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Protecting the Rule of Law in the EU Legal Order: A Constitutional Role for the Court of Justice

  • Peter Van Elsuwege and Femke Gremmelprez

Abstract

The rule of law as one of the core constitutional values of the EU legal order – The rule of law in the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union – Jurisdiction of the Court on the basis of a combined reading of Articles 2 and 19 TEU – Protecting the rule of law in the Common Foreign and Security Policy – Protecting the rule of law in the member states in order to safeguard the structure and functioning of the EU legal order – Limits to the scope of application of EU law

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*

Professor of EU law and Jean Monnet Chair, Ghent European Law Institute (GELI), Ghent University

**

Academic Assistant and PhD candidate, Ghent European Law Institute (GELI), Ghent University

Footnotes

References

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1 D. Kochenov, ‘On Policing Article 2 TEU Compliance. Reversing Solange and Systemic Infringements Analysed’, 33 Polish Yearbook of International Law (2013) p. 148.

2 D. Kochenov and L. Pech, ‘Monitoring and Enforcement of the Rule of Law in the EU: Rhetoric and Reality’, 11 EuConst (2015) p. 520; J.W. Müller, ‘Should the EU Protect Democracy and the Rule of Law inside Member States?’, 21 European Law Journal (2015) p. 141 at p. 145.

3 ECJ 2 April 2004, Case T-337/03, Bertelli Galvez v Commission, EU:T:2004:106, para. 15.

4 See the Opinion of AG Tanchev in ECJ 24 June 2019, Case C-619/18, Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), EU:C:2019:325, para. 50 regarding the relationship between Art. 258 TFEU and Art. 7 TEU.

5 Art. 19(1) TEU.

6 W. Schroeder, ‘The European Union and the Rule of Law – State of Affairs and Ways of Strengthening’, in W. Schroeder (ed.), Strengthening the Rule of Law in Europe: From a Common Concept to Mechanisms of Implementation (Bloomsbury Publishing 2016) p. 3 at p. 4; T. von Danwitz, ‘The Rule of Law in the Recent Jurisprudence of the ECJ’, in Schroeder (ed.), ibid., p. 155 at p. 155.

7 ECJ 23 April 1986, Case 294/83, Parti écologiste ‘Les Verts’ v European Parliament, EU:C:1986:166.

8 ECJ 25 July 2002, Case C-50/00 P, Unión de Pequeños Agricultores v Council, EU:C:2002:462, para. 44; and ECJ 1 April 2004, Case C-263/02 P, Commission v Jégo Quéré, EU:C:2004:210, para. 36. See also ECJ 3 October 2013, Case C-583/11 P, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami etal., EU:C:2013:625, para. 98.

9 K. Lenaerts and J. Gutiérrez-Fons, ‘To say what the law is: Methods of interpretation and the European Court of Justice’, 20 Columbia Journal of European Law (2014) p. 3.

10 In this respect, it is noteworthy that Court judgments in connection with rule of law questions in EU member states explicitly refer to the case law in relation to CFSP-related matters, as far as the references to Art. 2 TEU and the principle of effective judicial protection under EU law are concerned. See, for instance, the references to the Rosneft case in the Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses judgment (ECJ 27 February 2018, Case C-64/16, Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, EU:C:2018:117, para. 36).

11 For CFSP matters, the limitation to the Court jurisdiction in this area is explicitly included in Art. 24(1) TEU and 275 TFEU; in terms of questions related to national judiciaries, EU member states have argued that such questions fall outside the scope of EU law. See for instance MFA statement on the Polish government’s response to Commission Recommendation of 27.07.2016, 27 October 2016, 〈www.msz.gov.pl/en/p/msz_en/news/mfa_statement_on_the_polish_government_s_response_to_commission_recommendation_of_27_07_2016〉, visited 24 March 2020; and ECJ 24 June 2019, Case C-619/18, Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), EU:C:2019:531, para. 38.

12 On the role of the ECJ as a federal constitutional court and its limitations, see M. Claes and M. De Visser, ‘The Court of Justice as a Federal Constitutional Court: A Comparative Perspective’, in E. Cloots etal. (eds.), Federalism in the European Union (Hart Publishing 2012) p. 83.

