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Belgian Constitutional Court Adopts National Identity Discourse

Belgian Constitutional Court No. 62/2016, 28 April 2016

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 February 2017


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Case Notes
© 2017 The Authors 

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1 CC no. 62/2016, 28 April 2016.

2 Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, 2 March 2012. For now, the TSCG is a norm of general international law, but it must already be interpreted in accordance with EU law and it already makes use of the Commission and the Luxembourg Court. Moreover, Art. 16 TSCG foresees the treaty’s incorporation in the EU’s legal framework within five years.

3 They represented the Christian-Democrat and socialist trade unions and the aviators’ trade union.

4 This category of individual applicants comprised members and leaders of smaller left-wing and right-wing political parties, employees, civil servants, academics, a poet, and several unemployed persons.

5 Art. 142, para. 3 of the Constitution and Art. 2, 2° of the Special Majority Act of 6 January 1989 on the Constitutional Court.

6 CC no. 48/92, 18 June 1992; CC no. 23/2006, 15 February 2006.

7 E.g. ecology, arts and culture, political convictions, religions, interests of property owners, and human rights advocacy.

8 CC no. 118/99, 10 November 1999; CC no. 35/2003, 25 March 2003.

9 CC no. 71/92, 18 November 1992; CC no. 185/2005, 7 December 2005.

10 E.g. Popelier, P., Procederen voor het Grondwettelijk Hof [Litigating before the Constitutional Court] (Intersentia 2008) p. 196 Google Scholar; Verdussen, M., Justice constitutionnelle [Constitutional Justice] (Larcier 2012) p. 169-173 Google Scholar and 329-331.

11 CC no. 62/2016, 28 April 2016, B.4.3.

12 Ibid., B.7.3.

13 Ibid., B.8.2.

14 Art. 174 of the Constitution and Art. 50, § 1, of the Special Majority Act of 16 January 1989 on the financing of the Communities and the Regions.

15 CC no. 62/2016, 28 April 2016, B.8.4, referring to Art. 3.4 TEU and Arts. 119 and 126.1 TFEU.

16 Ibid., B.8.6.

17 Ibid., B.6.8-B.6.9.

18 See infra nn. 74-100.

19 CC no. 62/2016, 28 April 2016, B.8.7. Only the Dutch, French and German versions of the Court’s judgments are authentic.

20 Ibid., B.8.8. The Constitutional Court refers to Art. 3, para. 2, in fine, of the TSCG and to the discussions prior to the TSCG’s approval in the Belgian Senate (Doc. Parl. Senate, 2012-2013, no. 5-1939/1, p. 10).

21 See infra n. 81.

22 See infra n. 63.

23 See infra n. 28.

24 See infra n. 88.

25 See infra n. 84.

26 See infra n. 91.

27 See infra n. 100.

28 BVerfG 15 December 2015, 2 BvR 2735/14, point 48. The Ewigkeitsklausel only refers to Arts. 1 and 20 GG, but through the lens of human dignity, as enshrined in Art. 1 GG, the Court could involve all constitutional rights in its constitutional identity review. In casu, the Court applied the principle that any punishment presupposes individual guilt.

29 See infra n. 50.

30 See infra n. 91.

31 E.g. the constitutional courts of Germany (BVerfG 30 June 2009, 2 BvE 2/08; BVerfG 6 July 2010, 2 BvR 2661/06), France (CC no. 70-39 DC, 19 June 1970; CC. no. 2004-505 DC, 19 November 2004; CC no. 2006-540, 27 July 2006; CC no. 2010-605, 12 May 2010), the Czech Republic (Pl. ÚS 5/12, 14 February 2012) and Poland (SK 45/09, 16 November 2011).

32 E.g. Alen, A. et al., ‘Cour constitutionnelle de Belgique’, in R. Huppmann and R. Schnabl (eds.), The Cooperation of Constitutional Courts in Europe. Current Situation and Perspectives (Verlag Österreich 2015) p. 293-347 Google Scholar; Van de Heyning, C., ‘Grondwettelijke conversaties: een meerwaarde voor de bescherming van fundamentele rechten?’ [Constitutional Conversations: an added value for human rights protection?], 67 Tijdschrift voor Bestuurswetenschappen en Publiekrecht (2012) p. 395-419 Google Scholar; Verdussen, M., ‘La Cour constitutionnelle, partenaire de la Cour de Justice de l’Union européenne’, Vol no?? RBDC (2011) p. 81-109 Google Scholar.

