The rules on state aid have been some of the first to be challenged by Covid-19 for the obvious reason that the pandemic had immediate economic repercussions on virtually any sectors, thus requiring instant financial support from several if not all of the EU Members states (plus the UK). On the 16th of March, Competition Commissioner Vestager sent to Member States for consultation a draft proposal for a State aid Temporary Framework to support the economy in the context of the Covid-19 outbreak. On the 19th, the Commission adopted what would become the first version of a Temporary Framework (TF) that acknowledged the necessity of Member States to act swiftly and, at the same time, laid down the options available to the same Member States in terms of state aid. The word “Temporary” refers to the time limit of these measures, which will be in place until the end of 2020. The fist temporary framework was developed mainly to ensure that sufficient liquidity remains available to businesses of all types and to preserve the continuity of economic activity during and after the Covid-19 outbreak.
In recent months, the European Union (EU) has witnessed the rise of an invisible enemy, the COVID-19 virus. Whilst the virus knows no race or colour, it does affect certain communities more than others. As the Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič mentioned, ‘the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the most fragile countries, migrants and the most vulnerable people is likely to be dramatic’. Specifically, the spread of the virus in the five refugee camps in Greece developed under the hotspot approach (Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos), would be a nightmare for an already terrible existing situation. As Amnesty International rightly pointed out, in this situation, ‘the risk for refugees on Greek islands are multiplying by the hour’. The intention of this blogpost is twofold. It is first meant to shed light on the situation in these hotspots facilities before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, and second to analyse the reactions of the Commission and the European Parliament to this extraordinary scenario.
People regularly complain about too many rules and too little enforcement, both with respect to the European Union and the Member State governments. One often finds both these criticisms in a political context, and rightly so. After all, everyone can quickly think of a rule, but to have others abide by it is another matter altogether. Promulgating a norm too easily implies its enforcement, and politicians are exactly the ones who should be aware of that.
As entries in this blog reveal (Townley; Linden), debates over the enforcement of EU economic law, are often framed in terms of the desirable level of diversity or uniformity to be achieved. Both instincts, meaning to call for more uniformity and more diversity, seem justified.
In the European Union businesses, consumers and workers all enjoy the benefits of the Single Market. The Single Market rules ensure that there are no internal frontiers for people to work, live, study and do business within the EU. However businesses and citizens also often run into trouble because of the incorrect application of EU Single Market rules by public authorities of the EU Member States. For that purpose, the Commission launched an informal network named SOLVIT in 2002. Despite being almost old enough to buy a drink in a pub, not everyone is aware of SOLVIT’s existence, nor of what it does. A lack of (effective) promotion is most likely the cause of this problem. Therefore, this post is meant to offer some clearance on how SOLVIT functions in practice, while also dwelling upon some success stories.
Framework Decision 2008/947/JHA (FD) is an act of the EU concerning cooperation in criminal matters between national judicial authorities. It facilitates the recognition of final judicial decisions imposing non-custodial sentences across the Union, to allow the cross-border enforcement of probation measures or alternative sanctions (see the measures listed in Art. 4). As such, this instrument is part of the EU toolbox governing the cross-border transfer of offenders, because it enables a person to serve his/her sentence in another Member State. In fact, it is complementary to FD 2008/909/JHA on the transfer of prisoners and to FD 2009/829/JHA concerning the European Supervision Order.
Under the aegis of the SSM, which comprises the ECB and 19 national central banks (NCAs), the ECB carries out banking supervision vis-à-vis euro area banks. To this end, the EU watchdog has been entrusted with various direct law enforcement powers. Yet, for executing its tasks, it still depends to a significant extent on the expertise and powers of the NCAs. For instance, a large part of banks’ (punitive) sanctioning is still being dealt with by the NCAs, upon the ECB’s request. In our recent study ‘EU administrative investigations and the use of their results as evidence in national punitive proceedings’, which was part of the report Admissibility of OLAF Final Reports as Evidence in Criminal Proceedings, we have pointed out the challenges that stem from the fact that certain ECB investigations and their concomitant results can be used as evidence for punitive sanctioning at the national level; in the absence of EU rules providing for clear guidance on the admissibility of EU gathered materials in national proceedings, numerous questions can be raised concerning the protection of defense rights in a composite law enforcement setting. We have identified three types of challenges: how to protect defense rights at the interface of i) different legal orders, ii) non-punitive and punitive law enforcement, iii) administrative and criminal law enforcement. We concluded that the introduction of EU rules facilitating the interoperability of SSM materials as evidence in national proceedings should be put high on the agenda.
Much is being said, lately, regarding the effectiveness of EU policies, often arguing that their implementation is too poor or uneven throughout the Union. Enforcing EU laws is crucial for their successful implementation; however, how should enforcement be organised? At which level, by what type of institutions and what implications does the choice for a particular institutional strategy have in terms of legitimacy, organization of controls and operation of enforcement? The European Commission itself is committed to making EU laws more effective and improving overall compliance with them. What is most relevant is the ongoing changes in the governance of EU law enforcement, according to which direct enforcement powers, long been regarded an exclusive competence of the EU Member States, are increasingly being uplifted at the supranational level, both by providing EU actors with direct powers and through unprecedented shared powers with the lower administrative levels.
This contribution discusses the legal complications of the digital revolution on competition law, including a call for action to the European Union to adapt the existing legal framework in order to catch data-driven conduct and ensure effective enforcement. The rise of the digital economy demands (European) policymakers and enforcers to look at ways in which privacy and competition can strengthen each other to address today’s key challenges. In relation to the incorporation of privacy or data protection principles into a substantive competition analysis, the Court of Justice of the European Union (henceforth: CJEU) and the Commission have been very restrictive. However, this contribution argues that this vision is no longer without debate and susceptible to change.
Michiel Luchtman & Miroslava Scholten
With this blog post, the editors of the blog would like to announce the creation of the Jean Monnet Network on EU law Enforcement (EULEN). We would like to sketch briefly the relevance of this topic, thematic scope, structure and plans for activities of the network.