A Political Decision Disguised as Legal Argument: Opinion of CJEU 2/13 – and other things
Over the summer an interesting article was published by Graham Butler, on his interview with David Thor Björgvinsson, former Icelandic judge in the European Court of Human Rights – see here.
One subject was the CJEU’s refusal to permit accession by the EU to the ECtHR (see my post here) – despite the EU’s commitment to accede via Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty, in December 2009. A Draft Agreement on Accession was concluded in April 2013, but it required the obtaining of an opinion from the CJEU on whether the Agreement was compatible with the EU Treaties – to which the CJEU gave a dusty answer in December 2014.
Quite a lot has happened in the 6 months since my post here on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). TTIP is a proposed trade agreement between the US and the EU, with negotiations on the substantive issues between the EU and the US underway in Brussels at the moment.
The proposed treaty may have significant effects on EU regulation, but let’s concentrate on whether TTIP should contain specific provisions enabling investors to sue governments.
The ground for action would be governmental “expropriation” of investments – and that may mean anything from telling a cigarette manufacturer that he must have to change what his packets look like, (with consequential loss of profits), to imposing new environmental standards on a power generating plant.
This mechanism is known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS. Our government seems astonishingly sanguine about this, on the basis that it has not yet been sued successfully under existing bilateral treaties with similar provisions. This does not seem to be a very profoundly thought-through position to adopt, if the proposed system has its problems – which it plainly does, when one compares it with traditional claims in the courts. Put simply, why wave it on?
Unsurprisingly, the Opinion of the EU Court (just before Christmas – my post here) that the proposed accession of the EU to the ECHR on current terms would be unlawful has not gone down well in Strasbourg.
An excellent post today by Tobias Lock on the Verfassungblog tells the story here, but these are the highlights. In short, the President of the Strasbourg Court, Dean Spielmann, added some text to his review of 2014, in a speech given yesterday, 29 January – here.
Lots of interesting stuff on the 2014 ECtHR case law (and case load), but his withering bit on the CJEU’s Opinion is worth quoting.
Bearing in mind that negotiations on European Union accession have been under way for more than thirty years, that accession is an obligation under the Lisbon Treaty and that all the member States along with the European institutions had already stated that they considered the draft agreement compatible with the Treaties on European Union and the Functioning of the European Union, the CJEU’s unfavourable opinion is a great disappointment.
In short, the CJEU is out of line with the views of the member states, and not least with the obligation in Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty that the EU “shall” accede to the ECHR.
But Spielmann did not leave it at that, as we shall see.
Last week, on 15 January 2015, TTIP was debated in the House of Commons – see here. It is important for us all, but why?
TTIP stands for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposed trade agreement between the US, the EU, and various members of the EU including the UK. A sober account of its history and scope was produced for the HoC debate (here), and a rather less polite view is here from George Monbiot.
Now, TTIP contains the usual things which one might expect to see in a trade agreement, such as the reduction or removal of tariffs between the respective trading blocs. And it comes with the usual accompanying material suggesting that all parties will benefit massively from the deal to the tune of billions of euros.
So what is there not to like?
Well, one part of the concern is that it will confer on investors (think multi-nationals) the right to sue governments for regulatory regimes causing loss of profits to those investors. This ability to sue is known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS. And the suing does not happen in domestic courts, but in a special international law tribunal consisting of corporate lawyers drawn from the world over. I shall give some examples below of the sort of litigation engendered in the past by ISDS, so you can assess what this means in practice.
TTIP with ISDS is being enthusiastically backed by the present Government – not hitherto a fan of foreign judges taking charge of how our laws comply with external standards.
Like lots of things to do with the ECHR, the idea seems to have been British. As Simpson put it in his magnificent history of the Convention, Human Rights and the End of Empire (OUP, 2001), Our Man (Jebb), in early 1949, appears to have suggested the site of the Council of Europe should be Strasbourg
not for its architectural or gastronomic qualities, much less for its geese, but because of its symbolic significance for Franco-German reconciliation
Quite obvious, when you think about it. I was spurred into this by my winter festival reading, Neil MacGregor’s Germany.
Strasbourg commands a chapter, Floating City. Floating, because it swapped between Germany and France regularly, with increasing rapidity in the run up to the ECHR in 1950. Formerly known as Strassburg, it had been emphatically part of the Holy Roman Empire, an Imperial city, a bishopric and German-speaking, until Louis XIV nicked it in 1681 – in war. The French were wise enough to administer it with a light touch – German remaining the predominant language – so it remained nominally French until 1871. Indeed, Goethe (and Metternich) studied there, and Goethe lauded the Gothic mediaeval cathedral (see pics) as reflecting supremely German architecture (Von Deutscher Baukunst) – which of course it wasn’t, given that Gothic architecture derives from France. Continue reading
Opinion of CJEU, 18 December 2014 – read Opinion
Well, here’s a thing. The EU top court in Luxembourg has decided that it is somehow against the EU treaties for it to defer in specific instances to the other European top dog, the ECtHR in Strasbourg.
Accession of the EU to the ECHR has been a very slow-burn process, with the Commission starting things off in 1979 (sic). The breakthrough, or so it appeared at the time, was the entry into force of Article 6 of the Lisbon Treaty of European Union, in December 2009. This (Art.6(2)) makes it a treaty obligation that the EU
“shall accede to the ECHR”.
Nice and simple then? No, not exactly, when you look at the extremely complex Draft Agreement on Accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights, concluded in April 2013- my post here. This seeks to make the adjustments to both the EU and ECHR institutions enabling a non-state organisation such as the EU to sign up to the ECHR.
One of the steps contemplated by the draft Agreement was the obtaining of an opinion from the CJEU on whether the Agreement was compatible with the EU Treaties. And the CJEU’s firm “non” to that question will inevitably set back the process, if not lead to its complete derailment.
The Opinion has already been well analysed by Aidan O’Neill QC here and Steve Peers here, neither in terms flattering of the CJEU. It is of some importance, so here is my penn’orth.
In a previous blog post on these pages, the case of Lindsay Sandiford was examined. Sandiford – a British citizen facing the death penalty in Indonesia – had asked the UK Government for funding to help her appeal, but was refused financial help. The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Government, stating that the decision to provide legal aid to a British citizen abroad is a discretionary matter for the executive.
Regardless of whether one agrees with the decisions of the Government and the Court, the case raises interesting questions about the obligations that are imposed on states that have abolished the death penalty. The primary duty on states is to simply refrain from imposing the death penalty, but it is possible to detect an emerging secondary obligation to refrain from facilitating the use of the death penalty elsewhere. This issue is particularly relevant to the UK, because although the UK takes a leading role internationally in campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty, there is evidence that the UK has on occasion aided the use of capital punishment elsewhere.