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As Darkness Deepens: The Right to be Forgotten in the Context of Authoritarian Constitutionalism

  • Matthias Goldmann

Abstract

There is no point in denying the significance of the Right to be forgotten for the state of judicial dialogue in Europe. It vindicates the position of the BVerfG as a court deserving international recognition for advancing the law in the crucial field of data protection. Nevertheless, restricting the scope of analysis to the narrow context of judicial dialogue misses the wider context of the rise of authoritarian constitutionalism in certain EU Member States. In this respect, it is of the highest significance that the decisions on the Right to be forgotten effectively eliminate the imagined normative hierarchy between domestic and EU law that provided the basis for the BVerfG’s jurisprudence ever since Solange I and Maastricht. Moreover, by reasserting the primacy of EU law, the BVerfG strengthens the position of embattled judges in Poland facing disciplinary action for implementing the primacy of EU law. The concern shown by some members of the First Senate for the situation in Poland corroborates this reading.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the same Creative Commons licence is included and the original work is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use.

Footnotes

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Goethe University Frankfurt, goldmann@jur.uni-frankfurt.de; Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, goldmann@mpil.de. Thanks to Pawel Filipek for crucial information on the Polish situation.

Footnotes

References

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1 BVerfG, Nov. 6, 2019, docket number 1 BvR 16/13 – Right to be forgotten I; BVerfG, Nov. 6, 2019, docket number 1 BvR 276/17 – Right to be forgotten II.

2 E.g. Thomas Kleinlein, Neue starke Stimme in der europäischen Grundrechts-Polyphonie, VerfBlog, Dec. 1, 2019, https://doi.org/10.17176/20191201-180539-0; Matej Avbelj, The Federal Constitutional Court Rules for a Bright Future of Constitutional Pluralism, in this issue.

3 E.g. Dana Burchardt, Backlash against the Court of Justice of the EU? The Recent Jurisprudence of the German Constitutional Court on EU Fundamental Rights as a Standard of Review, in this issue.

4 On the latter: Karsten Schneider, The Constitutional Status of Karlsruhe’s Novel “Jurisdiction” in EU Fundamental Rights Matters: Self-inflicted Institutional Vulnerabilities, in this issue.

5 I define “authoritarian constitutionalism” as a description of constitutional practice in weak democracies where the constitution, instead of limiting governmental powers, is used to entrench the ruling circle’s power and ideology. See Roberto Niembro Ortega, Conceptualizing Authoritarian Constitutionalism, 49 Verfassung und Recht in Übersee / Law and Politics in Africa, Asia and Latin America 339, 341 (2016). Attributing to authoritarian constitutions mainly a signaling function: Mark Tushnet, Authoritarian Constitutionalism, 100 Cornell L.R. 391, 422 (2015).

6 BVerfG, Oct. 12, 1993, docket number 2 BvR 2134/92, 2 BvR 2159/92 – Maastricht, 89 BVerfGE 155.

7 See, e.g., BVerfG, Dec. 15, 1983, docket number 1 BvR 209, 269, 362, 420, 440, 484/83 – Volkszählung, 65 BVerfGE 1.

8 Christopher Docksey & Hielke Hijmans, The Court of Justice as a Key Player in Privacy and Data Protection, 5 European Data Protection Law Review 300 (2019).

9 Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, 1995 O.J. (L 281) 31.

10 Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation), 2016 O.J. (L 119) 1.

11 BVerfG, Feb. 27, 2008, docket number1 BvR 370/07, 120 BVerfGE 274.

12 CJEU, Case C-293/12 and 594/12, Digital Rights Ireland, Apr. 8, 2014, ECLI:EU:C:2014:238.

13 Overview in Ludovica Benedizione & Eleonora Paris, Preliminary Reference and Dialogue Between Courts as Tools for Reflection on the EU System of Multilevel Protection of Rights: The Case of the Data Retention Directive, 16 Ger. L.J. 1727, 1734 (2019).

14 BVerfG, Mar. 2, 2010, docket number 1 BvR 256/08, 125 BVerfGE 260, 308, para. 185.

15 CJEU, Case C-293/12 and 594/12, Digital Rights Ireland, Apr. 8, 2014, ECLI:EU:C:2014:238, paras. 56-64.

16 CJEU, Case C-617/10, Åkerberg Fransson, ECLI:EU:C:2013:105.

17 BVerfG, 24 Apr. 24, 2013, docket number 1 BvR 1215/07, 133 BVerfGE 277, para. 91 (making it explicit that the judgment is a reaction to Åkerberg Fransson.)

