Editorial of September 2016

Pepper Police @ Dresden Nazi Frei

by Mariana Canotilho, Editor
 ▪

Democracy at the crossroads

A little over one month ago, the European Commission advanced its disciplinary procedure against Poland, after accusing Warsaw of failing to address concerns over democracy and the rule of law in the country. The Polish government reacted harshly, stating that this is not the kind of presence in the EU they have agreed on, and affirming that the procedure goes beyond the Treaties and the Commission’s competences.

The situation in Poland is serious but it is not unique. Hungary was the precursor in the authoritarian drift. The Tavares report on the country, published in 2013, denounces the weakening of checks and balances, especially the actions against the Constitutional Court, the Parliament and the Data Protection Authority, the undermining of the independence of the judiciary, the restrictions to the rights of persons belonging to minorities and the interference with the media and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

The Union has strong reasons to fear the dissolution of the rule of law in the East. But the process of re-engagement with it is long, difficult and complex. One of the more obvious difficulties, from a constitutional law point of view, is that the EU’s own track record concerning democracy and the rule of law during the last ‘crisis years’ is at least fuzzy.

The ongoing crisis has been used to contest the steps taken during the last 15 years towards the parliamentarisation of the EU. In fact, there is a remarkable institutional change within the Union – both at national and European levels – promoted in the framework of an ‘emergency politics’ that tends to enhance the powers of executive authorities and of informal, non-accountable, decision mechanisms, in detriment of democratic representative institutions.

Furthermore, the EU has promoted necessity over democratic consent and effectiveness over deliberative reason as decision’s criteria. It has allowed, justified and sometimes even actively furthered the weakening of constitutional mechanisms that control and limit the exercise of power. This has clearly limited the space for well-minded critics, for alternative proposals, for self-reflection and correction of mistakes. Paradoxically, it has also, as the cases of Hungary and Poland sadly demonstrate, opened the floor for the true enemies of European integration and European democratic values. Will the Union still be able – and willing – to save them?

Picture credits: Pepper Police  by MonteCruz Foto.

Advertisements

Editorial of July 2016

brexit-1477615_960_720

by Professor Alessandra Silveira, Editor

Every cloud has a silver lining. On the referendum able to push forward the unity of the Europe and the disunity of the Kingdom

Modern democracy, with which the West has lived since the liberal revolutions, is representative – exceptionally accompanied by moments of semi-direct democracy through referenda or popular consultations. Such exceptionality is based on the very survival of democracy as referenda hardly ever manage to escape high doses of manipulation and abuse. When Hans Kelsen was asked once about the rightfulness of popular consultation, he allegedly answered that, despite they make sense in certain situations, it should not be forgotten that an uninformed population preferred Barabbas over Jesus Christ. This metaphor illustrates one of the main assumptions of the democratic theory (which no one described as brilliantly as Norberto Bobbio): the excess of democracy may kill it.

This becomes crystal clear in the referenda (supposedly) on European issues, tendentiously instrumentalized by national political elites that convert them in arenas to internal disputes. The day the world awaked in astonishment with the results of the British referendum, the top questions at the social networks and search engines in the United Kingdom on the European Union since the Brexit result was officially announced were: “What is the European Union? What does it mean to leave the European Union?” That reveals that many British have voted without really knowing what the EU is or what it stands for in their daily life.

And so 17 million British, deceived by the most despicable demagogy, decided about the destinies of 500 million European, subverting the most elementary democratic rule of a polity – the one of majority will. They did so openly for the worst reasons – fear, hostility, xenophobia, all wrapped in the sovereignty narrative –, offering weapons for the Leftist and Rightist populisms all over Europe to wield a speech against the Brussels’ technocracy. The same technocracy that will stop paying grants to British agriculturists, that will cease supporting research in the British universities, that will discontinue the stimulation for the movement of British Erasmus students, that will interrupt law-making towards promoting equality and non-discrimination among the British.
Continue reading “Editorial of July 2016”

On the world of yesterday, witches and ghosts

 

by Professor Alessandra Silveira, Editor

(text in the memory of Jo Cox, British MP, 41, upholder of refugees’ rights and the continuation of United Kingdom in the EU, who was appallingly killed on 16th June).

