REVIEW: Annual European Law Conference, held by King’s College London Centre of European Law

Adrienne Yong

LLM in EU Law Candidate, King’s College London; LL.B. (Hons) Dunelm


London is a bustling multicultural hub of activity and has always been known to attract big names. The legal sphere is no exception, and on the 24 February 2012, King’s College London took advantage of the capital’s enticing aura to bring together leading academics, scholars, students, practitioners and even Advocate Generals from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The Centre of European Law (CEL) at King’s College London gathered these guests into the aptly named ‘Great Hall’ on the Strand Campus for the eagerly anticipated Annual European Law Conference 2012.

The CEL hosts this particular conference annually, providing a forum for intellectual discussion of the past year’s European developments. Essentially, it brings everyone up to speed on recent cases that may not have been noticed throughout the year, analysed by experts for the general public. It aids in the understanding of the impact of these cases now and in the future. I interpreted it as a ‘refresher course’, and in a sense, it was. The atmosphere was a dynamic learning environment for all: young, old and inexperienced, chaired by King’s very own Sir Francis Jacobs, former Advocate General of the CJEU.

On this year’s agenda were a wider variety of topics than the year before, not only focused on the expertise boasted at King’s. There were practitioner-based topics such as Competition Law and Intellectual Property, as well as topics that were more political and geared towards the academically inclined such as EU Citizenship and Human Rights. In that regard, there was an opportunity to pick and choose those most relevant to one’s individual interests. Indeed, many did so as attendance at each troughed and peaked throughout the long day.

With Competition Law, one of the largest and most famous pathways on the King’s LLM, it was apt that Advocate General Mazák gave the Keynote Address, speaking about leniency against the right to claim damages resulting from cartel behaviour. In his opinion, there was a need to ensure minimum standards through uniform enforcement of competition.  Without such minimum standards, it would undermine the internal harmonisation of national procedural rules. He particularly noted it would help evade the “merry-go-round” of preliminary references that was in place under the current law.

Professor Eleanor Spaventa (Durham University) then took the stage to lament the lack of positive EU Citizenship developments in the past year drawing upon Zambrano,[i] McCarthy[ii] and Dereci.[iii] The cynical tone of her presentation boiled down to one main point: 20 years after the introduction of Union citizenship, the Court has provided no further clarification of the rights conferred or, in fact, what they mean. Is it a tool for integration? A fundamental status? Or does it simply fail to deliver at all? Reasoning is lacking from the three aforementioned cases and she was heavily discouraged.

Professor Piet Eeckhout (King’s College London) proceeded to build upon the citizenship cases as the overlaps began to emerge between the various speakers and their proposed topics of discussion. Professor Eeckhout framed the developments of the EU Human Rights discourse in “3D” using the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention on Human Rights and the growing importance of EU general principles. With the Lisbon Treaty giving legal status to two previous ‘lesser standard’ instruments, there has clearly not been enough guidance as to how to apply EU human rights. In the cases of immigration rules, though, a more positive note was present: violations would allow rights to be conferred.[iv] Given the sharply disapproving tone of the rest of the citizenship-human rights dialogue, this positivity was welcomed.

Professor Tanya Aplin (King’s College London) continued this cheery dialogue in her assessment of the year for Intellectual Property (IP), beginning with the seminal Murphy (Premier League)[v] case, a trend throughout the day. It was evident from her musings that IP law was a diverse area that affected many others. The cases ranged from the football in pubs to embryos used for industrial purposes.[vi] There was sense of approval from Professor Aplin of the CJEU’s rulings in IP law.

This led us nicely into the discussion on the Brussels I Regulation, essentially relating to jurisdictional issues in the EU, by Professor Jonathan Harris (King’s College London and Serle Court Chambers). A big proposal was on the cards in the form of the Judgments Regulation. Like most proposals, it was a positive step forward, though it hadn’t quite fully crossed the bridge. Also mentioned were internet sales, which have proven to be a booming business the past year in Luxembourg. Because of the convenience the internet has generated for contract conclusion, problems of origin and jurisdiction have arisen. It is unclear whether the recent Pammer and Hotel Alpenhof[vii] case solves the problem of deciding when a case has been “directed” to another Member State.

Internet sales are also pertinent to Competition Law. Professor Richard Whish (King’s College London) began by noting he had already held 5 weeks of seminars on the ‘Recent Developments in EU and UK Competition Law’, which he had to boil down into a mere 45 minutes. There were a huge number of cases, but the key points to note were the proliferation of settlement procedures in cartel cases (indicating a change in practice) and the ever-present single market integration rationale from the seminal Consten and Gründig[viii] case, still finding its place in the 21st Century in the likes of Pierre Fabre[ix] and Murphy (Premier League).

Towards the end was Robin Griffith (King’s College London and Clifford Chance) on State Aid. Case law for State Aid was plentiful throughout the year. This could be partially attributed to Guidelines in the area not always being fully up-to-date. There was an evident stress upon interpretation by the CJEU, rather than reliance upon the non-binding and at times outdated guiding communications.

Finally, Thomas de la Mare (Blackstone Chambers) took to the stage to give an English interpretation of EU cases, which was surprisingly tame. Also surprising was that the questions were in areas not only of a harmonised nature but where EU interests arose, such as indirect tax. He noted that familiarity with the law meant there would be better domestic interpretation of it, as for now partial rights were being granted to circumvent full disapplication. There would be disapplication where clashes occur because of how the law had developed. He left us with the idea that a more intrusive review would potentially be necessary in the near future for England and Wales.

Thus concluded the jam-packed day, with everyone’s heads swimming with EU law. Retiring upstairs for the drinks reception, Professors Andrea Biondi, Piet Eeckhout and Stefanie Ripley presented their new book, EU Law After Lisbon,[x] which we were all reassured could seem dull in substance, but in analysis was far more than just dry titles. Interestingly, the book launch was not a culmination of the discussion throughout the day. However, given the vast numbers and varied types of people attending this distinguished event, it was no surprise the authors chose to capitalise on the captive audience, and captivated they would be, as I was.

[i] Case 34/09 Ruiz Zambrano [2011] OJ C130/2

[ii] Case 434/09 McCarthy [2011] OJ C186/5

[iii] Case 256/11 Dereci [2012] OJ C25/20

[iv] C‑411/10 NS judg of 21 Dec 2011, nyr and C-61/11 El Dridi judg of 28 Apr 2011, nyr

[v] C-403/08 and 429/08 Football Association Premier League [2011] OJ C347/2

[vi] C-34/10 Brüstle [2011] OJ C362/5

[vii] C-585/05 and C-144/09 Pammer and Hotel Alpenhof [2011] OJ C35/4

[viii] C-56 & 58/64 Consten and Gründig [1966] ECR 299

[ix] C-439/09 Pierre Fabre [2011] OJ C355/3

[x] Andrea Biondi, Piet Eeckhout, Stefanie Ripley (eds) EU Law After Lisbon (OUP 2012)