Taking Investors’ Rights Seriously: The Achmea and CETA Rulings of the European Court of Justice do Not Bar Intra-EU Investment Arbitration

Prof. Dr. Alexander Reuter *

The ECJ’s Achmea and CETA rulings [1]; as well as the entire debate conducted on the issue so far, disregard one legal factor, that is, the binding legal effect of investors’ rights under investment treaties. That factor is, however, at the heart of the matter and decisive. Under EU procedural law that factor can be raised at any time as a “fresh issue of law”. Thus, the Achmea and CETA rulings of the European Court of Justice do not bar intra-EU investment arbitration.

This proposition is not to contribute to the voluminous debate on Achmea and on the compatibility of intra-EU investment arbitration with TFEU art. 344, 267 and 18 or other EU governance principles such as the “principle of mutual trust”. In contrast, that proposition is based on investors’ rights under public international law as third parties, and the binding effect on the EU, its institutions and its member states of such rights. In addition, under the criteria developed by said ECJ rulings, intra-EU ISDS under the ECT fares better than the CETA.

The above propositions are set out in more detail by the author in the Heidelberg Journal of International Law (HJIL) (Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht; ZaöRV). [2]

A)   Third party rights under public international law

In Achmea the European Court of Justice (”ECJ“) found intra-EU investment arbitration under the bilateral investment treatybetween Slovakia and the Netherlands to violate the principles of mutual trust and sincere cooperation amongst EU member states, the supremacy of EU law and the protection of the ECJ’s own competence to ensure the uniform application of EU law. All of these principles concern the internal governance of the EU, its member states and its institutions, not investors’ rights. On the other hand, in the last years a great many arbitral tribunals dealt with intra-EU investment arbitrations, most of them under the Energy Charter Treaty (“ECT”), a multilateral investment treaty to which the EU has acceded. None of these tribunals found the proceedings to be incompatible with EU law. [3] The tribunals refer to the general interpretation rules of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) and, as one tribunal has worded it, a carve-out for intra-EU conflicts would be “incoherent, anomalous and inconsistent with the object and purpose of the ECT”, the rules of international law on treaty interpretation, in particular the universal recognition of “the principles of free consent and of good faith and the pacta sunt servanda rule”. [4]

This is in line with the intent of the EU institutions involved with the accession by the EU to the ECT. The internal documents preparing the accession demonstrate that the EU did not intend the ECT to distinguish between intra-EU and extra-EU disputes. In line therewith, the ECT, as adopted not only by all EU member states, but by both the European Commission and the European Council, does not contain any indication that differing rules should apply “intra-EU” on the one hand and in respect of non-EU parties on the other hand. In contrast, by a declaration made when acceding to the ECT (see Annex ID to the ECT) [5] , the European Communities did not only set forth that the “European Communities and their Member States” are “internationally responsible” for the fulfillment of the ECT, it also expressly mentions the “right of the investor to initiate proceedings against both the Communities and their Member States”. Additionally, the declaration expressly deals with the role of the ECJ and documents that the EU acceded to the ECT in full cognizance of the fact that the ECJ can be involved in such proceedings only (1) “under certain conditions” and in particular only (2) “in accordance with art. 177 of the Treaty” [now TFEU art. 267]. Hence, the declaration expresses the acceptance by the EU of the curtailment to the competences of the ECJ resulting from investment arbitration under the ECT.

B)   Taking investors’ rights seriously: Their binding effect within the EU

The reason for this discrepancy between the findings of the ECJ and those of the arbitral tribunals can already gleaned from the above: While the tribunals deal with investors’ rights under the relevant investment treaties, the ECJ is concerned with intra-EU governance issues. [6] However, governance issues do not do away with the fact that investment treaties form part of public international law and bestow private investors with the rights (1) that the host state comply with the treaty’s protection standards and (2) to take the host state to arbitration. Such private enforcement is even one of the essential features of investment treaties. [7] Which consequences does this have within the EU?

Even the ECJ concedes that public international law treaties must be interpreted in accordance with the VCLT, notably “in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to its terms in their context and in the light of its object and purpose”. Thus, for purposes of public international law, the ECJ must be taken to recognize (1) that investment treaty rights vest with the investors and (2) the fact that all arbitral tribunals involved have affirmed the ECT, under public international law, to cover intra-EU investments. There is no indication that such a long, uniform and unequivocal line of arbitral holdings does not constitute an interpretation of the ECT “in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to its terms in their context and in the light of its object and purpose”.

In turn, under TFEU art. 216(2) “Agreements concluded by the Union are binding upon the institutions of the Union and on its Member States”. Admittedly, the ECJ makes an internal exception to TFEU art. 216 (2), that is, an exception as regards the parties to the EU Treaties, the EU and its institutions: Vis-a-vis these parties the ECJ confines the binding effect of treaties under art. 216 to supremacy over secondary EU law, and carves out primary EU law. [8] However, this internal limit to the effect of public international law treaties does not apply to third parties. Vis-à-vis third parties, under public international law the EU is bound by the treaties it has concluded. [9] The ECJ has held „that the Community cannot rely on its own law as justification for not fulfilling [the international treaty at bar].“ [10] As private investors are third parties, this holds true for them as well, and all the more so as their means to analyse the internal governance rules of the EU (or a host state) for potential infringements which may impact the validity of the treaty or of obligations contained therein, are substantially lower than the means of the other state parties which negotiated, concluded, and agreed on the ratification process for, the relevant treaty. In short: Pacta sunt servanda, in particular where investors have made investments which they cannot undo. [11]

In this connection it is irrelevant that intra-EU investment arbitration is typically directed against the relevant host state, not against the EU. As a party to the ECT, the EU is bound not to obstruct the due implementation of the rights and obligations of investors and the relevant host states. In contrast, the obstruction by the EU of the due implementation of the ECT would constitute a treaty violation in itself. [12]

C)   Consequences for Intra-EU bilateral investment treaties

The above considerations do not directly apply to bilateral investment treaties (“BITs”) between EU member states, to which the EU has not acceded. However, rights vesting under a BIT are not without protection under EU law either: First, where a host state has acceded to the EU after it has entered into a BIT, TFEU art. 351 grandfathers rights of investors as third parties. Second, there may have been acts or omissions of the EU in connection with the relevant treaty. Third, while, in general, determining EU law with retroactive effect, under its case-law the ECJ may be “moved” to carve-out “existing relationships” from such effect. [13]

D)   No precedent character of Achmea and CETA

Invoking investors’ rights is not precluded by a “precedent” character of Achmea or CETA: Preliminary rulings under TFEU art. 267 only bind the national court, and thus the parties, to the main proceedings in question [14] . Nevertheless, referral procedures under TFEU art. 267 have the purpose to have EU law interpreted for the EU as a whole and thus have a factual precedent effect. [15] However, the ECJ has confirmed the right to make a (further) reference on a “fresh question of law” or “new considerations which might lead the ECJ to give a different answer to a question submitted earlier”. [16] As a result, Achmea and CETA have no binding or precedent effect beyond the considerations they have dealt with.

These considerations do not include investors’ rights: Achmea, as already mentioned, is confined to EU governance issues. CETA, in contrast, did not fail to consider the position of investors. However, these were ex ante considerations, not the protection of investors who have already made investments in reliance on a treaty. It did thus not deal with a treaty which had already been concluded, had come into force, had bestowed rights on investors, and in reliance on which investors had made investments. [17]

In contrast, the ECT is a concluded treaty which has been in force for many years and under which investors have already made a great many intra-EU investments. Thus, when making their investments, investors were entitled to have the expectation that the ECT would be respected by its parties, including the EU.