Jo Cox’s murder was a senseless attack on democracy itself“, via The Telegraph.

Jo Cox MP death: David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn unite in tributes“, via BBC.

Jo Cox death: ‘The well of hatred killed her,’ Corbyn says – latest updates“, via The Guardian.

Jo Cox’s tragic death may halt pro-Brexit momentum, analysts say“, via CNBC.

The price of caring“, via The Economist blog.

Jo Cox’s death should make us reflect on our polluted, abusive politics“, via Mirror.

After Jo Cox’s Killing (…)“, via The Wall Street Journal.

Before the adversities we have been facing in Europe lately – financial speculation, migratory boom, terrorism, Euroscepticism, populism, intolerance, Brexit, etc. – sometimes it seems it could not get worse. A sort of perfect storm, as it is said. But it can always get worse. In fact, it was worse in the past. We can acknowledge that by simply reading Stefan Zweig’s memoirs, The World of Yesterday. In it the author gives us a nostalgic picture of a missing world, the one of Europe pre-1914 which is opposed to heinous period of the wars, interleaved by a short time of peace and hope in the European renaissance. It was during the exile in England, and then Brazil, where the Jewish Austrian wrote his memories – as well as the iconic Brazil, land of the future, in deep demonstration of gratitude to the country that hosted him.

At this time of profound consternation due to the harrowing assassination of Jo Cox, this “world of yesterday” described by a war refugee in the end of the 1930s proves that there is still space for a normative approach of the European integration process, inclined to create solutions that help neutralize the fragmentation forces against which the Union is being confronted, and mobilize its cohesion forces.

Continue reading “On the world of yesterday, witches and ghosts”

Summary of Costa/ENEL – 6/64

by José Ricardo Sousa, student of the Master's degree in EU Law of UMinho

Keywords: primacy; competition rules; non-discrimination; nationalisation; state aid.

Court: CJEU | DateJuly 15th 1964 | Case: 6/64 | Applicants: Faminio Costa vs Ente Nazionale Energica Elettrica

Summary: The Italian Republic nationalized the production and distribution of electric energy. In the middle of the proceedings, Mr Costa, shareholder of an energy company affected by the sector nationalization requested the application of article 177 of EEC Treaty to obtain the interpretation of articles 102, 93, 53 and 37 of the same treaty. To Mr Costa, this nationalization infringed the articles mentioned above. The Giudice Consiliatore decided to send a question to CJEU:

“Having regard to Article 177 of the Treaty of25 March 1957 establishing the EEC, incorporated into Italian law by Law No 1203 of 14 October 1957, and having regard to the allegation that Law No 1643 of6 December 1962 and the presidential decrees issued in execution of that Law (No 1670 of 15 December 1962, No 36 of 4 February 1963, No 138 of25 February 1963 and No 219 of 14 March 1963) infringe Articles 102, 93, 53 and 37 of the aforementioned Treaty, the Court hereby stays the proceedings and orders that a certified copy of the file be transmitted to the Court of Justice of the European Economic Community in Luxembourg.’”

Continue reading “Summary of Costa/ENEL – 6/64”

Editorial of February 2016

 

hqdefault

Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor
 ▪

Budgetary control, integration, sovereignty.

The budgetary control that the rules of the monetary Union demand from the Member States has given risen to some tension among some of the national Governments and Brussels. The most recent case (and let’s forget about what happened, and still happens, with Greece) regards Portugal. The new socialist Government, supported in the Parliament by Parties that always dealt uncomfortably with the idea and the dynamics of the integration process, is facing its first challenge with Brussels and the European Commission, regarding the Portuguese Draft Budgetary Plan for 2016.

