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17th Feb 2019

MEPs to grill EU judges on court reform

An unusual hearing will take place in Strasbourg on Tuesday (28 April) afternoon when European Court of Justice (ECJ) judges answer MEPs' questions about the internal operations of the Court.

The ECJ president Vassilios Skouris, as well as the president of the general Court Marc Jaeger and several other judges, will be questioned by members of the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee about the Court’s plan to double the number of its judges at a cost of €23 million each year.

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The hearing, organised by Portuguese Liberal MEP Antonio Marinho e Pinto, will be a closed-door meeting and not an official hearing.

But it could trigger a parliament move to counter the controversial EU court reform.

According to the planned change, the ECJ’s Civil Service court, one of its three chambers, would be abolished and the General Court would move from 28 judges to 56 - two for each EU member state.

The reform, initiated by Skouris and endorsed by member states, is opposed by Court judges themselves.

They are calling for a smaller increase in the number of judges, from 28 to 40, and an increase in the number of legal assistants.

This lighter reform would cost less and would respond better to the increase in the number of cases treated by the Court, they say.

The opposition is led by Marc Jaeger, the president of the General Court.

Jaeger wrote to Italy’s ambassador to the EU last year, when Italy held the EU rotating presidency, saying the reform is "inappropriate".

"There are more appropriate, more effective and less onerous means by which to strengthen the General Court and to achieve better and even faster outcome for litigants," he said in the letter, leaked to the Liberation and the Financial Times newspapers.

Jaeger’s initiative prompted a strong reaction from the ECJ president.

In a letter also leaked to the Financial Times, Skouris accused Jaeger of "lack[ing] respect for institutional rules" and "seriously damag[ing] the Court’s position in future budgetary negotiations".

"The Court must no longer consider itself bound by the commitment … that the chambers of the court [to be created in 2019] would obtain posts for referendaires and assistants," he added.

Both Skouris and Jaeger will be heard by the EP committee, which itself also opposes the change.

Skouris first opposed the hearing by Marinho e Pinto on grounds the parliament has no power to choose which judges are to attend its hearings.

But he later accepted to go to Strasbourg.

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