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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Summaries of judgments: Commission v Poland (Régime disciplinaire des juges) | Wabe

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 15 July 2021, European Commission v Republic of Poland, Case C-791/19, EU:C:2021:596

Failure of a Member State to fulfil obligations – Disciplinary regime applicable to judges – Rule of law – Independence of judges – Effective legal protection in the fields covered by Union law – Second subparagraph of Article 19(1) TEU – Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – Disciplinary offences resulting from the content of judicial decisions – Independent disciplinary courts or tribunals established by law – Respect for reasonable time and the rights of the defence in disciplinary proceedings – Article 267 TFEU – Restriction of the right of national courts to submit requests for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice and of their obligation to do so

Facts

In 2017, Poland adopted a new disciplinary regime concerning judges of the Sąd Najwyższy (Supreme Court) and judges of the ordinary courts. In the context of that legislative reform, a new chamber, the Izba Dyscyplinarna (‘the Disciplinary Chamber’), was established within the Supreme Court and was made responsible, inter alia, for hearing disciplinary cases relating to judges of the Supreme Court and, on appeal, those relating to judges of the ordinary courts.

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The priority of the EU law in Romania: between reality and Fata Morgana

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

1. Are ordinary judges afraid to apply CJEU judgments?

The judgment of the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union, delivered in the joined cases C-83/19, C-127/19, C-195/19, C-291/19, C-355/19 and C-397/19, Asociația Forumul Judecătorilor din România și alții, on 18 May 2021, has caused a real earthquake in Romania.

It was so intense that, in order to maintain the previous state of affairs, the Constitutional Court of Romania immediately intervened, by Decision no. 390/2021, contrary to the CJEU judgment, ordering that national ordinary judges may not analyse the conformity of a national provision, which has already been found to be constitutional by a decision of the Constitutional Court, in relation to the provisions of European Union law.

More specifically, invoking the disregard of the national constitutional identity, “as a guarantee of a fundamental identity nucleus of the Romanian Constitution and which should not be relativised in the process of European integration”, the Constitutional Court of Romania found that “the CJEU, declaring the binding nature of Decision 2006/928/EC [establishing the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) for Romania], limited its effects from a double perspective: on the one hand, it established that the obligations resulting from the decision fall within the responsibility of the competent Romanian authorities that have the competence to cooperate institutionally with the European Commission (paragraph 177 of the decision), therefore within the responsibility of the political institutions, the Romanian Parliament and Government, and, on the other hand, that the obligations shall be exercised under the principle of sincere cooperation, provided by Article 4 of TEU. From both perspectives, the obligations cannot be incumbent on the courts, State bodies that are not authorized to cooperate with a political institution of the European Union.” It was therefore established that the “implementation of paragraph 7 of the operative part of the judgment, according to which a court is authorized to set aside ex officio a national provision falling within the scope of Decision 2006/928 and which it considers, in the light of a Court judgment, to be contrary to this decision or to the second subparagraph of Article 19 (1) TEU, has no basis in the Romanian Constitution”.

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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: 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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