty”)[2]?

In all likelihood, most of us would have gone by without ever reading the word “ureaformaldehyde” but fate, and mostly the Court, would have it another way. As it stands, the judgment of the Court in Case 26/62, commonly known as Van Gend & Loos (owing its designation to the plaintiff in the main action in the national court), introduced a new fundamental principle of EU Law, the principle of direct effect, which may be broadly defined as “the capacity of a provision of EU law to be invoked before a national court”[3]. To this broad definition we might add that those provisions must confer rights or impose obligations on those that seek the recognition of direct effect of a given provision[4]. The conditions under which direct effect might be conferred to a provision of EU law are specific and relate to the content and wording of the provision itself, the source of said provision and the nature of the parties in the dispute.

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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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The Court of Justice of the European Union is facing a new challenge: compliance with the rule of law or not as a result of the effects of decisions delivered by the Constitutional Court of Romania

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

1. Some decisions of the Constitutional Court of Romania and the requests for preliminary ruling filed by the courts in Romania

In Romania, the decisions of the Constitutional Court (CCR) have been the subject of endless public discussion in recent years.

Most recently, due to the fact that, according to a press release issued at the beginning of June by the National Anticorruption Directorate, the public opinion found out that, in a number of 801 criminal files regarding the offence of abuse of office, the solution of discontinuance of proceedings was ordered, as an effect of CCR Decision no. 405/2016, according to which, when establishing that the offence of abuse of office was committed, the judicial bodies must take into account only the infringement of the normative prescriptions of the law, and not also the infringement of certain obligations provided by Government decisions or other infra-legal rules. The value of the damage established during the criminal investigation, which has remained unrecovered, according to the Romanian prosecutors, amounts to RON 1,380,564,195, EUR 118,467,830 and USD 25,636,611.

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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.

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