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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

  • Dana Burchardt

Abstract

This article discusses two landmark judgements by the German Federal Constitutional Court (CC) on the relationship between domestic and EU fundamental rights protection (Right to be forgotten I and II). In these judgements, for the first time, the CC uses EU fundamental rights as a standard of review. In addition, the CC establishes a novel framework of “parallel applicability” of EU and domestic fundamental rights for subject matters that are not fully harmonized by EU law. The article first presents the new approach, showing that it structurally changes the parameters of the relationship between the CC and the CJEU. Second, the article assesses the legal-political tendency reflected in this change: is this constructive dialogue or rather pushback against the CJEU? The article argues that this new jurisprudence should be characterized as an instance of resistance. The CC resists against the CJEU in its function as fundamental rights court, attempting to reduce the authority of the CJEU and reversing a development that it considered to be unfavourable to its own authority. This is structural pushback aimed at the CJEU’s function rather than at individual decisions or norms - however, without rejection the CJEU as an institution altogether.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Footnotes

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*

Dr. iur., postdoctoral researcher at Humboldt University Berlin.

Footnotes

References

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1 Walther Michl, In Vielfalt geeinte Grundrechte, Verfassungsblog (Nov 27, 2019), https://verfassungsblog.de/in-vielfalt-geeinte-grundrechte/.

2 Id.

3 Thomas Kleinlein, Neue starke Stimme in der europäischen Grundrechts-Polyphonie, Verfassungsblog, (Dec 1, 2019), https://verfassungsblog.de/neue-starkestimme-in-der-europaeischen-grundrechts-polyphonie/.

4 Davide Paris, Constitutional Courts as European Union courts. The current and potential use of EU law as a yardstick for constitutional review, 24 Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law 792-821 (2017); referring to a letter of the then-President of the CJEU to the President of the Austrian Constitutional Court as well as to a presentation by the then EU commissioner Viviane Reding, who both welcomed the Austrian CC’s application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in its decision of 14 March 2012, docket number U 466/11‐18, U 1836/11‐13: Theo Öhlinger, Vorlagepflicht bei Verstoß eines nationalen Gesetzes gegen Artikel 47 GRCh - Anmerkungen, 25 Europäische Zeitschrift für Wirtschaftsrecht 955 (2014).

5 E.g. Mikael Rask Madsen, Pola Cebulak & Micha Wiebusch, Backlash against International Courts: Explaining the Forms and Patterns of Resistance to International Courts, 14 International Journal of Law in Context 197–220 (2018); Karen J. Alter, James T. Gathii & Laurence R. Helfer, Backlash against International Courts in West, East and Southern Africa: Causes and Consequences, 27 Eur. J. Int’l Law 293-328 (2016); 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); Andreas Hofmann, Resistance against the Court of Justice of the European Union, 14 International Journal of Law in Context 258 (2018); Tom Gerald Daly & Micha Wiebusch, The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights: Mapping Resistance against a Young Court, 14 International Journal of Law in Context 294 (2018); Mikael Rask Madsen, The Challenging Authority of the European Court of Human Rights: from Cold War Legal Diplomacy to the Brighton Declaration and Backlash, 79 L. & Cont. Probl. 141 (2016); Henry Lovat, International Criminal Tribunal Backlash, forthcoming in Oxford Handbook of International Criminal Law (Kevin John Heller et al. eds., 2020); Joseph Powderly, International Criminal Justice in an Age of Perpetual Crisis, 32 Leiden J. Int’l Law 1 (2019); on investment arbitration: David Caron & Esme Shirlow, Dissecting Backlash: The Unarticulated Causes of Backlash and Its Unintended Consequences, in The Judicialization of International Law: A Mixed Blessing? 159 (Andreas Follesdal & Geir Ulfstein eds., 2018).

6 Article 93 (1) of the Basic Law.

7 BVerfG, March 28, 2006, docket number 1 BvR 1054/01, para. 77. This decision has been rendered by the Second Senate of the CC, while the decision Right to be forgotten II is a decision of the First Senate. To avoid the perception of a conflict between the two senates (which also would have had procedural implications), the First Senate has gone to great length arguing that both approaches are in fact compatible (paras 87-93). The First Senate said: “The treatment of corresponding constitutional complaints as inadmissible [by the Second Senate] was not based on an independent statement by this case law that fundamental Union rights were not applicable, but was merely a reflection of the inapplicability of the Basic Law” (para. 89). It remains to be seen how the Second Senate will respond to this argumentation.

8 BVerfG, Nov. 6, 2019, Right to be forgotten II, docket number 1 BvR 276/17, para. 53, 67.

9 Austrian Constitutional Court, Mar. 14, 2012, docket number U 466/11‐18, U 1836/11‐13; Conseil constitutionnel, Jul. 26, 2018, decision No. 2018-768DC; Corte Costituzionale, Jan. 23, 2019, docket number 20/2019. See also Conseil d’Etat [Belgium], Mar. 15, 2018, docket number 29/2018.

