John Vervaele’s farewell speech and legacy in the field of enforcement of EU laws

On March 10, 2023, prof. John Vervaele has given his farewell speech ‘Towards a European Reassessment of Punitive Enforcement’ at the Aula of Utrecht University. In this blog post, I am discussing the main ideas of his speech and career – Europeanisation of EU law enforcement – and, in this way, I aim at giving my personal gratitude to prof. Vervaele. It has been a great honour and pleasure of working with you, John!


The past thirty years of Europeanisation of enforcement of EU laws


It must have been the most exciting thirty years of the EU integration (at least so far) for prof. John Vervaele to work in. Since his appointment in the 1990s and until today, the EU integration has seen an incredible boost in its enforcement integration, albeit not necessarily reflected in the treaties and coherent enforcement strategies. As he points out in his inspiring speech, this includes an expansion of EU harmonized policy areas and new European tasks in punitive law enforcement; harmonization of administrative and criminal laws, especially on the protection of the environment, and safeguards; the development of horizontal cooperation instruments; the development of EU enforcement agencies and European judicial enforcement bodies. These thirty years have seen the transfer of the so far most far-reaching direct enforcement powers to EU agencies (the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA)), the recent establishment of the European Public Prosecutors’ Office (EPPO, see also John’s publication on the accountability of EPPO in ‘Law Enforcement by EU Authorities’, EE, 2017) and other institutional innovations, which we discussed with John also once in Rome. Interestingly, ESMA has become the strongest of EU agencies as it enjoys, among others, the powers to be involved in all stages of enforcement in relation to specific participants of the financial markets; the stages are monitoring compliance, investigating possible violations and sanctioning for non-compliance. In fact, this helpful structuring of the stages of enforcement, which can serve also useful (re)design and assessment purposes for laws and research, has been one of the legacies that we have received from prof. Vervaele’s work (see his 1999 (on the definition) and other publications here).


Outlook for the future


Clearly, such an outstanding scholar and expert in the field of the enforcement of EU laws, could not leave this professor’s chair without giving us at least a hint about where to go in our research and in practice (to be understood broadly). John advocates for a European Reassessment of Punitive Law Enforcement via a functional policy approach, “in which the EU and the Member States define which priority policy areas require an EU approach to punitive law enforcement, based on a chain approach from administrative to criminal enforcement and thus integrating the dual enforcement regime” (p. 46 of his speech). He argues for the usage of regulation to ensure uniform application, procedural harmonization of European administrative supervision, investigation powers and safeguards, also for the EPPO. He advocates for the necessity of enforcement networks, mixed enforcement teams and other possibilities of bringing national and where relevant EU supervisors together to develop enforcement policies, manuals, share best practices and for coordination. These developments however miss a coherent approach at the EU, a strategy, that John also points out in this work and his farewell speech.


Indeed, there is an urgent necessity for the reassessment of punitive law enforcement in the EU as well as for creating a more general, overarching idea, strategy and theory on EU law enforcement (see also my recent article on that in SEW, November 2022). How to ensure the proper execution of shared enforcement tasks and the rule of law and democratic values in the EU? What models of enforcement could be optimal and under which circumstances? What could be the most optimal mix of various – public and private, administrative and criminal, etc – enforcement mechanisms? (On the last question, see a special issue co-edited by John Vervaele – Regulation and Enforcement in the EU: Regimes, Strategies and Styles, Utrecht Law Review, December 2014). These are the questions for all of us to address and debate about, also thanks to building upon rich John’s publications and support, also for the upcoming ‘Research Handbook on the Enforcement of EU Law’ (EE, forthcoming in September 2023).


To address all these questions, we clearly need also good personnel – current staff at various public offices, researchers and relevant, future-proof professionals thanks to innovative education programmes which could be delivering “critical lawyers for that future” (p. 48 of his speech). In fact, John has been contributing to educate and involve all of these groups in his work – current practitioners from a variety of (legal) fields, professional, ethnical and other backgrounds, and students from a great number of universities throughout the world (teaching them in a great many different languages that John speaks!) and researchers all over the world and at his home base at the Utrecht School of Law and its research centres, especially the RENFORCE. In light of his great many prestigious appointments (see the list here), he, as a distinguished member of its advisory board, has given also a great support to the establishment and operation of the Jean Monnet Network on EU Law Enforcement (EULEN), an initiative of nine European universities funded by the EU in 2019-2023 to promote and support research, education and practice in the field of the enforcement of EU law.




John Vervaele starts his farewell speech by pinpointing the fact that when he was giving his inaugural speech back in 1994, punitive criminal law enforcement (in the EU) has been studied by only a few, even though the Europeanisation of national punitive law enforcement has been underway for some time, since the 1960s already! (p.7 of his speech). Given all the (above mentioned) transformations and a great ongoing speed and variety of Europeanisation of enforcement, it is clear that this academic field and practice would have never evolved that far if it was not thanks to such an excellent, dedicated and ‘all-around’ scholar as John Vervaele has been. A remarkable, lifetime achievement! Thanks a fortune, John!  

Miroslava Scholten

Author: Miroslava Scholten

Miroslava Scholten is an Associate Professor of EU law enforcement at Utrecht University and a member of the Utrecht Centre for Regulation and Enforcement in Europe (RENFORCE).

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