Monday

20th Nov 2017

British firms will 'beg' for EU court

  • The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg (Photo: katarina_dzurekova)

Britain's conservative government led by Theresa May insists on wriggling itself free of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg.

The move is part of a broader effort by the UK to leave the European Union. It is also among the more thornier issues in what May claims is a question of British sovereignty.

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On Thursday (29 June), the European Commission published its position paper on the matter, noting that the UK's withdrawal from the Union does not deprive the Court of Justice of its competence to adjudicate in proceedings over citizens’ rights after Brexit.

Speaking to reporters earlier this week in Luxembourg, the Court's president Koen Lenaerts, said that, unlike other EU member states such as Germany and even the US, British courts cannot overturn decisions by its own lawmakers.

"An act of parliament of Westminster cannot be quashed by a British court," he said

In contrast, courts in the US and in Europe can overturn acts. Such power has been in place in the US for some 220 years. The EU has a similar system as does Germany's Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe.

Lenaerts said Britain's critical view of the ECJ "is only fed by its own insular perception of the local legal system."

That perception has, in part, turned the debate against the ECJ into a threat against British sovereignty.

May has made the issue a red line in the Brexit negotiations.

But Lenaerts defended the Luxembourg-based court, noting that it ensures the equality of member states in EU law.

UK and EU trade relations

He also said any UK post-Brexit deal would not escape the ECJ's reach and that British companies would be keen for its counsel.

"After Brexit, there will be British firms begging our courts to get locus standi," he said, referring to the right to bring a case before the court.

He noted any British company or subsidiary that sets up camp in the EU's internal market would want the court to enforce its rights.

Special bilateral agreements between the EU and non-EU states that are in the internal market - such as Switzerland - also fall under the court's jurisdiction.

"This court, of course, interprets these internal bilateral agreements because they are Union law," he said.

Switzerland has over 120 bilateral agreements.

"Those agreements are concluded by the European Union with Switzerland, they are hence Union law for the 28 member states," he said.

Any similar or ad-hoc arrangements between the EU and UK will follow a similar path, he added.

He also said that the UK had fundamentally misunderstood the concept of federalism, which he described as keeping a balance between unity and diversity.

"The United States is also an e pluribus unum - out of many, one," he said, quoting the US' national motto.

Barnier to UK: will you keep EU rules?

As Brexit talks get under way again in Brussels, the EU's chief negotiator gave a glimpse into what the UK could expect from trade talks: no special treatment and limited regulatory divergence.

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