Thursday

22nd Feb 2018

EU court reforms damaged system, judge says

  • The ECJ. Doubling the number of judges is "a great example of a purely mechanical vision of public service reform" (Photo: katarina_dzurekova)

Last year's reform of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) weakened the court's efficiency, led to "useless spending" and dealt a blow to the court's independence, a judge has said in a report.

The reform saw the doubling of the court's judges to 28, one from each member state, in a move that was disputed by MEPs and judges within the ECJ including Belgium's Franklin Dehousse.

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In a report co-written with Benedetta Marsicola, an ECJ lawyer and published by the Egmont - Royal Institute for International Relations, Dehousse said that the reform was "a great example of a purely mechanical vision of public service reform".

A judge and academic, Dehousse has been an ECJ judge since 2003. He is also a regular contributor to the Egmont think-tank, where he published a first paper on EU court reform in 2011.

While the ECJ's general court would become "the largest international court in the world", doubling the number of judges was "manifestly excessive", he said.

"In general, the benefits of such an approach are strongly overestimated, and its costs strongly underestimated," he wrote.

He said the reform would cost €22.9 million a year, an increase of 6.6 percent of the court's budget "and 0.34 percent of the entire EU budget".

Dehousse said "more important improvements could still have be obtained through new limited and targeted increases of personnel".

"The weakness of this 'reform' is that it creates too many top jobs while at the same time promising to reduce the second and third tier of personnel in the cabinets,” he wrote.

“Judges risk ending up in fact being paid highly to perform tasks that could be as easily (and less expensively) performed by less qualified personnel.

"This is hardly an efficient – or an economical – strategy."

'Relentless' micromanagement

Although the reform was pushed by former ECJ president Vassilios Skouris, judge Dehousse blames EU countries that agreed out of national interest and weakened the court's independence.

"Equality of the member states in the appointment of judges has become the keystone of the system, the independent appointment process for the nomination of judges having been abolished," Dehousse wrote.

The European Commission is also criticised for "relentlessly" trying to "micromanage some aspects of the general court’s organisation" and for rubber-stamping Skourios' proposal to double the number of judges.

"A proposal emerges out of the blue, with important constitutional and managerial impacts and vital consequences for the appointment of judges and personnel,” he noted.

“It is strongly supported by people who have no direct experience in the matter, without the benefit of any external consultation, beginning with the court in question, and without conducting any impact assessment.”

He added that "one might have thought the commission would know better in that domain".

Overall, Dehousse said the reform of the main EU court was introduced "without any substantive analysis of the long term implications for any of the four institutions involved in the legislative process".

'Exorbitant prerogative'

The judge also pointed out that the reform was done through a legislative process introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, which gives the ECJ more powers in the elaboration of its own status.

This "very exceptional" situation leads to an "accumulation of power" with no equivalent in the member states, Dehousee noted.

"Serious consideration ought to be given to the withdrawal of this exorbitant prerogative. Should it be retained, its exercise must be subject to specific constraint," he wrote.

The approach followed for the EU courts is not to be recommended for the future, Dehousse said in the conclusion of his report.

"One can only hope that, in the next decades, all of the EU institutions involved will pay more attention to the long term benefits of productivity measures (and specialised courts) – thereby fully respecting the quality of justice, recruitment of staff, productivity of judges and, finally, the not unreasonable expectation that public funds should be put to use only after the most careful consideration," he wrote.

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