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The EFTA Court and Fundamental Rights

  • Robert Spano

Fundamental rights – EFTA Court – Multilevel normative frameworks of human rights protections – General and unwritten principles of EEA law – Impact of the EU Charter on EEA fundamental rights – The European Convention on Human Rights as the dispositive normative basis for the EFTA Court’s resolution of a case – Fundamental rights operationalising the principle of homogeneity between EEA and EU law – Restriction of a fundamental freedom to further an aim based on fundamental rights.

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Judge and President of Section II, European Court of Human Rights, elected in respect of Iceland.

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1 This article is based on a lecture given on 7 December 2016 at the EFTA Court in Luxembourg as part of the EFTA Court Lunchtime Talks series. The analysis presented reflects my personal viewpoint and should not in any way be understood as reflecting the views of the European Court of Human Rights. I thank my legal assistant, Ms Sabina Garahan, for her valuable contribution in the research and drafting process.

2 The European Economic Area (‘the EEA’) was established on 1 January 1994 with the entry into force of the EEA Agreement which provides for the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the European Single Market and specifies that membership is open to member states of either the EU or the European Free Trade Association (‘the EFTA’). The current membership comprises 31 states, namely the 28 EU Member States and three of the four member states of the EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).

3 The two EEA Courts are the Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Association States, more commonly known as the EFTA Court, and the Court of Justice of the European Union (hereinafter ‘the Court of Justice’).

4 The ‘Discussion document of the Court of Justice of the European Union on certain aspects of the accession of the European Union to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms’, 5 May 2010, point 2, describes the Charter as ‘the principal basis on which [the Court of Justice and the national courts] carry out their task of ensuring that in the interpretation and application of the law of the Union fundamental rights are observed’. The ‘Joint communication from Presidents Costa and Skouris’, 24 January 2011, point 1, characterises the Charter as the ‘reference text and the starting point for the CJEU’s assessment of the fundamental rights which that legal instrument recognises’. See also Douglas-Scott, Sionaidh, ‘The European Union and Human Rights after the Treaty of Lisbon’, 11(4) Human Rights Law Review (2011) p. 645 at p. 645, where the Charter is said to operate as the primary source of human rights in the EU.

5 Case E-2/03 Ásgeirsson [2003] EFTA Ct. Rep. 18, para. 23; Case E-8/97 TV 1000 Sverige v Norway [1998] EFTA Ct. Rep. 68, para. 26; Case E-2/02 Bellona [2003] EFTA Ct. Rep. 52, para. 37; Case E-12/10 ESA v Iceland [2011] EFTA Ct. Rep. 117, para. 60; Case E-4/11 Arnulf Clauder [2011] EFTA Ct. Rep. 216, para. 49; Case E-18/11 Irish Bank [2012] EFTA Ct. Rep. 592, para. 63; Case E-14/11, DB Schenker v EFTA Surveillance Authority (Schenker I) [2012] EFTA Ct. Rep. 1178, paras. 166-7.

6 Ásgeirsson, para. 28; Joined Cases E-3/13 and E-20/13 Fred. Olsen [2014] EFTA Ct. Rep. 400, para. 224.

7 Björgvinsson, D.T., ‘Fundamental Rights in EEA Law’, in EFTA Court (ed.), The EEA and the EFTA Court – Decentred Integration (Hart 2014), p. 263 at p. 278.

8 Björgvinsson, supra n. 7, p. 278.

9 TV 1000, para. 68.

10 Bellona.

11 Ásgeirsson, 185.

12 ECtHR 7 December 1976, Case No. 5493/72, Handyside v United Kingdom.

13 TV 1000, para. 26.

14 Bellona, para. 36.

15 Opinion of Advocate General Jacobs, ECJ 25 July 2002, Case C-50/00, Unión de Pequeños Agricultores v Council of the European Union, referenced in Bellona at para. 37.

16 Bellona, para. 37.

17 Bellona, para. 37.

18 Ásgeirsson, para. 23.

19 ECtHR 26 February 1998, Case No. 20323/92, Pafitis v Greece.

20 Ásgeirsson, para. 23.

21 Ásgeirsson, para. 24.

22 Fred. Olsen, para. 225.

23 Fred. Olsen, para. 225.

24 Fred. Olsen, para. 224.

25 ECtHR 29 April 2008, Case No. 13378/05, Burden v United Kingdom [GC], para. 59.

26 Fred. Olsen, para. 228.

27 Case E-15/10 Posten Norge v ESA [2012] EFTA Ct. Rep. 246, para. 86; see also para. 93 of the same judgment, where the Court uses Art. 6 § 2 of the Convention to prop up the centrality of the presumption of innocence.

28 Posten Norge, para. 102.

29 I.S. Forrester, ‘The Style of the EFTA Court’, in The EEA and the EFTA Court – Decentred Integration, supra n. 7, p. 21 at p. 38.

