Christy Burzio and Adrienne Yong
PhD Candidates at King’s College London
It was a great privilege for the authors of this post to have been present for the seventh annual IGLRC held at King’s College London on the 8-9 April 2013. Indeed, the panels were sure to provoke a lot of great discussion chaired by Professor Alex Türk, both in the realm of the tense political, social side of the Union and in the midst of the tough economic times Europe faced and still faces. As greatly varied subjects within EU Law itself, there were two panels split accordingly, the first discussing the EU’s modern social side including issues on identity, fundamental rights and political undertones of judicial review and revocation and the second primarily focused on the financial side of the EU in austerity, agencies and supervisory authorities in banking.
The first panel consisted of Eleni Frantziou (University College London), Ana Júlia Maurício (Cambridge) and Erin O’Leary (Liverpool John Moores). It was interesting that whilst the topics of each presenter did vary greatly on the face of it, it would ultimately emerge that they all voiced a commonality. Some presented it as a concern, others as an issue to be acknowledged. They all came back to the same point regarding the un-reconciled status of the EU as lacking coherence in terms of its policy and direction. However, whilst pessimistic in nature on the outset, the three presenters each demonstrated a keen desire for there to perhaps be more room for constitutionalism within the EU legal order and structure. The presence of this trend was an interesting one to note and one certainly considered as being characteristic of the EU generally. The themes were presented from the point of view of fundamental rights and horizontal effect, from national final administrative acts and revocation and from a more socio-legal linguistic identity point of view.
The first panel began with a refreshing reference to artistic culture, entitled ‘The constitutional value of the Charter of Fundamental Rights after Lisbon: The importance of being earnest’, analogising Oscar Wilde with the constitutional value of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. After an update on the status of fundamental rights under Lisbon, the sensitive issues were tackled. The fact that there was an undermining of the Charter’s constitutional impact was lamented, which hindered the consolidation of a European identity. This was due to excessive reliance on general principles of EU Law as opposed to the Charter in governing how citizens enjoy rights. It was argued that the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) had to be earnest about their direction for the Charter before it could be clearly stated exactly what their intentions were. The perspective advanced was that there needed to be a new methodology for the application of human rights following the Lisbon Treaty, placing the Charter first, then the ECHR, and following that, general principles to aid in correct interpretation. This interesting methodology instigated a lively debate considering its merits and demerits leaving great food for thought as we then delved into a more technical topic.
The provisions and conditions regarding revoking national final administrative acts could be described as a niche area, certainly the thoughts of this author when reading the title of the second presentation, ‘National final administrative acts contrary to EU Law: A critical analysis of the Court of Justice’s case law’. The speaker considered the political relationship between remedies and behaviour of MS in complying with EU law. Though a topic clearly outside many of the attendees’ remit of knowledge, clarity in both delivery and content aided the audience in comprehending the specific topic separated into two parts, firstly aid (state and national aid) and then in regards to the free movement of persons. The presentation and discussion both centred round the stark difference in treatment concerning the treatment of both by the CJEU. Highlighted were the exceptional cases, which seemed to be at odds with the prior line of reasoning. It was commendable to the speaker that though her topic was not widely understood before the day began, she certainly shed some light on the matter by the end of it. Ultimately again, the theme emerged of the divergence rife within the Union’s constitutional decisions. Her focus on this idea contextualised her area of expertise with that of the previous in term of the delicate balance required in both because of the EU’s constitutional nature.
The panel rounded off with a non-lawyer’s perspective on the hypocrisy in the EU’s motto in her take that it was more akin to being ‘United in diversity: the lesser of two evils’. As highlighted, to hear a fresh non-legal perspective of an idea of predominantly considered in the legal sphere was a welcome and indeed interesting debate. From a largely linguistic point of view, the notion of the diversity of languages and its consequences for the united Union was considered. The large number of both languages and cultures in the EU contribute to the difficulty in becoming such. This was due to the inherent connection between the two and the undesirability to have a lingua franca for the Union. It perpetuated the idea that there has been a failure to achieve equality, which means there is also legal certainty compromised. It seemed that there was an inevitable sphere of linguistic uncertainty. Again, identity was a key issue given that without an agreement as to one, there would constantly be a tension in the supranational order. Whilst there was significant criticism advanced as to the lack of a clear answer for why there is such hypocrisy and tension within the Union, it only served to emphasise again that this characteristic of the EU would be here to stay, and likely the source and subject of many a debate to come.