10 Austrian Constitutional Court, Mar. 14, 2012, docket number U 466/11‐18, U 1836/11‐13.

11 On the subsequent use of this jurisprudence, see Stefan Kieber & Reinhard Klaushofer, The Austrian Constitutional Court Post Case-Law After the Landmark Decision on Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, 23 (2) European Public Law 221 (2017).

12 CJEU, Case C-326/96, Levez v. Jennings Ltd, E.C.R. 1998 I-7835, para. 18.

13 The CJEU has given its appreciation of this argument in its decision of Sep. 11, 2014, Case C-112/13, A v B and others. The CJEU stressed that, in the context of the concrete review of legislation, a system in which general courts refer to the CC by way of interlocutory proceedings is only permissible under EU law when several strict conditions are fulfilled. The argumentation is based on the principle of primacy of EU law and the relevant Simmenthal jurisprudence of the court. However, in the context of constitutional complains such as in the present decisions of the CC, this restriction does not apply. See on the EU law limits on the application of EU law as yardstick for CCs in the different contexts, Paris, supra note 4, 811-814.

14 Austrian Constitutional Court, Mar. 14, 2012, docket number U 466/11‐18, U 1836/11‐13, para. 35.

15 Italian Constitutional Court, Jan. 23, 2019, docket number 20/2019, based on the argumentation in the decision Nov. 6, 2017, docket number 269/2017. On this new approach by the Italian CC, see Daniele Gallo, Challenging EU Constitutional Law: The Italian Constitutional Court’s New Stance on Direct Effect and the Preliminary Reference Procedure, 25 Eur. J. Int’l Law 434 (2019).

16 E.g. BVerfG, Jun. 21, 2016, OMT, docket number 2 BvR 2728/13; Dec. 15, 2015, Solange III/European Arrest Warrant II, docket number 2 BvR 2735/14.

17 E.g. BVerfG, Jun. 21, 2016, OMT, docket number 2 BvR 2728/13, para. 115.

18 BVerfG, Oct. 22, 1986, Solange II, docket number 2 BvR 197/83, para. 132.

19 This approach has been prominent in the decision BVerfG, April 24, 2013, Antiterrorism Legislation, docket number 1 BvR 1215/07 (see the discussion of this decision in part C of this paper).

20 CJEU, Case C-617/10, Åkerberg Fransson, ECLI:EU:C:2013:105, para. 29.

21 BVerfG, Nov. 6, 2019, Right to be forgotten I, docket number 1 BvR 16/13, para. 50.

22 CJEU, Case C-617/10, Åkerberg Fransson, ECLI:EU:C:2013:105, para. 29.

23 BVerfG, Nov. 6, 2019, Right to be forgotten I, docket number 1 BvR 16/13, para. 55.

24 BVerfG, Oct. 22, 1986, Solange II, docket number 2 BvR 197/83, para. 107.

25 BVerfG, Nov. 6, 2019, Right to be forgotten I, docket number 1 BvR 16/13, para. 63, 72.

26 Id. at paras. 63, 65, 67, 68, 72 (orig.: “ausnahmsweise”).

27 Id. at para. 68.

28 Id. at para. 69.

29 Hofmann, supra note 5.

30 Madsen, Cebulak & Wiebusch, supra note 5, at 200. See also Lovat, supra note 5.

31 Madsen, Cebulak & Wiebusch, supra note 5, at 203.

32 For a definition of backlash that relates to the “methods rather than the aims of the actors, see Lovat, supra note 5.

33 Wayne Sandholtz, Yining Bei & Kayla Caldwell, Backlash and International Human Rights Courts, in Contracting Human Rights 159-173, 160 (Alison Brysk & Michael Stohl eds., 2018).

34 More generally, backlash in various contexts is characterized by “actions taken in opposition to the system itself”, Caron and Shirlow, supra note 5, at 160.

35 Soley & Steininger, supra note 5, at 241 using a different terminology than Madsen, Cebulak & Wiebusch, supra note 5.

36 Id. Different understandings of the term resistance is adopted by other authors, e.g. Sandholtz, Bei & Caldwell, supra note 33, at 160; Madsen, Cebulak & Wiebusch, supra note 5.

