(co-authored with Alexander Arnesen, former research assistant at the University of Oslo’s Centre for European Law)
The frequent legal challenges to the European Union’s economic sanctions regimes have resulted in several judgments chiseling out key issues of EU law. Case C-72/15 Rosneft, which will be decided in the coming months, provides the European Court of Justice (ECJ) yet another opportunity to do so. In particular, the Rosneft case invites the ECJ to clarify its jurisdiction and power of judicial review over decisions taken by the Council under the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) – in the context of a reference for preliminary ruling.
As the legal issues in play in this case are very closely connected with the precise legal nature of the sanctions challenged, it is necessary to first describe the contested parts of the EU sanctions regime in some detail. Then I will go through the submissions of the parties, and offer some preliminary analysis of the arguments presented. My focus is the same as that of the oral hearing; on the issue of the jurisdiction of the CJEU to review sanctions adopted under the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Before we start I must also add a small disclaimer: this report is based on my own notes and recollections, and there may thus be inaccuracies, misunderstandings, or plain errors.
The contested parts of the EU sanctions regime
The contested parts of the EU sanctions regime in this case are the measures “targeting sectoral cooperation and exchanges with Russia” – which I will refer to as the sectoral measures. These sectoral measures are laid down in Council decision 2014/512/CFSP and Council regulation 2014/833/EU (links to latest consolidated versions). Essentially, these provisions prohibit EU persons, natural or legal, from engaging in contractual relations with certain Russian state-owned companies and banks, and from providing such companies and banks access to financial markets.
Sectoral measures may be contrasted with the targeted sanctions laid down in Council decision 2014/145/CFSP and Council regulation 2014/269/EU (links to latest consolidated versions). Such targeted sanctions directly affect named Russian natural and legal persons (not including Rosneft) by inter alia obliging European financial institutions to freeze their assets. With regard to the sectoral measures, on the other hand, Rosneft primarily feels the sting of them through the lack of access to European suppliers, consultants, credit institutions, etc.
This distinction between targeted and sectoral sanctions is also reflected in TFEU article 215. According to that provision the Union may in the form of a regulation adopt measures providing for ” the interruption or reduction, in part or completely, of economic and financial relations with one or more third countries” (i.e. sectoral measures) or “restrictive measures […] against natural or legal persons” (i.e. targeted sanctions). Since sectoral measures are formulated as prohibitions on EU citizens and undertakings from engaging in such activities, they only seems to affect Rosneft indirectly; it is their EU partners that are now prohibited from doing business with Rosneft. Note the use of the word seems in the previous sentence. Rosneft argues that it is also directly affected by the sectoral measures, and that they should be regarded as targeted sanctions. Still, the following summary of the hearing more or less presupposes that the sanctions are sectoral measures – which was also generally presupposed during the hearing.
A final peculiarity concerning CFSP sanctions regimes is that they are enacted through the use of two separate legal instruments. First, by a Council decision under TEU article 29. Second, and following such a decision, the sanctions are implemented within the internal market by means of a Council regulation under just-mentioned TFEU article 215. In the present case the relevant instruments are Council decision 2014/512/CFSP and Council regulation 2014/833/EU, which I will refer to in the following as “the CFSP decision” and “the regulation”, respectively. The relationship between the regulation and the CFSP decision was a key factor in relation to many of the issues discussed during the oral hearing in Rosneft.
The CFSP decision is adopted under a provision in the CFSP chapter of the TEU, namely article 29. This has certain consequences. First, legislative acts are precluded under the CFSP, see TEU article 31(1) i.f. Second, being adopted under the CFSP chapter the jurisdiction of the CJEU to review the decision is generally excluded according to TFEU article 275(1). Third, while the EU member states “shall ensure that their national policies conform to” the CFSP decision, the decision is not binding upon persons (natural or legal).