13 See, in particular, Parti écologiste ‘Les Verts’ v European Parliament, supra n. 7, para. 23.

14 While this contribution focuses on the value of respect for the rule of law, it is noteworthy that in Case C-502/19 (Oriol Junqueras), the Court refers to the value of democracy, which is mentioned in Art. 2 TEU and given concrete expression in Art. 10(1) TEU: see ECJ 19 December 2019, Case C-502/19, Oriol Junqueras, EU:C:2019:1115, para. 63.

15 See Annex I ‘The Rule of Law as a foundational principle of the Union’ to the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, ‘A new framework to strengthen the Rule of Law’, COM(2014)158 final, 11 March 2014, p. 2-3; and von Danwitz, supra n. 6, p. 155-169.

16 ECJ 29 April 2004, Case C-496/99 P, Commission v CAS Succhi di Frutta, EU:C:2004:236, para. 63.

17 ECJ 12 November 1981, Joined Cases C-212 to 217/80, Amministrazione della finanze dello Stato v Salumi, EU:C:1981:270, para. 10.

18 ECJ 15 May 1986, Case 222/84, Johnston, EU:C:1986:206, para. 18; ECJ 21 September 1989, Joined Cases C-46/87 and 227/88, Hoechst v Commission, EU:C:1989:337, para. 19.

19 Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, supra n. 8, para. 91; ECJ 29 June 2010, Case C-550/09, E and F, EU:C:2010:382, para. 44; and Unión de Pequeños Agricultores v Council, supra n. 8, paras. 38-39.

20 ECJ 22 December 2010, Case C-297/09, DEB, EU:C:2010:811, para. 58; and ECJ 19 November 2019, Joined Cases C-585/18, C-624/18 and C-625/18, A.K., EU:C:2019:982, para. 124.

21 ECJ 14 September 2010, Case C-550/07 P, Akzo Nobel Chemicals and Akcros Chemicals v Commission, EU:C:2010:512, para. 54.

22 See, for instance, Unión de Pequeños Agricultores v Council, supra n. 8, paras. 38-39; ECJ 3 September 2008, Case C-402/05 P and C-415/05 P, Kadi and Al Barakaat International Foundation v Council and Commission, EU:C:2008:461, para. 316; and Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), supra n. 11, para. 46.

23 Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, ‘A new framework to strengthen the Rule of Law’, COM(2014)158 final 2, 19 March 2014, p. 4.

24 Respect for the rule of law constitutes one of the conditions for EU membership, as defined in the June 1993 Copenhagen European Council conclusions, Bull. EC., 6-1993, point I.13. See also von Danwitz, supra n. 6, p. 156.

25 A. Albi, ‘Ironies in Human Rights Protection in the EU: Pre-Accession Conditionality and Post-Accession Conundrums’, 15 European Law Review (2009) p. 46 at p. 48.

26 Art. J(1) Maastricht Treaty, Art. 6(1) Amsterdam Treaty and Art. 6(1) Nice Treaty.

27 See Reflection Group’s Report, Messina - 2 June 1995 and Brussels - 5 December 1995, part I.I and part II.II, paras. 32-33, available at 〈www.europarl.europa.eu/enlargement/cu/agreements/reflex1_en.htm#1〉 visited 24 March 2020; and W. Sadurski, ‘Adding a bite to a bark? A story of Art. 7, the EU enlargement, and Jorg Haider’, 16 Columbia Journal of European Law (2010) p. 385 at p. 391-392.

28 Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on Art. 7 of the Treaty on European Union, Respect for and promotion of the values on which the Union is based, COM(2003)606, 15 October 2003, p. 5.

29 However, the transformation from ‘principles’ to ‘values’ is somewhat ambiguous, in the sense that the latter may be regarded as less legally enforceable. See the textual differences between Art. 6 TEU (old version – as amended by the Amsterdam Treaty), which referred to the EU’s foundational ‘principles’ which are common to the member states and Art. 2 TEU (as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon).