37 CJEU, Case C-399/11, Melloni, ECLI:EU:C:2013:107.

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

39 Id. at para. 29.

40 Id. at para. 21.

41 CJEU, Case C-399/11, Melloni, ECLI:EU:C:2013:107.

42 CJEU, Case C-617/10, Åkerberg Fransson, ECLI:EU:C:2013:105, at para. 29.

43 Id.

44 BVerfG, 24 Apr. 24, 2013, Antiterrorism Legislation, docket number 1 BvR 1215/07.

45 Id. at para. 91.

46 For the more restrictive formulation in the subsequent jurisprudence see e.g. Case C-206/13, Siragusa, EU: C:2014:126, paras. 24-25:

“[Article 51 of the Charter] requires a certain degree of connection above and beyond the matters covered being closely related or one of those matters having an indirect impact on the other (…). In order to determine whether national legislation involves the implementation of EU law for the purposes of Article 51 of the Charter, some of the points to be determined are whether that legislation is intended to implement a provision of EU law; the nature of that legislation and whether it pursues objectives other than those covered by EU law, even if it is capable of indirectly affecting EU law; and also whether there are specific rules of EU law on the matter or capable of affecting it (…).”

47 On this impact of primacy and direct effect on the relationship between constitutional courts and general domestic courts, see e.g. Darinka Piqani, The Simmenthal Revolution Revisited: What Role for Constitutional Courts?, in National Courts And EU Law. New Issues, Theories And Methods 26-48 (Bruno de Witte et al. eds., 2016); Michal Bobek, The Impact of the European Mandate of Ordinary Courts on the Position of Constitutional Courts, in Constitutional Conversations in Europe. Actors; Topics and Procedures 287-308 (Monica Claes et al. eds., 2012).

48 Bobek, supra note 47.

49 Piqani, supra note 47.

50 On the general empowerment of domestic courts, inter alia by the preliminary reference procedure, see e.g. Karen Alter, The European Court’s Political Power, 19 West European Politics 458 (1996).

51 See the reaction of the Austrian Supreme Court, decision of Dec. 17, 2012, 9 Ob 15/12i.

52 BVerfG, Dec. 15, 2015, Solange III/European Arrest Warrant, docket number 2 BvR 2735/14.

53 On the various points of critique that this jurisprudence triggers, see Dana Burchardt, Die Ausübung der Identitätskontrolle durch das Bundesverfassungsgericht, 76 ZaöRV 527-551 (2016).

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

55 Id.

56 Id. at paras. 60-66.

57 E.g. Finland: Chapter 10 Section 106 of the Constitution; Sweden: Instrument of Government Chapter 11, Article 14.

58 CJEU, Case 106/77, Amministrazione delle Finanze dello Stato v Simmenthal, [1978] ECR 629, para. 21.

59 Such a requirement also does not follow from the principle of equivalence. See on this discussion, Paris, supra note 4, 812.

60 Stressing the political nature of this issue, Marten Breuer, Wider das Recht auf Vergessen … des Bundesverfassungsgerichts!, Verfassungsblog 2019/12/02, https://verfassungsblog.de/wider-das-rechtauf-vergessen-des-bundesverfassungsgerichts/.

61 Kleinlein, supra note 3. See also the reaction of the president of the CJEU Koen Lenaerts as quoted here: https://twitter.com/KlausHempel2/status/1200071216654159874.

62 BVerfG, Nov. 6, 2019, Right to be forgotten II, docket number 1 BvR 276/17, para. 70.

63 BVerfG, Dec. 15, 2015, Solange III/European Arrest Warrant II, docket number 2 BvR 2735/14.

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

65 On the notion of contestation as used here, see Soley & Steininger, supra note 5, 240.

66 BVerfG, Nov. 6, 2019, Right to be forgotten I, docket number 1 BvR 16/13, para. 73.

67 Id.

68 On usage potential of international court as one of the various factors for the effectiveness of international courts, see Yuval Shany, Assessing the Effectiveness of International Courts 58 (2014). On a broad range of engaged actors as bases for the authority of international courts, see Karen Alter, Laurence Helfer & Mikael Madsen, International Court Authority Chapter 2 (2018).

69 Eg. BVerfG, Jan. 14, 2014, docket number 2 BvR 2728/13, paras. 55-100; BVerfG, Jul. 18, 2017, docket number 2 BvR 859/15. On such “preemptive opinions” about the interpretation of EU law by domestic courts, see Stacy Nyikos, Strategic interaction among courts within the preliminary reference process – stage 1: national court preemptive opinions, 45 Eur. J. Pol. Res. 527 (2016).

70 Soley & Steininger, supra note 5, 241.

71 Danish Supreme Court, Dec. 6, 2016, Case 15/2014.

72 CJEU, C-42/17, Taricco II, ECLI:EU:C:2017:936; and CJEU, C-105/14, Taricco I, ECLI:EU:C:2015:555; Italian CC, order 24/2017 and decision 115/2018.

73 Lovat, supra note 5.

* Dr. iur., postdoctoral researcher at Humboldt University Berlin.

Keywords

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

  • Dana Burchardt

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