News from the courts
- Decisions CJEU
C-480/21 (Order of Court, 12 july 2022): Reference for a preliminary ruling – Article 99 of the Rules of Procedure of the Court of Justice – Judicial cooperation in criminal matters – European arrest warrant – Framework Decision 2002/584/JHA – Article 1(3) – Surrender procedure between Member States – Conditions for execution – Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – Second paragraph of Article 47 – Fundamental right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law – Systemic or generalised deficiencies – Two-step examination – Criteria for application – Obligation of the executing judicial authority to determine, specifically and precisely, whether there are substantial grounds for believing that the person in respect of whom a European arrest warrant has been issued, if surrendered, runs a real risk of breach of his or her fundamental right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law
- Decisions ECtHR
No relevant decisions rendered.
- Communicated cases CJEU
No relevant communications rendered.
- Communicated cases ECtHR
The ECtHR has communicated 37 cases against Poland relating to “judicial decisions rendered by various chambers of the Supreme Court in civil or criminal cases, following appeal with regard to application for vacant judicial post, or regarding a disciplinary case involving a lawyer, or decisions by the National Council of the Judiciary (NCJ). It is alleged that the judicial formations dealing with the applicants’ cases were not “independent and impartial tribunals established by law” since they included judges who had been appointed by the new NCJ. The NCJ is the constitutional body in Poland which safeguards the independence of courts and judges. It has been the subject of controversy since the entry into force of new legislation in 2017 providing, among other things, that its judicial members are no longer elected by judges but by the Sejm (the lower house of Parliament).” Note also the communication of a similar case (Botor v Poland). The latter case resembles the 2021 case of Xero Flor w Polsce sp. z o.o. v. Poland, were the Court eventually held unanimously that article 6(1) (right to a fair trial and right to a tribunal established by law) had been violated.
Another communicated case against Bulgaria (C-373/22 – N.E) also concerned the question whether the court at hand could be regarded an independent or impartial tribunal in the meaning of EU law. It concerned a court, seised in a criminal case and at the same time a defendant in a claim for damages brought by a suspect in this criminal case, which is based on an unlawful act by this court.
News from the Member States and the EU
- Czech Republic
On 12 September, the trial against former Czech prime minister Babiš opened concerning his alleged role in the misuse of EU funds worth two million euros (EUObserver).
Following several comments by MEPs and the EC on the wiretapping scandal in Greece – involving the use of the illegal spy-software Predator to wiretap the phone of an opposition leader in Greece by the administration of PM Mitsotakis (EUObserver) – the Greek government claimed the EU lacked competence to dwell on security measures taking place within the Member State (Politico). In the recently created special inquiry committee on spyware (PEGA) by the EP, the Predator revelations in Greece were also discussed. Some argued it undermines the rule of law in Greece (EUObserver).
Over the rule of law dispute, Hungary has been blocking the legislative proposal for a global minimum corporate tax rate. Alternatively, the EC is considering to inititate an enhanced cooperation deal on a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15 percent, which would not require unanimous voting (Politico).
After the historical step by the EP to publicly declare Hungary ‘no longer a democracy’ as European values are under systematic threat in the Member State (Politico; EUObserver), the EC has proposed a suspension of 65 percent of funds allocated to Hungary under three EU programs (EU cohesion policy). This cut comes down to 7.5 billion euros. (EUObserver)
However, the EC has also announced it will monitor during the fall the Hungarian progress on 17 promised reforms aimed to counter fraud and corruption in the country (EUObserver; Euractiv)). The Council will bear these findings in mind when finally deciding on the matter (Politico; Politico; Politico; Politico; EUObserver). MEPs have criticized the EC’s plan for providing Hungary an easy way out of the mechanism (EUObserver).
The far-right Giorgia Meloni of Fratelli d’Italia was elected as prime minister of Italy (EUObserver), a result cheered by EU’s right wing but despised by others (Politico; Politico). It could have implications for the balance in Brussels (Politico), although others argue that it will not change the internal dynamics of the EU (EUObserver). It has caused internal struggle in the EPP, as Berlusconi – also member of the EPP – supports the Meloni coalition (Politico).
The PEGA inquiry committee of the EP will start looking into Italian firm Tykelab and parent company RCS Lab in the wake of the media revelations by Lighthouse Reports, Der Spiegel, Domani and Irpimedi about mass surveillance activities by these Italian entities (EUObserver).
Poland has threatened to violate its EU legal obligations if the recovery funds are not soon provided to the Member State (Politico). After the EC regarded the few Polish legislative changes (intended to meet the “milestones”) insufficient, the Polish government and the EC have not reached a compromise. The EC furthermore shrugged off the threats made by Poland (EUObserver). Although generally applauded, some have argued the lack to reach consensus might damage public faith in the EU’s neutrality (Politico). Others condemned the milestones-option in the first place for disregarding ongoing rule of law concerns. In this light, four European associations of judges have lodged proceedings before the CJEU against the Council for approving Poland’s corona recovery plan (Politico). However, there might be standing problems before the CJEU. An exception to the standing requirements may be needed in the exceptional circumstances of this case “where a Member State fails to establish a system of legal remedies and procedures which ensure respect for the right to effective judicial protection” (see Verfassungsblog).
Despite cooler relations due to different stances on the war in Ukraine, Poland has announced it would oppose EU rule of law sanctions on Hungary (Euractiv).The Polish government has also refused to cooperate in another case: it did not show up for the EP inquiry into the use of Israeli spyware Pegasus to target Polish opposition politicians, lawyers, and prosecutors (EUObserver).