30 Art. 3(1) TEU.

31 Art. 4(3) TEU. See Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, supra n. 10, para. 34.

32 ECJ 19 July 2016, Case C-455/14 P, H v Council, EU:C:2016:212, para. 41.

33 S. Prechal, ‘Mutual trust before the Court of Justice of the European Union’, 2 European Papers (2017) p. 81.

34 D. Kochenov, ‘Europe’s Crisis of Values’, 15 University of Groningen Faculty of Law Research Paper Series (2014) p. 4

35 Art. 6 TEU.

36 ECJ 25 July 2018, Case C-216/18 PPU, LM, EU:C:2018:586, para. 49; and Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, supra n. 10, para. 41. On this issue, see also below under the heading ‘Limits to the scope of application of the Charter’.

37 A noticeable exception is Kadi and Al Barakaat International Foundation v Council and Commission, supra n. 22, para. 303, in which the Court explicitly referred to ex Art. 6(1) TEU.

38 Art. 24(1) TEU. On the particular position of CFSP in the EU legal order, see P. Van Elsuwege, ‘EU External Action after the collapse of the pillar structure: In search of a new balance between delimitation and consistency’, 47 CMLR (2010) p. 987; I. Govaere, ‘Multi-faceted single legal personality and a hidden horizontal pillar: EU external relations post-Lisbon’, 13 CYELS (2011) p. 87; R. Wessel, ‘Lex Imperfecta: Law and integration in European Foreign and Security Policy’, 2 European Papers (2016) p. 439.

39 Art. 24(1) TEU and Art. 275 TFEU.

40 Opinion of AG Wathelet in ECJ 28 March 2017, Case C-72/15, Rosneft, EU:C:2016:381, para. 41.

41 ECJ 18 December 2014, Opinion 2/13 (Accession to ECHR), EU:C:2014:2454, para. 251.

42 ECJ 24 June 2014, Case C-658/11, European Parliament v Council (Pirate Transfer Agreement with Mauritius), EU:C:2014:2025; and ECJ 14 June 2016, Case C-263/14, European Parliament v Council (Pirate Transfer Agreement with Tanzania), EU:C:2016:435.

43 ECJ 12 November 2015, Case C-439/13 P, Elitaliana v Eulex Kosovo, EU:C:2015:753.

44 H v Council, supra n. 32.

45 ECJ 28 March 2017, Case C-72/15, Rosneft, EU:C:2017:236.

46 On this evolution see also G. Butler, ‘The Coming to Age of the Court’s Jurisdiction in the Common Foreign and Security Policy’, 13(4) EuConst (2017) p. 673; M. Cremona, ‘“Effective Judicial Review is of the Essence of the Rule of Law”; Challenging Common Foreign and Security Policy Measures before the Court of Justice’, 2 European Papers (2017) p. 671; C. Hillion and R. Wessel, ‘“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”: Three Levels of Judicial Control over the CFSP’, in S. Blockmans and P. Koutrakos, Research Handbook on the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (Edward Elgar 2018) p. 65.

47 Rosneft, supra n. 45, para. 74. In fact, the Court for the first time referred to the narrow interpretation of the exceptions to its jurisdiction in CFSP matters in the Pirate Transfer Agreement with Mauritius judgment, supra n. 42. However, on this occasion, it did not make a link with Art. 2 TEU: ibid., para. 70.

48 View of AG Kokott in ECJ 18 December 2014, Opinion 2/13 (Accession to the ECHR), EU:C:2014:2475, para. 95.

49 See on this point also Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, supra n. 10, para. 32.

50 View of AG Kokott in Opinion 2/13, supra n. 48, para. 101.

51 Opinion of AG Wahl in H v Council, supra n. 32, para. 49.

52 Opinion of AG Wathelet in Rosneft, supra n. 40, para. 66.

53 Opinion of AG Bobek in Case C-14/19 P, European Union Satellite Centre (SatCen) v KF, EU:C:2020:220, paras. 64-73.

54 Butler, supra n. 46, p. 673 at p. 684.

55 See e.g. the supplementary report on the question of judicial control relating to the Common Foreign and Security Policy, discussed within the European Convention, CONV 689/1/03, 16 April 2013, which revealed that there was no consensus to significantly extend the Court’s jurisdiction in relation to CFSP-related matters. For a more detailed analysis of the discussions on this issue, see also L. Saltinyte, ‘Jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over issues relating to the Common Foreign and Security Policy under the Lisbon Treaty’, Jurisprudencija (2010) p. 261. However, see also the Opinion of AG Bobek in European Union Satellite Centre (SatCen) v KF, supra n. 53, para. 72, where he argues that a historical examination of Art. 24(1) TEU and Art. 275 TFEU does not support a broad interpretation of the CFSP derogation.

