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Activation of the Ultra Vires Review: The Slovak Pensions Judgment of the Czech Constitutional Court

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2019

Extract

It is now almost two decades since the German Constitutional Court proclaimed in Maastricht its capacity to review whether the Union institutions respect the limits of their conferred competences and to pronounce inapplicable at national level all legal instruments adopted by them in transgression of these boundaries. This ultra vires doctrine inspired the case law of several other constitutional courts, which announced their intention to operate in exceptional circumstances as an ultima ratio against the violation by the Union institutions of the principle of conferral. The German Constitutional Court itself emphatically reaffirmed on various occasions its role as the ultimate protector of constitutionality against the ultra vires introduction and interpretation of Union law, most prominently in its eminent Lisbon ruling. Until recently though, there was no actual precedent of a national court proclaiming a Union act as ultra vires. Even when a constitutional court reviewed the contested act on ultra vires grounds, it eventually concluded that it complied with the principle of conferred powers.

Type
Developments
Copyright
Copyright © 2013 by German Law Journal GbR 

References

1 Bundesverfassungsgericht [BVerfGE- Federal Constitutional Court], Case Nos. 2 BvR 2134/92 & 2159/92, BVerfGE 89 [hereinafter “Brunner v European Union Treaty (Maastricht)”], 1 Common Market Law Reports (CMLR) 57 (2004).Google Scholar

2 See particularly in this respect, annotated by Camilo Schutte, Declaration 1/2004 of the Spanish Constitutional Court (European Constitution), Tribunal Constitucional on the European Constitution, 1 Eur. Const. L. Rev. 281 (2005), and Ricardo Alonso García, The Spanish Constitution and the European Constitution: The Script for a Virtual Collision and Other Observations on the Principle of Primacy, 6 Germ. L. J. 1001 (2005), available at: http://www.germanlawjournal.com/index.php?pageID=11&artID=609 (last accessed: 27 June 2013); Judgment K 18/04 of the Polish Constitutional Court (Accession Treaty), annotated by Krystyna Kowalik-Banczyk, Should We Polish It Up? The Polish Constitutional Tribunal and the Idea of Supremacy of EU Law, 6 Germ. L. J. (GLJ) 1355 (2005), available at: http://www.germanlawjournal.org/pdfs/Vol06No10/PDF_Vol_06_No_10_1355-1366_Developments_Kowalik%20final.pdf (last accessed: 27 June 2013); Decision Pl. ÚS 19/08 (Treaty of Lisbon I) of 26 November 2008 of the Czech Constitutional Court, annotated by Petr Bríza, The Constitutional Court on the Lisbon Treaty Decision of 26 November 2008, 5 Eur. Const. L. Rev 143 (2009).Google Scholar

3 BVerfGE, Case No. 2 BvE 2/08, Gauweiler Die Linke v Act of Approval of the Lisbon Treaty (Lisbon) of 30 June 2009, available at: http://www.bverfg.de/entscheidungen/es20090630_2bve000208.html (last accessed: 27 June 2013). This ruling gave rise to an immense amount of academic literature. See amongst others, Dimitrios Doukas, The Verdict of the German Federal Constitutional Court on the Lisbon Treaty: Not Guilty but Don't Do it Again, 34 Eur. L. Rev. 866 (2009); Ziller, Jacques, The German Constitutional Court's Friendliness Towards European law, 16 Eur. Pub. L. 53 (2010); Thym, Daniel, In the Name of Sovereign Statehood: A Critical Introduction to the Lisbon Judgment of the German Constitutional Court, 46 Comm. Mkt. L. Rev. 1795 (2009); Grimm, Dieter, Defending Sovereign Statehood Against Transforming the European Union into a State, 5 Eur. Const. L. Rev 353 (2009); Bieber, Ronald, An Association of Sovereign States, 5 Eur. Con.st. L. Rev 391 (2009); Lock, Tobias, Why the European Union is not a State, 5 Eur. Con.st. L. Rev 407 (2009); Schönberger, Christoph, Lisbon in Karlsruhe: Maastricht's Epigones at Sea, 10 Germ. L. J. (2009), available at: http://www.germanlawjournal.com/article.php?id=1155 (last accessed: 27 June 2013); Halberstam, Daniel & Möllers, Christoph, The German Constitutional Court Says “Ja zu Deutschland!”, 10 Germ. L. J. 1241 (2009), available at: http://www.germanlawjournal.com/article.php?id=1157 (last accessed: 27 June 2013). Also see the ruling in BVerfGE, Case No. 2 BvR 2661/06, Honeywell Bremsbelag GmbH (Honeywell) of 6 July 2010, available at: http://www.bverfg.de/en/decisions/rs20100706_2bvr266106en.html (last accessed: 27 June 2013). For an annotation of this ruling, see Christoph Möllers, Constitutional Review of European Acts Only Under Exceptional Circumstances, 7 Eur. Con.st. L. Rev 161 (2011).Google Scholar

