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Prêt-à-ratifier: The CETA Decision of the French Conseil constitutionnel of 31 July 2017

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Assistant Professor at Leiden University; Senior Researcher at The Hague Institute for Global Justice; and Associate Fellow at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies. This case note was written while the author was a visiting research fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C., funded by a Fulbright-Schuman Scholar Grant.

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1 European Commission, Joint statement: Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), STATEMENT/16/446, Brussels, 29 February 2016. For an opposing view from an environmental non-governmental organisation, see Client Earth and Transport & Environment, Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the environment: A gold standard for the planet or for big business? (November 2016), available at <www.transportenvironment.org/sites/te/files/publications/2016_11_CETA_Gold_Standard_FINAL.pdf> visited 12 October 2017.

2 To avoid confusion, throughout this case note, the terms Conseil constitutionnel and Conseil will be used to refer to the French Constitutional Council, whereas Council will refer to the Council of the European Union.

3 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, Décision n° 2017-749 DC, Accord économique et commercial global entre le Canada, d’une part, et l’Union européenne et ses États membres, d’autre part, ECLI:FR:CC:2017:2017.749.DC. Translations of parts of the decision used in this case note were prepared by the author. An English translation was not provided on the website of the Conseil constitutionnel at the time of writing.

4 Bundesverfassungsgericht 13 October 2016, Urteil des Zweiten Senats, 2 BvR 1368/16, ECLI:DE:BVerfG:2016:rs20161013.2bvr136816. See, for commentary, Hoffmann R.T., ‘Das CETA-Urteil des Bundesverfassungsgerichts – Nach der Unterzeichnung ist vor der Ratifikation’, 19 Zeitschrift für Europarechtliche Studien (ZEuS) (2016) p. 459 . A decision on the merits is yet to follow at the time this case note was written.

5 ECJ 16 May 2017, Opinion 2/15, ECLI:EU:C:2017:376, EU-Singapore FTA.

6 The procedure used here is established in Art. 218(11) TFEU. See Kingdom of Belgium, Minister Reynders submits request for opinion on CETA, 6 September 2017, available at <https://diplomatie.belgium.be/en/newsroom/news/2017/minister_reynders_submits_request_opinion_ceta> visited 12 October 2017.

7 ‘Ceta: 106 députés saisissent le Conseil constitutionnel’, Le Figaro, 21 February 2017, <www.lefigaro.fr/flash-eco/2017/02/21/97002-20170221FILWWW00324-ceta-106-deputes-saisissent-le-conseil-constitutionnel.php> visited 12 October 2017.

8 The possibility for a group of 60 members of parliament to request an Art. 54 review was only added by virtue of a constitutional amendment in 1992: Jacqué J.-P., Droit constitutionnel et institutions politiques (11th edn, Dalloz 2016) p. 243 .

9 European Commission, supra n. 1.

10 European Commission, European Commission proposes signature and conclusion of EU-Canada trade deal, Press Release, 5 July 2016, <europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-2371_en.htm> visited 12 October 2017.

11 See ‘David vs Goliath? Small Belgium region leaves EU-Canada trade deal in crisis’, France24, 22 October 2016, <www.france24.com/en/20161021-eu-canada-trade-deal-ceta-collapses-belgian-region-wallonia-refuses-sign> visited 12 October 2017.

12 Joint Interpretative Instrument on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union and its Member States, Brussels, 27 October 2016, 13541/16.

13 Council Decision (EU) 2017/37 of 28 October 2016 on the signing on behalf of the European Union of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada, of the one part, and the European Union and its Member States, of the other part [2017] OJ L 11/1.

14 European Parliament legislative resolution of 15 February 2017 on the draft Council decision on the conclusion of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada, of the one part, and the European Union and its Member States, of the other part (10975/2016 – C8-0438/2016 – 2016/0205(NLE)).

15 Council Decision (EU) 2017/38 of 28 October 2016 on the provisional application of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada, of the one part, and the European Union and its Member States, of the other part [2017] OJ L 11/1080. The exact date was determined later on and jointly proclaimed by Commission President Juncker and Prime Minister Trudeau, see European Commission, EU and Canada agree to set a date for the provisional application of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, STATEMENT/17/1959, Brussels, 8 July 2017.

16 Council Decision (EU) 2017/38, supra n. 15, Art. 1(a), which lists those parts of the investment chapter that will be provisionally applied. It does not include Arts. 8.18–8.45 of CETA, which make up Section F on the “Resolution of investment disputes between investors and states”.

17 Charte de l’environnement, Art. 5.

18 See for the full request by the members of parliament Conseil constitutionnel, Saisine par 60 députés - 2017-749 DC, Paris 22 February 2017, <www.conseil-constitutionnel.fr/conseil-constitutionnel/francais/les-decisions/acces-par-date/decisions-depuis-1959/2017/2017-749-dc/saisine-par-60-deputes.149545.html> visited 12 October 2017.

