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State of the Union address, European Parliament, 2021

08-09-2021

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's second State of the Union address, scheduled for 15 September 2021, will be delivered at a time when the coronavirus pandemic continues to pose challenges for the European Union and its Member States. At the same time, thanks to the adoption of the multiannual financial framework for the 2021-2027 period, new opportunities lie ahead – the recovery plan for Europe and Next Generation EU. Furthermore, the Conference on the Future of Europe was finally ...

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's second State of the Union address, scheduled for 15 September 2021, will be delivered at a time when the coronavirus pandemic continues to pose challenges for the European Union and its Member States. At the same time, thanks to the adoption of the multiannual financial framework for the 2021-2027 period, new opportunities lie ahead – the recovery plan for Europe and Next Generation EU. Furthermore, the Conference on the Future of Europe was finally launched on 9 May 2021. Nevertheless, a number of unresolved issues and new challenges remain. These include ensuring that EU values (Article 2 TEU) are upheld in the Member States, including through the application of the recently adopted Conditionality Regulation, addressing the threat of climate change, and equipping Europe for the digital age. The tradition of EU State of the Union addresses, delivered to the European Parliament by the President of the European Commission, dates back to 2010. The address takes stock of the achievements of the past year and presents priorities for the year ahead. It constitutes an important instrument for the European Commission's ex-ante accountability vis-à-vis Parliament and is also aimed at rendering the definition of priorities at EU level more transparent, and at communicating those priorities to citizens. The event chimes with a similar tradition in national democracies. The United States, for instance, has a long-standing tradition of presidential State of the Union addresses, in which the President speaks in the Capitol to a joint session of Congress, thus fulfilling a constitutional obligation. In contrast to the US Constitution, the EU Treaties do not prescribe a State of the Union address; the EU version was established by the 2010 Framework Agreement between Parliament and the Commission. This briefing further updates an earlier one from September 2016, originally written by Eva-Maria Poptcheva.

European Court of Justice case law on judicial independence

19-07-2021

Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) lists the values upon which the Union is founded. According to this Article, these values are shared by the Member States and form the axiological backbone of EU law. The rule of law is listed, alongside democracy and fundamental rights, among the crucial values underpinning the Union. However, Article 2 TEU is more than just a mere declaration; it is also a source of binding obligations upon the Member States to uphold the Union's values, and therefore ...

Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) lists the values upon which the Union is founded. According to this Article, these values are shared by the Member States and form the axiological backbone of EU law. The rule of law is listed, alongside democracy and fundamental rights, among the crucial values underpinning the Union. However, Article 2 TEU is more than just a mere declaration; it is also a source of binding obligations upon the Member States to uphold the Union's values, and therefore also the rule of law. The latter concept, despite broad discussions as to its exact content, undoubtedly entails such elements as judicial independence, understood in particular as the independence of the judiciary from other branches of government (legislative, executive). All other elements of the rule of law, such as the principle of legality, whereby government may act only on the basis of law and within its boundaries, or the principle of constitutionalism, whereby the parliament's law-making powers must be exercised within the limits of the constitution, or the existence of judicial review to enforce those principles – all depend on judicial independence as their fundamental pre-condition. Recently, however, faced with challenges to judicial independence in certain Member States (as evidenced by on-going Article 7 TEU proceedings), the European Union has started developing its own standards in this area. Examples include the Commission's rule of law framework (adopted in 2014), its two communications on the rule of law, and the annual rule of law report, the first of which was adopted in September 2020. The case law of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) plays a crucial role in this respect, and scholars point out that the Court has been the most effective EU institution with regard to safeguarding judicial independence in the Member States. The present briefing provides a concise chronological overview of the Court's recent case law on judicial independence – described by scholars as 'truly revolutionary' – starting from the 2018 Portuguese Judges case.

European Court of Justice and international agreements

15-07-2021

As a subject of public international law, the European Union (EU) concludes international agreements with other subjects of international law, i.e. international organisations and states. The EU may enter into such treaties on its own, or jointly with its Member States – depending on the area of competence (exclusive EU competence or shared competences) to which the treaty in question applies. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) enjoys specific competences with regard to the conclusion, interpretation ...

As a subject of public international law, the European Union (EU) concludes international agreements with other subjects of international law, i.e. international organisations and states. The EU may enter into such treaties on its own, or jointly with its Member States – depending on the area of competence (exclusive EU competence or shared competences) to which the treaty in question applies. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) enjoys specific competences with regard to the conclusion, interpretation and application of international treaties to which the EU is a party. The ECJ can verify the compatibility of an international agreement with the EU Treaties either ex ante or ex post. Furthermore, international treaties concluded by the EU are considered as acts of the institutions and may be subject to interpretation by the Court, especially in the preliminary reference procedure. As a rule no ECJ jurisdiction is envisaged in EU free trade agreements (FTAs), as dispute settlement is carried out through a joint committee, followed by arbitration. In certain specific cases, such as in the European Economic Area and the EU-Turkey Customs Union, the ECJ may have direct involvement in the enforcement of the agreement. The EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement and the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), however, diverge on dispute settlement rules and the role of the ECJ. In the former, the ECJ maintained its jurisdiction during, as well as beyond, the transition period with regard to specific chapters; the ECJ also has the final word on interpreting EU law applied in virtue of the agreement. Conversely, the TCA includes a role for the Court only in regard to the United Kingdom's participation in EU programmes, and its dispute settlement rules vary throughout the agreement.

