Editorial of November 2021

By Rafael Leite Pinto (Master in EU Law – University of Minho)

The regional impacts of climate change in the European Union – a cohesion perspective

Although concern about climate change is typically a higher priority in western countries, especially in Europe, the understanding of its regional impacts is not widespread. The prevailing line of thinking is that developing countries will be the most affected and Europe will experience minor changes. While it is clear that developing countries will be affected the most, the lack of knowledge about local impacts can lead many citizens and politicians to delay taking concrete action. In this article, based on the new IPCC report and the new visual tools provided, we summarize the impacts of climate change in Europe, on rising temperatures, sea level, precipitation, and the incidence of extreme events with an overarching view on the internal cohesion policy for climate change to guarantee a fair and just transition, within the European Union.

1. The IPCC report

The new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)[1] made headlines as being the most frightening and alarming ever. In fact, nothing should concern us more than a report based on more than 14,000 high-quality studies, which clearly states that “each of the last four decades has been successively warmer[2]” and that human action is to blame.

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On the reform of sexual offences in Spain

Julia Ropero Carrasco and Sandra López de Zubiría Díaz (Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid)

The regulation of so-called “sexual crimes” has traditionally been accompanied by significant and heated debates. If we refer to its historical regulation, it is possible to see how “honour” or “morality” have clouded adequate protection of the victim, essentially due to the mistaken identification of the harmfulness of these acts. From 1995 onwards, with the so-called “Penal Code of Democracy”, it seemed that the regulation had been translated into important improvements, especially by consolidating “sexual freedom” as the legal right to be defended, instead of the previous obsolete conceptions. However, despite the commendable effort to abandon the conventional “sexual morality”, the truth is that this reform brought with it a lack of protection for victims, especially in the area of minors and trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, which led to different revisions accompanied in turn by controversy over the timeliness of the reforms.

For this reason, the controversies surrounding the regulation (and its application) of sexual offences have not ceased to be present, although it is in the wake of the well-known case of “La Manada[1]” and the various sentences issued on the matter that Spanish society has been particularly rallied and, with it, the debate on the appropriateness of criminal reform in this area has been reignited.

As a current context, it is necessary to pay attention to the data extracted from the 2019[2] Macro-survey on violence against women, as well as from the Report on Social Perception of Sexual Violence[3], which shows the prominence of sexual violence in women’s lives, the problem of under-reporting of the facts and, more worryingly, the maintenance of stereotypes about sexual violence (especially with regard to the conception of the “rapist” as a sick person and not as one of the perverse derivations of a patriarchal order that maintains a strong discrimination against women in the sexual sphere and a definition of roles that promotes male domination).

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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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What to expect from the European Platform on Combating Homelessness?

Cecília Pires (PhD Candidate at the University of Minho)

On 21 June of 2021, under the fourth Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union (“EU”), its Member States, European institutions, political representatives, homeless people, and civil society signed the Lisbon Declaration on the European Platform on Combating Homelessness, during the High-Level Conference on the European Platform on Combating Homelessness.

The initiative is a result of the orientation at Article 3 of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, which predicts the urgency of European practices and policies that can promote access to not only the quality and affordable houses but also the essential services. It is aimed to guarantee the human right to adequate housing.

The primary basis of the commitment is: Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union (“TEU”), which mandates the Union to combat social exclusion and promote economic, social, and territorial cohesion; principle nº 19 of the European Pillar of Social Rights (“EPSR”), that addresses the need for action to ensure housing; housing assistance, adequate shelter and services for those in need and people experiencing homelessness; and the principles nº 1 and nº 11 of the 2030 United Nations (“UN”) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which deal, respectively, with the duty to end extreme poverty, including homelessness, and to make cities and human settlements safe, resilient and sustainable with ensuring access to all adequate, safe and affordable houses. 

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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 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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Editorial of May 2021

Alessandra Silveira, Joana Covelo de Abreu, Pedro Madeira Froufe (Editors) and Tiago Sérgio Cabral (Managing Editor)

Conference on the future of Europe and the defence of European values

On March 10th, 2021, following a long negotiation, the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission signed the “Joint Declaration” on the “Conference on the Future of Europe”, holding its joint presidency.[1] The Conference will be officially launched on May 9th, 2021 in an inaugural session in Strasburg and it will be extended until the Spring of 2022. It aims at creating a new public forum for an open, inclusive, transparent and structured debate with Europeans around the issues that matter to them and affect their everyday lives. A new Special Eurobarometer, published one day before the signing of the Joint Declaration, focuses on the Conference and measures attitudes towards it and some of the key themes to be covered.[2]

Three-quarters of Europeans consider that the Conference will have a positive impact on democracy within the EU: 76% agree that it represents significant progress for democracy within the EU, with a clear majority supporting this view in every EU Member State. The very vast majority of Europeans (92%) across all Member States demand that citizens’ voices are “taken more into account in decisions relating to the future of Europe”. While voting in EU elections is clearly regarded (by 55% of respondents) as the most effective way of ensuring voices are heard by decision-makers at EU level, there is very strong support for EU citizens having a greater say in decisions relating to the future of Europe. 45% of Europeans declare themselves “rather in favour of the EU but not in the way it has been realised so far”. Six in ten Europeans agree that the Coronavirus crisis had made them reflect on the future of the EU while 39% disagree with this.

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