Defining International Investment Law for the 21st Century (A Reply)

by Emanuela Matei, Of Counsel – Mircea and Partners*

This post represents a reply to Horia Ciurtin’s material “The Future of Investment Treaties: Metamorphosis or Deconstruction?”, published on the EFILA Blog on 8th September. Another reply will follow from Horia Ciurtin in the following weeks.

Of Two Evils Choose Neither

We are living in a hologram designed by a very confused mind. Witnessing the 21st century we all experience a degree of restlessness and fuzziness. In this context, the choice between two evils may be no more than a false dilemma. The misconception of the limits of international law is part of this holographic picture.

In his post “The Future of Investment Treaties: Metamorphosis or Deconstruction?“, Horia Ciurtin revisits the challenging task of defining – in our not-so brave new world – the concept of international law, in general, and of investment treaties law, in particular. I both agree and disagree with the author’s concerns. I fully agree with him that international law and legal institutions can provide effective means to solve human problems. I disagree with the either-or equation though and I will describe it as a deceiving choice between two evils.

The First Evil

In a world where the interactions are multiple and ubiquitous, it is very often not possible to determine which event occurs first and define it as the cause of a subsequent event, called effect. State interests do not exist outside the social sphere and the actions of states are therefore influenced by the attitudes of non-state constituencies. In other words, the border between state and non-state has been blurred.

It is up to the observer to judge. If the observer believes that coercion is the source of order and well-being in the world, he will naturally think that international law cannot have an influence on actual state behaviour. Such an observer sees international law as a source of democratic concern, arguing against the implementation of international law norms domestically. In my view, this hostile approach is the first evil and – so far – Horia Ciurtin and I agree with each other.

The Second Evil

The affirmation that the sovereign entities are “no longer needed as ‘procedural proxies’ for aggrieved investors, being able themselves to directly involve in international litigation and be compensated for their losses” is on the other hand not immune to criticism. Having a right and being able to exercise it effectively should be seen as two sides of the same coin. A right, which is not enforceable has no legal significance. It has only a symbolic value. States comply with international law as long as the social sphere – in which their interests are continuously defined – requires them to do so.

Moreover, the author pleads for the de-politicisation of the disputes by unconditionally escaping the domestic remedies. My counterargument is that such disputes are nonetheless political in nature, so their de-politicisation would provide no more than an empty gesture.

For a legal pragmatist as I am, the ICSID-convention is a tool designed to serve a set of functions. It is nothing unexpected in the fact that this tool has been designed at a certain moment in time and that time is gone. The question that must be answered is what kind of functional design shall be chosen for the 21st century FTAs? Attention, the designer may be somebody else than before! Again, the political configuration which is part of the social sphere is different now compared with 1950!

Furthermore, the situation of intra-EU BITs is a special case. I believe that the comparison between the South America and the Central-Eastern Europe is a bit misplaced. A conflict between supra-state constitutional law and international law obligations on one side, and between individual rights derived from international law and the obligation of the state to implement supranational law, on the other, constitutes an extra-complication that must be faced by countries like Romania, Hungary or Slovak Republic.

The either-or dilemma is often projected by the advocates of arbitration as a support for the affirmation that without an ISDS-system the protection of the investor will be severely depreciated. It can be true that some strategic contrivances will no longer be available. However, it must be recognised that the accession to the EU of the Central-Eastern European countries had a positive impact on their legal systems and the socio-economic environment is now more stable than in the nineties and early noughties.

More than so, the capital is the most mobile of all factors of production. If some jurisdictions became hostile to investors, the capital would vote with its feet as it does in all other cases, where the regulatory choices of the state or supra-state give an incentive to corporations to move, stay or entry. Thus, my contemplation of the post-Westphalian field of battle is much more optimistic in this particular sense. The second evil – no protection for the investor in the 21st century – is nothing else than a false alarm!

The discussion starts to sound irresistibly interesting to me when we begin to imagine deterritorialised ideas of governance … but this is a different kind of story. This is the true and exciting post-Westphalian realm left unexplored by the mainstream despotique!


* Emanuela Matei, Jurismaster; Of Counsel – Mircea and Partners; Associate Researcher – Centre for European Legal Studies.

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