56 Lenaerts and Gutiérrez-Fons, supra n. 9, p. 4.

57 P. Van Elsuwege, ‘Upholding the Rule of Law in the Common Foreign and Security Policy: H v. Council’, 54(3) CMLR (2017) p. 855.

58 Pursuant to ex Art. 35(1) TEU, member states could make a declaration regarding the acceptance of preliminary rulings by the Court of Justice in relation to certain acts adopted under Title VII (provisions on police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters). In this context, the ECJ clarified that ‘the right to make a reference to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling must […] exist in respect of all measures adopted by the Council, whatever their nature or form, which are intended to have legal effects in relation to third parties’. See ECJ 27 February 2007, Case C-354/04 P, Gestoras Pro Amnistia etal., EU:C:2007:115, para. 53; and ECJ 27 February 2007, Case C-355/04 P, Segi v Council, EU:C:2007:116, para. 53.

59 See, for instance, the position of P. Koutrakos, ‘Judicial Review in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy’, 67(1) ICLQ (2018) p. 1.

60 See, on this point, Butler, supra n. 46, p. 691.

61 Rosneft, supra n. 45, para. 74.

62 Ibid., para. 73.

63 W. Van Gerven, The European Union. A Polity of States and Peoples (Hart Publishing 2005) p. 118.

64 See further S. Poli, ‘The Common Foreign and Security Policy after Rosneft: Still Imperfect but Gradually Subject to the Rule of Law’, 54(6) CMLR (2017) p. 1799; G. Butler, Constitutional Law of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. Competence and Institutions in External Relations (Hart Publishing 2019) p. 179.

65 Rule of law backsliding has been defined by Pech and Scheppele as ‘the process through which elected public authorities deliberately implement governmental blueprints which aim to systematically weaken, annihilate or capture internal checks on power with the view of dismantling the liberal democratic state and entrenching the long-term rule of the dominant party’: see L. Pech and K.L. Scheppele, ‘Illiberalism within: Rule of Law Backsliding in the EU’, 19 Cambridge Yearbook of European Legal Studies (2017) p. 3 at p. 10.

66 Reasoned Proposal in accordance with Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union regarding the Rule of Law in Poland – Proposal for a Council Decision on the determination of a clear risk of a serious breach by the Republic of Poland of the Rule of Law, COM(2017)835 final, 20 December 2017; European Parliament resolution of 12 September 2018 on a proposal calling on the Council to determine, pursuant to Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union, the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded (2017/2131(INL)), P8_TA-PROV(2018)0340.

67 von Danwitz, supra n. 6, p. 156.

68 See for instance MFA statement on the Polish government’s response to Commission Recommendation of 27.07.2016, 27 October 2016, 〈www.msz.gov.pl/en/p/msz_en/news/mfa_statement_on_the_polish_government_s_response_to_commission_recommendation_of_27_07_2016〉, visited 24 March 2020; and Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), supra n. 11, para. 38.

69 Editorial Comments, ‘Safeguarding EU values in the Member States – Is something finally happening?’, 52 CMLR (2015) p. 619 at p. 626-627.

70 ECJ 20 November 2017, Case C-441/17 R, Commission v Poland (Puszcza Białowieska), EU:C:2017:877; Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, supra n. 10; ECJ 6 March 2018, Case C-284/16, Achmea, EU:C:2018:158; LM, supra n. 36; Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), supra n. 11. See also Opinion of AG Tanchev in Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), supra n. 4, paras. 48-51.

71 As regards the principle of effective application of EU law, see Commission v Poland (Puszcza Białowieska), supra n. 70, para. 102; and Achmea, supra n. 70, para. 36. As regards the principle of effective judicial protection, see ECJ 19 July 2016, Case C-445/14, H v Council and Commission, EU:C:2016:569, para. 36; Rosneft, supra n. 45, para. 73; and Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, supra n. 10, para. 36.