Věra Jourová has warned the Spanish government in a letter to urgently renew the National Council for the Judiciary (CGPJ). This body, which guarantees the independence of courts, has been acting on an interim basis for four years now. Similar concerns were stressed in the annual rule of law report by the EC (EUObserver).
On 13 September, EC President Ursula von der Leyen provided the State of the Union address. Whereas it predominantly focused on the situation in Ukraine, VDL dedicated one small part on rule of law in the EU, stressing the importance of upholding judicial independence and protecting the budget through the conditionality mechanism. According to some, VDL should have stressed more the urgency to protect democratic values (EUObserver). The announced plan for a new “Defense of Democracy package” addresses corruption and interference from outside of the EU, hence less relevant for the internal rule of law situation (Politico; Politico). A couple days after the State of the Union speech, the EC shared their proposal on a new European Media Freedom Act (EMFA), which sets new rules and standards to safeguard media freedom and pluralism in the Union (Politico; EUObserver). Not everyone shares the same enthusiasm about the draft regulation: publishers are worried the new rules enhancing the power of media regulators could limit publishers’ editorial control over their publications (Politico). The Meijers Committee organized a Conference on Media Freedom and Pluralism in EU law on 11 October 2022 in Brussels, as a response to the brand new EMFA proposal. In two panel discussions, the existing EU legal instruments as well as the draft act were discussed (find the report and recordings of the event here).
Responding to several revelations on the use of illegal spyware instruments by Member States against the political opposition, civil society, lawyers and even MEPs, Commissioner Schinas urged for legislative action to prevent intelligence and security services at a national level from violating EU fundamental rights (Politico; EUObserver). In another privacy related issue, the European Data Protection Supervisor took legal action against the Council and EP for adopting legislation that would retroactively legalize the very data-handling practices by Europol that the EDPS had earlier ruled unlawful (Politico).
In the quest to prevent gridlock-situations on sanctions or human rights matters, EU affairs ministers have tried to get rid of the unanimity voting. Yet, they failed to reach agreement, facing too much opposition (EUObserver).
The Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) released its 2022 report on Europe’s civil society. Civil society is essential for upholding the rule of law, but it also faces multiple challenges (such as harassment and restrictive legislation) in EU Member States, according to the Agency (see FRA report)
Further readings and media
France’s new EU minister in Bled to stand up for Europe, rule of law (Euractiv, 29.08.22): https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/short_news/frances-new-eu-minister-in-bled-to-stand-up-for-europe-rule-of-law/
Scholz pitches major EU enlargement — with reform (Politico, 29.08.22): https://www.politico.eu/article/scholz-eu-enlargement-reform-prague-charles-university/
Lesbian conference planned for Budapest to defy Orban (EUObserver, 22.09.22): https://euobserver.com/rule-of-law/155938
‘We must take back institutions’, Orban tells US conservatives (EUObserver, 05.08.22): https://euobserver.com/rule-of-law/155715
The EU and its hybrid regimes are poisoning each other (Politico, 23.08.22): https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-hybrid-regime-poison-each-other-democracy-spitzenkandidaten/
Łętowska, Ewa: Defending the Judiciary: Strategies of Resistance in Poland’s Judiciary, VerfBlog, 2022/9/27, https://verfassungsblog.de/defending-the-judiciary/
Halmai, Gábor: Coping Strategies of the Hungarian Constitutional Court since 2010, VerfBlog, 2022/9/27, https://verfassungsblog.de/coping-strategies-of-the-hungarian-constitutional-court-since-2010/
Çalı, Başak; Costello, Cathryn: Coping Strategies: Domestic and International Courts in Times of Backlash, VerfBlog, 2022/9/26, https://verfassungsblog.de/coping-strategies-domestic-and-international-courts-in-times-of-backlash/
Steinbeis, Maximilian: Wholly Autonomously, VerfBlog, 2022/9/16, https://verfassungsblog.de/wholly-autonomously/
Marin, Luisa: Frontex and the Rule of Law Crisis at EU External Borders: A Question of Legal Design?, VerfBlog, 2022/9/05, https://verfassungsblog.de/frontex-and-the-rule-of-law-crisis-at-eu-external-borders/
Kovács, Ágnes: Defective Judicial Appointments in Hungary: The Supreme Court is Once Again Embroiled in Scandal, VerfBlog, 2022/9/27, https://verfassungsblog.de/defective-judicial-appointments-in-hungary/
Kochenov, Dimitry Vladimirovich; Roy, Suryapratim: Putinism is Contagious: Blanket Visa Bans on Russian Citizens and the Rule of Law, VerfBlog, 2022/8/19, https://verfassungsblog.de/putinism-is-contagious/
Szwed, Marcin: Testing judicial independence: On the recent developments in the Polish rule of law crisis, VerfBlog, 2022/8/18, https://verfassungsblog.de/testing-judicial-independence/
Sadurski, Wojciech: Extinguishing the Court: Why There Is No Salvation for the Current Polish Constitutional Tribunal, VerfBlog, 2022/8/14, https://verfassungsblog.de/extinguishing-the-court/
Boone, Miranda: Judges on politically sensitive descisions, Leiden Law Blog 19.07.22:https://www.leidenlawblog.nl/articles/judges-on-politically-sensitive-descisions
Ucín, María Carlota: And what if the courts could strengthen our democracies? Leiden Law Blog 09.07.22: https://www.leidenlawblog.nl/articles/and-what-if-the-courts-could-strengthen-our-democracies