Report on the 5th EFILA Annual Conference held on 30th January 2020 in London

by Dr. David Pusztai (Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP

The European Federation for Investment Law and Arbitration (EFILA) held its 5th Annual Conference on 30 January 2020 in London, with a focus on Investment Arbitration in the EU: Alternatives to Intra-EU BITs”. As the Secretary-General of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, Meg Kinnear, noted in her keynote speech, there is no small irony in alternative dispute settlement” today being understood as a reference to alternatives of investment arbitration. Arbitration has traditionally been perceived as the epitome of alternative dispute settlement mechanisms, yet today the attention shifts to its alternatives: back to domestic court proceedings, to conciliation, mediation and fact findings.

The Secretary-General stressed that ICSID responds to the call for alternatives. Kinnear discussed proposed changes to the ICSID Conciliation Rules, as well as the proposed mediation and fact-finding rules in great detail. The upshot of consultation with stakeholders at the ICSID level was that parties expect less formalism, more flexibility in procedures, and more available procedural options. These considerations have been key pointers in articulating the new rules for ADR at ICSID. The Secretary-General also highlighted the inevitable challenges of bringing a project of alternative investment dispute resolution to success. Among these challenges, Kinnear pointed to the unique combination of skills expected from an investment dispute mediator or conciliator. Both a deep understanding of investment disputes and their legal framework, and experience and suitability as a mediator will be required from individuals mediating investment disputes. As several contributors also underscored during the conference, States need to form an official position as to whether they are willing to engage in ADR processes. In most cases, this would require implementing changes to domestic regulatory and institutional frameworks which have been designed for invesment arbitrations, and cannot accomodate other forms of investment dispute resolution.

The keynote speech was followed by a discussion between Monty Taylor of Arnold & Porter, Professor Stephan Schill of the University of Amsterdam, Dr Paschalis Paschalidis of Shearman & Sterling and Arne Fuchs of McDermott Will & Emery, moderated by Lord Goldsmith QC. Whilst endorsing the development of alternatives to arbitration, the participants voiced several concerns that put into doubt the feasibility of ADR in the investment dispute resolution context. It was raised whether governmental officials tasked with decision-making in the course of investment dispute mediations can realistically be expected to undertake full responsibility for the outcome of the dispute settlement process. Incentivising both government officials and ultimate political decision-makers to approach ADR processes in an efficient manner was described as a potential hurdle for ADR to succeed as an investment dispute settlement tool. The panelists also discussed whether alternative dispute settlement procedures risk contracting out” of public law structures and accountability mechanisms, and stressed the need for adequate safeguards against corruption tainting the process. The extent to which ADR can substitute (as opposed to complement) investor-State dispute settlement for EU investors was considered doubtful as long as third State investors retain the leverage of potential investment treaty claims against European Governments.

Three further panels addressed alternatives to investment arbitration from various angles throughout the day. The panel discussions were opened by Professor Loukas Mistelis, the Chair of the Executive Board of EFILA, who commented on contours of the emerging new era of investment protection: investment law being potentially submerged in international trade law, and the potential return of contract-based investment disputes. The first panel, chaired by Judge Christopher Vajda of the Court of Justice of the EU, considered investment protection under EU law. Judge Vajda outlined the pertinent case law of the Court of Justice, and explained the Court’s interpration of the scope of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is expected to be a potential legal basis for investment claims pursued before courts of Member States in the future. The panelists, Alejandro Garcia of Clyde & Co, Dr. Patricia Nacimiento of Herbert Smith Freehills Germany LLP and Dr. Alexandra Diehl of White & Case addressed the status quo of investment protection post-Achmea. The discussion covered the competing theories on the nature of investor rights and whether the termination of sunset clauses can pre-empt recourse to investment tribunals; the leaked draft of the Plurilateral Agreement” being negotiated by EU Member States with a view to terminating intra-EU investment treaties; and changes required in the system of judicial protection under EU law from the perspective of investment protection.

The second panel of the day, moderated by Professor Nassib G. Ziadé (CEO of the Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution (BCDR- AAA)), focussed on Alternative tools for effective investment/investor protection”. The panel, comprising Mark Appel, Mélida N. Hodgson of Jenner & Block, Eloïse M. Obadia of the International Finance Corporation and Professor Gerard Meijer of Linklaters, discussed in particular the ongoing reform process at ICSID. The central point of the debate, with several contributions from the audience, was how to reconcile the public demand for greater transparency and accountibility in investment dispute settlement with the indispensable confidentiality that mediation or conciliation processes require. A halfway house” approach was considered by the panelists, whereby the fact of the dispute settlement would be public, third party interests would be chanelled into the process, all the while preserving the confidentiality of the proceedings strictly speaking. Echoing the concerns discussed in Meg Kinnear’s keynote speech, the panelists shared the view that awareness and readiness of governments to accomodate ADR at a regulatory level is paramount for ADR to succeed.

The third and final panel discussion of the conference was dedicated to the future of the Energy Charter Treaty and energy investment disputes more broadly. Dr. José Ángel Rueda García of Cuatrecasas presided the panel, with the participation of Robin Rylander of Mannheimer Swartling, Dr. Wojciech Sadowski of KL Gates, Luciana Ricart of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle and Quentin Declève of Van Bael & Bellis. The conversation spanned the overview of pending challenges to ECT awards (specifically SCC awards under challenge before Swedish courts), the ongoing reform of the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), whether the current system of energy dispute settlement is broken and whether the ECT permits the termination of intra-EU ECT protections. Contributions from the audience triggered further discussion of whether the future regulation of the energy sector, in particular of fossil fuels or nuclear energy, raises public policy concerns analogous to industries where consensus recognises that it is appropriate to afford policy makers and regulators more discretion in interfering with proprietary rights (such as gambling or the tobacco industry).

The conference concluded with Professor Nikos Lavranos, Secretary General of EFILA, and Professor Loukas Mistelis, Chair of the Executive Board of EFILA, thanking the participants for their contributions, announcing the winner of the 2019 EFILA Young Practitioners and Scholars Essay Competition, and inviting submissions for the 2020 round.

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