4 Very characteristic is Judgment SK 45/09 of 16 November 2011 of the Polish Constitutional Court, available at: http://www.trybunal.gov.pl/eng/summaries/documents/SK_45_09_EN.pdf (last accessed: 27 June 2013).Google Scholar

5 Pl. ÚS 5/12 (Slovak Pensions) of 31 January 2012 of the Czech Constitutional Court, available at: http://www.usoud.cz/en/decisions/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=37&cHash=911a315c9c22ea1989d19a3a848724e2 (last accessed: 27 June 2013). For a comment, see Robert Zbíral, A Legal Revolution or Negligible Episode? Court of Justice Decision Proclaimed Ultra vires, 49 Comm. Mkt. L. Rev. 1475 (2012). Also see Jan Komárek, Czech Constitutional Court Playing with Matches: The Czech Constitutional Court Declares a Judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU Ultra vires, 8 Eur. Con.st. L. Rev 323 (2012).Google Scholar

6 Case C-399/09, Marie Landtová v Česká správa socialního zabezpečení, judgment of 22 June 2011, not yet reported.Google Scholar

7 III. ÚS 252/04 (Constitutionally Conforming Interpretation) of 25 January 2005 of the Czech Constitutional Court, available at: http://www.usoud.cz/en/decisions/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=534&cHash=b5e5799a4b7db814f3956cf3975599f2 (last accessed: 27 June 2013).Google Scholar

8 Regulation (EEC) No 1408/71 of the Council of 14 June 1971 on the application of social security schemes to employed persons and their families moving within the Community, O.J. (1996) L 323/38.Google Scholar

9 Pl. ÚS 4/06 of 20 March 2007 of the Czech Constitutional Court, available at: http://www.usoud.cz/en/decisions/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=498&cHash=6412a8bc1cdf7cc62c9890066ef5ba80 (last accessed: 27 June 2013).Google Scholar

10 Judgment III, ÚS 1012/10 of 12 August 2010 of the Czech Constitutional Court.Google Scholar

11 Landtová, supra note 6, at paras. 41–49.Google Scholar

12 Id. at para. 51.Google Scholar

13 Id. at paras. 52–54.Google Scholar

14 Decision of the Supreme Administrative Court of 25th August 2011, File No. 3 Ads 130/2008-204. The ruling, in Czech, is available at: http://www.nssoud.cz/files/SOUDNI_VYKON/2008/0130_3Ads_08_20110831084552_prevedeno.pdf (last accessed: 27 June 2013).Google Scholar

15 §106a of Act No. 155/1995 Coll., as amended by Act No. 428/2011 Coll.Google Scholar

16 Pl. ÚS 19/08 (Treaty of Lisbon I) of 26 November 2008 of the Czech Constitutional Court paras. 120 and 216, available at: http://www.usoud.cz/en/decisions/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=484&cHash=621d8068f5e20ecadd84e0bae0527552 (last accessed: 27 June 2013). Also see Pl. ÚS 29/09 (Treaty of Lisbon II) of 11 March 2009 of the Czech Constitutional Court para. 150, available at: http://www.usoud.cz/en/decisions/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=466&cHash=eedba7ca14d226b879ccaf91a6dcb276 (last accessed: 27 June 2013).Google Scholar

17 See particularly in this respect the dissenting opinion of one of the constitutional judges in the Slovak Pensions ruling, supra note 5.Google Scholar

18 Annex III of Regulation (EEC) No 1408/71, supra note 8.Google Scholar

19 Articles 6 and 7 (2) of Regulation (EEC) No 1408/71, supra note 8.Google Scholar

20 Part A and Part B of Annex III of Regulation (EEC) No 1408/71, supra note 8.Google Scholar

21 In the same line of reasoning, Zbíral (note 5) at p. 1484 and Komárek, supra note 8.Google Scholar

22 Article 3 (3) of Regulation (EEC) No 1408/71, supra note 8.Google Scholar

23 Pensions, Slovak, supra note 5, makes explicit reference to this case law in the sixth section of the ruling. The same was the case in Treaty of Lisbon I, supra note 16, at paras. 116–118, 139 and 216. Also see Treaty of Lisbon II, supra note 16, at para. 137.Google Scholar

24 Weiler, Joseph, The Lisbon Urteil and the Fast Food Culture, 20 Eur. J. of Intl. L. 505 (2009).Google Scholar

25 Schönberger, Christoph, supra note 2, at 1216.Google Scholar

26 Herzog, Roman & Gerken, Lüder, Stop the European Court of Justice, EU Observer (10 September 2008), available at: http://euobserver.com/opinion/26714 (last accessed: 27 June 2013).Google Scholar

