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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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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Summaries of judgments: DB v Commissione Nazionale per le Società e la Borsa (Consob) | A.B. and Others v Krajowa Rada Sądownictwa 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 2 February 2021, DB v Commissione Nazionale per le Società e la Borsa (Consob), Case C-481/19, EU:C:2021:84

Reference for a preliminary ruling – Approximation of laws – Directive 2003/6/EC – Article 14(3) – Regulation (EU) No 596/2014 – Article 30(1)(b) – Market abuse – Administrative sanctions of a criminal nature – Failure to cooperate with the competent authorities – Articles 47 and 48 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – Right to remain silent and to avoid self-incrimination

1. Facts

The request for a preliminary ruling was made in proceedings between DB and the Commissione Nazionale per le Società e la Borsa (Consob) (National Companies and Stock Exchange Commission, Italy) concerning the lawfulness of two financial penalties imposed on DB for an administrative offence of insider trading and for failure to cooperate in the context of an investigation conducted by Consob. Regarding the latter, after applying on several occasions for postponement of the date of the hearing to which he had been summoned in his capacity as a person aware of the facts, DB had declined to answer the questions put to him when he appeared at that hearing.

Continue reading “Summaries of judgments: DB v Commissione Nazionale per le Società e la Borsa (Consob) | A.B. and Others v Krajowa Rada Sądownictwa and Others”

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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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 December 2018

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 by Sergio Maia, Managing Editor

Multiannual financial framework, budgets and elections: is there room for convergence?

Current status of EU politics barely hides that convergence seems more and more dramatic, as the elections next May are rapidly approaching amidst uncertainty, Brexit and national populisms. Despite the signal Emmanuel Macron attempted to send recently by addressing the German Bundestag – the first French president to do so in 18 years – in favour of unity against chaos, there is little doubt that the moment is of euro-tension, somewhat of pre-storm. Italy is (literally) stepping on the European Commission’s budgetary recommendations; Brexit withdrawal agreement conclusion is an incognita on the British side (there is also the preliminary reference on its revocability under appreciation in CJEU); Steve Bannon is trying to fund extremist right-wing candidates for the European Parliament election; Poland is disguising its real commitment to implement CJEU interim measures; new migration rules are not settled, etc.

On top of that, there is an ongoing negotiation for the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) and in parallel proposals for a Eurozone specific budget as of 2021 – which was the underlying pretext for Macron’s speech at the Bundestag. The original idea of the French president was to equip the Eurozone with a separate budget to assist Member States experiencing instabilities in their economies. In other words, it would serve as a sort of debt mutualisation guarantee in critical times. This was only insidiously mentioned in the Meseberg Declaration, but it was mentioned nevertheless. The motivation for this tool was to provide an enhancement of the general balance between European economies so that the different levels of development in the EMU could be compensated for the benefit of Euro (stabilisation, prices) and trade flow in the internal market.
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Poland and the Crisis of Rule of Law: “Alea Jacta Est?”

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

October 19th 2018. The Vice-President of the Court of Justice ordered the Republic of Poland to immediately suspend provisions of the recent Polish law on the Supreme Court that lowered the retirement age for Supreme Court judges to 65 years, which would have the effect of removing nearly one-third of the Court’s judges.

One month has passed. Nothing happened.

Quite the opposite, in fact: on 9th November 2018 the new Polish National Council of Judiciary issued a resolution that concretely blocks the interim measure of October 19th. To be more precise, the resolution contains a threat of disciplinary responsibility for the reinstated Supreme Court Judges, if they perform official duties. Obviously this resolution may have a considerable negative impact on the way the order of the Vice-President of the CJEU is being carried out.

In this context, it must be underlined that, on 17th September 2018, the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ), after considering that an essential condition of ENCJ membership is “that institutions are independent of the executive and legislature and ensure the final responsibility for the support of the judiciary in the independent delivery of justice” decided to suspend the membership of the Polish National Judicial Council, the KRS, in the ENCJ.
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