The regulation adopted under TFEU article 215 implements the CFSP decision within the internal market. That regulation is not a CFSP measure. This means that it is binding in its entirety, also on natural or legal persons, and directly applicable within the legal system of the EU member states (TFEU article 288(2)). Moreover, the general jurisdiction of the CJEU to review acts of the Union institution should therefore apply. (But see the Commission’s arguments to the contrary discussed below.)
What kind of provisions the two instruments should contain when the Union imposes sanctions is less clear. The only guidance we seem to get from the constituent treaties is that (a) legislative acts cannot be enacted in the form of CFSP decisions, and that (b) when a CFSP decision “provides for the interruption or reduction, in part or completely, of economic and financial relations with one or more third countries” the Council shall adopt “the necessary measures” in the form of a regulation under TFEU article 215. In practice, the wording of the CFSP decision and the regulation is more or less identical. This is also the case here. The provisions Rosneft is challenging are almost word-for-word identical in the CFSP decision and the regulation.
On 18 December 2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) delivered Opinion 2/13, and stunned the legal world by declaring that the Draft Agreement on the Accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights was incompatible with the constituent treaties of the Union. In this contribution note I will focus on only one aspect of Opinion 2/13: the CJEU’s interpretation and application of the TFEU article 344. Specifically, I will compare the approach taken in Opinion 2/13 with that of the CJEU’s earlier case-law. I will argue that the reasoning and conclusion concerning TFEU article 344 in Opinion 2/13 is clearly at odds with this earlier case-law, notably the leading MOX Plant case. I will also demonstrate how the approach to the issue in Opinion 2/13 – if it indeed reflects lex lata – seriously affects numerous treaties that have already been concluded by the Union.
German Law Journal is an online open access journal, so you can download the full contribution by following this link.
Just in time for Christmas, on 18 December 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) handed down its Opinion 2/13 on the Union’s planned accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). To the surprise of most, the CJEU found the draft agreement on the accession of the Union to the ECHR incompatible with the Union’s primary (read: constitutional) law.
Not only did the CJEU find the accession agreement incompatible with the Union’s constituent treaties. Its Opinion reads like a direct and unequivocal attack on the accession agreement and, as I will come back to, it seems to be very difficult to satisfy the CJEU’s objections by way of amending the accession agreement. Instead of the expected Christmas present of a signable accession agreement, the Court brought the negotiators a bag of coal.
I was in Luxembourg 5-6 May 2014, attending the hearing at the European Court of Justice concerning the Draft Agreement for the Accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights. In these two posts (click here for part 1) I summarize the main arguments presented at the hearing, and provide some initial analysis and thoughts. Finally, I would not be a lawyer if I did not point out that some caveats apply: I am writing based on my own notes and recollection, and thus there might be inaccuracies, omissions and misattributions. If you come across any, feel free to point them out in the comments section below. I would also greatly appreciate any other comments or thoughts you might have in relation to this case.
The second and final day of oral argument at the ECJ in the case concerning the validity of the Draft Agreement for the Accession of the EU to the ECHR (hereinafter: the DAA) focused on the questions put to the parties by the judges yesterday. Those questions are summarized at the end of yesterday’s blog post. Moreover, some of the judges, as well as the Advocate General, asked further questions towards the end of the hearing.
I was in Luxembourg 5-6 May 2014, attending the hearing at the European Court of Justice concerning the Draft Agreement for the Accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights. In these two posts (click here for part 2) I summarize the main arguments presented at the hearing, and provide some initial analysis and thoughts. Finally, I would not be a lawyer if I did not point out that some caveats apply: I am writing based on my own notes and recollection, and thus there might be inaccuracies, omissions and misattributions. If you come across any, feel free to point them out in the comments section below. I would also greatly appreciate any other comments or thoughts you might have in relation to this case.
