Free to use research project idea

I am in the process of editing a collection of papers on the Regiopost judgment for a book and, in one of them, my colleague Prof Tonia Novitz raises the point that the ECJ could have taken Directive 2014/24 into consideration even if it was not applicable ratione temporis. I found this a very valid point and it got me thinking about whether the ECJ is consistent (or not) in taking into account new(er) iterations of existing directives when they resolve disputes to which the (now) old directive still applies.

In the specific case of procurement, and based only on the 2016 cases I commented in this blog, I could find that the ECJ has sometimes considered ‘in anticipation’ the 2014 version of the public procurement directive (2014/24/EU) in cases where it was not applicable ratione temporis--and thus decided under the 2004 version (2004/18/EC). This happened, for example, in

  • Judgment of 8 December 2016 in Undis Servizi, C-553/15, EU:C:2016:935
  • Judgment of 2 June 2016 in Falk Pharma, C-410/14, EU:C:2016:399
  • Judgment of 2 June 2016 in Pizzo, C-27/15, EU:C:2016:404
  • Judgment of 7 April 2016 in PARTNER Apelski Dariusz, C-324/14, EU:C:2016:214

The ECJ has also engaged with other procurement directives (on Concessions, Dri 2014/23) before they were applicable, such as

  • Judgment of 14 July 2016 in Promoimpresa, C-458/14, EU:C:2016:558

However, there are also cases where the ECJ rejected to do so, such as

  • Judgment of 10 November 2016 in Ciclat, C-199/15, EU:C:2016:853
  • Judgment of 27 October 2016 in Hörmann Reisen, C-292/15, EU:C:2016:817
  • Judgment of 8 September 2016 in Politanò, C-225/15, EU:C:2016:645

More detailed analysis would be necessary to establish the type of cases in which the ECJ decided (not) to resort to the newer version of the directive, and the reasons it offered (not) to do so. It would also be interesting to expand the study significantly, both to make sure it is exhaustive in the area of public procurement (ie 2014-2017 + checking for additional cases) and to identify some additional area of internal market law to use as a comparator.

Like in (too many) other occasions, I am not sure I will have the opportunity to explore these issues any time soon. So here is the idea for a research project. Anyone that is interested and has the time / mental bandwidth for it, feel free to use it.

Is Costa v Enel forgotten? CJEU trips over supremacy and direct effect in case concerning Art 41(2)(c) CFREU (C-313/12)

In its Judgment of 7 Movember in case C-313/12 Romeo, the Court of Justice of the EU issued an important ruling concerned with the extension of the obligation to state reasons derived from Article 41(2)(c) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU in purely domestic situations.
In the case at hand, the CJEU was especifically presented with a query regarding the compatibility with Article 41(2)(c) CFREU (and, more generally, with the case law on the duty to state reasons) of an Italian rule whereby faulty administrative decisions would not be quashed if the authorities supplemented their statement of reasons in subsequent court proceedings.
In my view, the reasons offered by the CJEU to decline jurisdiction to respond to the questions referred by the Italian court show a poor understanding of (or a lack of willingness to give effect to) the changed nature of the Charter after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. As very clearly stated, 'the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is now legally binding, having the same status as primary EU law' [for discussion, see S Douglas-Scott, 'The European Union and Human Rights after the Treaty of Lisbon' (2011) Human Rights Law Review 11(4): 645-682].
In that regard, keeping in mind that Article 6(1) of the Treaty on European Union now very clearly indicates that 'The Union recognises the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union of  [...] which shall have the same legal value as the Treaties' (emphasis added), it is very hard to understand how the CJEU can have unblinkingly held that:
it cannot be concluded that [...] Article 41(2)(c) of the Charter or indeed other rules of European Union law concerning the obligation to state reasons for acts have been made directly and unconditionally applicable (sic), as such, by [the relevant Italian rules], so that internal situations and situations relating to European Union law are treated in the same way. Therefore it must be held that, in the present case, there is no clear European Union interest in a uniform interpretation of provisions or concepts taken from European Union law, irrespective of the circumstances in which those provisions or concepts are to apply (C-313/12 at para 37, emphasis added).