E)   Applying the criteria of the CETA Opinion

In the alternative: If one (contrary to the above) were to disregard investors’ rights under public international law, the question arises how the ECT would fare under the criteria selected by Achmea and CETA to assess the compatibility of intra-EU investment arbitration with EU law. A detailed analysis shows that the ECT does not run aful of, but meets, those criteria. [18]

F)   A matter of justice

The conclusion is: Investors are entitled to rely on their investment treaty rights. Under public international law, the EU position regarding intra-EU ISDS is, as the Vattenfall tribunal has expressed it, “unacceptable”, “incoherent”, “anomalous and inconsistent”. [19] This is corroborated by the described conduct of the EU when negotiating and acceding to the ECT. Hence, that investors should not be bereaved of their vested rights is a matter of material justice. This holds all the more true where the EU was instrumental in soliciting the investments and changed its position only at a point in time when such investments had been made. [20]


* Rechtsanwalt and Attorney-at-Law (New York)
Partner, GÖRG Partnerschat von Rechtsanwälten
Cologne

[1] ECJ, 6 March 2018, Case C‑284/16, Achmea; ECJ, ECJ, Opinion 1/17 of 30 April 2019, CETA.

[2] Issue 80 (2/2020), pp. 379 – 427.

[3] Cf. Foresight v. Spain, SCC Arbitration V 2015/150, Award, 14 November 2018, para. 221, with a list of awards affirming intra-EU arbitration; Reuter, note 2, Part B IV.

[4] Vattenfall et al. v. Germany, ICSID Case No. ARB/12/12, Decision on the Achmea issue, 17 August 2018, paras. 154/155; Reuter, note 2, Part B

[5] https://energycharter.org/fileadmin/DocumentsMedia/Legal/Transparency_Annex_ID.pdf

[6] The reasons for that stance may be institutional rather than legal: Organizations innately tend to attach high priority to their own competences and inter-institutional governance.

[7] MacLachlan/Shore/Weiniger, International Investment Arbitration, 2007, paras. 1.06, 2.20, 7.01; Reuter, note 2, Part B.

[8] ECJ, 10 January 2006, C-344/04, IATA and ELFAA, para. 35.

[9] For more details Reuter, note 2, Part D.

[10] ECJ, 30 May 2006, Joined Cases C-317/04 and C-318/04, European Parliament v Council, para. 73.

[11] For more details Reuter, note 2, Part D.

[12] As for the liability of the EU on the one hand and member states on the other hand in connection with mixed investment agreements in general Armin Steinbach, EU Liability and International Economic Law, Hart Publishing 2017, pp. 133 et seq., pp. 141 et seq.

[13] For more details Reuter, note 2, Part D; as regards the carve-out ECJ, 13 May 1981, Case 66/80, International Chemical Corporation, paras. 13/14; see also ECJ, 8 April 1976, Case 43/75, Defrenne v Sabena, paras. 71/72.

[14] ECJ, 29 June 1969, Case 29/68, Milch-, Fett- und Eierkontor GmbH v Hauptzollamt Saarbrücken, para. 3.Wegener in Calliess/Ruffert, EUV/AEUV, 5th ed. 2016, art. 267, para. 49.

[15]     ECJ, 24 May 1977, Case 107/76, Hoffmann-LaRoche/Centrafarm, para. 5; Reuter, note 2, C III.

[16] ECJ, 5 March 1986, Case 69/85, Wünsche Handelsgesellschaft GmbH & Co. v. Germany, para. 15; For more details Reuter, note 2, Part B III.

[17] For more details Reuter, note 2, Part B III 3.

[18] For more details Reuter, note 2, Part D.

[19] See note 4.

[20] Reuter, note 2, Part E.

Young ISDS Club – ICSID and UNCITRAL Draft Code of Conduct for Adjudicators in ISDS disputes

By Suksham Chauhan, International Arbitration Trainee, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Paris  

Young ISDS Club for the second time provided a great platform for a very engaging and interesting discussion on 8 June 2020. The Young ISDS Club remained steadfast to its core value of open discussion. It was a most candid discussion where participants and speakers took strong stances and critically analysed the Draft Code without any inhibitions.

1. Introduction

Ketevan Betaneli (Freshfields), who moderated the session, commenced the webinar by introducing the topic: “ICSID and UNCITRAL Draft Code of Conduct for Adjudicators in ISDS”. She gave a brief overview of the Draft Code of Conduct for Adjudicators (the “Draft Code”).

She noted that the Draft Code was jointly prepared by the Secretariats of ICSID and UNCITRAL and that it deals with duties and responsibilities and independence and impartiality, as well as with conflicts of interest and confidentiality relating to adjudicators. At the outset, she stated that the definition of “Adjudicators” is comprehensive and includes arbitrators, members of international ad hoc, annulment or appeal committees, and judges of a permanent mechanism for the settlement of investor-State disputes.

Thereafter, she introduced the speakers : Margaret Ryan (Shearman & Sterling); Tim Rauschning (Luther); and Nandakumar Srivatsa (Dentons). She remined the participants that the discussions in the webinar remain confidential and no participant or speaker should be quoted unless they had so agreed. She also pointed out that all the speakers and participants would be speaking in their personal capacity and the views expressed did not reflect those of their respective law firms or clients.

In line with the spirit of Young ISDS Club discussions rules – no statement or comment is attributed to any participants or speakers in this report.

2. The First Speaker – Conflicts of Interest: disclosure obligations (Article 5)

At the outset, the first speaker pointed out that Article 5 of the Draft Code is one of the most widely discussed provisions for its extensive and detailed disclosure obligations for adjudicators and candidates.

Discussion then moved onto the second sentence of Article 5 (1) of the Draft Code which states that adjudicators and candidates shall disclose any interest, relationship, or matter that could reasonably be considered to affect their independence or impartiality. The second sentence adopts an objective standard based on the perspective of what a reasonable third person would consider affecting an arbitrator’s independence and impartiality. The current ICSID Rules and the IBA Guidelines on Conflict of Interest in International Arbitration (IBA Guidelines), on the other hand, are based on a subjective test, and require the disclosure of circumstances that might cause the parties to question the arbitrator’s independence and impartiality.

Policy of enhanced disclosure

Thereafter, the first speaker stated that on a bare reading of Article 5 (2) of Draft Code, it is clear that the policy is to enhance disclosures. This is abundantly clear from the Draft Code’s commentary which states that “the policy reason underlying the disclosure requirement is to permit a full assessment by all parties and to avoid possible problematic situations during the proceedings”. The question which arises is whether this formalistic approach to disclosure will have unintended consequences, and might lead to more arbitrator challenges overall resulting in higher cost and delay and eliminating honest candidates. On the other hand, the approach could lead to consistent practice among arbitrators.

Further, the Draft Code under Article 5 (2) (a) proposes that adjudicators and candidates be required to disclose any relationships that have existed within the previous five years. The commentary states that the existence of relationships earlier than five years previous is presumed to be too remote to create a conflict. A relationship that existed before the five-year threshold but could reasonably affect the adjudicators’ independence or impartiality would still be subject to a duty of disclosure in accordance with Article 5(1). It is interesting to note that the amendment to the ICSID Rules also adopts the five -year period. In this context, the question arises whether the five-year period strikes the right balance? Or is it overly burdensome, given the list of items that need to be disclosed under 5(2)(a)?

Disclosure of Third-party interest

The first speaker then discussed Article 5(2)(a)(iv) which obligates the adjudicator or candidate to disclose any significant relationship with any third-party funder within the past five years. It was pointed out that the provision raises various questions. An arbitrator can only know whether it has a relationship with a third-party funder if the identity of the third-party funder is known. This may be possible under the proposed amendments to the ICSID Rules which incorporates an affirmative duty for the parties to disclose the existence of third-party funding when filing the Request for Arbitration. However, the problem arises where the applicable rules don’t require disclosure of third-party funder. In view thereof, how is a prospective arbitrator to know whether they have a relationship with a third-party funder involved in the arbitration?

The Draft Code does not seek to regulate repeated appointments but instead proposes extensive disclosure of “all ISDS [and other [international] arbitration cases]” where the arbitrator has been or is involved in one of various capacities i.e., as counsel, arbitrator, annulment, committee member, expert, [conciliator or mediator]. There is no five-year time limit and it suggests that all ISDS and International cases (both commercial and investment cases) will have to be disclosed. This requirement is wider than under the proposed amendments to the ICSID Rules.