72 Commission v Poland (Puszcza Białowieska), supra n. 70.

73 ECJ 27 July 2017, Case C-441/17 R, Commission v Poland (Puszcza Białowieska), EU:C:2017:622.

74 Commission v Poland (Puszcza Białowieska), supra n. 70, paras. 99, 100 and 102.

75 Ibid., para. 99.

76 Ibid., paras. 100 and 102.

77 L. Krämer, ‘Injunctive Relief in Environmental Matters’, 15 Journal for European Environmental and Planning Law (2018) p. 259 at p. 262.

78 Commission v Poland (Puszcza Białowieska), supra n. 70, para. 102.

79 P. Wennerås, ‘Saving a forest and the rule of law: Commission v. Poland’, 56 CMLRev (2019) p. 541 at p. 545.

80 See in this regard, E. Várnay, ‘Sanctioning under Article 260(3) TFEU: much ado about nothing?’, 23 European Public Law (2017) p. 301.

81 Commission v Poland (Puszcza Białowieska), supra n. 70, para. 101.

82 Wennerås, supra n. 79, p. 547.

83 Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), supra n. 11. Another example is the pending Case C-791/19, Commission v Poland (Independence of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court), in which the Commission requested interim measures for provisional suspension of the functioning of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court.

84 Order of the Vice-President of the Court of 19 October 2018 in Case C-619/18 R, Commission v Poland, EU:C:2018:852.

85 Ibid.

86 Order of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 17 December 2018 in Case C-619/18 R, Commission v Poland, EU:C:2018:1021.

87 Ibid., para. 68.

88 Daniel Sarmiento talks in this context about ‘a revolution’ and ‘a ground-breaking precedent’: see D. Sarmiento, ‘Interim Revolutions’, Verfassungsblog, 22 October 2018, 〈verfassungsblog.de/interim-revolutions/〉, visited 24 March 2020.

89 See in this regard ECJ 6 November 2012, Case C-286/12, Commission v Hungary, EU:C:2012:687. Notwithstanding the fact that the Court found that Hungary failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law and Hungary allegedly implemented this judgment, the structural problems with regard to judicial independence were not resolved. The Hungarian government was able to replace the magistrates in office before the termination of their official term with magistrates whom the government preferred. See K.L. Scheppele, ‘Constitutional Coups and Judicial Review: How Transnational Institutions Can Strengthen Peak Courts at Times of Crisis (with Special Reference to Hungary)’, 23 Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems (2014) p. 51.

90 P. Bárd and A. Śledzińska-Simon, ‘Rule of Law infringement procedures: a proposal to extend the EU’s Rule of Law toolbox’, 9 CEPS paper (2019) p. 1 at p. 14.

91 Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), supra n. 11.

92 Commission v Hungary, supra n. 89. Another example of a case in which the Commission adopted a comparable line of reasoning is ECJ 8 April 2014, Case C-288/12, Commission v Hungary, EU:C:2014:237.

93 European Commission for Democracy through law (Venice Commission), Opinion on the Act CLXII of 2011 on the legal status and remuneration of judges and the Act CLXI of 2011 on the organisation and administration of Courts of Hungary, CDL-AD(2012)001, Strasbourg, 19 March 2012, available at 〈www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/CDL-AD%282012%29001-e.aspx〉, visited 24 March 2020.

94 Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, supra n. 10.

95 F. Gremmelprez, ‘The legal vs. political route to rule of law enforcement’, Verfassungsblog, 29 May 2019, 〈www.verfassungsblog.de/the-legal-vs-political-route-to-rule-of-law-enforcement/〉, visited 20 March 2020.

96 A.K., supra n. 20, paras. 119-122 and 168. See also S. Adam and P. Van Elsuwege, ‘L’exigence d’indépendence du juge, paradigme de l’Union européenne comme union de droit’, 9 Journal de Droit Européen (2018) p. 334.

