Summaries of judgments: Repubblika v Il-Prim Ministru | Asociaţia «Forumul Judecătorilor din România» 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 20 April 2021, Repubblika v Il-Prim Ministru, Case C-896/19, EU:C:2021:311

Reference for a preliminary ruling – Article 2 TEU – Values of the European Union – Rule of law – Article 49 TEU – Accession to the European Union – No reduction in the level of protection of the values of the European Union – Effective judicial protection – Article 19 TEU – Article 47 CFREU – Scope – Independence of the members of the judiciary of a Member State – Appointments procedure – Power of the Prime Minister – Involvement of a judicial appointments committee

1. Facts

Following the appointment, in April 2019, of new members of the judiciary, Repubblika – an association whose purpose is to promote the protection of justice and the rule of law in Malta – brought an actio popularis before the Prim’Awla tal-Qorti Ċivili – Ġurisdizzjoni Kostituzzjonali (First Hall of the Civil Court, sitting as a Constitutional Court, Malta), with a view, in particular, to seek a declaration that, by reason of the existing system for the appointment of members of the judiciary, as governed by the Constitution, the Republic of Malta is in breach of its obligations under, inter alia, the combined provisions of the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU and of Article 47 CFREU. The constitutional provisions concerned, which had remained unchanged from the time of their adoption in 1964 until a reform in 2016, confer on Il-Prim Ministru (Prime Minister, Malta) the power to submit to the President of the Republic the appointment of a candidate to such office. The candidates must satisfy certain conditions, also laid down by the Constitution, and, since the 2016 reform, a Judicial Appointments Committee has been established, which is charged with assessing candidates and providing an opinion to the Prime Minister. However, Repubblika challenges the conformity of national constitutional provisions concerning the procedure for the appointment of members of the Maltese judiciary with, in particular, the requirements laid down by EU law for the independence of the judicial system of the Member States.

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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 March 2021

José Manuel Fernandes, Member of the European Parliament and of the MFF and own resources negotiating team

The EU budget: a legal constellation for the recovery

I. Introduction

The approval of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) is followed by an Interinstitutional Agreement (IIA) and a Decision on the EU system of Own Resources (ORD). Because of the pandemic, the Council, after Parliament’s insistence, and with strong support from Angela Merkel and Macron, put forward an historical and solidary decision: the use of a common guarantee based on the EU budget for the Commission to contract a debt of € 750 billion and establish the European Union Recovery Instrument through a Regulation[1] aiming to support the recovery in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis (NGEU). This decision was the only possible solution. Member States did not have the financial means to, for example, increase the EU budget. The decision increases the need for new own resources (sources of revenue). In fact, the NGEU has repercussions on the IIA, the ORD and the MFF 2021/2027 itself: these are all part of a negotiation “package”.

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The Court of Justice of the European Union is facing a new challenge: compliance with the rule of law or not as a result of the effects of decisions delivered by the Constitutional Court of Romania

Dragoș Călin (Judge at the Bucharest Court of Appeal and co-president of the Romanian Judges' Forum Association)

1. Some decisions of the Constitutional Court of Romania and the requests for preliminary ruling filed by the courts in Romania

In Romania, the decisions of the Constitutional Court (CCR) have been the subject of endless public discussion in recent years.

Most recently, due to the fact that, according to a press release issued at the beginning of June by the National Anticorruption Directorate, the public opinion found out that, in a number of 801 criminal files regarding the offence of abuse of office, the solution of discontinuance of proceedings was ordered, as an effect of CCR Decision no. 405/2016, according to which, when establishing that the offence of abuse of office was committed, the judicial bodies must take into account only the infringement of the normative prescriptions of the law, and not also the infringement of certain obligations provided by Government decisions or other infra-legal rules. The value of the damage established during the criminal investigation, which has remained unrecovered, according to the Romanian prosecutors, amounts to RON 1,380,564,195, EUR 118,467,830 and USD 25,636,611.

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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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Building the ECJ puzzle on judicial independence in a Union based on the rule of law (Commission v Poland in the light of ASJP)

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 by Alessandra Silveira, Editor


On 27 February 2018, the ECJ delivered its judgment in the
Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses case (C-64/16).[i] It is a judgment of far-reaching consequences for effective judicial protection and the rule of law within the European Union – and, arguably, for the construction of the legal-constitutional model that supports the European integration. Mainly because the question of judicial independence was assessed without any relevance having been given to the issue of whether or not the austerity measures in question were covered by EU law.[ii] It is worth recalling the circumstances of this case law to understand the following ECJ steps.

At the origin of the request for a preliminary ruling was a special administrative action brought before the Supremo Tribunal Administrativo (Supreme Administrative Court, Portugal) seeking the annulment of salary-reduction (administrative) measures of the judges of the Tribunal de Contas (Court of Auditors, Portugal). According to the Supremo Tribunal Administrativo, the measures for the temporary reduction in the amount of public sector remuneration, also applied to the members of the judiciary, were based on mandatory requirements for reducing the Portuguese State’s excessive budget deficit during the year 2011. The referring court therefore considered those measures as measures adopted within the framework of EU law or, at least, as being European in origin, on the ground that those requirements were imposed on the Portuguese Government by EU decisions granting financial assistance.

Besides, the legal action brought before the Supremo Tribunal Administrativo was accompanied with an opinion presented by me and my Colleague Pedro Froufe, two of the editors of this blog. The opinion intended to clarify the extent to which the subject matter fell within the scope of application of EU law, triggering the need to refer to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling.[iii] However, this did not play any role in the interpretation which led the Court to conclude that the second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU was applicable in the case in question. This is the password to understand this new standard and the following ECJ steps on judicial independence, in order to Article 19 TEU gives concrete expression to the value of the rule of law affirmed in Article 2 TEU.
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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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