19 Claes M., The National Courts’ Mandate in the European Constitution (Hart 2006) p. 469-470 .

20 As cited in S. Amaro, ‘EU trade policy remains at risk despite Belgium support for EU-Canada deal’, CNBC, 27 October 2016, <www.cnbc.com/2016/10/27/eu-trade-policy-remains-at-risk-despite-belgium-support-for-eu-canada-deal.html> visited 12 October 2017.

21 See Rousseau D., Droit du contentieux constitutionnel (8th edn, Montchrestien 2008) p. 101-112 ; and Jacqué, supra n. 8, p. 165-167.

22 The preamble of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic references the 1789 Declaration, the preamble of the Constitution of the Fourth Republic and the 2004 Environmental Charter.

23 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 9 (in the original: ‘l’existence d’un ordre juridique de l’Union européenne intégré à l’ordre juridique interne et distinct de l’ordre juridique international’).

24 Ibid., para. 13.

25 Ibid., para. 14 (in the original: ‘de veiller à ce qu’elles ne mettent pas en cause une règle ou un principe inhérent à l’identité constitutionnelle de la France’).

26 Ibid., para. 14.

27 EU-Singapore FTA, supra n. 5.

28 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 17.

29 Ibid., para. 30.

30 Ibid., para. 22.

31 Art. 8.39 CETA.

32 Art. 8.34 CETA.

33 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 23 (in the original: ‘aucun pouvoir d’interprétation ou d’annulation des décisions prises par des organes de l’Union européenne ou de ses États membres’).

34 Ibid., para. 25.

35 Ibid., para. 26.

36 Ibid., para. 27.

37 Ibid., paras. 44-52.

38 Ibid., para. 32.

39 Ibid., para. 33.

40 This principle is enshrined in Art. 6 of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

41 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 35.

42 Joint Interpretative Instrument, supra n. 12, para. 6 a); Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 36.

43 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, paras. 37–38.

44 Ibid., 38.

45 Ibid., para. 41, referring to paras. 56-59 of the decision.

46 French Constitution, Art. 55.

47 Joint Interpretative Instrument, supra n. 12, para. 2.

48 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 46.

49 Ibid., para. 46, referring to Art. 8.4, para. 2 CETA.

50 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 47, referring to Art. 21.2, para. 6 CETA, and reiterated in the Joint Interpretative Statement, para. 3.

51 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 50, referring to Art. 26.3, para. 3 CETA.

52 Art. 218, para. 9 TFEU.

53 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 50. The Declaration of the Council and the Member States is included in Council of the European Union, Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada, of the one part, and the European Union and its Member States, of the other part – Statements to the Council minutes, Brussels, 27 October 2016, 13463/1/16 REV 1, No. 19, p. 14.

54 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 52.

55 Ibid., para. 56-57.

56 Ibid., para. 57.

57 Ibid., para. 58, referring to Art. 24.8 CETA.

58 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, referring to the Joint Interpretative Statement, para. 9.

59 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 64; referring to Council Decision (EU) 2017/38, supra n. 15.

60 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 65, referring to Council of the European Union, supra n. 53, No. 20, p. 14.

61 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 68 (in the original: ‘lierait irrévocablement la France’).

62 Ibid., para. 70, referring to Art. 30.9 CETA.

63 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 70.

64 Ibid., para. 73.

65 Ibid., para. 75 (in the original: ‘ne comporte pas de clause contraire à la Constitution’).

66 Bundesverfassungsgericht 13 October 2016, supra n. 4, in which, among other things, the German Federal Constitutional Court did not rule out the possibility that CETA may be at odds with German constitutional identity (paras. 50 and 59) and demanded that the Federal Government clarify and assert its interpretation of Germany’s power to halt CETA’s provisional application (para. 72).

67 This political sensitivity appears even more pronounced in a priori review of treaties as compared to the review of legislation. For instance, former President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing refrains from taking part in priority preliminary rulings on the issue of constitutionality (questions prioritaires de constitutionnalité), but does sit on the bench when it concerns international agreements, such as CETA. Jacqué, supra n. 8, p. 240. See also Tushnet M., Advanced Introduction to Comparative Constitutional Law (Edward Elgar 2014) p. 50 ; and Fabbrini F., ‘Kelsen in Paris: France’s constitutional reform and the introduction of a posteriori constitutional review of legislation’, 9 German Law Journal (2008) p. 1297 .

68 Conseil constitutionnel 9 April 1992, Décision n° 92-308 DC, Traité sur l’Union européenne, ECLI:FR:CC:1992:92.308.DC. See also Claes, supra n. 19, p. 469.