Issue conflict

Similarly, Article 5(2)(d) requires disclosure of all publications and [relevant speeches] without any time limit. Questions arise on necessity and practicability of this requirement, which diverges from the approach of the IBA Guidelines which include previous expressed legal opinions in the list of green items that do not need to be disclosed.

General questions for discussion

The first speaker concluded by stating that various other issues may arise from the interaction between the Draft Code and other rules on disclosure that might govern the arbitration. E.g. the current proposal for amendments of the ICSID Rules has less extensive disclosure obligations as compared to the Draft Code. Similarly, specific investment treaties at issue might have rules on disclosure that differ from the code.

Article 12 addresses the enforcement of the code and contemplates various options for enforcement. However, the Draft Code does not address how the disclosure obligation has to be implemented. Whether the disclosure procedure should be under the control of a central mechanism or should instead rest with the arbitrator (self-policing)? Who might play the role of enforcing the disclosure obligation?

3. The Second Speaker – Article 6 – Limiting of roles

At the outset, the second speaker stated that Article 6 of the Draft Code addresses the concern that an adjudicator who is involved in other ISDS or other international proceedings in different roles would lack sufficient independence and impartiality because of the multiple roles played. Article 6 of the Draft Code essentially aims at limiting additional roles and it is a hotly debated article which is evident from the various square brackets in the Draft Code. Four elements may be considered under Article 6 of the Draft code:

(i) The consequences arising from Article 6 – whether it should prohibit multiple roles or merely seek disclosure of multiple roles;

(ii) The scope of Article 6 – whether it should extend only to counsel and arbitrators or also to witness, experts or any other relevant role;

(iii) Time period – whether it should be limited to concurrent service as arbitrator in one case and counsel (or any other role) in another case or also extend to previous and subsequent service as counsel; and

(iv) The factors to be considered when regulating multiple roles – (a) same parties involved; (b) same facts involved; and/or (c) same treaties involved.

Thereafter, the second speaker stated that, as a code of conduct, the draft does not necessarily only reflect perceived existing rules relating to conflict of interest but may also reflect much broader rules desired for policy considerations. In view thereof, the second speaker first provided an overview of (arbitral) jurisprudence and guidelines addressing conflict of interest due to arbitrators wearing multiple “hats”. Thereafter, various issues from a policy perspective were addressed i.e., issues that may be regulated and the potential consequences of regulating these issues.

Overview of jurisprudence and guidelines regarding multiple roles

The second speaker focused on the most frequent combination of roles, namely that of arbitrators also acting as counsels, and distinguished the following constellations: (i) same parties involved; (ii) same facts involved; or (iii) same treaty involved.

(i) It was explained that, under the IBA Guidelines, serving as an arbitrator concurrently with representing or advising one of the parties in another case is considered a red list item, i.e. one which raises justifiable doubts as to the arbitrator’s impartiality and independence. Additionally, past service as counsel for one of the parties within the last three years is considered an orange list item, i.e. one which should be disclosed.

(ii) Where arbitrators concurrently serve as counsel in cases involving the same or similar facts, in a number of challenge decisions the person concerned has been given a choice to withdraw either as a counsel or as an arbitrator. Accordingly, this jurisprudence takes no issue with past service, including counsel work just terminated. Once a person has terminated their role as counsel, a conflict of interest no longer exists. As an illustration of what kind of issues some courts and tribunals consider as similar or having something in common with another case, the second speaker referred to the example of The Republic of Ghana vs Telekom Malaysia Berhad, where the District Court of The Hague decided that Prof. Gaillard’s role as counsel in the annulment proceedings in RFCC v Morocco was incompatible with Prof. Gaillard’s position as arbitrator in the Telekom Malaysia arbitration because in the latter Ghana relied on the RFCC Award. The District court therefore asked Professor Gaillard to step down from the counsel position which he eventually did.

(iii) As regards cases where the same treaty is involved, the decision in the ECT arbitration KS Invest vs Spain was referred to, where Kaj Hobér was challenged as arbitrator because he was concurrently acting as a counsel for North Stream 2 in an ECT arbitration against the European Union. Spain argued that there would be a conflict of interest as similar legal problems under the same treaty (the ECT) will be discussed. The Chairman of the ICISD Administrative Counsel ruled on the challenge and held that there is no conflict of interest as the disputes concern different parties, different sub-sectors of the energy industry, and different measures.

In conclusion, the second speaker summarised the above jurisprudence and guidelines as follows: Service as arbitrator in one arbitration and as counsel for one of the parties in another is considered incompatible if such service is concurrent, while prior counsel work within the last three years has to be disclosed. In relation to the same facts, concurrent service of arbitrators and counsel is considered to be incompatible. Prior counsel work does not appear to be incompatible. As regards cases involving the same treaty, there is still only limited jurisprudence

Policy Considerations

It was pointed out that if one wanted to further restrict multiple roles for policy reasons, likely the most relevant areas would be rules relating to counsel work before and after acting as arbitrator and whether to limit “double hatting” restrictions to having multiple roles in disputes under the same treaty. In this context, reference was made to the approach adopted by the EU in different multilateral treaties (e.g. CETA, EU-Singapore, and EU-Vietnam). Under these treaties, the provisions dealing with multiple roles are very broad: Concurrent service is prohibit under “any international agreement”. After acting as arbitrator, the person may inter alia not act for one of the parties in arbitrations under the same treaty. The 2019 Dutch Model BIT not only prohibits concurrent counsel work but also prior counsel work in any ISDS disputes in the five years prior to acting as arbitrator. Conversely, the US-Mexico-Canada agreement (USMCA) is less strict as it only prohibits concurrent counsel work in cases under the USMCA.

Questions for discussion

As questions for discussion, the following were proposed, inter alia: What is the reason behind prohibiting arbitrators from subsequently acting as counsel, in particular in cases under the same treaty or with regard to the same facts? Do the participants share the analysis of tribunals that an arbitrator is not influenced by positions argued as counsel on a similar issue? And, of course, what would be the consequence of far-reaching limitations on multiple roles?

4. The Third Speaker – Article 8 – Arbitrator’s availability

The Third Speaker considered a few seminal questions that arose in the context of Article 8 of the Draft Code.

Genesis and drafting history of Article 8 of the Draft code

In considering the genesis and drafting history of Article 8, the third speaker stated that it was manifestly clear from ICSID’s Working Papers II and III on the amendments to the ICSID Arbitration Rules, that member States and the public desired that arbitrators be made to adhere to a code of conduct in relation to their availability. At its 38th Session, the UNCITRAL through its Working Group III considered the possibility of a code of conduct for arbitrators and deliberated on whether such a code should contain any provisions governing the availability of arbitrators. This was a part of the genesis of Article 8 of the Draft Code.

Then the discussion moved on to the drafting history of Article 8. It was pointed out that Article 8 was based on the model declaration annexed to the UNCITRAL Rules on Arbitration, which requires arbitrators to devote the time necessary to conduct the arbitrations in which they sit. The UNCITRAL Rules, however, do not provide any mechanism for enforcing the declaration. UNCITRAL’s Working Group III did not address this issue during the 38th Session and simply noted that arbitrators should not accept appointments if they cannot carry out their duties promptly.

ICSID had a more comprehensive discussion on the question, as is evident from paragraph 307 of the Working Paper I, which reads as follows: “…This requirement has been added in light of the comments expressing concern about delays in proceedings occasioned by extended periods of arbitrator unavailability, and by some arbitrators accepting appointments despite insufficient availability. The requirement is intended to provide the parties with specific information regarding the availability of the arbitrators in their dispute. The addition of this requirement does not convey any change in the applicable standards for the challenge of an arbitrator.”

In view thereof, it is clear that the intention of the declaration under Draft Arbitration Rule 19(3)(b) of ICSID Working Paper IV was to provide the parties with specific information regarding the availability of arbitrators. However, the scope of Article 8 (2) of the Draft Code is much wider, i.e. it does not merely provide information to the parties concerning the availability of arbitrators, but attempts to limit the number of appointments that an arbitrator can accept.