Today I participated in a panel debate on the topic of the forthcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaty that is currently being negotiated between the EU and the USA. The video stream from the panel debate may be viewed right here (the first couple of minutes of the video are in Norwegian, but the panel debate itself is in English):
On June 30, 2011 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) had a grand total of 152,800 applications pending before it. By March 31, 2013 this number had been reduced by over 30,000 applications in one and a half year – to a total of 122,450 pending applications. This astonishing development proves that the recently implemented Protocol 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights, and the restructuring of the ECtHR’s registry, is in fact working.
If the ECtHR can keep this pace up, simple mathematics implies that it will have cleaned out its docket by 2021. Or maybe even before that, considering the fact that the number of new applications is slowly decreasing. This suggests that any further attempts at increasing its efficiency or reduce its current caseload should be of a temporary nature, as the ECtHR would been able to cope well if its docket was not already flooded when reforms could finally be put in place.
The big question is, however, whether one can apply such simple mathematics. Protocol 14 aims mostly to squash and filter out the most glaringly inadmissible applications. Apparently, the registry of the ECtHR was reorganized with the same goal in mind. If the 30,000 applications thrown out in the last year and a half are mainly those that are clearly inadmissible, the numbers may be skewed. Throwing out clearly inadmissible cases requires much less resources than deciding admissible cases on the merits.
It therefore remains to be seen whether the simple mathematics stated in my rather provocative header are an accurate prediction of things to come. My gut feeling is that simple mathematics are inadequate. To find a more accurate answer I think that we need a study of the composition of inadmissible/admissible cases of those 30,000 removed from the docket the last year and a half. This must then be compared with the expected composition of admissible/inadmissible cases before the ECtHR in total.
(If anyone knows of such studies, or relevant and available data, please give me a heads up in the comments.)
As reported by news agencies just before the weekend, the European Union and the 47 member states of the Council of Europe has just agreed on draft legal instruments that enable the EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights – after almost three years of negotiations. Antonie Buyse over at the ECHRblog has written a good and concise post on the topic already, which I recommend that anyone with an interest in the process should read.
While it was common knowledge that the negotiations were on the final stretch, at least I would not have expected that the final instruments would be ready before at least the next meeting of the delegations. That the delegations were able to solve all the outstanding issues this quickly must be seen as a positive sign, and suggests that the remaining obstacles will not render this agreement moot.
As Antonie Buyse mentioned in the above-mentioned post at ECHRblog, three main hurdles remain. First, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will be asked to give its opinion on whether the draft instruments are compatible with EU law. If the ECJ finds that the draft Accession Agreement is incompatible with EU law, it has the power under TFEU article 218 (11) to forbid the EU institutions and the EU member states from entering into the agreement. However, most experts consider it unlikely that the ECJ will reject the Accession Agreement.
Secondly, a formal decision to sign the instruments and accede to the ECHR must be made by the Council of the European Union, after obtaining consent from the European Parliament, see TFEU article 218 (6)(a)(ii). Since the Council consists of 27 of the states that participated in the drafting of the Accession Agreement, there seems to be little risk of them blocking a decision. The European Parliament is also generally in favor of acceding to the ECHR. It is thus difficult to see that they would try and block the process.
Thirdly, the signature and ratification by all 47 member states of the Council of Europe + the EU itself is needed before the Accession Agreement enters into force. 27 of these 47 states are EU members, and will be bound to sign and ratify the agreement upon the above-mentioned decision in the EU Council. The EU will also be bound to sign according to the same decision. As for the 20 remaining CoE states it will be more interesting to see whether they will cooperate, whether they intend to block the process, or even block it. Russia did, for instance, refuse to ratify protocol 14 to the ECHR for years and years.
Only after going through all these loops, the Accession Agreement will enter into force, and from that day the EU will formally become the 48th party to the European Convention on Human Rights.
A couple of weeks ago, between June 19 and 22, the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee for Human Rights (french acronym: CDDH) held its 75th meeting. Two topics of particular interest for the MultiRights project were key points on the agenda: the follow-up of the Brighton declaration, and the European Union’s accession to the ECHR. As the title already suggests, this blog post will deal with only the fact that negotiations on the latter has in fact restarted.