18 Id., at para. 90.

19 See, e.g., BVerfG, Aug. 27, 2019, docket number 1 BvR 811/17.

20 Indra Spiecker genannt Döhmann, A New Framework for Information Markets: Google Spain, C.M.L.Rev. 1033 (2015).

21 CJEU, Case C-131/12, Google Spain v APED, ECLI:EU:C:2014:317.

22 CJEU, Case C-362/14, Schrems, ECLI:EU:C:2015:650.

23 Federico Fabbrini & Edoardo Celeste, The Right to Be Forgotten in the Digital Age: The Challenges of Data Protection beyond Borders, in this issue. In transatlantic comparative perspective: David Cole & Federico Fabbrini, Bridging the Transatlantic Divide? The United States, the European Union, and the Protection of Privacy Across Borders, 14 Int’l J. Const. L. 220 (2016).

24 On genealogies of coding capital, see Katharina Pistor, The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality (2019). On private data as the new capital, see Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (2019).

25 Gyula Csurgai, The Increasing Importance of Geoeconomics in Power Rivalries in the Twenty-First Century, 23 Geopolitics 38 (2018).

26 E.g. BVerwG, Sep. 11, 2019, BVerwG 6 C 15.18 (on embedded facebook “like” buttons on a fan page), reacting to CJEU, Case C-40/17, Fashion ID GmbH, ECLI:EU:C:2019:629.

27 Kleinlein, supra note 2.

28 BVerfG, Nov. 6, 2019, docket number 1 BvR 276/17 – Right to be forgotten II, para. 97.

29 E.g. Karsten Schneider, The Constitutional Status of Karlsruhe’s Novel “Jurisdiction” in EU Fundamental Rights Matters: Self-inflicted Institutional Vulnerabilities, in this issue.

30 Ana Bobić, Constitutional Pluralism Is Not Dead: An Analysis of Interactions between Constitutional Courts of Member States and the European Court of Justice, 18 Ger. L.J. 1395 (2017); Matthias Goldmann, Discretion, not rules: postunitary constitutional pluralism in the Economic and Monetary Union, in Research Handbook on Legal Pluralism and EU Law 335 (Matej Avbelj & Gareth Davis eds., 2018).

31 BVerfG, Jul. 30, 2019, docket number 2 BvR 1685/14, para. 194 et seq. (where the BVerfG re-reads the L-Bank decision of the General Court, Case T-122/15, ECLI:EU:T:2017:337, arguing that the view expressed by the General Court that the SSM Regulation gives the ECB exclusive supervisory powers, which it needs to delegate back to National Competent Authorities, would be ultra vires).

32 Tomasz Tadeusz Koncewicz, The Capture of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal and Beyond: Of Institution(s), Fidelities and the Rule of Law in Flux, 43 Review of Central and East European Law 116 (2018); Bojan Bugaric, Populism, Liberal Democracy, and the Rule of Law in Central and Eastern Europe, 41 Communist and Post-Communist Studies 191, 198 (2008).

33 Kim Lane Scheppele, The Opportunism of Populists and the Defense of Constitutional Liberalism, 20 Ger. L.J. 314 (2019).

34 Basak Cali, Coping with Crisis: Whither the Variable Geometry in the Jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, 35 Wis. Int’l LJ (2017); to what extent this might result in, and be justified by, questions of constitutional identity is discussed in Principled Resistance to ECtHR Judgments-A New Paradigm? (Marten Breuer ed. 2019).

35 Russia and the European Court of Human Rights: The Strasbourg Effect (Lauri Mälksoo & Wolfgang Benedek eds. 2017); Silvia Steininger, Managing the Backlash? The PACE and the Question of Participation Rights for Russia, VerfBlog, Oct. 9, 2018, https://doi.org/10.17176/20181012-131857-0.

36 Arguing for a global tide against human rights courts sweeping over from Europe: Jorge Contesse, Resisting the Inter-American Human Rights System, 44 Yale J. Int’l L. 179 (2019).

37 For a differentiated account: Ximena Soley & Silvia Steininger, Parting ways or lashing back? Withdrawals, backlash and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, 14 International Journal of Law in Context 237 (2018).