Availability of an arbitrator

The current declaration (under Rule 6.2 of 2006 ICSID Arbitration Rules ) does not require arbitrators to make any commitment as to their availability. However, the declaration under Draft Arbitration Rule 19(3)(b) of ICSID Working Paper IV requires arbitrators to commit their time and availability to the effective and efficient performance of their duties.

Further, ICSID’s Working Paper II reveals that States raised concerns about arbitrators’ availability and one State proposed that there should be a cap on the number of appointments accepted by arbitrators. This suggestion was originally brushed aside by ICSID, which stated that the proposal had already been dealt with in its Working Paper III. Curiously, however, the proposal was implemented in Article 8.2 of the Draft Code, which incorporates a provision capping the number of appointments accepted by an arbitrator.

Thereafter, the third speaker pointed out that the reason for discussing the Draft Code is ICSID’s suggestion to annex the Draft Code, once it has been finalised and adopted, to the arbitrators’ declaration under Draft Arbitration Rule 19(3)(b) . This essentially means that any arbitrator appointed under the ICSID rules will be bound by all of the provisions incorporated in the Draft Code. Therefore, the questions for discussion include whether (i) an arbitrator can be restrained from accepting more than a certain number of appointments, (ii) any efforts can be made to enforce such a policy and (iii) self-restraint on the part of arbitrators is the only plausible approach to the question.

Further, it was pointed out that the rule on incapacity under the ICSID Arbitration Rules has been amended to include an arbitrator’s disqualification on account of his or her failure to perform the required duties. In this regard, it has been suggested that where arbitrators are found not to have sufficient time for tribunal proceedings or hearings, the parties may seek to disqualify the arbitrator in question on the ground that he or she did not perform the required duties. Thus, the rule allowing for the disqualification of an arbitrator owing to his or her failure to perform the required duties is arguably one of the greatest checks against arbitrators’ lack of availability.

The third speaker concluded by pointing to the example of Vacuum Salt, where Judge Jennings advised ICSID that he would accept his appointment (as President) only if he were allowed to remain absent from the Tribunal’s oral proceedings. Further to this arrangement, Judge Jennings was not present at the Tribunal’s first session. He was absent from the Tribunal’s second session too. He ultimately did participate in the deliberations allowing issuance of the award. There was however no suggestion form either party that Judge Jennings had failed to perform the duties required of him as president of the Tribunal.

5. Discussions

Thereafter, Ketevan opened the floor for discussion to the participants. In addition to the questions raised by the speakers, this section incorporates the questions, queries, and issues raised throughout the discussion. Some of the issues raise pertinent legal questions – it would be nice to have the views of the readers on these issues.

1. Overall the feeling was that the Draft Code is a weak document. In addition to the lack of effective substantive provisions, the Draft Code is poorly drafted creating confusion and contradictory statements.

2. Some participants considered that the distinction in Article 6 with respect to the same parties, the same facts, and the same treaties does not answer the problem of double hatting. There were suggestions that the code should have taken a stronger stand regarding double hatting, i.e. either to retain the possibility of multiple roles or do away with multiple roles completely. In this regard, as drafted, the participants questioned the benefit of restrictions on double-hatting and raised concerns with regard to failing to promote diversity and the disadvantage it might have on un-represented groups, or young practitioners, for whom the current article might further reduce the chances of being appointed.

3. Article 5(2)(d) of the Draft Code requires disclosure of any relevant publications or public speeches. It was echoed that this provision is vague, as drafted, as it uses ambiguous terms (e.g. relevant public speeches) that can be interpreted broadly, while serving little purpose for meaningful disclosure, which is likely to aid unmerited arbitrator challenges.

4. Some participants were of the view that issue conflict vis-à-vis prior publication is not a critical point as it is in the green list under the IBA Guidelines. The critical issue which needs consideration is whether there is an issue conflict in relation to a legal position taken by adjudicators in prior cases. The debate of issue conflict vis-à-vis the legal positions taken by adjudicators in prior cases is not dealt with in the commentary on the Draft Code. It was considered unclear whether the Draft Code thereby wanted to leave the debate of issue conflict arising from the legal positions taken by adjudicators in prior cases wide open or confirms the understanding that prior legal positions taken in a case do not pose an issue conflict.

5. Third-party funders – what would be the consequences if an arbitrator were not to disclose the relationship with the third party which has an indirect interest in the dispute? Will mere non-disclosure of a relation with the third party funder amount to lack of independence and impartiality? Some participants were of the view that mere violation of the disclosure obligation in relation to the third party funder without any additional violation is not sufficient for a successful challenge.

The discussion went beyond the scheduled time and Ketevan stepped-in to close an engrossing discussion, which gives reason to continue the discussion with the participants on another occasion, hopefully soon.

Young ISDS Club – Corona pandemic investment disputes

by Suksham Chauhan, International Arbitration Trainee, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Paris

I was invited by Alexander Leventhal (Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan) to participate in a webinar conducted by Young ISDS Club on 26 May 2020. Knowing Alexander’s undefined love for discussions on all things in investment arbitration, I was certain that the webinar would be intellectually stimulating. However, to my immediate surprise, it was not like the typical webinar where one could simply sit back and absorb the information. To the contrary, the webinar was interactive and made me think on my feet.

This is typical of Young ISDS Club. It is a club where members are expected to engage, think on their feet and at times be called upon to share their views and contribute ideas. Throughout the seminar, I sheepishly couched in my seat, with this write-up comprising my only contribution to what was otherwise a very engaging discussion.

  1. Introduction

Aron Skogman (Mannheimer Swartling) welcomed the participants and introduced the topic – Corona pandemic investment disputes. The focus of the discussion was on the potential for State measures passed in response to Covid-19 to violate protections in international investment agreements (“IIA”) and the potential investment claims and the defenses arising therefrom.

Thereafter, Laura Halonen (WAGNER Arbitration) introduced the speakers and explained their roles as discussion leaders to familiarize the legal concepts along with some concrete examples to ignite the discussion to follow. She introduced the speakers and their roles:

  • The first speaker (Isabella Cannata, Lalive) discussed the State measures in response to Covid-19 and various standards which may be invoked by the investors against these measures.
  • The second speaker (Aaron de Jong, HANEFELD) discussed various defenses which the State may invoke to justify the measures.
  • The third speaker (Alexander) gave concrete examples of various measures that the States have taken and may result in potential investment claims.
  1. First Speaker (protections stipulated in international investment agreements)

The first speaker gave a brief overview of the various kinds of measures which the States have taken in response to Covid-19. She categorised the States’ actions into (a) measures responding to public health emergency (b) measures tackling the immediate economic consequences (tax discounts, suspension of loans or direct cash injection); and (c) measures aimed at easing the mid-term economic consequences (bailouts and sovereign debt restructuring).

At outset, she stated that the first wave of investment claims seems already on its way – investors are already considering bringing claims against Mexico after the government restricted the production of renewable energy production due to a fall in demand.

Thereafter, she stated that protection granted to the investors may vary from treaty to treaty and will depend on the exact language of the treaty. However, in the context of Covid-19, the following standards are likely to be invoked: fair and equitable treatment (“FET”), full protection and security standards (“FPS“), expropriation, and national treatment.

Under the FET standard, the investor may challenge the State’s decision in defining which business are essential on the grounds that it is arbitrary and/or disproportionate, if investors are left out. The State actions may also be challenged for failing to accord due process by passing the measure without any legislations or legislating in haste without any transparency. There is also a possibility that FPS may be invoked to argue that the State’s response has been untimely (e.g. if lockdown persists for longer in one State than in another).

The State’s measures of seizing assets for a long time without any adequate compensation may give rise to indirect expropriation. State’s measures may amount to indirect expropriation where business categorised as “non-essential” during the lockdown results into permanent closing of a business. Similarly, series of State measures over a period of time amounting to the closure of business or permanent harm to investment can also constitute indirect expropriation in the form of a “creeping expropriation”. State measures which benefit only national companies but not foreign companies can be potential investment claim for breach of the national treatment standard. Furthermore, where issues of nationality are not involved, investors may seek to rely on the discriminatory measures standard, both in situations where investors within the same sector have been treated differently and where investors within different sectors have been treated differently, without any justifiable reason.