69 Conseil constitutionnel 22 January 1999, Décision n° 98-408 DC, Traité portant statut de la Cour pénale internationale, ECLI:FR:CC:1999:98.408.DC, and Conseil constitutionnel 20 December 2007, Décision n° 2007-560 DC, Traité de Lisbonne modifiant le traité sur l’Union européenne et le traité instituant la Communauté européenne, ECLI:FR:CC:2007:2007.560.DC.

70 See, on the one hand, the Namur Declaration, 5 December 2016, <declarationdenamur.eu/en/index.php/namur-declaration/> visited 12 October 2017, which calls for more (but also more efficient) involvement of national and regional parliaments in the process, and on the other hand, the Trading Together Declaration, 25 January 2017, <https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/035467_d81f8a7835434c438cff38b5f20dd036.pdf> visited 12 October 2017, which highlights the existing democratic checks at the European level and calls for streamlining the process (e.g. by avoiding ‘mixity’ when possible).

71 Council of the European Union, supra n. 53, No. 20, p. 14.

72 Bundesverfassungsgericht 13 October 2016, supra n. 4, para. 72. However, the German government seems to equivocate as regards such a right for unilateral termination of provisional application in the declaration to the Council minutes it added together with Austria, see Council of the European Union, supra n. 53, No. 21, p. 14, where it both asserts ‘rights which derive from Article 30.7(3)(c) of CETA’ while also stressing that the ‘necessary steps will be taken in accordance with EU procedures’. France did not attach any declaration in its own name. According to Van der Loo and Wessel, due to the fact that provisional application of a mixed agreement only covers matters of EU exclusive competence, ‘only the Union (and not one or more Member States) can terminate the provisional application of the agreement’: Van der Loo G. and Wessel R., ‘The non-ratification of mixed agreements: Legal consequences and solutions’, 54 Common Market Law Review (2017) p. 735 at p. 761.

73 Conseil constitutionnel 31 July 2017, supra n. 3, para. 70 (in the original: ‘un domaine inhérent à la souveraineté nationale’).

74 M. Troper, ‘L’Europe politique et la souverainté des États’, in Goyard-Fabre S. (ed.), L’État au XXe siècle: Regards sur la pensée juridique et politique du monde occidental (Vrin 2004) p. 181 at p. 188-189.

75 Conseil constitutionnel 15 January 1975, Décision n° 74-54 DC, Loi relative à l’interruption volontaire de la grossesse, ECLI:FR:CC:1975:74.54.DC.

76 Conseil constitutionnel 10 June 2004, Décision n° 2004-496 DC, Loi pour la confiance dans l’économie numérique, ECLI:FR:CC:2004:2004.496.DC, para. 7, which references Art. 88-1 of the French constitution. See further A. Levade, ‘La construction européenne et son incidence sur les compétences étatiques et la hiérarchie des normes’, n° 102 Revue française de droit constitutionnel (2015/2) p. 287 at p. 289-290.

77 Since the Conseil constitutionnel is a court of last instance, one could even go so far as to speak of an obligation to request such an opinion under Art. 267, para. 3 TFEU, though in practice a court of last instance rarely heeds this obligation. Moreover, a problematic factor may have been the fact that CETA has not yet entered into force. Nonetheless, it could have raised questions of EU law in more general terms.

78 EU-Singapore FTA, supra n. 5, para. 305.

79 See, e.g., ECJ 15 November 1994, ECLI:EU:C:1994:384, Opinion 1/94 (WTO), para. 108; and further C. Hillion, ‘Mixity and coherence in EU External Relations: The significance of the “duty of cooperation”’, in Hillion C. and Koutrakos P. (eds.), Mixed Agreements Revisited: The EU and its Member States in the World (Hart Publishing 2010) p. 87 .

80 ECJ 19 March 2002, ECLI:EU:C:2002:184, Commission v Ireland (Berne Convention).

81 See, seminally, F.-X. Millet, L’Union européenne et l’identité constitutionnelle des États membres (L.G.D.J. 2013); Kloots E., National Identity in EU Law (Oxford University Press 2015); and von Bogdandy A. and Schill S., ‘Overcoming Absolute Primacy: Respect for national identity under the Lisbon Treaty’, 48 Common Market Law Review (2011) p. 1417 .

82 See, from the more recent case law, Conseil constitutionnel 3 February 2016, Décision n° 2015-520 QPC, Société Metro Holding France SA venant aux droits de la société CRFP Cash, ECLI:FR:CC:2016:2015.520.QPC.

* Assistant Professor at Leiden University; Senior Researcher at The Hague Institute for Global Justice; and Associate Fellow at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies. This case note was written while the author was a visiting research fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C., funded by a Fulbright-Schuman Scholar Grant.

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