38 Czech Constitutional Court, Jan 31, 2012, docket number Pl. ÚS 5/12 – Slovak Pensions. The case follows up on CJEU, Case C-399/09, Landtóva, ECLI:EU:C:2011:415.

39 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; Judgment of 31 January 2012, Pl. ÚS 5/12, Slovak Pensions XVII, 8 Eur. Const. L.R. 323 (2012).

40 Supreme Court of Denmark, Dec. 6, 2016, Case no. 15/2014 – Dansk Industri (DI) acting for Ajos A/S vs. The Estate left by A.

41 Mikael Rask Madsen, et al., Competing Supremacies and Clashing Institutional Rationalities: the Danish Supreme Court’s Decision in the Ajos Case and the National Limits of Judicial Cooperation, 23 Eur. L.J. 140, 148 (2017).

42 Cf. Gábor Halmai, Populism, Authoritarianism and Constitutionalism, 20 Ger. L.J. 296, 302 et seq. (2019).

43 Ágoston Mohay & Norbert Tóth, Decision 22/2016. (XII. 5.) AB on the Interpretation of Article E)(2) of the Fundamental Law, 111 American Journal of International Law 468 (2017).

44 CJEU, Case C-619/18, Commission v Poland, ECLI:EU:C:2019:531.

45 CJEU, Case C-192/18, Commission v Poland, ECLI:EU:C:2019:924.

46 CJEU, Case C-791/19, filed on Oct. 25, 2019.

47 For a full account of the alarming measures taken by the Polish government, see Council of Europe, Poland – Joint Urgent Opinion of the Venice Commission and the Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law (DGI) of the Council of Europe on Amendments to the Law on the Common Courts, the Law on the Supreme Court, and Some Other Laws, Jan. 16, 2020, CDL-PI(2020)002.

48 The Disciplinary Chamber suspends Justice Paweł Juszczyszyn from his post and reduces his renumeration, Iustitia, Feb. 6, 2020, https://www.iustitia.pl/en/disciplinary-proceedings/3680-the-disciplinary-chamber-suspends-justice-pawel-juszczyszyn-from-his-post-and-reduces-his-renumeration.

49 CJEU, Case C-192/18, Commission v Poland, ECLI:EU:C:2019:924.

50 Supra, notes 44 and 46.

51 BVerfG, 24 Apr. 24, 2013, docket number 1 BvR 1215/07, 133 BVerfGE 277.

52 Ferdinand Kirchhof, Kooperation zwischen nationalen und europäischen Gerichten, 49 EuR Europarecht 267 (2014); Paul Kirchhof, Der deutsche Staat im Prozeß der europäischen Integration, in 7 Handbuch des Staatsrechts der Bundesrepublik Deutschland § 214 no. 182 et seq. (Josef Isensee & Paul Kirchhof eds., 1992).

53 Deutscher Bundestag, Nov. 30, 2018, Plenary Protocol, 19th Bundestag, 69th Session, 8035-6.

54 Part B.

55 “Die EU ist gefordert, Druck auf Polen zu entfalten”, Interview, Deutschlandfunk, Jan. 12, 2020, https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/bverfg-vizepraesident-harbarth-die-eu-ist-gefordert-druck.868.de.html?dram:article_id=467427.

56 Wolfgang Janisch, “Ich werde die erste Präsidentin im Exil sein”, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Jul. 21, 2018, https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/praesidentin-des-obersten-gerichts-in-polen-ich-werde-die-erste-praesidentin-im-exil-sein-1.4064388.

57 E.g. Dietrich Schröder, Wenn der Rechtsstaat ausgehöhlt wird, MOZ.de, Dec. 13, 2018, https://www.moz.de/nachrichten/brandenburg/artikel-ansicht/dg/0/1/1697643/.

58 Andreas Grimmel, Judicial Interpretation or Judicial Activism? The Legacy of Rationalism in the Studies of the European Court of Justice, 18 Eur. L.J. 518, 525 et seq. (2012).

59 See Oliver Lepsius, Die maßstabsetzende Gewalt, in Das entgrenzte Gericht. Eine kritische Bilanz nach sechzig Jahren Bundesverfassungsgericht 159, 214 et seq. (Matthias Jestaedt, et al. eds., 2011) (tracing back this consistency to the BVerfG’s idiosyncratic tradition of abstract reasoning, which makes distinguishing difficult without running into contradictions).

