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European Citizens‘ Initiative on Concept of Judicial Precedent in EU Countries

On 31 May 2023, the Commission adopted an implementing decision whereby the European citizens’ initiative (ECI) entitled Effective implementation of the concept of judicial precedent in EU countries shall be registered. The English version can be downloaded here.

The decision has been taken pursuant to Regulation (EU) 2019/788 on the European citizens’ initiative. The Regulation establishes the procedures and conditions required for an initiative inviting the Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens of the Union consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.

The initiative comes from a small group of persons (according to Article 5 of the Regulation, an initiative must be prepared by at least seven natural persons), whose affiliation is not disclosed on the webpage. The e-mail address of the substitute to the representative of the organisers points to the University of Bucarest.

The objectives of the initiative as expressed by the organisers are the introduction of ‘a mechanism at national level which guarantees mutual recognition of final judicial decisions adopted by courts’ in other Member States and ‘the option of invoking national judicial precedents decided by the courts of the country in question’, with a view to ‘consolidat[ing] a uniform judicial practice among the Member States’.

The mechanism would apply provided that: ‘(a) the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has had occasion to interpret the applicable provisions of EU law’ and that ‘(b) the case in question concerns similar or identical legal questions’. The organisers ask for the mechanism to be ‘actually available to litigants, allowing them to request the recognition of another decision relevant to their case at any stage of the proceedings.’ Furthermore, they consider that ‘a certain degree of flexibility should be ensured in light of the ‘rebus sic stantibus’ clause, making it possible to change the case-law if certain fundamental circumstances have changed.’ In addition, Member States should be ‘obliged to impose  effective, dissuasive and proportionate penalties in cases where the mechanism is not complied with’.

The text of the initiative is available here. Judging from its last paragraph, it has wide ambitions in terms of material scope: ‘Firstly, the initiative is based on Articles 81 and 82(1) TFEU as regards the recognition of judgments with cross-border implications. Secondly, the proposal is based on Article 352 TFEU and potentially Article 114 TFEU, so as to cover all situations which lead to inconsistent application and interpretation of EU [law] that could impede the attainment of EU’s objectives and the proper functioning of its internal market.’

In the absence of further explanations, I am not sure (but curious) about how the future mechanism would relate to already existing EU legal texts on the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters.

I fail to see third parties to a decision being granted, as per EU law, a right to requests its recognition in the usual sense of the word; but perhaps there is a new notion of recognition in the making – one providing for ‘precedential’ effect. Or, maybe, what makes the difference between the initiative’s desired mechanism in comparison to the status quo is the prong on ensuring litigants an option to rely ‘on national judicial precedents decided by the courts of the State concerned’, if ‘the State concerned’ is means a Member State other than the one where the court seized sits.

Again, I am not sure this is the correct understanding of the initiative, which at some point states that The mechanism ‘should apply not only to recognising final judicial decisions adopted in other Member States, but also to recognising final judicial decisions adopted in the country in question’ (italics added).

In any event, the future mechanism would only apply subject to three cumulative criteria being met: (i) the final judicial decision at stake applied provisions of Union law; (ii) the CJEU has already interpreted the same relevant provisions of Union law and (iii) the case concerned is governed by similar or identical points of law. First and second conditions do not look like too difficult to identify in a given case; the same can definitely not be claimed for the third one.

As a rule, all statements of support of a citizen’s initiative* shall be collected within a period not exceeding 12 months from a date chosen by the group of organisers (the ‘collection period’). According to Article 8 (1) of Regulation 2019/788, that date must be not later than six months from the registration of the initiative in accordance with Article 6. So far, I have found no indication on how to express support to this particular initiative. Pursuant to Article 11(7) of Regulation 2019/788, the recourse to individual online collection systems will no longer be possible for initiatives registered after the end of 2022; organisers will thus have to use the central online collection system, for which the Commission is responsible. It maybe that further clarification as regards the exact scope of the initiative’s proposed mechanism is to be found there (not to be taken for granted, though: assuming it is technically possible, there is a thin line between simply explaining an initiative and actually amending it).

*In order to ensure that a European citizen’s initiative is representative, a minimum number of signatories coming from each of those Member States is required. This translate into conditions set under Article 3 of the Regulation. Statistics on European Citizen Initiatives presented, registered, and valid, can be found in a recent report of the European Parliament.

Legal Secretary CJEU Full Professor PIL University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) Senior research fellow MPI Luxembourg (on leave) Usual disclaimer applies

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