Eurogroup and secrecy

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

It is clear from Article 1 of Protocol No 14, annexed to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, that Eurogroup meetings take place informally.

Informality is reflected in two aspects. First, according to the terms in which the meetings are held, that is, as to the procedure adopted therein. In fact, there is no set of rules defining the procedure to be followed, for example, to ensure the involvement of all actors and to determine the order in which such interventions can be carried out and the duration they may have. Secondly, the terms in which «decisions» are taken and how they are made known to the public. It is through press conferences that the outcome of the meetings is presented to citizens of the Union (and when they are).

It should be noted that we refer to «decisions» as a result of Eurogroup meetings, even though we know that the formal, final, and binding decision on the subject is actually taken at the Ecofin meeting. However, we are also aware of the fact that the votes made at Ecofin express the outcome of the previous Eurogroup meeting. The final decision of Ecofin was born in the Eurogroup.

So, the informality resulting from Article 1 of Protocol No 14 actually means «opacity». Contrary to the idea of necessary transparency and publicity in all decision-making centers, no minutes or documents are signed in the Eurogroup, there are no transcripts or records relating to the respective meetings. No database has ever been set up to add up the «decisions» taken. The proposals under discussion, the presented votes, the conflicts of interest that have arisen and the commitments made are not known. Moreover, the acts of the Eurogroup can not be syndicated before the Court of Justice of the European Union, even though they are not documented, neither on paper nor in audio or video.

Although a certain procedural informality is admitted (but still susceptible of criticism), it does not seem to admit an opacity in the decisions. In abstract, a procedure can be informal and simultaneously transparent. In particular, the functioning of the Eurogroup may be informal, but its «decisions» should not be opaque. And the lack of transparency that exists goes beyond mere confidentiality.

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Editorial of October 2016

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by Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor

Engaging EU liability within the European Stability Mechanism framework

Last September 20th, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered two judgments regarding the role of the European Commission and, to a lesser extent, the European Central Bank, in the negotiation and signing of the Memorandum of Understanding concluded between the Republic of Cyprus and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) during the 2012-2013 financial crisis, and, in particular, in the restructuring of the banking sector in Cyprus imposed as a condition for the grant of financial assistance.

In Mallis and Malli (Joined Cases C-105/15 P to C-109/15 P), actions were brought against the European Commission and the European Central Bank for the annulment of the Eurogroup’s statement of 25 March 2013 concerning, inter alia, the restructuring of the banking sector in Cyprus. In turn, in Ledra Advertising (Joined Cases C-8/15 P to C-10/15 P), depositors of two large Cypriot banks brought actions against the European Commission and the European Central Bank for the partial annulment of the Memorandum of Understanding of 26 April 2013 adopted jointly by the ESM and the Republic of Cyprus and also for compensation for damages allegedly suffered following the request for financial assistance and the ensuing restructuring of the two banks in question.

The ECJ had already been called upon to rule on judicial protection questions raised by the ESM framework. Created in order to provide, where needed, financial assistance to the Member States whose currency is the euro, the ESM was instituted through an international agreement between euro area Member States – the Treaty establishing the ESM, concluded in Brussels the 2th February 2012, in force since the 27th September 2012. Thus, the ESM Treaty is not part of the EU legal order, as confirmed by the ECJ in the famous Pringle judgment (C-370/12). As a consequence, when creating the ESM, or acting within its framework, Member States do not act within the scope of application of EU law for the purposes, in particular, of Article 51(1) CFREU. Individuals seeking to challenge Member States’ measures adopted pursuant the conditions laid down in a Memorandum of Understanding would not, therefore, find in the preliminary ruling mechanism an indirect means of access to the ECJ in order to assess their compliance with EU law and, in particular, the CFREU as the former was not in question and the latter was hence out of reach.

What the above mentioned judgments, and especially Ledra Advertising, emphasize is the link nonetheless existing between the ESM framework and the EU legal order. Quoting Alicia Hinarejos (EU Law Analysis), in order to carry out its functions, the ESM “borrows” two EU institutions, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, two thirds of the infamously known Troika. The question is whether (and, if so, when) EU institutions’ actions within the ESM framework might be reviewed and, when harmful, give rise to compensation under EU law and, in particular, in light of the CFREU.

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EU finance rules – changes in the horizon

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by Joaquim Rocha, Professor at the Law School of University of Minho

The rules of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) for the European Union may yet again undergo some changes. The SGP — whose first version started being implemented in 1997 and since day one has been criticised for vagueness, complexity and juridical fragility — has gone through several amendments seeking to avoid infractions and deviations. Most recent revisions were related to excessive deficit situations into which a number of Member States have been dragged (including Portugal). Following political blockages and negotiation impasses, those revisions were taken to an “extra-Union” solution (conventional/classic international law) via the so-called Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union.

At this time, a solution within the EU law framework is pursued. The idea aims to simplify the rules and make them easily manageable by policymakers, public authorities, politicians in general, namely those accountable in the finances. The major line of action revolves around the introduction of a public expenditure’s control index. Simply put, the goal of the financial mechanisms would be transferred from cutting deficit in general to imposing an expenditure limit to the States, which could not override the growth rates of the economy in the mid-term.

It should be a virtuous solution as the fiscal focus has been kept on income, loans and taxes for too long, mistakenly discrediting and setting aside the essential cornerstone of finances: the expenditure.

According to the President of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, “We did not discuss how to change the Pact, just how to choose the indicators to assess the compliance with the Pact. (…) It is directly in the hands of finance ministers. It gives us more guidance in the process of designing the budget. It says in advance what you have to do, and you have the control in your hands. There was general agreement that we need an indicator that takes out all the cyclical elements and one-offs but preferably it should be more stable and not change all the time, and we could put more emphasis on indicators that we can actually directly influence as finance ministers“, via Reuters.

On the matter, the Vice President of the European Commission officially addressed after the informal ECOFIN:

Our intention is to focus more on what is really in the hands of the Ministers of Finance, namely the evolution of primary expenditure and new revenue measures. This does not mean that we will put aside the deficit and the debt objectives. It is rather about making it clear what governments are expected to do to achieve these objectives. There was I would say broad support to pursue the work in this direction.(…)  At the same time, we need to be realistic in our expectations, as many underlined that there is no perfect method of calculating the out-put gap, it will always be an approximation“, via European Commission Press Release.

The changes had been anticipated:

EU to consider single “expenditure rule” to cut through budget morass, via Reuters.

Picture credits: Money Scales  by Images Money.