30 ECJ, C-389/10 P KME Germany and Commission [2011] ECR I-13125.

31 ibid, referencing para. 102 of the Posten Norge judgment.

32 ECtHR 23 July 2002, Case No. 34619/97, Janosevic v Sweden, § 81.

33 ECtHR 27 September 2011, Case No. 43509/08, A. Menarini Diagnostics S.R.L. v Italy, § 59.

34 Posten Norge, para. 100.

35 See also Eric Barbier de la Serre who suggests that it cannot be excluded that, following the Posten Norge judgment, the EU Courts will soon abandon the ‘manifest error’ standard, opining that the KME judgment may already be interpreted as a first step in this direction: E.B. de la Serre, ‘Standard of Review in Competition Law Cases: Posten Norge and Beyond’, in The EEA and the EFTA Court – Decentred Integration, supra n. 7, p. 417 at p. 425.

36 Case E-10/14 Enes Deveci [2014] EFTA Ct. Rep. 1364.

37 Enes Deveci, para. 40.

38 Enes Deveci, para. 44.

39 Enes Deveci, para. 52.

40 Enes Deveci, para. 52.

41 ECJ 18 July 2013, Case C-426/11, Mark Alemo-Herron v Parkwood Leisure Ltd.

42 Enes Deveci, para. 55.

43 Enes Deveci, para. 45.

44 Enes Deveci, para. 63.

45 Enes Deveci, para. 64.

46 Enes Deveci, para. 64.

47 C. Lebeck, ‘General Principles’, in The EEA and the EFTA Court – Decentred Integration, supra n. 7, p. 253 at p. 257. Indeed, in Carl Lebeck’s formulation, the need for legal homogeneity is ‘an effect of the aim of creating a system of uniform rules in the absence of a common institutional structure’ (as ordained by Opinion 1/91) – ibid, p. 257.

48 See, for example, de Búrca, Gráinne, ‘After the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: The Court of Justice as a Human Rights Adjudicator?’, 20(2) Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law (2013) p. 168 and O’Leary, Siofra, ‘Courts, Charters and Conventions: Making Sense of Fundamental Rights in the EU’, 56 The Irish Jurist (2016) p. 4 .

49 Art. 52 § 3 of the Charter provides: ‘In so far as this Charter contains rights which correspond to rights guaranteed by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the meaning and scope of those rights shall be the same as those laid down by the said Convention. This provision shall not prevent Union law providing more extensive protection’.

50 As set out in Art. 53 of the Convention and recognised by Art. 52 § 3 of the Charter.

51 See most recently ECtHR 23 May 2016, Case No. 17502/07, Avotiņš v Latvia.

52 Björgvinsson, supra n. 7, p. 278.

53 N. Wahl, ‘Uncharted Waters: Reflections on the Legal Significance of the Charter under EEA Law and Judicial Cross-Fertilisation in the Field of Fundamental Rights’ in The EEA and the EFTA Court – Decentred Integration, supra n. 7, p. 281 at p. 287.

54 Clauder, para. 49.

55 Clauder, para. 50.

56 Clauder, para. 50.

57 Clauder, para. 35.

58 Clauder, para. 46.

59 ECJ 16 December 2008, Case C-210/06, Cartesio.

60 Irish Bank, para. 63.

61 Irish Bank, para. 64.

62 See, in particular, ECtHR 20 September 2011, Case Nos. 3989/07 and 38353/07, Ullens de Schooten and Rezabek v Belgium; ECtHR 10 April 2012, Case No. 4832/04, Vergauwen v Belgium, paras. 89-90, ECtHR 8 April 2014, Case No. 17120/09, Dhahbi v Italy and ECtHR 21 July 2015, Case No. 38369/09, Schipani v Italy. In Ullens de Schooten, the Strasbourg Court concluded that the Convention does not guarantee any right to have a case referred by a domestic court to another national or international authority for a preliminary ruling. Nonetheless, it noted that Art. 6 § 1 of the Convention obliges domestic courts to give reasons for any decision refusing to refer a question, particularly where the applicable law permitted such a refusal only in exceptional circumstances. However, that obligation was not absolute, as was clear from the Court of Justice’s CILFIT case law. Domestic courts are not required to refer in those instances where they establish that the question ‘is irrelevant’, that ‘the Community provision in question has already been interpreted by the Court [of Justice]’ or that ‘the correct application of Community law is so obvious as to leave no scope for any reasonable doubt’. Since the Belgian courts had provided reasons for their refusal, citing the CILFIT exceptions, and having regard to the proceedings as a whole, the Court concluded that there had been no violation of the applicants’ Art. 6 § 1 fair hearing rights. Nevertheless, the Court maintained that refusal by a domestic court to grant a request for such a referral may, in certain circumstances, in particular in cases of arbitrariness, infringe the fairness of proceedings, regardless of whether the preliminary ruling is given by a domestic or a Community court. Thus the refusal must not be based on reasons other than those set out in, and must be duly reasoned in accordance with, the applicable rules. In sum, domestic courts must adequately explain any refusal to refer a preliminary question, especially where the applicable law permits refusal only in exceptional circumstances.

