Brexit and its legal consequences was the topic of an earlier post in this blog, suggesting the United Kingdom should join the Lugano Convention. The British government has now taken the first step in this direction.18
The UK’s Application for Accession
On 8 April 2020, the UK deposited an application to accede to the Lugano Convention with the Swiss Federal Council as the depositary of the Convention (Article 69(2) Lugano Convention). In accordance with Article 72(2) of the Lugano Convention, the information was transmitted to the Contracting Parties. Enclosed as Annex A was the information required under Article 72(1) of the Convention, amounting to 41 pages. The necessary French translation (Article 70(2) Lugano Convention) is still missing.
Switzerland requested to convene a meeting of the Standing Committee in accordance with Article 4(2) of Protocol 2 to the Convention. The Signatories of the Convention (the EU, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) now have to decide whether to grant the application. According to Article 72(3) Lugano Convention, they shall endeavour to give their consent at the latest within one year.
The Situation During the Transition Period
Already on 30 January 2020, the Swiss Federal Council informed the Signatories of a document it had received titled Annex to the Note Verbale on the Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community. The objective of this Annex is to secure the UK’s continued treatment as a party to the Lugano Convention during the transition period, which runs from 1 February 2020 to at least 31 December 2020, subject to a further extension for up to one or two years.
The Annex to the Note Verbale first sets out some principles of the Withdrawal Agreement concluded between the EU and the UK. In particular, it recalls that the “Withdrawal Agreement encompasses international agreements concluded by the Union” (point 4 Annex). In relation to the EU and Euratom, the UK is bound by these international agreements during the transition period (Art 129(1) Withdrawal Agreement). Furthermore, the Withdrawal Agreement provides that the EU notifies parties to international agreements that the UK is treated by the Union as a Member State for the purposes of these international agreements (point 5 Annex).
After recalling these principles, the Annex to the Note Verbale adds the following sentence (point 6 Annex):
It is understood that the principles set out in this Annex also extend to international instruments and arrangements without legally binding force entered into by the Union or Euratom and to international agreements referred to in point 4 above which are provisionally applied.
The Swiss Federal Council has asked the Signatories to consent to the Note Verbale, which the EU has already done. If the other Signatories agree as well, the Lugano Convention could remain binding on all parties during the transition period. Unfortunately, the outcome of the process is unknown, which creates unnecessary uncertainty.
Back to the Past?
The UK’s application to accede to the Lugano Convention is the strongest indication yet that the UK wishes to continue participating in judicial cooperation in Europe. There are important voices against the UK’s accession to the Convention. Without it, though, those seeking legal protection will encounter obstacles in the enforcement of British judgments on the European continent, and vice versa. It therefore seems better the UK’s request would be granted.
I trust the UK is not applying to the European Free Trade Area in parallel. So the Lugano Convention is getting increasingly disconnected from EFTA. Liechstenstein is not a party to the Lugano Convention, but a Member State of EFTA, and now the UK is applying to become a party, but not a Member State.
I understand that in the past, Australia contemplated joining the Lugano Convention. Where should it stop? Should the current contracting states, and in particular the EU, have a policy about its scope?
I think that judicial cooperation extends beyond business interests and should therefore not be limited to free trade areas, as Eva Lein and me have explained in more detail in a contribution to the Mélanges Ancel. If the Australian judicial system offers sufficient guarantees for the rule of law, what would speak against enforcing Australian judgments in the EU? For the UK, I do not have doubts about its respect for the rule of law. Judicial cooperation should be about the interests of private individuals, not a bargaining chip for political negotiations.
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