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 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 January 2021

Pedro Madeira Froufe (Editor) and Tiago Sérgio Cabral (Managing Editor) 

Heresy, realpolitik, and the European Budget

1. The negotiation preceding the final approval of the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (hereinafter, “MFF” or “Budget”) has marked by a significant number of twists, turns and eleventh-hour surprises. From the beginning this would always be a difficult negotiation. Being the first budget without the UK as a Member State, on one hand there was the need to show a united European Union after Brexit, but, on the other hand, there was the always unpleasant matter of redistributing the bill among remaining Member States.

2. In 2018, the Juncker Commission proposed a Budget with the value €1 135 Billion. Parliament considered the proposal not to be ambitious enough, an made a reinforced “counter-offer”, naming a much higher price for its consent in its November 2018 Interim Report on the Budget. However, in Council negotiations, the proposal was on track to be severely reduced. Plenty of factions were formed around the budget discussion such as the frugals (who wished to cap the budget at 1% of the GNI) or the friends of cohesion (who were not satisfied with cuts or shifting of funds from cohesion). Europe’s farming industry also lobbied against the decline in importance of the Common Agricultural Policy, and especially direct payments in the budget. At the end, things certainly seemed to be going into a pretty disappointing direction. The most likely result appeared to be a non-innovative budget pushed through after plenty of (arguably) petty squabbling.

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Editorial of October 2020

by Filipe Marques, President of MEDEL (Magistrats Européens pour la Démocratie et les Libertés)

Rule of Law in the European Union: the danger of a systematic change of the concept?

In the last day of September 2020, the European Commission publicly presented the first Rule of Law Report, intended to give an overview of the situation of Rule of Law in all twenty-seven EU Member States[i]. In the introductory words of this document, it is stated the Rule of Law, together with fundamental rights and democracy, “are the bedrock of our societies and common identity”.

The report came out just two weeks after President Ursula Von der Leyen, in her first State of the Union speech before the European Parliament Plenary, recognized that “the last months have also reminded us how fragile [Rule of Law] can be” and pledged to “always be vigilant, to care and nurture for the rule of law” [ii].

The current and ongoing situation in the EU, however, is much too serious to be tackled only with nice words in a speech or data collected in a report. The events and signs coming directly from the ground clearly show us that the time to act is now, before we reach a point of no return.

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Editorial of May 2020

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


“With all due respect, I have no time for this”. The Hungarian Case

1. The Pandemic Crisis in Hungary. Background.

In Hungary, like in many other countries, the Covid19 pandemic and the envisaged measures to prevent its expansion determined the approval of emergency laws.

The Hungarian Government declared the state of danger on 11 March 2020. On that occasion the power to issue decrees in order to suspend the application of certain laws and to take other extraordinary measures was granted for a period of 15 days, except if the Government – on the basis of an authorization from Parliament – decided to extend the effect of the decree. In effect, on 30 March 2020, this extension has been granted by the Parliament on broad terms: “until the endangering situation cease to exist.”

It is now undisputable the absence of any defined time limit for the extensive powers conceded to the national Government.

In the particular case of the functioning of the courts, on 14 March, the Government declared an extraordinary period of judicial vacations. This means that for the duration of judicial vacation, no regular trial hearing should be scheduled except in urgent court cases. Hearings must be held by videoconference. If the personal contact during the hearing is unavoidable a special protocol were applicable for the protection of health.
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We are all in the same boat! On the legal principle of solidarity and its legal implications in the recent CJEU case law

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by Alessandra Silveira, Editor

The Opinion of the Advocate-General Eleanor Sharpston in the joined cases C-715/17, C‑718/17 and C‑719/17 (delivered on 31 October 2019) concluded by recalling an old story from the Jewish tradition that deserves wider circulation – particularly in times of COVID-19 pandemic. A group of men are travelling together in a boat. Suddenly, one of them takes out an auger and starts to bore a hole in the hull beneath himself. His companions remonstrate with him. ‘Why are you doing that?’ they cry. ‘What are you complaining about?’ says he. ‘Am I not drilling the hole under my own seat?’ ‘Yes,’ they reply, ‘but the water will come in and flood the boat for all of us’ (paragraph 255).