Understanding delegated and implementing acts

07-07-2021

Law-making by the executive is a phenomenon that exists not only in the European Union (EU) but also in its Member States, as well as in other Western liberal democracies. Many national legal systems differentiate between delegated legislation − adopted by the executive and having the same legal force as parliamentary legislation − and purely executive acts −aimed at implementing parliamentary legislation, but that may neither supplement nor modify it. In the EU, the distinction between delegated ...

Law-making by the executive is a phenomenon that exists not only in the European Union (EU) but also in its Member States, as well as in other Western liberal democracies. Many national legal systems differentiate between delegated legislation − adopted by the executive and having the same legal force as parliamentary legislation − and purely executive acts −aimed at implementing parliamentary legislation, but that may neither supplement nor modify it. In the EU, the distinction between delegated acts and implementing acts was introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon. The distinction, laid down in Articles 290 and 291 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), seems clear only at first sight. Delegated acts are defined as non-legislative acts of general application, adopted by the European Commission on the basis of a delegation contained in a legislative act. They may supplement or amend the basic act, but only as to non-essential aspects of the policy area. In contrast, implementing acts are not defined as to their legal nature, but to their purpose − where uniform conditions for implementing legally binding Union acts are needed. Under no circumstances may an implementing act modify anything in the basic act. Delegated acts differ from implementing acts in particular with regard to the procedural aspects of their adoption − the former after consulting Member States' experts, but their view is not binding; the latter in the comitology procedure, where experts designated by the Member States, sitting on specialised committees, can object to a draft implementing act. In the case of delegated acts, however, the Parliament and Council can introduce, in the delegation itself, a right to object to a draft act or even to revoke the delegation altogether. Both delegated and implementing acts are subject to judicial review by the Court of Justice of the EU which controls their conformity with the basic act.

Computerised system for communication in cross-border judicial proceedings (e-CODEX)

14-06-2021

The e-CODEX system is the digital backbone of EU judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters. e-CODEX comprises a package of software products that allow the setting up of a network of access points for secure digital communication between courts and between citizens and the courts, while also enabling the secure exchange of judicial documents. The project, which was launched in 2010 with EU grant funding, is managed by a consortium of Member States and other organisations and is coordinated ...

The e-CODEX system is the digital backbone of EU judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters. e-CODEX comprises a package of software products that allow the setting up of a network of access points for secure digital communication between courts and between citizens and the courts, while also enabling the secure exchange of judicial documents. The project, which was launched in 2010 with EU grant funding, is managed by a consortium of Member States and other organisations and is coordinated by the Ministry of Justice of the German Land of North Rhine-Westphalia. Even though it is currently used by 21 Member States, e-CODEX lacks a clear, uniform and EU-wide legal basis. To remedy this situation, on 2 December 2020 the Commission put forward a proposal for an e-CODEX legal instrument (a regulation) to formally establish the e-CODEX system at EU level. The management of the project would be entrusted to eu-LISA (the EU Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice). Within the European Parliament, the LIBE and JURI committees are jointly in charge of the file, and the draft report is expected shortly.

Council of Europe standards on judicial independence

25-05-2021

Judicial independence is one of the key components of the rule of law (Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union – TEU), together with the fundamental right to a fair trial (Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union) and the principle of effective judicial protection (Article 19(1) TEU). When it comes to standards for judicial independence, a special role is played by the Council of Europe and its judicial body, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg. ...

Judicial independence is one of the key components of the rule of law (Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union – TEU), together with the fundamental right to a fair trial (Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union) and the principle of effective judicial protection (Article 19(1) TEU). When it comes to standards for judicial independence, a special role is played by the Council of Europe and its judicial body, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg. This is especially relevant because, according to Article 6(3)TEU, fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, are in fact general principles of EU law. The importance of the Council of Europe standards and ECtHR case law have been highlighted, not least in the Commission's 2020 Rule of Law Report. This briefing discusses a number of documents of the Council of Europe and its bodies, including the Council of Europe's 2010 recommendation on judicial independence, the Magna Carta of Judges adopted by the Consultative Council of European Judges in 2010, and selected documents of the Venice Commission (the 2007 report on judicial appointments, the 2010 report on judicial independence, and the 2016 rule of law checklist). Finally, the briefing presents an overview of ECtHR case law on judicial independence, focusing on issues such as the concept and criteria for assessing it; procedures for appointing judges and possible irregularities; the question of the term of office, including the vetting of judges and early termination of term in office; the problem of external influences on judges (by the executive); possible lack of internal independence (from other judges); the question of combining judicial office with other work; and, finally, the question of judicial immunity.