63 Irish Bank, para. 57.

64 Björgvinsson, supra n. 7, p. 277.

65 Irish Bank, para. 64.

66 Most recently confirmed in ECtHR 23 May 2016, Case No. 17502/07, Avotiņš v Latvia [GC], para. 110; alongside the authorities mentioned above, see also ECtHR 30 July 2015, Case No. 30123/10, Ferreira Santos Pardal v Portugal.

67 See, in contrast, Lock, T., The European Court of Justice and International Courts (Oxford University Press 2015) at p. 214 , who sees the Ullens de Schooten line of case law as demonstrative of Strasbourg’s willingness to strengthen the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

68 C. Lebeck, ‘General Principles’ in The EEA and the EFTA Court – Decentred Integration, supra n. 7, p. 253.

69 Bierbach, JB, ‘The Reality Test of Residence goes through the Looking Glass. Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Association States (EFTA Court), judgment of 26 July 2016, Case E-28/15, Yankuba Jabbi v The Norwegian Government, represented by the Immigration Appeals Board ’, 13(2) EuConst (2017) p. 383-399 .

70 ECJ 12 March 2014, Case C-456/12, O v Minister voor Immigratie, Integratie en Asiel and Minister voor Immigratie, Integratie en Asiel v B, referred to at Yankuba Jabbi, para. 65.

71 Yankuba Jabbi, para. 72.

72 Yankuba Jabbi, para. 72.

73 Case E-26/13, Gunnarsson [2014] EFTA Ct. Rep. 254.

74 Yankuba Jabbi, para. 75.

75 Yankuba Jabbi, para. 79.

76 Yankuba Jabbi, para. 82.

77 K. Fløistad, ‘Free movement of persons in the European Economic Area (EEA) – different from the EU?’, EU Law Analysis, 27 July 2016, <>, visited 17 July 2017.

78 Yankuba Jabbi, para. 60.

79 Yankuba Jabbi, para. 81.

80 Case E-14/15 Holship Norge AS v Norsk Transportarbeiderforbund [2016].

81 ECJ 11 December 2007, Case C-438/05, International Transport Workers’ Federation and Finnish Seamen’s Union v Viking Line ABP and OÜ Viking Line Eesti.

82 ECJ 18 December 2007, Case C-341/05, Laval un Partneri Ltd v Svenska Byggnadsarbetareförbundet, Svenska Byggnadsarbetareförbundets avdelning 1, Byggettan and Svenska Elektrikerförbundet.

83 The Court, however, makes textual reference solely to the findings in Viking Line, also drawing inspiration from the Opinion of Advocate General Poiares Maduro in Viking Line, see Holship Norge AS, paras. 40 and 125.

84 Holship Norge AS, para. 120, echoing the ECJ’s conclusion in Viking Line, para. 74, which relates to collective action including boycotts.

85 Holship Norge AS, para. 121.

86 Holship Norge AS, para. 123.

87 Holship Norge AS, para. 123.

88 Holship Norge AS, para. 123, citing ECtHR 11 January 2006, Case Nos. 52562/99 and 52620/99, Sørensen and Rasmussen v Denmark [GC].

89 Holship Norge AS, para. 125.

90 Holship Norge AS, para. 130. The ECJ, for its part, requires that a restriction on freedom of establishment ‘would still have to be suitable for securing the attainment of the objective pursued and must not go beyond what is necessary in order to attain it’ (Viking Line, para. 75).

91 Holship Norge AS, para. 130.

92 Kälin, W., ‘The EEA Agreement and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights’, 3(2) European Journal of International Law (1992) p. 341 .

93 ECtHR 8 April 2014, Case No. 31045/10, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers v United Kingdom. It is also noteworthy that in another case, Kudrevičius, a claim concerning the conviction of five farmers for rioting following a protest staged during a dispute with the Government over the price of agricultural produce, the Court relied on the wide discretion enjoyed by the contracting states in respect of trade union action as set out in National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. As a consequence, the Grand Chamber found that Lithuania was clearly entitled to consider that the interests of protecting public order outweighed those of the applicant farmers in resorting to roadblocks as a means to achieve a breakthrough in their negotiations with the Government, see ECtHR 15 October 2015, Case No. 37553/05, Kudrevičius v Lithuania [GC], para. 175.

94 National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, para. 104.

95 For a discussion of the effect of the core/secondary activity distinction on the margin of appreciation in this sphere, see National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, paras. 87-8.

96 Holship Norge AS, para. 123. The Norwegian Supreme Court, sitting in its Plenary formation, subsequently delivered judgment in the case on 16 December 2016, see HR-2016-2554-P (no. 2014/2089).

* Judge and President of Section II, European Court of Human Rights, elected in respect of Iceland.

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European Constitutional Law Review
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