The story is recalled by the Advocate-General regarding the principle of solidarity provided in Article 80 TFEU: “The policies of the Union set out in this Chapter [‘Policies on border checks, asylum and immigration’] and their implementation shall be governed by the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility, including its financial implications, between the Member States. Wherever necessary, Union acts adopted pursuant to this Chapter shall contain appropriate measures to give effect to this principle”.

On this principle – which requires all Member States – the Advocate-General stated that “respecting the ‘rules of the club’ and playing one’s proper part in solidarity with fellow Europeans cannot be based on a penny-pinching cost-benefit analysis along the lines (familiar, alas, from Brexiteer rhetoric) of ‘what precisely does the EU cost me per week and what exactly do I personally get out of it?’ Such self-centredness is a betrayal of the founding fathers’ vision for a peaceful and prosperous continent. It is the antithesis of being a loyal Member State and being worthy, as an individual, of shared European citizenship. If the European project is to prosper and go forward, we must all do better than that” (paragraph 254 of the Opinion).
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Judicial independence in Poland and Hungary – Going, Going, Gone? Preliminary Requests and Disciplinary Procedures – A shocking development

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

1. Stating the obvious

The reference for a preliminary ruling, provided for Article 19(3)(b) of the Treaty on European Union and Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is an essential instrument for the European Union and, in particular, for national judges.

It is aimed to guarantee the uniform interpretation and application of EU law by offering to the courts and tribunals of Member States a procedure to acquire from the Court of Justice of the European Union a preliminary ruling concerning the interpretation of EU law or the validity of acts adopted by the institutions of the Union.

As easily predictable, the impact of a preliminary ruling procedure in EU legal system is immense also because the rulings of European Court of Justice (ECJ) are assumed as generally binding.

The ECJ itself does not have a power to enforce the accurate application of EU law; this is the reason why national courts or tribunals are obliged to bring the matters in question before the Court as frontrunners of the application of EU law.

The reference for a preliminary ruling is the only way for the national judges to directly convey with ECJ. This procedure helps the ECJ control on how the national courts apply EU law providing the uniformity and certainty essentials to the success of our Union.

Another aspect of major significance could be furthermore underlined: the preliminary ruling also ensures the protection of the rights of individuals. EU laws, in particular the criminal law, fall to be interpreted in accordance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Article 6(1) of the Treaty of European Union affirms: “The Union recognises the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union … which shall have the same legal value as the Treaties”. In general terms, the Charter applies to Member States when they implement Union law (Case C-292/97 Karlsson and Others); therefore, the interpretation of the Charter provisions tends to be, if not now, in the foreseeable future, a fertile ground for the use of the preliminary ruling procedures.

The Member States are bound to respect fundamental rights in judicial cooperation, for instance, if a Member State is extraditing someone to another Member State in accordance with the scheme established by the European Arrest Warrant Framework Decision.
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Editorial of June 2019

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 by Alessandra Silveira, Editor
 and Sergio Maia, Managing Editor


Strengthening the rule of law in the EU on the D-Day 75th Anniversary

On 3 April 2019, the European Commission opened a debate to strengthen the rule of law in the EU and setting out possible avenues for future action. The Commission invited the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council, and the Member States as well as relevant stakeholders, including legal networks and civil society, to reflect on this issue and contribute with concrete ideas on how the rule of law toolbox could be enhanced in the future. Building on this reflection process and the ongoing debate, the Commission will return to this issue with its own conclusions and proposals in June 2019. As first Vice-President Frans Timmermans said, the Union’s capacity to uphold the rule of law is essential, now more than ever. First because it is an issue of fundamental values, a matter of “who we are”. Second, because the functioning of the EU as a whole depends on the rule of law in all Member States. The confidence of all EU citizens and national authorities in the legal systems of all other Member States is vital for the functioning of the whole EU as “an area of freedom, security and justice without internal frontiers”.[i]