I cannot get my head around the fact that, as no one would doubt, the CJEU has kept for time immemorial the position that the Treaties (now including the Charter of Fundamental Rights  for these purposes) are supreme and directly effective without any need for internal measures that receive them or recognise that they are directly and unconditionally applicable in all EU Member States--and, yet, it shows a stark resistance to apply these principles to the Charter (see also C-482/10 Cicala).
As very clearly summarised in Costa v Enel,
A Member State's obligation under the [Treaty], which is neither subject to any conditions nor, as regards its execution or effect, to the adoption of any measure either by the States or by the Commission, is legally complete and consequently capable of producing direct effects on the relations between Member States and individuals. Such an obligation becomes an integral part of the legal system of the Member States, and thus forms part of their own law, and directly concerns their nationals in whose favour it has created individual rights which national courts must protect (6/64, summary, point 7).
This, together with Art 6(1) TEU surely determines the supremacy and direct effect of the Charter--as also supported by an a contrario interpretation of Protocol No 30 on the Application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union to Poland and the United Kingdom (what would be the purpose of the Protocol if not precisely to exclude such supremacy and direct effect regarding the UK and Poland?). Then, if the CJEU has not forgotten Costa v Enel, the only relevant question is: how are Judgments like Cicala and Romeo possible? Why is the CJEU (suddenly) so averse to (continuying to) act as constitutional court at EU level?

"Ask responsibly": a warning on the hypertrophy of referrals for preliminary rulings

The tendency towards saturation and the risk of a bottleneck in the activities of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) are one the main concerns that prompted the recent changes in the rules of procedure of this institution (adopted on 25 September, published in the OJ and due to enter into force on the 1st of November). 

As the CJEU expressly remarked: 
"Faced with a constant rise in the number of cases brought before it, dominated by references for a preliminary ruling, the Court is adapting its rules of procedure to ensure that the particular features of those cases can more readily be taken into consideration, while at the same time strengthening its ability to dispose within a reasonable period of time of all the cases that are brought before it" (see press release here, emphasis added). 
Indeed, references for a preliminary ruling account for more than 60% of the CJEU’s caseload and the hypertrophy of this mechanism for the consistent and harmonized interpretation and enforcement of EU Law risks leaving us with a CJEU without time and resources to effectively deal with any of its other duties under the Treaties.

In that regard, the proactive approach adopted by the CJEU in changing its rules of procedure must be welcome, but at the same time it should be stressed that preventing the hypertrophy of the preliminary ruling mechanism is a two way avenue and that referring courts should also make an effort to "ask responsibly" and avoid referring unnecessary questions to the CJEU. However, the open question is whether the current drafting of Article 267 TFEU allows them to do so. 

As is well known, according to Article 267 TFEU, the CJEU shall have jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings concerning: (a) the interpretation of the Treaties; and (b) the validity and interpretation of acts of the  institutions, bodies, offices or agencies of the Union. And domestic courts are under an asymmetrical duty/possibility to raise such questions before the CJEU. Indeed, where such a question is raised before any court or tribunal of a Member State, that court or tribunal may, if it considers that a decision on the question is necessary to enable it to give judgment, request the Court to give a ruling thereon. However, where any such question is raised in a case pending before a court or tribunal of a Member State against whose decisions there is no judicial remedy under national law, that court or tribunal shall bring the matter before the Court.

In my view, the imposition on the highest courts of the Member States of an absolute duty to refer cases for a preliminary ruling prevents them from exercising the basic degree of judicial discretion required to "ask responsibly" and generates a potentially non-negligible number of unnecessary referrals without the national courts or the CJEU being able to avoid them. Even if those unnecessary referrals can be replied by way of a reasoned order under the new Article 99 of the rules of procedure of the CJEU, that still takes significant time and costs. Therefore, in my view, some flexibility needs to be introduced to prevent such cases from the very beginning.