The second panel was an opportunity for one of the authors to dig deeper into a relevant debate, of which topics and presentations on offer didn’t disappoint. The EU has been epitomised in recent months as an unpredictable political playground. Solidarity and austerity are seen as two conflicting schools of thought, with a line being firmly drawn between the two. The solidarity of many countries has faltered under immense economic pressure. Germany’s resistance to guarantee funds to enable further bailouts and the UK’s proposed attempts at future renegotiations and referendums have spurred a culture of countries looking from the outside at the problems facing the EU from within. The term ‘austerity’ has become taboo to many EU citizens and only the most daring of us would ever utter these words in order to raise a debate. Luckily for us, the speakers were not worried by such a fear.
The first speaker was Luca Lionello, (Catholic University of Milan) with a presentation entitled ‘Austerity Measures, Shift of Sovereignty and Democratisation of European Institutions’. The title was intriguing given its boldness in tackling austerity and sovereignty in the same sentence. Aren’t these terms a modern day juxtaposition? The presentation dug deeper into the reality of austerity measures and the impact they have on country independence. He tackled the recent adoption of the Euro plus pact, the Six Pack and the Treaty on Fiscal Stability, as several EU members have adopted austerity measures to respect the new rules on fiscal integration. However, the question on everyone’s lips was; are these measures legitimate and can they solve anything? Luca raised three main points to question the legitimacy of the measures (1) as fiscal policy is a core competent of national sovereignty, the development of a strong European supervision on national budgets will probably oblige members states to reform their own constitution, (2) the new economic governance is managed by intergovernmental bodies that dont directly respond to the citizens in contradiction with the EU’s democratic principle and (3) the adoption of austerity measures under the new rules on fiscal integration has caused the violation in many member states of social and labour rights. The tone of the talk was hopeful that the way to remedy these illegitimacy’s was providing European institutions with the competence and the appropriate means to guarantee social protection of the EU according to the principle of subsidiary. However, with recent economic catastrophes, like that seen in Cyprus, it seems principle of subsidiarity may take a backseat on the EU agenda while we ride through the storm.
With subsidiarity at the forefront of the audiences mind, we were greeted by Pieter Van Cleynenbreugel, (University of Leuven) with a presentation entitled ‘Between Delegation and Attribution: Article 114 TFEU, Integrated Administration and the Constitutional Circumvention of the Meroni-judgement on the Establishment of new EU Regulatory Agencies’. The cynical tone of the speakers’ thoughts was presented by the notion that the Meroni judgment  is still repeatedly invoked to curb the regulatory powers of independent EU agencies. This powerful debate has been made even more relevant by the introduction of the institutional set up and decision-making powers of the new European Supervisory Authorities (ESA’s) in financial markets regulation. A decisional tug of war is ongoing at EU level between the Meroni delegation limits with the EU treaties’ competence attribution framework. It seems the EU has been rather inventive in delegating power as the incorporation allows it to partially circumvent traditional Meroni delegation limits and to re-qualify them as novel, thus enabling and restraining instruments governing the process of agency establishment in general rather than agency delegation in particular. After a discussion on the relevant case law and highlighting Articles 114 and 291 TFEU, the line of reasoning given by the EU was adamantly and persuasively criticised by the speaker, leaving many thinking, where do we go from here?
It was with bated breath that the audience waited for the last speaker on the Panel. Gianni Lo Schiavo (King’s College London) presented on ‘The European Financial Supervisors: A true constitutional challenge in the aftermath of the European Crisis’. This was clearly the hot topic of the panel with many audience members having prepared questions in advance for the speaker to answer. The speaker took a novel approach to his presentation and made a clear case for the introduction of the macroeconomic layer into the European economic constitution established by the Maastricht Treaty. The issues raised by the speaker covered not only the economic crisis but the underlying constitutional crisis as well. Whilst the new European Financial Supervisors were shown to be important improvements, Gianni spent no time getting to the harsh questions of these entities. The first problem was the shaky ground that these entities seem to have been built upon. The new European delegated governance is being shaped, but it is unclear whether their role will be enhanced as standalone bodies. Secondly, and importantly, the discussion turned to sovereignty; how do these bodies relate to national authorities and their powers, could this indicate a real ‘top down’ process of market regulation and control? The presentation ended stressing the urgency of the need for clear answers of effectiveness and shared responsibilities.
Both panels presented papers that prove themselves in both relevance and content. They raised significant issues, but more importantly current issues, and like with any conference by the end both authors found themselves with more questions than they started with as to the future of the EU’s plans in many aspects, on their direction in future development on fundamental rights, identity and that ever tricky balance between sovereignty and supranationality, and on economic recovery and the agencies that could aid in its implementation.