97 The Court clarified in its Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses judgment that national courts which may rule on questions concerning the application or interpretation of EU law, have to meet the requirements essential to effective judicial protection, in accordance with Art. 19(1), second subparagraph, TEU. This ‘may’ formulation suggests that each court, within the meaning of EU law, has to fulfil the requirement of effective judicial protection when potentially confronted with questions concerning EU law. As Pech and Platon state, ‘most if not all national courts are, at least theoretically, in this situation’: see L. Pech and S. Platon, ‘Judicial Independence Under Threat: The Court of Justice to the Rescue in the ASJP Case’, 55 CMLRev (2018) p. 1827 at p. 1848-1849; M. Bonelli and M. Claes, ‘Judicial serendipity: how Portuguese judges came to the rescue of the Polish judiciary’, 14 EuConst (2018) p. 622 at p. 623; M. Krajewski, ‘Associação Sindical Dos Juízes Portugueses: The Court of Justice and Athena’s Dilemma’, 3 European Papers (2018) p. 395 at p. 402.

98 Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), supra n. 11; and ECJ 5 November 2019, Case C-192/18, Commission v Poland (Independence of the lower courts).

99 Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), supra n. 11, para. 52; and Commission v Poland (Independence of the lower courts, supra n. 98, para. 102. This is a confirmation of long-standing case law: see, for instance, ECJ 2 February 1989, 186/87, Cowan, EU:C:1989:47, para. 19; and ECJ 19 January 1999, C-348/96, Calfa, EU:C:1999:6, para. 17. For a recent application in relation to obligations under EU primary law, see ECJ 13 November 2018, C-247/17, Raugevicius, EU:C:2018:898, para. 45 and ECJ 26 February 2019, C-202/18 and C-238/18, Rimšēvičs and EC v Lithuania, EU:C:2019:139, para. 57.

100 H v Council and Commission, supra n. 71, para. 40.

101 C. Hillion, ‘Overseeing the Rule of Law in the EU: Legal Mandate and Means’, in C. Closa and D. Kochenov (eds.), Reinforcing Rule of Law Oversight in the European Union (Cambridge University Press 2016) p. 59 at p. 66.

102 Art. 275 TFEU and Art. 276 TFEU.

103 Rosneft, supra n. 45, para. 74; and H v Council and Commission, supra n. 71, para. 40.

104 Hillion, supra n. 101, p. 66.

105 The following factors should be taken into account in assessing whether a body can be considered to be a ‘court’ or ‘tribunal’ within the meaning of EU law: ‘whether the body is established by law, whether it is permanent, whether its jurisdiction is compulsory, whether its procedure is inter partes, whether it applies rules of law and whether it is independent’. (See, for instance, Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, supra n. 10, para. 38; and ECJ 16 February 2017, Case C-503/15, Margarit Panicello, EU:C:2017:126, para. 27 and the case law cited.)

106 Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, supra n. 10, para. 37.

107 See Opinion of AG Tanchev in Joined Cases C-558/18 and C-563/18, Miasto Łowicz, EU:C:2019:775, para. 92; and Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), supra n. 11, paras. 42-48, 54, 55, 57 and 58.

108 In this regard, AG Tanchev speaks of a ‘constitutional passerelle’ between Art. 47 Charter and Art. 19(1) TEU. See Opinion of AG Tanchev in ECJ 19 November 2019, Joined Cases C-585/18, C-624/18 and C-625/18, A.K., EU:C:2019:551, para. 85.

109 See in this regard: Opinion of AG Saugmandsgaard Øe in ECJ 6 April 2018, Case C-64/16, Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, EU:C:2017:395, para. 36.

110 von Danwitz, supra n. 6, p. 165.

111 Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, supra n. 10, para. 29; and Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), supra n. 11, para. 50; A.K., supra n. 20.

112 ECJ 5 November 2019, Case C-192/18, Commission v Poland (Independence of the lower courts), para. 104.

113 Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), supra n. 11, para. 49; LM, supra n. 36, para. 53; Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, supra n. 10, para. 41.

114 Opinion of AG Bobek in ECJ 29 July 2019, Case C-556/17, Alekszij Torubarov, EU:C:2019:339, para. 55.

115 Ibid., para. 56.

116 Opinion of AG Tanchev in A.K., supra n. 108, para. 84.

117 See Art. 19(1), first subparagraph TEU.

118 Opinion of AG Tanchev in Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), supra n. 4, para. 57.

119 A.K., supra n. 20.

120 Opinion of AG Tanchev in A.K., supra n. 108, para. 84.

121 S. Platon, ‘Writing between the lines. The preliminary ruling of the CJEU on the independence of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court’, EU Law Analysis, 26 November 2019, 〈eulawanalysis.blogspot.com/2019/11/writing-between-lines-preliminary.html〉, visited 24 March 2020.