The recent Judgment of the CJEU of 18 October 2012 in case C-385/10 Elenca Srl Ministero dell’Interno is an example of an unnecessary referral. The case involved the interpretation of Council Directive 89/106/EEC of 21 December 1988 on the approximation of laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States relating to construction products as amended by Regulation (EC) No 1882/2003, and also the interpretation of the free movement of goods in the TFEU. More specifically, the case involved a mandatory requirement for construction materials used in chimney pipes sold in Italy to bear the CE mark.

Under the applicable Italian rules, all products used to insulate chimneys and make them fire proof had to bear a CE mark that ensured compliance with a given European technical standard. However, the complainant in the case was using innovative materials for which there exists no equivalent European standard and, consequently, cannot bear the CE mark. As put by the complainant, the contested Italian rule infringed Articles 34 TFEU to 37 TFEU because it made the marketing of a product originating from another Member State of the European Union (in this case, Hungary) subject to a technical condition, namely the affixing of the CE marking, a requirement that is impossible to fulfill because there is no corresponding harmonized standard in Hungary, which makes it impossible in practice to import and distribute the product in question.

The Italian Council of State shared the complainant's doubts as to the validity of the national legislation under European Union law but had to refer the case regardless of such doubts. It should come as no surprise that the CJEU indeed ruled that, in the absence of a harmonized standard for those specific construction products,
18 [... Directive 89/106] provides that the Member States are to allow such a product to be placed on the market in their territory if it satisfies national provisions consistent with the Treaty until the European technical specifications provide otherwise [...]
19 It follows that a Member State may not require the affixing of CE marking on a construction product not covered by [a harmonized European standard], originating from another Member State, in order for that product to be marketed on its territory. That Member State may subject the placing on the market of that construction product only to national provisions which comply with its obligations under the Treaty, in particular with the principle of the free movement of goods set out in Articles 34 TFEU and 36 TFEU.
20 [...] Directive 89/106 must be interpreted as precluding national provisions which automatically make the marketing of construction products, such as those at issue in the main proceedings, originating from another Member State, subject to the affixing of CE marking.
Moreover, the CJEU also dismisses very clearly any possibility to consider such a disproportioned restriction of free movement of goods justified on public interest grounds:
28 Although [...] it is established that, in the absence of harmonising rules, the Member States are free to decide on their intended level of protection of human life and health and on the need to monitor the goods concerned when being used (see, to that effect, Case C-293/94 Brandsma [1996] ECR I-3159, paragraph 11, and C-432/03 Commission v Portugal [2005] ECR I-9665, paragraph 44), it must be observed that legislation which prohibits, absolutely and automatically, the marketing on national territory of products lawfully marketed in other Member States because those products do not have CE marking is not compatible with the requirement of proportionality imposed by European Union law.
29 [...] such a strict requirement of CE marking, which prevents at the outset the very application of the principle of mutual recognition of products for which the European legislature has not effected full harmonisation or drawn up European technical approvals, by prohibiting compliance by the products in dispute with the required safety standards on the basis of approval and certification procedures conducted in the Member State of origin, goes beyond what is necessary to attain the safety objective pursued.
30 [...] Articles 34 TFEU to 37 TFEU must be interpreted as precluding national provisions which automatically make the marketing of construction products, such as those at issue in the main proceedings, originating from another Member State, subject to the affixing of CE marking.
The outcome of the case seems rather straightforward to anyone acquainted with the case law on free movement of goods and, consequently, it seems that the Italian Council of State (which already indicated its position by sharing the doubts of the complainant) did not need this answer from the CJEU in order to be able to give a judgment consistent with EU Law. Therefore, this is a good example of an unnecessary preliminary ruling that has taken up time and resources of the CJEU (and the Italian Council of State) without facing an actual difficulty of interpretation of EU Law. Therefore, in terms of prioritization in the development of EU Law, such a case ranks very low, and should have been avoided.

In my opinion, this shows that we need to allow all domestic courts, including the highest courts of the Member States against whose decisions there is no judicial remedy under national law to "ask responsibly". Otherwise, the risk of hypertrophy of the preliminary ruling instrument and the suffocation of the European Courts will still be a storm over our heads.