  1. The second speaker (State Defenses)

The second speaker discussed the defenses available to the State under customary international law and as express treaty exceptions, together with the question of the state’s general right to regulate.

Customary International law

At the outset, Aaron noted that the defenses under customary international law were to a large extent codified under the International Law Commission’s Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (2001) (“ILC Articles“). In relation to measures enacted in response to COVID-19, he considered that the defences States were most likely to invoke were necessity (Article 25) and force majeure (Article 23).

Aaron then briefly discussed the main elements required to establish necessity (Article 25). Of those, he suggested that States may struggle to establish that a specific measure was the “only way” to safeguard an essential interest from an imminent peril; in this case, a State’s population from a dangerous pandemic. If other lawful ways to address the threat existed, even if those were more costly or inconvenient, necessity would conceivably fail.

Aaron then discussed the defense of force majeure (Article 23), which covers events beyond a State’s control and which in effect compel it to act in a way inconsistent with its international law obligations. Aaron opined that force majeure was potentially even more difficult to prove than necessity as the State was required to demonstrate that it effectively became impossible for it to perform the particular obligation in question. Such could cause particular difficulty where a State has – necessarily without compulsion – elected to enact an affirmative measure that has violated a foreign investor’s treaty rights.

Treaty exceptions

Aaron then briefly touched on some of the prominent treaty-based exceptions. He noted that these varied from treaty to treaty, and encompassed so-called “essential security clauses” providing States latitude to enact measures, for example, “necessary for the public order”.

More recently, he noted that CETA had included a provision that provides that non-discriminatory regulatory measures designed and applied to protect legitimate public welfare objectives, including public health, would not constitute indirect expropriations, except in “rare circumstances”. Similarly, he noted that the recent China-Australia Free Trade Agreement had potentially gone further, providing that non-discriminatory measures for “legitimate public welfare objectives of public health … shall not be the subject of a claim” by an investor. He noted this could well insulate Covid-19 measures from a broader range of treaty claims than only indirect expropriation.

Aaron concluded by stating that in the circumstances it was potentially going to be difficult for States to establish the narrowly defined customary international law defenses once liability had already been established, and that States may be more successful in arguing for their police powers in times of emergency. It was furthermore noted that if a respondent State were to be successful in arguing that its measures were excusable under ILC Articles 23 or 25, the State may still be held liable to compensate the investor in accordance with ILC Article 27 for any “material loss caused by the act in question”.

  1. Third Speaker (Specific State measures)

Alexander commenced by speaking about State emergency measures and investment arbitration in the context of the 1998 Argentina economic crisis (“Argentina crisis”). He stated that about 15 investment cases resulted from the Argentina crisis. The majority of these cases dealt with one measure i.e. the emergency law that changed the tariff payments from US dollars to Argentine pesos. In all these cases (except in one or two) there was no question that the State’s measures gave rise to breach but the question was whether Argentina’s necessity defense was valid or not.

In the majority of these cases, the following was held: (a) Argentina’s essential interest was not at play, notwithstanding how bad the crisis was; (b) the emergency measure was not the only option available to Argentina, and (c) Argentina’s budgetary practices and policies at the relevant time had a major contribution to the crisis. He stated that Covid-19 and Argentina were similar in as much as the States have taken emergency measures. However, Covid-19 is different as there is no one single measure that has been applied by States as in the Argentina crises.

Thereafter, Alexander reflected on the State measures mentioned by Isabella by giving concrete examples:

  1. Measures responding to the public health emergency

The definition of essential has been different from country to country e.g. eateries shops in Belgium, wine shops in France, and marijuana coffee shops in Netherland are treated as essentials. United States of America’s response to health crises has been the most confusing. The state of Michigan introduced complicated measures by exempting certain critical business. What is interesting is that not only the critical business but its suppliers and further suppliers’ suppliers’ were also exempted. Eventually, it became confusing to assess which business was concerned by confinement and which were not allowed. Similarly, Georgia considered that bowling, gyms, tattoos, hairdressers were all essential.

  1. Immediate responses to the economic impact

There have been various bailouts and state aids e.g. France has announced 10 billion for Air France-KLM and the Dutch government’s proposed 2-4 billion aid package fo KLM. France has granted the moratorium period to pay rents and utilities for small businesses. There have been temporary expropriation of health care facilities in Spain and France.

  1. Long-term measures

The long term measures can be only speculative at this stage. What can be expected is discriminatory bailouts, obligatory bail-ins, sovereign debt default, forced capital restructuring, and nationalization.

He also reflected on the EU Screening guidelines for foreign direct investment which provides for a mechanism that enables member States to define sectors that are essential to national security to protect them from foreign shareholdings. At the end of March 2020, the EU Screening guidelines were extended to the healthcare sector to ensure that any such foreign direct investment does not have a harmful impact on the EU’s capacity to cover the health needs of its citizens.

  1. Discussions

This section incorporates the questions, queries, and moot issues raised throughout the discussion. Some of the issues raise pertinent legal questions – it would be nice to have the views of EFILA members on these issues.

  1. Police power

In the context of State’s Police Power, to what extent can a State negate the allegation of liability by arguing the classic law defense that there was no obligation under the treaty itself e.g. there was no violation of FET standards or expropriation to start with.

  1. Compensation under Article 27 of the ILC

How will compensation as stipulated under Article 27 of the ILC differ from the compensation otherwise owed to the investor in case of a treaty violation? Compensation under Article 27 appears to be narrower than in cases where a treaty violation is not excusable under Article 23 or 25, as the compensation is not intended to achieve full reparation but merely to compensate for “material loss[es]”.

  1. Issue of due process

It was observed that some countries (e.g. Germany) are transparent and explains the reasons/economics behind the measures taken. While some other countries are very secretive and do not provide for a well-reasoned measure. In view of this, the questions were raised on tribunal’s approach in the case where measures are passed transparently in consultation with investors as opposed to measures that are mere dictum and passed secretively without any consultation. Will there be fewer investment claims in jurisdictions where a transparent process is followed while passing the measure as opposed to jurisdictions where measures are mere dictum without any consultations?

  1. Protection of economy under the BITs

In the majority of the BITs, there are no specific provisions which allow the State to take measure to save the economy. The state may take measures for public interest but whether saving the economy comes under public interest is debatable. Further, under the FET standards, there is no coherent view on the State’s role at safeguarding public interest or public welfare. It would be interesting to see how the measures for protecting the economy will be justified under the BITs or MITs.

  1. Discrimination based on nationality

The Swedish government has enacted various measures to provide relief to various businesses. Compensation for loss of revenue over a certain threshold has been announced for certain businesses on criteria that may be perceived as discriminatory and result in treaty claims. Similarly, loans that are being guaranteed to airlines which have their main business in Sweden or seats in Sweden may be perceived as discriminatory, and examples of discontent among investors have already emerged.

It would be interesting to see how discrimination is being judged within sectors or sub-sectors e.g. restaurant are forced to close and not hotels. Some countries have decided that the companies which are based in tax havens will not gain access to certain support schemes. This may give rise to treaty claims for discrimination based on nationality.

Aron summarised by observing that it would be interesting to see how the cases alleging discriminatory measures shape up. States are likely to argue that they must be excused since – in the unusual circumstances – measures that could otherwise be perceived as discriminatory measures within the meaning of the treaty impairment standards are justifiable for public policy reasons. In such cases, however, tribunals are likely to consider whether there is a clear connection between the discriminatory element and a (valid) public policy goal that must be achieved by way of such discrimination. He observed that the consequences of the measures will be dealt with for many years to come. What measure can be excused and what cannot be excused is yet to be seen.

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.