33 E.g. the free movement rights (CC no. 50/2011, 6 April 2011), the Charter (CC no. 116/2011, 30 June 2011), general principles of EU law (CC no. 81/2007, 7 June 2007), directives (CC no. 55/2011, 6 April 2011), regulations (CC no. 142/2011, 27 July 2011), framework decisions (CC no. 28/2011, 24 February 2011), etc.

34 CC. no. 136/2004, 22 July 2004; CC. no. 189/2005, 14 December 2005; CC. no. 195/2009, 3 December 2009. See G. Rosoux, Vers une ‘dématérialisation’ des droits fondamentaux? (Bruylant 2015) p. 148-164.

35 CC. no. 202/2004, 21 December 2004.

36 Alen et al., supra n. 32, p. 308-309.

37 Theunis, J., ‘Het Grondwettelijk Hof en de procedurele verplichtingen uit het Europees Unierecht’ [The Constitutional Court and the Procedural Obligations of EU Law], in W. Pas et al. (eds.), Liber discipulorum André Alen (die Keure 2015) p. 409 Google Scholar.

38 CC no. 161/2012, 20 December 2012, referring to ECJ 22 June 2010, Cases C-188/10 and C-189/10, Melki and Abdeli.

39 CC no. 55/2011, 6 April 2011.

40 CC no. 96/2010, 29 July 2010; CC. no. 183/2013, 19 December 2013, referring to ECJ 19 June 1990, Case C-213/89 Factortame; ECJ (GC) 13 March 2007, Case C-432/05, Unibet.

41 CC no. 149/2010, 22 December 2010; CC no. 97/2011, 31 May 2011; CC no. 15/2015, 5 February 2015.

42 CC no. 18/2012, 9 February 2012; CC. no. 154/2012, 20 December 2012; CC no. 21 February 2013; CC no. 144/2013 and no. 145/2013, 7 November 2013, referring to ECJ 19 November 2009, Case C-314/08, Filipiak, and ECJ (GC) 8 September 2010, Case C-409/06, Winner-Wetten. See, for some nuances, M. Daelemans, ‘Supranationale beperkingen op de mogelijkheid om de rechtsgevolgen van vernietigingsarresten te handhaven’ [Supranational limits to the possibility to maintain the effects of an annulment], in Pas et al., supra n. 37, p. 39-62.

43 CC. no. 161/2012, 20 December 2012, referring to Regulation 1/2003 on the implementation of the rules on competition laid down in Arts. 81 and 82 of the Treaty.

44 See A. Alen and W. Verrijdt, ‘Le dialogue préjudiciel de la Cour constitutionnelle belge avec la Cour de justice de l’Union européenne’, in Liber Amicorum Yves Lejeune - Les visages de l’Etat (Larcier forthcoming 2017); Cloots, E., ‘Germs of Pluralist Judicial Adjudication: Advocaten voor de Wereld and Other References from the Belgian Constitutional Court’, 47 Common Market Law Review 2010) p. 645-672 Google Scholar.

45 See, for a few counter-examples, Van Nuffel, P., ‘Het Europees recht in de rechtspraak van het Arbitragehof. Prejudiciële vragen, te veel gevraagd?’, 60 Tijdschrift voor Bestuurswetenschappen en Publiekrecht (2005) p. 249-253 Google Scholar; Cloots, supra n. 44, p. 654-655.

46 See, for some nuances, CC no. 10/2008, 23 January 2008 (see Cloots, supra n. 44, p. 666-667) and CC no. 89/2011, 31 May 2011.

47 CC. no. 54/2012, 19 April 2012, concerning the obligation to refer the case to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling on the validity of the directive transposed by the legislative norm under scrutiny; CC. no. 161/2012, 20 December 2012, concerning the duty of consistent interpretation.

48 Arts. 8 and 9 of the Special Majority Act of 4 April 2014 amending the Special Majority Act of 6 January 1989 on the Constitutional Court. These reforms specify that parallel preliminary references to the Constitutional Court and the Luxembourg Court are possible and that the referring judge may order provisional measures before referring a case to the Constitutional Court for a preliminary ruling.

49 Komarek, J., ‘The Place of Constitutional Courts in the EU’, 9 EuConst (2013) p. 421 Google Scholar.

50 ECJ 26 February 2013, Case C-399/11, Melloni. See Pérez, A. Torres, ‘Melloni in Three Acts: From Dialogue to Monologue’, 10 EuConst (2014) p. 308 Google Scholar.