On this 6 June 2019, D-Day 75th Anniversary, we add more one reason:  European integration emerged as an anti-fascist response to the collapse of the rule of law in the period between the two World Wars. What is important to highlight now is that all the legal-constitutional construction of the post-war in Europe is based on the idea that democracy, in the absent of the rule of law, becomes the tyranny of majority. Without the rule of law, we have nothing, only the nationalist populism and its disastrous consequences. Nationalist populism knows that, being a form of political communication that attempts to reach its goals by breaking the dialectic connection between democracy and rule of law.  So, as the rule of law can be improperly used, the main question in this context is to know what is the substance of the Union based on the rule of law.
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Editorial of November 2018

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 by Alessandra Silveira, Editor


In the face of globalised populism, European Union as a kind of “life insurance”

In case C-619/18, Commission v Poland, pending judgment by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), the European Commission has requested the Court, in the context of interim proceedings, to order Poland to suspend the application of the provisions of national legislation relating to the lowering of the retirement age for Supreme Court judges,[i] among other measures.

As the ECJ Press Release No 159/18 briefly explains, on 3 April 2018 the new Polish Law on the Supreme Court entered into force. Under that Law, the retirement age for Supreme Court judges has been lowered to 65. The new age limit applies as of the date of entry into force of that Law. It is possible for Supreme Court judges to continue in active judicial service beyond the age of 65 but this is subject to the submission of a statement indicating the desire of the judge concerned to continue to perform his/her duties and a certificate stating that his/her health conditions allow him/her to serve, and must be consented to by the President of the Republic of Poland. Thus, according to the Law, serving Supreme Court judges who reached the age of 65 before that Law entered into force or, at the latest, on 3 July 2018, were required to retire on 4 July 2018, unless they had submitted such a statement and such a certificate by 3 May 2018 inclusive and the President of the Republic of Poland had granted them permission to continue in active service at the Supreme Court. In making his decision, the President of the Republic of Poland is not bound by any criteria and that decision is not subject to any form of judicial review. Furthermore, the Law on the Supreme Court gives the President of the Republic of Poland the power to freely decide, until 3 April 2019, to increase the number of Supreme Court judges.

As we know, the Vice-President of the Court, Ms Rosario de Lapuerta, on 19 October 2018, provisionally granted all the Commission’s requests – and Poland must immediately suspend the application of the new Polish Law on the Supreme Court.[ii] The legal basis of such ruling, relying upon judicial independence as a general principle of EU law and as a fundamental right protected in its order, has been built in the recent ECJ case-law, especially in judgments Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses (ASJP) and LM[iii].
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Editorial of February 2018

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 by José Igreja Matos, President of the European Association of Judges/Vice-President of the International Association of Judges

Populism and Judiciary

Judicial independence faces today, particularly in Europe, new threats emerging from populist political regimes.

Accepting the fundamental axiom that in a State based upon the Rule of Law, it is always up to the Courts to guarantee the effectiveness of human rights, and there is a strong operative connexion between the exercise of human rights – or the correspondent imposition of duties – and the mission conducted by the judicial systems.

This detected closeness explains the present decline of judicial independence in different regions, particularly within EU geographical space.

One the most interesting findings when analysing those countries deriving to populist and authoritarian policies is the immediate option, since the very early stages, for an vigorous attack on the independence of the judiciary propelled by surgical legislative reforms in the area of Justice. Recently in Poland, for instance, three different laws discussed in Parliament focused in nuclear foundations of judicial careers – Supreme Court, High Judicial Council and Presidents of First Instance Courts.
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