122 See in this regard Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, supra n. 10; and ECJ 7 February 2019, C-49/18, Carlos Escribano Vindel, EU:C:2019:106. This reasoning is also followed by AG Tanchev: see Opinion in A.K., supra n. 108, paras. 86-89; and Opinion in Miasto Łowicz, supra n. 107, paras. 86-98.

123 A.K., supra n. 20, paras. 132 and 140.

124 Associação Sindical dos Juízes Portugueses, supra n. 10, para. 51; and Carlos Escribano Vindel, supra n. 122, para. 73.

125 See for instance ECJ 16 December 1981, Case C-244/80, Foglia v Novello, EU:C:1981:302, as confirmed by the Court in ECJ 10 December 2018, C-621/18, Wightman e.a., EU:C:2018:999, para. 27. On the issue of general and hypothetical questions, see M. Broberg and N. Fenger, Preliminary References to the European Court of Justice (Oxford University Press 2014).

126 Wightman, supra n. 125, para. 28.

127 See for instance the series of questions referred to the Court by the Polish Supreme Court: Case C-522/18, Case C-668/18, Case C-487/19 and Case C-508/19. A Hungarian judge also recently requested a preliminary reference as regards the independence of the judiciary (see Case C-564/19).

128 Joined Cases C-558/18 and C-563/18, Miasto Łowicz, EU:C:2020:234.

129 One case concerned an action brought by a Polish municipality against the State Treasury for a payment covering the costs of the performance of tasks delegated by the central government; another case concerned a criminal action brought by the General Prosecutor in response to the activities of members of an organised criminal group which carries out assassinations and kidnapping of persons with the aim of obtaining money for their release.

130 Miasto Łowicz, supra n. 128, paras. 52-54 and 57-58.

131 For instance via the infringement procedure pursuant Art. 258 TFEU. See e.g. Case C-791/19, Commission v Poland, OJ C 413 from 9 December 2019, p. 36 concerning the disciplinary proceedings against judges.

132 For instance, reference can be made to a pending preliminary request concerning the system of judicial appointments in Malta (Case C-896/19, Repubblika) or to the pending preliminary requests concerning disciplinary procedures against judges in Romania (Case C-83/19, Asociaţia ‘Forumul Judecătorilor Din România’; Case C-291/19, SO; Case C-355/19, Asociaţia ‘Forumul Judecătorilor din România’ and Others).

133 A good example is the recent A.K. judgment, supra n. 20, where the Court meticulously sets out the requirements of judicial independence as a crucial component of respect for the rule of law. In this respect, the Court also points out that each of the factors, examined in isolation, may not necessarily be problematic but that this may be different once they are taken together (para. 152).

134 Pech and Scheppele, supra n. 65, p. 7.

135 Commission v Poland (Independence of the Supreme Court), supra n. 11, para. 49.

136 On the Court’s traditional teleological approach and its role in the process of European integration, see e.g. Lenaerts and Gutiérrez-Fons, supra n. 9; J. Bengoetxea, The Legal Reasoning of the European Court of Justice (Clarendon 1993).

137 Art. 17 TEU provides that the Commission ‘shall ensure the application of the Treaties […] it shall oversee the application of Union law under the control of the Court of Justice of the European Union’.

138 Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, ‘Strengthening the Rule of Law within the Union. A Blueprint for Action’, COM(2019)343 final.

139 Commission, proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the protection of the Union’s budget in case of generalised deficiencies as regards the rule of law in the Member States, COM(2018)324 final, 2 May 2018.

140 On the crucial role of the Court in the early stages of the European integration process, see R. Lecourt, L’Europe des juges (Bruylant 1976).

* Professor of EU law and Jean Monnet Chair, Ghent European Law Institute (GELI), Ghent University

** Academic Assistant and PhD candidate, Ghent European Law Institute (GELI), Ghent University

Protecting the Rule of Law in the EU Legal Order: A Constitutional Role for the Court of Justice

  • Peter Van Elsuwege and Femke Gremmelprez

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