Stakeholder meeting on a possible future Multilateral Investment Court: Establishment of a Multilateral Investment Court (Brussels, 15 January 2020)

José Rafael Mata Dona1

As in the previous session of the stakeholder meeting organized by the European Commission (see here), this roundup started with a brief recap of the whole process of the UNICTRAL Working Group III (for a more detailed review of the EU’s proposal for a MIC and ISDS reform under the auspices of UNCITRAL see here) and with the clarification that the possibility of identifying new concerns and solutions is not excluded from its current state.

The EC was represented in the stakeholder meeting by Collin Brown (Dispute Settlement and Legal Aspects of Trade Policy, DG TRADE), Blanca Salas Ferrer (Dispute Settlement and Legal Aspects of Trade Policy, DG TRADE) and André von Walter (Team Leader, Investment Dispute Settlement, DG TRADE).

State of play of the latest developments

The proposal for an advisory centre, the discipline for third party funders and ethical rules for adjudicators dominated the discussions of the WG in Vienna during its 38th session October 14–18, 2019 (for the official report of the WG see here).

The 38th session (resumed) of the WG will be held next week 20–24 January 2020 in Vienna. The expectation of the meeting is to further deepen understanding of the following three structural proposed reforms (i) the proposal for the establishment of a multilateral investment court (ii) the selection of its adjudicators and (iii) the establishment of an appeal mechanism. Then, the 39th session 30 March – 3 April 2020 will be held in New York and will focus on (i) dispute prevention and mitigation as well as other means of alternative dispute resolution (ii) treaty interpretation by States parties (iii) security for costs (iv) means to address frivolous claims (v) multiple proceedings including counterclaims and (vi) reflective loss and shareholder claims based on joint work with OECD.

Exchange of views with stakeholders

First set of interventions

A representative of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) showed concerns over the risk of a multilateral investment court co-opted to serve industrial interests.

A representative of the European Shippers’ Council (ESC), a non-profit European organization representing cargo owners, questioned the EC on the expected timeframe for the finalization of the whole process at the WG. Additionally, the ESC wanted to know how the outcome of the WG could influence already existing Free Trade Agreements.

Representatives of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the Rapporteur and the Co-Rapporteur of the Opinion of the EESC on the ‘Recommendation for a Council Decision authorizing the opening of negotiations for a Convention establishing a multilateral court for the settlement of investment disputes’ wished to know (i) if the Commission Staff Working Document Impact Assessment (see here) of the Council Decision was still ‘alive’ (ii) more detailed information about the advisory center, its role in terms of capacity building and help to SMEs, location and appointment of advisors and (iii) what has been the level of participation of the United States and the concerns of developing countries in the WG.

A representative of the European trade Union Confederation (ETUC) showed concern about the transparency of the inter-sessional regional meetings that so far have taken place in Guinea, Korea and Dominican Republic and wondered about the expectations of the EU and its Member States from the next meeting in Vienna.

Replies of the EC

The multilateral investment court will build up consistency and predictability over time. The EC argued that the ad hoc system made it very difficult for states and stakeholders to have certainty as to how their cases were going to be decided. The lack of certainty is what a regulated industry uses to protect itself from criticism and interventions that might better advance the public interest.

On the question regarding the expected timeframe for the finalization of the whole process at the WG, the EC first alluded to the current increased regularity of the meetings of the WG per year, expressing desire for even more regular meetings. On that premise, the EC sustained that the WG could relatively quickly arrive at the stage of working on a detailed text by the end of 2020 or 2021 and finalize the whole process one or two years later.

In terms of how the outcome of the WG could influence already existing Free Trade Agreements, the EC stated that at the EU level the multilateral investment court would replace the bilateral investment court system negotiated with other countries. For Member States agreements, the idea is that they can create a single multilateral agreement amending a large number of existing agreements to apply the multilateral investment court to all. However, the EU and its Member States are not at the stage of discussing the details of the latter.

As to the question regarding the concerns identified in phase one of the WG, the EC sustained they largely corresponded to those previously identified in the EU context, except for certain concerns which specifically came up from the multilateral context. For instance, the regional diversity of the adjudicators. Further, the EC observed that this was true not only as to those concerns identified in the 2017 impact assessment, but also as to those which came up from EU previous public consultations dating back to 2013 and 2014. The former to a lesser extent than the latter due to the very specific concerns addressed in the impact assessment.

As to the questions regarding the advisory center, there are a lot of issues that still have to be sorted out, notably the nature of the center. In this sense, the EC remarked that the Advisory Centre on WTO Law (ACWL), suggested as a possible model to follow, was not exactly what developing countries wanted at the 38th session of the WG, as they themselves would like to handle the cases. This discussion will be even certainly enriched by the detailed scoping study being finalized by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands (for more information on this study see here).

The EC observed that there had been no submission paper from the Government of the United States, one of the biggest delegations within the group, which was very engaged in the discussions but was rather sceptical about the multilateral instrument on investment dispute settlement. To a certain extent, the United States does not need to make a government submission since now the focus is on working through the Secretariat papers. Certainly, some of the American ideas are there. Finally, the EC noticed developing countries shared many of the concerns of the EU delegation. This is the case, for instance, of issues related to costs, duration, predictability and consistency.

On the inter-sessional regional meetings, the EC clarified that these meeting had been organized until now only to raise awareness in different regions of the world. Regrettably, none of them have been thematic.

The EU delegation expects from the inter-sessional meetings, and eventually from the creation of subgroups, to go in greater in-depth and informal thinking on how particular issues should be addressed. Importantly, inter-sessional meetings are not decision binding. They are not necessarily chaired by the chairperson of the WG and not all countries have to be represented either. Lastly, there was supposed to be one regarding the advisory center, but it did not happen.

As a good example of a topic that would be better treated first in an inter-sessional meeting, Collin specifically stressed the one related to shareholder claims for reflective loss due to the fair complexity of the matter (for an OECD paper on this subject see here). In general terms, the EC observed that UNCITRAL usually went from broad conceptual work to more detailed work to legislative or non-legislative instruments, which could be adopted or endorsed by the UNCITRAL Commission and, ultimately, the General Assembly of the United Nations (for an overview of all UNCITRAL texts see here).

Next week, the EU delegation expects the Secretariat to be given instructions to go farther into depth, possibly to the extent of already developing text on different issues.

Second set of interventions

A representative of the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) questioned how the EU proposal for a multilateral investment court sought to approach the identified concerns within the WG in relation to damages and methods used to calculate compensation thereof, suggesting the exclusion of lost future profits and the implementation of compensation caps.

The representatives of the EESC wished to know the minimum number of countries that should accept the proposal to enter into force.

A representative of Agoria asked whether the model for the multilateral investment court is equal to the WTO approach.

Replies of the EC

As to the question of damages, the EU delegation expects that the permanent character of the multilateral investment court will contribute to greater consistency, correctness and expertise in developing methods of calculation of damages and their implementation, but it may be desirable for treaty parties to develop this subject nonetheless. A Secretariat paper on damages is expected for the discussions in April.

To put the multilateral investment court in place, the EC asserted it basically depended on the countries concerned, the investment flows between them or, inter alia, the expected number of disputes that they may generate. Indeed, a large number of countries is not a precondition for the establishment of the multilateral investment court.

As to the model, the EC sustained it was closer to the WTO approach but was not exactly the same. There are certainly lessons to learn from the current crisis of the appellate body of the WTO model to sharpen any new body. Additionally, the EC highlighted the submission of China for the creation of an appellate mechanism (see here).

Last set of interventions

The ETUC wondered about the desirability of considering questions related to the obligations of investors by the WG and whether the same level of transparency of the WG meetings should apply to the inter-sessional meetings i.e. public reports and audio recordings, invitations to participate, etc.

A representative from the Energy Charter Secretariat asked if amicably dispute resolution mechanisms, and in particular mediation, were taken into account at the WG discussions.

Replies of the EC

Inevitably, there have been decisions on prioritization of issues and the priority is now on dispute resolution mechanisms. Some have argued that there is a need to work on substantive rules, others on obligations of investors but the decision for the moment is that delegations should focus their work on the UNCITRAL mandate, which is on the dispute settlement mechanism.