51 Alen, A., Hoe ‘Belgisch’ is het ‘Belgische’ staatsrecht nog? [How ‘Belgian’ is Belgian constitutional law today?] (Intersentia 2015) p. 36 Google Scholar; Sovdat, J., ‘The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia and European Union Law14 Croatian and Comparative Public Administration (2013) p. 905 Google Scholar.

52 See infra n. 100.

53 Parl. Doc., Senate, 1969-1970, no. 275, p. 3; Parl. Doc., House of Representatives, 1968, no. 16/2, p. 2-3.

54 See, for a recent overview, A. Alen and W. Verrijdt, ‘La relation entre la Constitution belge et le droit international et européen’, in Mélanges en hommage à Rusen Ergec (2017, forthcoming).

55 For a full account of all arguments used, see Lejeune, Y., ‘Les rapports normatifs entre la Constitution belge et le droit international ou européen dans l’ordre interne à l’aune des relations entre ordres juridiques primaires’, 57 Revue Belge de Droit International (2012) p. 372-398 Google Scholar.

56 Van Meerbeeck, J. and Mahieu, M., ‘Traité international et Constitution nationale’, 60 Revue Critique de Jurisprudence Belge (2007) p. 45-47 Google Scholar; Slautsky, E., ‘De la hiérarchie entre Constitution et droit international’, 33 Administration Publique (2009) p. 236 Google Scholar.

57 Melchior, M. and De Grève, L., ‘Protection constitutionnelle et protection internationale des droits de l’homme: concurrence ou complementarité?’, 7 Revue Universelle des Droits de l'Homme (1995) p. 228 Google Scholar; Slautsky, supra n. 56, p. 187.

58 Cass. 27 May 1971, Arr.Cass. 1971, p. 959; Cass. 9 November 2004, Rev. dr. pén. 2005, p. 789; Cass. 16 November 2004, RW 2005-2006, p. 387; Cass. 4 April 2008, JT 2008, p. 641.

59 Cass. 2 June 2003, 60 Revue Critique de Jurisprudence Belge (2007), p. 24, which refers to ECJ 17 December 1970, Case 11/70, Internationale Handelsgesellschaft.

60 E.g. Council of State, legislative division, opinion of 3 April 2012, Parl. Doc., Senate, 2011-2012 no. 5-1598/1.

61 Council of State, legislative division, Opinion of 4 November 2005, Parl. Doc., House of Representatives, 2005-2006, no. 51-2189/1, p. 113-116; Council of State, Administrative Division, Goosse, 5 November 1996, no. 62.921.

62 CC no. 26/91, 16 October 1991; CC no. 12/94, 3 February 1994; CC no. 20/2004, 4 February 2004; CC no. 32/2013, 7 March 2013.

63 CC no. 62/2016, 28 April 2016.

64 CC no. 110/2001, 20 September 2001.

65 CC no. 95/2008, 26 June 2008.

66 E.g. CC no. 125/2005, 13 July 2005 (ECJ 26 June 2007, Ordre des Barreaux francophones et germanophone, C-305/05); CC no. 103/2009, 18 June 2009 (ECJ 1 March 2011, Case C-236/09, Test-Achats); CC no. 165/2014, 13 November 2014 (ECJ 28 July 2016, C-543/14, Ordre des barreaux francophones et germanophone).

67 Recital no. 34 of the preamble to Directive 2009/72/EC.

68 CC no. 130/2010, 18 November 2010, B.6.2 and B.7.

69 CC no. 130/2010, 18 November 2010, B.8.1. See E. Slautsky, ‘Independent authorities in European internal market law and national identity of the Member States. The case of electricity regulators’ (forthcoming publication), who argues that the Constitutional Court should have raised a national identity objection, as the legality principle is a crucial element of the Belgian Constitution. See also infra n. 91.

70 See supra nn. 33-48.

71 See supra n. 44.

72 See supra n. 20.

73 Cloots, supra n. 44, p. 653-654; Van de Heyning, supra n. 32, p. 412-414.

74 Cf. BVerfG 6 July 2010, 2 BvR 2661/06 (Honeywell).

75 Cf. the Bundesverfassungsgericht’s ultra vires review standard, which requires an evident breach of the division of competences and a structurally significant shift in this division to the detriment of the Member States.

76 Art. 26, § 1bis of the Special Majority Act on the Constitutional Court.

77 Art. 3, § 2, of the Special Majority Act on the Constitutional Court.

78 Art. 8 of the Special Majority Act on the Constitutional Court.

79 Art. 28 and Art. 26, § 2, par. 2, 2°, of the Special Majority Act on the Constitutional Court. On the other hand, that judge would nevertheless be under the obligation to respect the principle of the full effect of EU law, even if it required setting aside the judgment of the Constitutional Court (e.g. ECJ 15 January 2013, Case C-416/10, Krizan).