27 Honeywell, , supra note 3. For more information on this case, see Asteris Pliakos & Georgios Anagnostaras, Who is the Ultimate Arbiter? The Battle over Judicial Supremacy in EU Law, 36 Eur. L. Rev. 109 (2011); Payandeh, Mehrdad, Constitutional Review of EU Law After Honeywell: Contextualising the Relationship Between the German Constitutional Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union, 48 Comm. Mkt. L. Rev. 9 (2011); Mahlmann, Matthias, The Politics of Constitutional Identity and its Legal Frame – The Ultra vires Decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court, 11 Germ. L. J. 1407 (2010), available at: http://www.germanlawjournal.com/index.php?pageID=11&artID=1304 (last accessed: 27 June 2013).Google Scholar

28 Case C-144/04 Werner Mangold v Rüdiger Helm, [2005] E.C.R. I-9981.Google Scholar

29 Honeywell, , supra note 3, at paras. 56–59.Google Scholar

30 Id. at para. 60.Google Scholar

31 Id. at para. 61.Google Scholar

32 Id. at paras.75-79.Google Scholar

33 Id. at paras. 101–103.Google Scholar

34 Press release of 15 February 2012, available at: http://www.usoud.cz/en/current-affaires/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=147&cHash=a41487790296bfadbd85e535fac8945c (last accessed: 27 June 2013).Google Scholar

35 Treaty of Lisbon I (note 16) paras. 120 and 139 and Treaty of Lisbon II (note 16) para. 150.Google Scholar

36 Also see in the same respect, Zbíral, supra note 5, at 1487–1488.Google Scholar

37 Case C-253/12 JS v Česká správa sociálního zabezpečení, O.J. 2012 C 273/2. This preliminary reference was lodged on 24 May 2012.Google Scholar

38 Case C-555/07 Seda Kücükdeveci v Swedex GmbH & Co. KG, [2010] ECR I-365. For more on this ruling, see its annotation by Anja Wiesbrock, Case Note – Case C-555/07, Kücükdeveci v. Swedex, Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) of 19 January 2010, 11 Germ. L. J. 539–550 (2010), available at: http://www.germanlawjournal.com/index.php?pageID=11&artID=1255 (last accessed: 27 June 2013). Also see the case note by Gregor Thüsing & Sally Horler in 47 Comm. Mkt. L. Rev. 1161 (2010).Google Scholar

39 Id. at paras. 18–27.Google Scholar

40 Mangold, supra note 28, at paras. 74–78. Very interestingly, some of these critical comments came from the very Advocates General of the Court who warned it not to contest without the existence of an explicit legal basis the political choices made by the national legislatures within the limits of their retains powers. See in this respect the Opinion of Advocate General Geelhoed in Case C- 13/05 Sonia Chacón Navas v Eurest Colectividades SA, [2006] E.C.R. I-6467 at paras. 52–55; the Opinion of Advocate General Mazák in Case C-411/05 Felix Palacios de la Villa v Cortefiel Servicios SA, [2007] E.C.R. I-8531 at paras. 58–59 and 89–97; and the Opinion of Advocate General Colomer in Cases C-55/07 & C-56/07 Michaeler and others v Amt für sozialen Arbeitsschutz Autonome Provinz Bozen, [2008] E.C.R. I-3135 at paras. 21–22.Google Scholar

41 Honeywell, supra note 3.Google Scholar

42 Lisbon, supra note 3.Google Scholar

43 Honeywell, supra note 3.Google Scholar

44 This presupposes of course that the reference will be considered admissible, notwithstanding the complete ban on the future award of the social security supplement currently imposed by Czech law. This law continues to be applicable, since the position of the Constitutional Court that its provisions became obsolete was obiter dictum. Google Scholar

45 See particularly in this respect, Arthur Dyevre, Judicial Non-Compliance in a Non-Hierarchical Legal Order: Isolated Accident or Omen of Judicial Armageddon?, available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2084639 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2084639 (last accessed: 27 June 2013).Google Scholar

46 The Constitutional Court attempted to intervene in the Landtová proceedings, supra note 6, by a written statement, in which it expressed the expectation that in order to preserve the appearance of objectivity the Court of Justice would familiarize itself with the arguments that respected the case law of the Constitutional Court and the constitutional identity of the Czech Republic. However, this statement was considered as inadmissible, as it came from a third party which was not officially involved in the proceedings. The Constitutional Court considered that this constituted a violation of the principle audiatur et altera pars (“hear the other party too.”)Google Scholar

47 Two preliminary references were made recently by the Spanish Constitutional Court in Case C-399/11 Criminal Proceedings against Stefano Melloni, O.J. 2011 C 290/5, and the Belgian Constitutional Court in Case C-197/2011 Eric Libert and Others v Flemish Government, O.J. 2011 C 211/13. Both cases are currently pending.Google Scholar

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