60 BVerfG, Nov. 6, 2019, docket number 1 BvR 276/17 – Right to be forgotten II, para. 50, 110.

61 BVerfG, Oct. 14, 2004, docket number 2 BvR 1481/04, 111 BVerfGE 307.

62 See Karsten Schneider, Der Ultra-vires-Maßstab im Außenverfassungsrecht Skizze sicherer Vollzugszeitumgebungen für zwischenstaatliche und supranationale Integrationsprozesse, 139 Archiv des öffentlichen Rechts 196, 248 (2014).

63 CJEU, C-216/18 PPU, LM, ECLI:EU:C:2018:586, para. 69 et seq.

64 BVerfG, Nov. 6, 2019, docket number 1 BvR 16/13 – Right to be forgotten I, para. 49.

65 BVerfG, Nov. 6, 2019, docket number 1 BvR 276/17 – Right to be forgotten II, para. 47-49.

66 See also Matej Avbelj, The Federal Constitutional Court Rules for a Bright Future of Constitutional Pluralism, in this issue.

67 BVerfG, Dec. 15, 2015, docket number 2 BvR 2735/14, 140 BVerfGE 317 – European Arrest Warrant.

68 Cf. BVerfG, Nov. 6, 2019, docket number 1 BvR 16/13 – Right to be forgotten I, para. 67. In this respect, the Right to be forgotten differs from the Austrian Constitutional Court, Mar. 14, 2012, docket number U 466/11-18, U 1836/11-13, whose elevation of the Charter to a standard of review was premised on the similarity of Charter guarantees and the fundamental rights enshrined in the Austrian constitution. See Andreas Orator, The Decision of the Austrian Verfassungsgerichtshof on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights: An Instrument of Leverage or Rearguard Action?, 16 Ger. L.J. 1429, 1434-5 (2015). On persisting differences between BVerfG and CJEU regarding proportionality control, see Klaus Ferdinand Gärditz, Grundrechts-Mobile statt starrer Kompetenzschichten: Die Beschlüsse des BVerfG in „Recht auf Vergessenwerden I & II“, VerfBlog, Jan. 19, 2020, https://verfassungsblog.de/grundrechts-mobile-statt-starrer-kompetenzschichten/.

69 See Armin von Bogdandy, et al., Reverse Solange-Protecting the Essence of Fundamental Rights against EU Member States, 49 Common Market L. Rev. 489 (2012). For a recent update reflecting the CJEU’s reliance on Art. 2 TEU instead of union citizenship, see Armin von Bogdandy & Luke Dimitrios Spieker, Countering the Judicial Silencing of Critics: Article 2 TEU Values, Reverse Solange, and the Responsibilities of National Judges, 15 Eur. Const. L. Rev. 426 (2019).

70 Jürgen Bast, Don’t Act Beyond Your Powers: The Perils and Pitfalls of the German Constitutional Court’s Ultra Vires Review, 15 Ger. L.J. 167, 175 (2014).

71 Franz C Mayer, Rebels Without a Cause? A Critical Analysis of the German Constitutional Court’s OMT Reference, 15 Ger. L.J. 111, 137 (2014).

72 Supra note 31.

73 On the populist potential of constitutional identity, see Andrea Pin, The Transnational Drivers of Populist Backlash in Europe: The Role of Courts, 20 Ger. L.J. 225, 233 (2019). On the static vs. dynamic character of constitutional identity, see Jürgen Bast & Liav Orgad, Constitutional Identity in the Age of Global Migration, 18 Ger. L.J. 1587, 1591 (2017); Christian Walter & Markus Vordermayer, Verfassungsidentität als Instrument richterlicher Selbstbeschränkung in transnationalen Integrationsprozessen, 63 Jahrbuch des öffentlichen Rechts 129 (2015).

74 Speech by MP Kornel Morawiecki, Stenographic Report of the 2nd Session of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland, Nov 25, 2015, 78 (own translation).

* Goethe University Frankfurt, ; Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, . Thanks to Pawel Filipek for crucial information on the Polish situation.

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As Darkness Deepens: The Right to be Forgotten in the Context of Authoritarian Constitutionalism

  • Matthias Goldmann

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