80 See Bulman-Pozen, J. and Gerken, H., ‘Uncooperative federalism’, 119 Yale Law Review (2009) p. 1307 Google Scholar.

81 See, for a full account of this case law, Cloots, E., National Identity in EU Law (Oxford University Press 2015) p. 51-55 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

82 Cf. Von Bogdandy, A. and Schill, S., ‘Overcoming Absolute Primacy: Respect for National Identity under the Lisbon Treaty’, 48 Common Market Law Review (2011) p. 1445 Google Scholar and Claes, M., ‘National identity: trump card or up for negotiation?’, in A. Saiz Arnaiz and C. Alcoberro Llivina (eds.), National Constitutional Identity and European Integration (Intersentia 2013) p. 111 Google Scholar.

83 E. Cloots, supra n. 81, p. 35-80.

84 Besselink, L., ‘National and constitutional identity before and after Lisbon’, 6 Utrecht Law Review (2010) p. 45 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Arnold, R., ‘The Federal Constitutional Court of Germany in the context of European integration’, in P. Popelier et al. (eds), Human Rights Protection in the European Legal Order: The Interaction Between the European and the National Courts (Intersentia 2011) p. 252-254 Google Scholar; A. Torres Perez, ‘Constitutional identity and fundamental rights: the intersection between Articles 4(2) TEU and 53 Charter’, in Saiz Arnaiz and Alcoberro Llivina (eds.), supra n. 82, p. 144.

85 See supra n. 44.

86 See supra n. 20.

87 Burgorgue-Larsen, L., ‘L’identité constitutionnelle en question(s)’, in L. Burgorgue-Larsen (ed.), L’identité constitutionnelle saisie par les juges en Europe (Pedone 2011) p. 156 Google Scholar.

88 C. Grewe, ‘Methods of identification of national constitutional identity’, in Saiz Arnaiz and Alcoberro Llivina (eds.), supra n. 82, p. 37-48.

89 H. Dumont, ‘L’intégration européenne et le respect de l’identité nationale des états (notamment fédéraux)’, in E. Vandenbossche and S. Van Drooghenbroeck (eds.), Europese voorschriften en Staatshervorming/Contraintes européennes et réforme de l’Etat [European Obligations and the Reform of the State] (die Keure 2013) p. 55, who limits this ambit to ‘ce qui fait qu’un État est lui-même et non un autre, ce qui permet de le reconnaître et de le distinguer des autres’ [what causes a State to be itself and not another State; what allows it to be distinguished from the other States].

90 Alen, A. et al., International Encyclopaedia of Constitutional Laws. Belgium (Wolters Kluwer 2013) p. 24-25 Google Scholar.

91 On the historical links between the Dutch Constitution of 1815 and the Belgian Constitution of 1831, see A. Alen et al. (eds.), De Grondwet van het Verenigd Koninkrijk der Nederlanden van 1815. Staatkundige en historische beschouwingen uit België en Nederland [The 1815 Constitution of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. Constitutional and historical observations from Belgium and the Netherlands] (Boom 2016).

92 Alen et al., supra n. 90, nos. 425, 456-458 and 484.

93 Since 1988, the School Pact is anchored in Art. 24 of the Constitution.

94 E. Cloots, ‘Europese integratie en de eerbiediging van de nationale identiteit van de lidstaten’ [European integration and the respect for the Member States’ national identity], in Vandenbossche and Van Drooghenbroeck (eds.), supra n. 89, p. 25-26. She includes the choice whether or not to grant regional authorities a degree of political autonomy, the choice to become a federal State, the circumscription of the federated entities, the definition of their legislative powers, as well as their applicability ratione personae and ratione materiae, and the organs competent for exercising these powers and for safeguarding the division of competences.

95 In its Las judgment, the ECJ has acknowledged that the protection of the official language of a federated entity is part of Belgium’s national identity, but it has nevertheless stated that a Flemish Community Act requiring the contracts between employers and employees to be in Dutch, regardless their own language, went too far (ECJ 16 April 2013, Case C-202/11, Las, para. 26).

96 Dumont, supra n. 89, p. 66.

97 See supra n 50.

98 See supra n. 28.

99 See supra n. 33.

100 Cloots, supra n. 94, p. 54-55.