On the transparency of inter-sessional meetings, the EC observed that for each inter-sessional meeting there had been a report. These reports were respectively submitted by the hosts in Korea, Dominican Republic and Guinea and are publicly available at the website of the WG. The EC shares the view that certain basic standards of transparency must be respected, although without the informal character of the inter-sessional meetings being altered.

On the question of amicable dispute resolution mechanisms, it is one of the issues which are going to be discussed in April. It has the support of the EU and of a number of other delegations. The question for the EC is how to align them to a permanent structure. Also, a Secretariat paper is expected on that issue before the 39th session of the WG.

The EC invited any stakeholder participating next week in Vienna to attend the side event on Monday.

To conclude, the EC recalled that delegates from developing and least developed states, who have been nominated for the Working Group III session, were eligible to request financial assistance for travel and accommodation to The UNCITRAL Trust Fund by means of a specific request to be routed to the UNCITRAL Secretariat through the delegate’s Permanent Mission.


1 Member of the Brussels, Barcelona and Caracas Bars.

5th EFILA Annual Conference: 30 January 2020

Investment Protection in the EU: Alternatives to intra-EU BITs

Keynote Speaker: Meg Kinnear, Secretary General of ICSID

 

The 5th EFILA Annual Conference will discuss various aspects of the consequences of the termination of intra-EU BITs for the protection of investments and investors in the EU.

The conference will also cover the potential impact for ECT disputes.

The Keynote Speaker is Meg Kinnear, Secretary General of ICSID.

Registration via Eventbrite is required via this link:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/5th-efila-annual-conference-investment-protection-in-the-eu-alternatives-to-intra-eu-bits-tickets-66308970917?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

 

Programme:

09:00-09:15: Welcome Address by Chair of the Executive Board of EFILA

Prof. Loukas Mistelis (Queen Mary University of London and Chair of the Executive Board of EFILA)

09:15-10:45: Panel 1: Investment/investor protection under EU law?

Chair: Judge C. Vajda (Court of Justice of the European Union)

Panelists:

Alejandro Garcia (Partner, Clyde & Co.)

Raffaella Assetta (European Commission, deputy head of unit DGFISMA)

Dr. Patricia Nacimiento (Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills Germany LLP)

Dr. Alexandra Diehl (Local Partner, White & Case)

10:45-11:15 Tea/coffee break

11:15-12:45 Panel 2: Alternative tools for effective investment/investor protection

Chair: Prof. Nassib G. Ziadé (CEO of the Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution (BCDR- AAA))

 

Panelists:

Mark E. Appel (Arbitrator, Mediator, ArbDB Chambers)

Mélida N. Hodgson (Partner, Jenner & Block LLP)

Eloïse M. Obadia (IFC/WorldBank)

Prof. Gerard Meijer (Partner, Linklaters)

12:45-14:00 Lunch break

14:00-15:30

Keynote Speech: Meg Kinnear, Secretary General of ICSID

“Alternative Dispute Resolution in Investment – The Role of Complementary Mechanisms and Approaches”

Chair: Lord Goldsmith QC (Partner, Debevoise & Plimpton)

Commentators:

Monty Taylor (Associate, Arnold & Porter)

Prof. Stephan Schill (University of Amsterdam)

Dr. Paschalis Paschalidis (Senior Associate, Shearman & Sterling)

Arne Fuchs (Partner, McDermott Will & Emery)

Mirjam van de Hel (Partner, NautaDutilh)

15:30-16:00 Tea/coffee break

16:00-17:30 Panel 3: The future of the ECT and intra-EU ECT disputes

Chair: Dr. José Ángel Rueda García (CUATRECASAS)

Panelists:

Robin Rylander (Senior Associate, Mannheimer Swartling)

Maria Kostytska (Partner, Winston & Strawn)

Luciana Ricart (Counsel, Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle)

Quentin Declève (VAN BAEL & BELLIS)

17:30-17:45 Closing remarks

Prof. Dr. Nikos Lavranos (Secretary General of EFILA)

18:00-20.00 Drinks

Stakeholder meeting on a possible future Multilateral Investment Court: Establishment of a Multilateral Investment Court (Brussels, 9 October 2019)

José Rafael Mata Dona[1]

 A week before the autumn session in Vienna of the UNCITRAL Working Group III, the EC held a Stakeholder meeting in Brussels on the subject of the establishment of a Multilateral Investment Court. The initiative took place as part of the EC Commitment to Transparency.

During the introductory speech, Collin Brown (Dispute Settlement and Legal Aspects of Trade Policy, Directorate General for Trade, European Commission) traced the history of the proposal for a multilateral court for the settlement of investment disputes back to September 2017. This was followed by Collin’s general comments on UNCITRAL discussions, mandate and the content covered through its three distinct phases of progress, the last of which ‘Development of relevant solutions for the reform of ISDS’ started on the 4th of April 2019 and is still ongoing in two parallel tracks: one focusing on structural reforms and another involving other types of solutions. Collin highlighted the celebration of inter-sessional meetings, as in September 2019 in Conakry, Guinea.

The EC’s expectation for the 14–18 October 2019 meeting is that the WG will agree to discuss substantive issues and proceed as per the UNCITRAL Secretariat paper on reform options. Also, the EC expects the WG to develop relations to other international bodies e.g. OECD and UNCTAD. Among the submissions to UNCITRAL WG III on possible reform of ISDS, Collin said particular attention should be paid to China’s proposal of a permanent appellate mechanism. He generally commented on the UNCITRAL Secretariat thematic papers and the multidisciplinary approach of the Academic Forum papers. Along those lines, he specifically mentioned the proposal for the creation of ‘An Advisory Centre on International Investment Law’ (See here and here). The slides of the presentation and the video of the meeting are available here.

All the foregoing led to the exchange of views described below.

 

In the first round of questions, participants asked about (i) the role of the USA in the WG (ii) the jurisdiction of the Multilateral Court (iii) the maintenance of the term ‘arbitrator’ in the EC proposal for a multilateral court (iv) the status of the EC in the WG and (v) any particular contribution the EU is or is not willing to support.

In reply to those questions, Collin clarified the US has not submitted a paper but takes a fairly active role in the WG with more focus on reforms already put in place.

He said the EU view on the jurisdiction of the MIC is that it should be kept fairly open, though that debate is yet to happen. Further, he mentioned the EC does not refer any longer either to ‘arbitrators’ nor ‘judges’ in its proposal. It now refers to ‘adjudicators’ as a more neutral term.

Collin signalled accreditation to the WG is directly handled by the UNCITRAL Secretary. The EC submitted a paper on behalf of both, the EU and EU Member States.

For the EC, the WG is not the appropriate forum to discuss about withdrawal of consent. On the contrary, the EC sees coming as a genuine part of the discussions the use of domestic remedies, which in its opinion should be encouraged but not necessarily exhausted.

In the second round of questions, participants asked about (i) the use of an opt-in clause (ii) the level of consent expressed by African groups during the regional meeting in Conakry (iii) expectations in Vienna regarding the two parallel tracks of work streams (iv) the support behind the MIC and how long it could take, (v) how many EU countries have ratified the Mauritius Convention and applied it (vi) the applicability of the New York Convention to the enforceability of the MIC decisions (vii) EU Law conformity in regard with Opinion 1/17 of the CJEU, and (viii) the ability of third parties to have more extended rights than an amicus curiæ.

Collin explained the idea of the opt-in clause is to create an umbrella treaty and remarked there is a discussion as to whether it would be automatically applicable or not. As previous examples of implementation, he quoted the United Nations Convention on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration (the ‘Mauritius Convention’) and the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters developed jointly by the OECD and the Council of Europe.

Collin argued he could not speak on behalf of any African groups. Allegedly, there was a concern on costs, duration of proceedings, how to address more the use of Conciliation, Mediation and other ADRs, cultural diversity in arbitration and the difficulties developing countries face in managing to defend themselves.

