The Court of Justice of the European Union's proactive construction of mixed agreements

Alain-Patrick Umucyo By Alain-Patrick Umucyo, 16th Jul 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/2i3l98xp/
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The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has developed a series of reasonings guaranteeing the pre-eminence of the European Union (EU) over the member States in the matter of mixed agreements.

1. The unquestioned approach to association agreements

1. In the matter of mixed agreements, a distinction should be drawn between association agreements and other types of agreements. “Association Agreements are international agreements that the European Community / European Union has concluded with third countries with the aim of setting up an all-embracing framework to conduct bilateral relations.”(1) They do not necessarily require the participation of Member States on the side of the EU but as they aim at creating closer economic and political cooperation,(2) their scope may surpass the exclusive competences of the EU. This may be the case for example when the agreement provides for the facilitated movement of nationals of the third party inside the EU.

2. As exemplified by the decision in Haegeman the CJEU has been prone to exercise its jurisdiction over the association agreements. The reason may lie in the “nature” of these instruments which fall in line with the objectives of the common market and thus justify full jurisdiction of the CJEU, as a matter of “maximum efficiency”.(3)

2. The perilous attitude towards the other mixed agreements

2.1 The precedence of the Union in the matter of shared competencies

3. The approach towards association agreements has not been questioned. It could not be applicable however to other types of mixed agreements because their subject matter would normally not be limited to EU's interest. So the Court of Justice developed another reasoning. This is apparent in the 1998 case Hermès International.(4) As the Court had to determine its jurisdiction, notably over the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPs Agreement), it stated that :
where a provision can apply both to situations falling within the scope of national law and to situations falling within the scope of Community law, it is clearly in the Community interest that, in order to forestall future differences of interpretation, that provision should be interpreted uniformly, whatever the circumstances in which it is to apply In the present case, Article 50 of the TRIPs Agreement applies to Community trade marks as well as to national trade marks.”

4. In Hermès, the Court puts the unity of (interpretation of) the EU legal system at the forefront of its reasoning. Frédéric Schmied notes the “specious character of the reasoning as it results in the Court interfering with Member States' competencies.”(5) Christiaan W. A. Timmermans explains that “The objective is not to answer a question concerning the possible exclusive nature of Union competence but to establish a sufficiently strong Union interest justifying the jurisdiction of the Court.”(6) This results in the Union taking precedence over the Member States as long as the EU legal system is concerned. The proactive attitude of the Court speaks in favour of an empowered EU for the sake of unity.

2.2 The influential tool of the principle of sincere cooperation in the matter of Member States' exclusive competencies

5. The Court has not stretched its jurisdiction over areas exclusively determined by Member States' exclusive competence. Such areas may arise from EU primary law but also from the mixed agreement when they have been explicitly supplemented with a clear separation of powers between the EU and the Member State(s). However, the Court has not totally relinquished on influencing the Member States' attitude. Indeed “the Court has greatly contributed to discipline the concomitant exercise of Union and Member States’ competence by developing a number of fairly precise rules on the basis of the principle of sincere cooperation.”(7) Regarding the procedure of negotiation of international agreements involving the participation of the Member States on the side of the EU, once the mandate has been given to the Commission by the Council, the Member States are required not to interfere with the proper conduct of the negotiations.(8) For example, they cannot undertake the conclusion of a bilateral treaty with the third party.(9)

6. Christiaan W. A. Timmermans has noted “that in the field of internal competences here still exists a strand of case-law according to which Member States when intending to solve problems for which the Union has been conferred competence, cannot prefer national solutions over using Union competence.”(10) This is hardly noticeable yet in the field of external action.(11) The proactive construction of the CJEU regarding mixed agreements may well lead to the notice being relevant in this field.

SOURCES

(1)'Association agreements' (European Union external action) <http://eeas.europa.eu/association/> accessed 03 July 2014

(2)Ibidem

(3)DUTHEIL de la ROCHÈRE, Jacqueline. L’effet direct des accords internationaux. In La Cour de Justice et la Construction de l’Europe: Analyses et Perspectives de Soixante Ans de Jurisprudence. The Hague : T.M.C Asser Press, 2013, p. 643

(4)Case C-53/96 Hermès International (a partnership limited by shares) v FHT Marketing Choice BV

(5)SCHMIED, Frédéric. Les effets des accords de l’OMC dans l’ordre juridique de l’Union européenne et de ses États membres. L’invocabilité au service de l’influence de l’Union sur la mondialisation du droit. ClermontFerrand : Fondation Varenne, 2012. Collection des Thèses. Th. doct. : Droit : Nancy : 2011. ISBN 978-2-916606-67-5. §120

(6)Christiaan W. A. Timmermans, ‘The Court of Justice and Mixed Agreements’ in Allan Rosas, Egils Levits and Yves Bot (eds), The Court of Justice and the Construction of Europe : Analyses and perspectives on Sixty Years of Case-law. (T.M.C Asser Press 2013) 668

(7)Ibidem

(8)Ibidem

(9)Ibidem

(10)Ibidem

(11)Ibidem

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