The first Annual Conference of the European Commission Legal Service:celebrating 70 years of EU law by discussing DSA, DMA, intergenerational justice and climate litigation

The European Commission Legal Service held its first Annual Conference, during which many speakers discussed the crucial changes brought by the entry into force of the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act and debated on the pressing matters of intergenerational justice and climate litigation. This post aims at giving a brief summary of the event.

The first Annual Conference organised by the European Commission Legal Service was held on 17 March 2023 in Brussels. The event was also streamed online, and it represented a timely opportunity to celebrate the 70th anniversary of EU law and of the Legal Service itself. In fact, the creation of the Legal Service came with the entry into force of the Treaty of Paris establishing the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952.

The conference was kicked-off by the welcoming remarks of Mr. Daniel Calleja Crespo, Director-General of the EC Legal Service. The Director-General highlighted the importance of the two topics of the Conference, namely internet and platforms regulation (morning session) and intergenerational justice and climate litigation (afternoon session). Both topics address two Commission’s priorities for the years 2019-2024, notably “A Europe fit for the digital age” and “A European Green Deal”.

The DMA and the DSA

Last year, the EU confirmed its role as a global regulatory trend-setter by adopting two landmark pieces of legislation:  the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which imposes obligations on the so-called ‘gatekeepers’ to ensure markets for digital services remain open, fair and contestable; and the Digital Services Act (DSA), which imposes obligations on online intermediaries to ensure a safe digital space by tackling illegal online content. 2023 marks a critical year for the DMA and the DSA, as this year, the Commission, national authorities and national courts will start applying and enforcing these new instruments.

The morning session was opened by a keynote speech by Mr. Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market and a Guest of Honor speech by Mr Marc Van der Woude, President of the General Court. The first roundtable – moderated by Mr. Vittorio di Bucci, Director of the EC Legal Service– was composed of Ms. Cani Fernández Vicién, President of the Spanish Competition Authority, Mr. Roberto Viola, Director-General of DG CNECT, Ms. Katherine L. Adams, General Counsel and Senior Vice-President of Apple Inc., Mr. Olivier Guersent, Director-General of DG COMP and Ms. Viktoria Robertson, Professor at the Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien and Universität Graz.

First, the panel discussed the ongoing preparation for the implementation and enforcement of the DSA and the DMA by the Commission and by national authorities. Secondly, the panel considered the preparation for the DSA and the DMA by platforms to ensure compliance with their obligations. Thirdly, the panel examined the relationship between the DMA and traditional competition law instruments. Finally, the panel addressed the expected litigation before EU and national courts and the possibilities for both platforms and third parties to ensure the enforcement of the new rules. After two rounds of speeches, participants asked several questions to the speakers during a Q&A session.

Intergenerational justice and climate litigation

In her 2022 State of the Union address, President von der Leyen identified climate change as one of the ‘great challenges of this century’. She also expressed the willingness to enshrine the principle of intergenerational justice in the Treaties. The Treaties already somehow reflect such principle, as the ‘solidarity between generations’ and the ‘sustainable development of the Earth’ feature among the overarching objectives of the Union both in its internal and external action (Article 3 TEU). To ensure that countries live up to the Paris Agreement and related EU law obligations, citizens, NGOs and even cities throughout the world have started to bring legal actions in national courts and international courts.

The afternoon session featured a video address by Mr. Virgiijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, a Guest of Honor speech by Ms. Verena Madner, Vice-President of the Verfassungsgerichtshof Österreich and an introductory speech by Mr. Kurt Vandenberghe, Director-General of DG CLIMA.

During the following roundtable – moderated by Mr Marc van Hoof, Director of the EC Legal Service – five panellists presented their respective views on the topic: Mr. Fabien Raynaud, Vice-President of the Conseil d’État, Ms. Lucy Maxwell, Co-Director of the Climate Litigation Network – Urgenda Foundation, Mr. Christian Calliess, Professor at the Freie Universität Berlin, Ms Alicja Sikora-Kalėda, Member of the Legal Service of the Council of the EU, and Mr. André Bouquet, Legal Advisor of the EC Legal Service.

First, the panel discussed the precise legal nature of the Paris Agreement, and more specifically its interaction with other rules of international law. Secondly, the panel examined the question whether legal actions before national courts can be effective to protect citizens against climate change. Thirdly, the panel considered whether judges in climate litigations are merely interpreting rules or whether they are actually creating them. Fourthly, the panel considered the interaction between different judicial levels. Finally, the panel discussed the role of science in climate litigation. During the afternoon session as well, after two rounds of speeches, participants could ask questions to the speakers during a Q&A session.

Mr. Clemens Ladenburger, Deputy Director-General of the EC Legal Service concluded by delivering some closing remarks, summing up the key takeaways from both sessions.

Among the various open questions and challenges ahead on the topics discussed at the Annual Conference, two are specifically worth mentioning: the handling of confidentiality claims by the European Commission (and subsequently before the EU Courts) within the framework of the DMA, and the growing number of cases on issues of loss and damage and on the issue od adaptation, in the framework of climate litigation against governments.

The first Annual Conference of the European Commission Legal Service was all in all a great success, and hopefully the start of a new forum of exchange for EU lawyers across Member States and beyond. Indeed, through the Annual Conference, the European Commission Legal Service hopes to effectively further the dialogue between key legal players in academia, public and private sectors. Approximately 1 500 participants attended the conference: over 700 people in Brussels and over 800 people online. Moreover, the Conference was accredited by several national bar associations for the purposes of continuing professional development. All in-person participants received a copy of the recent publication of the Legal Service “70 years of EU law – A Union for its citizens”.

You can follow all updates concerning the programme and details of the next Annual Conference – which will take place in 2024 – on the Legal Service webpage.

Carlo Biz

Author: Carlo Biz

Carlo Biz is a Member of the Legal Service of the European Commission, where he works in the EEI (Eurozone and Economic Issues) team and as Communication & Outreach officer.

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