Justice programme 2021-2027

21-04-2021

In May 2018, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a regulation establishing a new Justice programme as part of the new 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). An early second-reading agreement was reached with the Council in trilogue negotiations, which is now expected to be voted by Parliament during the April 2021 session.

In May 2018, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a regulation establishing a new Justice programme as part of the new 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). An early second-reading agreement was reached with the Council in trilogue negotiations, which is now expected to be voted by Parliament during the April 2021 session.

Reform of the Comitology Regulation

04-03-2021

On 14 February 2017, the European Commission adopted a proposal amending Regulation (EU) No 182/2011 (the 'Comitology Regulation') in order to increase the transparency and accountability of the decision-making process leading to the adoption of implementing acts. The main elements of the proposal include amending the voting rules for the Appeal Committee (AC) in order to reduce the risk of a no opinion scenario and to clarify the positions of the Member States, providing for the possibility of a ...

On 14 February 2017, the European Commission adopted a proposal amending Regulation (EU) No 182/2011 (the 'Comitology Regulation') in order to increase the transparency and accountability of the decision-making process leading to the adoption of implementing acts. The main elements of the proposal include amending the voting rules for the Appeal Committee (AC) in order to reduce the risk of a no opinion scenario and to clarify the positions of the Member States, providing for the possibility of a further referral to the AC at ministerial level if no opinion is delivered, and increasing the transparency of the comitology procedure by making public the votes of the Member States' representatives in the AC. Following the opinions of a number of committees, submitted in the previous and current terms, on 12 October 2020, Parliament's Committee on Legal Affairs adopted its report. It proposes to oblige Member States' representatives to give reasons for their vote, abstention or for any absence from the vote, and where particularly sensitive areas are concerned (consumer protection, health and safety of humans, animals or plants, or the environment), also case-specific detailed reasons for their vote or abstention. Other amendments concern better accessibility to the comitology register to increase transparency for citizens, and empowering Parliament and Council to call on the Commission to submit a proposal amending the basic act, where they deem it appropriate to review the implementing powers granted to the Commission. A partial first-reading report was adopted on 17 December 2020 in plenary and the file was referred back to the Legal Affairs Committee for interinstitutional negotiations. First edition. The 'EU Legislation in Progress' briefings are updated at key stages throughout the legislative procedure.

Unfair terms in Swiss franc loans: Overview of European Court of Justice case law

04-03-2021

In the first decade of the 21st century, loans denominated in or indexed to foreign currencies, in particular the Swiss franc, became very popular in a number of EU Member States, including Greece, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Romania, and Slovenia, and also in two non-EU countries, Montenegro and Serbia. For a certain period, in some Member States these loans became the most popular type of loan issued to consumers. By pegging loans to a stable foreign currency, banks could lend more money ...

In the first decade of the 21st century, loans denominated in or indexed to foreign currencies, in particular the Swiss franc, became very popular in a number of EU Member States, including Greece, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Romania, and Slovenia, and also in two non-EU countries, Montenegro and Serbia. For a certain period, in some Member States these loans became the most popular type of loan issued to consumers. By pegging loans to a stable foreign currency, banks could lend more money to the same consumer by virtue of interest rates being lower than those for the same type of loan expressed in the national currency. However, when, as a result of the global economic crisis, the rate of exchange between the Swiss franc and these national currencies (zlotys, forints, kunas, etc.) soared, consumers found themselves trapped. Often, they had to repay as much as twice the value of the loan taken, and could not escape the unfavourable contract by simply selling the property they had bought, as this would cover only a fraction of their debt. While certain Member States implemented mechanisms aimed at protecting consumers and bringing the situation under control, the case law of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), based on dynamic interpretation of the Unfair Terms Directive (93/13), has proved to be a significant factor in securing effective consumer protection. This briefing explains the legal significance of the relevant ECJ judgments, against the backdrop of the Swiss franc loan situation in Europe.

Complementary executive capacity

15-02-2021

Against the backdrop of new and unprecedented crises and challenges, the advantages of coordinated approaches and effective cross-border responses are all the more evident, and gaining support among Europeans, as shown by recent Eurobarometer surveys. In this context, EU complementary executive capacity could be a way of meeting citizens' expectations, through complementing, without replacing, the executive capacities of the Member States. The concept of complementary EU executive capacity dovetails ...

Against the backdrop of new and unprecedented crises and challenges, the advantages of coordinated approaches and effective cross-border responses are all the more evident, and gaining support among Europeans, as shown by recent Eurobarometer surveys. In this context, EU complementary executive capacity could be a way of meeting citizens' expectations, through complementing, without replacing, the executive capacities of the Member States. The concept of complementary EU executive capacity dovetails naturally with the ongoing transformation of the EU from a legislative union to a hybrid (legislative–executive) union, as it becomes more involved in implementing law rather than purely enacting it. Essentially, the notion repackages pre-existing administrative practices in a way that facilitates their operationalisation, draws attention to new areas of potential EU executive involvement, and presents a tool for communication with citizens that can be understood.

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