As a matter of fact, the budgetary control (even if only understood as common supervision or monitoring of the internal budgetary decision is, effectively, a control) has the goal, in accordance with Article 126 TFEU, of “avoiding excessive deficits”. One should consider that, in the framework of monitoring that is attributed to the Commission by the same Article, this entity should intervene (and it should be stressed, within its “monitoring” role only) to identify and avoid, in terms of budgetary evolution and public debt, important deviations, within the criteria set out in Article 126(2)(a) and (b) TFEU. In the end, everything is built around the comparison between the programmed deficit and a certain benchmark rate in the relation between public debt and the national GDP (the “famous” 60% of that GDP in terms of public debt).

The Union is a “Union based on the rule of Law”. It pretends to be so with the (final) protection of rights and guarantees, as ensured by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). A Union of Law implies, evidently, the respect and the guarantee that the existent rules are effectively applied. In the case of the Union, the respect of the Primary Law, the Secondary Law, the fundamental praxis and legal acquis that support the dynamics of the integration. However, the reverse results in generating rules, also reasonable, within the context of the permanent balance relation between the Union and the Member States and, naturally, among those (and between each other). These relations must safeguard balance (isonomy) and ponderation, bearing in mind the goals of the integration process. In the end, there is a permanent negotiating process, a consensus dynamics that – even in the framework of the effective application of legal rules – is, naturally, in the foundations of a material “Union based on the rule of Law”.

That said, all actors have indeed to abide by the rules and this shall be done in good-faith (loyalty) even if, in extremis, those rules have to be feasible and balanced.

It is not whichever rule, regardless of the circumstances (and, in this case, the concrete Portuguese reality) that has to be implemented blindly and by hook or by crook. This also blocks the idea and dynamics of the “Union based on the rule of Law” and endangers the integration process. It is, however, inadmissible that some resort to the argument of “the national sovereignty” to criticise existent rules and to say even that the Portuguese Constitution “undoubtedly prevails” over the rules of the Treaties.

It is clear that, in the end, all will come to a solution through the dynamics of the negotiation, through the creation of balances, of bridges of consensus. No one will lose his face in political terms and the idea of respect of the existing legal framework will prevail. That is, ultimately, one of the lessons learned from the History of European Integration.

Picture credits: via this Youtube video [EU Commission’s opinion on the Portuguese Draft Budgetary Plan].

More on the Portuguese Draft Budgetary Plan for 2016 here.

Social citizenship: quo vadis? – Inaugural Editorial

by Alessandra Silveira, Editor
and Sophie Perez Fernandes, Junior Editor

The European citizenship as the “the fundamental status of nationals of the Member States”[1] has been shaping the process of integration itself. Unquestionably linked to the protection of fundamental rights, European citizenship has always been focused on the approximation of the legal status of the nationals of Member States, providing the legal base to the eradication of legal gaps of protection and, therefore, contributing to the further development of the integration process. However, recent case law of the ECJ seems to be influenced by the current political-economic dynamics that characterise the current crucial momentum that we are facing, raising perplexity and concern when compared to past rulings which compose the jurisprudential acquis in matters of citizenship and fundamental rights – mainly in what concerns citizens that move in the Union seeking jobs and the maintenance of the status of migrant worker.

The Dano ruling of 2014[2] represents a setback in regard to the previous case law of the ECJ regarding the granting of special non-contributory cash benefits to citizens who are not economically active. Despite the fact that, in this concrete case, a residence certificate of unlimited duration was previously granted to the applicant – a fact apparently disregard by this ruling – the national court considered that the main proceedings concerned persons who could not claim a right of residence in the host State by virtue of Directive 2004/38/CE. The ECJ accompanied the reasoning of the national court stating that the access to social benefits is dependent on the residence in the host Member State as set out by Article 7 of the mentioned Directive – i.e. sufficient economic resources and health insurance[3]. The goal would be to prevent economically inactive citizens from becoming an unreasonable burden on the social assistance system of the host Member State[4], or from using the host Member State’s welfare system to fund their means of subsistence[5]. Admitting otherwise, according to the Court, would go against the objectives of the Directive[6].

Continue reading “Social citizenship: quo vadis? – Inaugural Editorial”