As to the two parallel tracks of work streams, the EC will actively participate in both. However, its priority is to work more on a permanent structure. Collin said the idea of the multilateral court has found not only support but also interest. Countries realize there is an opportunity to engage in significant reform and are keen to do that. Obviously, it is quite difficult to predict how long this will take despite the celebration of intersectional sessions to accelerate the process to move forward.

Collin said the number of countries that have ratified the Mauritius Convention is growing steadily, but international law does not move very quickly. So, it takes time. During the last 4 years, the EU has been discussing a Council decision on the adoption of the Convention, but a very small number of EU States does not want to get there. Once that decision is made, it will open the door for EU Member States to ratify the Mauritius Convention, which already many EU Member States have signed.

On enforceability, Collin distinguished two elements. On the one hand, there should not be the ability for domestic courts to review a decision which has been subject to appeal. These rules should be modelled or similar to ICSID enforceability rules. On the other hand, the EC foresees an argument on the enforceability of the decisions of the MIC in third countries. According to the EC, the solution to the latter is to apply the New York Convention. And in this regard, the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal is quoted as an example of the applicability of the New York Convention to the enforceability of the decisions of a permanent body. This does not properly clear the fact that equality of the parties in the appointment of arbitrators constitutes a principle of international public policy. Article V(2)(b) of the New York Convention is understood as providing grounds for nonrecognition of awards for a lack of due process or violation of public policy.

As to EU Law conformity in regard with Opinion 1/17 of the CJEU, the EC envisions to ensure it in part in the MIC itself but much more likely also in the underlying treaties with non-binding decisions on EU Law and the same for the type of remedies.

For the EC, the question on the ability of third parties to have more extended rights than an amicus curiæ is not on the horizon of the discussions that will take place in Vienna from 14 to 18 October 2019. It is a subject for future discussion in a later stage of the reform.

Finally, during the last round of questions Collin observed that it is not immediately clear the Multilateral Court should be a specific structure or have a particular relation to the International Court of Justice.


[1] Member of the Brussels, Barcelona and Caracas Bars.

Investment Tribunals Are Too Quick to Establish the Existence of Issue and Cause of Action Estoppel in International (Investment) Law

Alexandros-Cătălin Bakos[1]

There is no denying that there is a serious backlash against investment arbitration at the moment. The signs are everywhere: from the latest discussions occurring within UNCITRAL’s Working Group III to the more recent practice of states (see the 22 European Union Member States’ declaration concerning the termination of their intra-EU Bilateral Investment Treaties); the latest ‘battlefront’ seems to be the Energy Charter Treaty, where the investment tribunals seized of disputes on the basis of this treaty consider it immune from the effects of the Achmea decision. The causes for this backlash are manifold. For present purposes, however, I would like to focus my attention on only one of the causes: incorrect decisions. And I would like to go even further and look at a very specific example of incorrect decisions: the application of the principle of estoppel by investment tribunals. I will focus exclusively on the procedural aspect of estoppel, as a bar to a claim. This seems to be its main, although not its only (para. 831), function – at least in international investment law.

Some background information on estoppel

Generally, estoppel is a very strong mechanism which has a preclusive effect against a party contradicting itself if another party has relied (usually to the latter’s detriment) on the initial position of the former (para. 231). Essentially, the party which contradicts itself is prevented from averring the contradictory fact (the subsequent one). ‘[W]hat is relevant for estoppel is that there has been a declaration, representation, or conduct which has in fact induced reasonable reliance by a third party, which means that the State, even if only implicitly, has committed not to change its course’ (idem, para. 246). Furthermore, the element which induces reliance must be unambiguous (paras. 8.46-8.47). Other tribunals refer to the fact that representations must be ‘clear and consistent’ (for example, the Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration, para. 438).

In international law, the application of estoppel dates back to the days of the Permanent Court of International Justice: for example, in the Legal Status of Eastern Greenland case, Norway was precluded from asserting sovereignty over Greenland, as the former had expressly recognized the latter as part of Denmark. This form of estoppel, however, seems to heavily overlap with vaguer principles – including the principle of good faith (para. 483).

There are voices in international law which argue that estoppel as such exists in a single form in international law and not in its various iterations found in the domestic common law systems (para. 436). This view, however, is not shared by all international law practitioners. Whether due to fragmentation of international law or not, this divergence becomes obvious once one analyzes arbitral practice. One example of how arbitral tribunals have looked at estoppel in its specific iterations concerns procedural aspects. There, estoppel acts as a more specific and technical mechanism designed to prevent an already litigated claim from being pursued again (similar to res judicata, although with a few important differences which will be mentioned below). The important branches of estoppel which may preclude a claim from being relitigated are: cause of action estoppel;[2] and issue (or collateral) estoppel.[3] It is important to mention that both these doctrines ‘prevent the parties from re-litigating a question that has been determined by a Court of competent jurisdiction, between the same parties or their privies, in a previous action. Once those elements have been made out, and unless there are special circumstances, the parties are precluded from raising the issues. [footnote omitted] The special circumstances which would permit the issue to be raised again include the discovery of further material relevant to issues in the first set of proceedings [footnote omitted] or fraud’.[4] The essential difference between the two doctrines, according to Griffith and Seif, is that cause of action estoppel concerns the claim itself which is precluded, whereas issue estoppel prevents relitigation of a point of law or of fact already decided by a tribunal.[5] Wilken QC and Ghaly point out that the difference is one of specificity.[6] According to them, ‘issue estoppel bites on the facts and issues required to establish the cause of action whereas cause of action estoppel looks only at the cause of action’.[7] Sheppard equates ‘cause of action’ with ‘claim’.[8]

A very important point of difference between estoppel – in both its iterations – and res judicata is that the latter requires (at least traditionally, as Judge Anzilotti mentioned in his dissenting opinion to the Factory at Chorzów case) a three-element identity between the concerned claims (the same person, the same claim and the same legal grounds); also known as the ‘three-element test’. Moreover, estoppel extends to the privies of the relevant parties, while res judicata – if interpreted strictly – does not.[9] Without going into the details of how the three elements of res judicata have been interpreted, especially in investment arbitration (as this is another subject for another date), it can be reasonably stated that estoppel is a stronger tool (than res judicata) in the arsenal of investment tribunals which can be used to prevent abusive re-litigation. The problem, however, is that the existence of such an instrument in international law is not clearly evident and tribunals seem to have taken its existence for granted.

The problems with the investment tribunals’ application of estoppel

Although not a general principle of law,[10] some arbitral tribunals seem to have applied estoppel as such. As will be seen below, however, there is at best inconclusive evidence as to the existence of a general principle of estoppel and at worst clear attempts to disregard this non-existence and apply a principle out of nothing.

At the same time, there are arbitral tribunals which may suggest or clearly determine that estoppel is a principle of law,[11] although this is usually not explained clearly and the reasoning is incomplete. As such, one is left wondering how did the tribunal uncover such a principle and whether it really exists.

For example, the Petrobart tribunal mentioned that ‘while the doctrine of collateral estoppel seems to have primarily developed in American law, other legal systems have similar rules which in some circumstances preclude examination of an issue which could have been raised, but was not raised, in previous proceedings. A doctrine of estoppel is also recognised in public international law’ (at pp. 66-67).

The tribunal, however, was unclear whether this amounted to a principle of law or not. The fact that there exist rules which establish preclusion of issues which could have been raised but were not raised and that these rules occur outside of the American legal system, as well, does not transform estoppel into a principle of law. At the same time, the tribunal did not mention in what form is estoppel recognised in public international law. It may have suggested that this would be applied as a principle, but it stopped short of fully clarifying whether such a principle indeed exists. The alternative may have been the customary law nature of estoppel, but the tribunal neither identified the underlying state practice and opinio juris nor referred to awards/ judgements in which such a custom was established. In the end, the claim preclusion argument was anyway rejected, since – among others – there was no identity between the legal grounds relied on in the relevant proceedings (at pp. 67-68).

Another example is RSM v. Grenada. There, the tribunal explicitly endorsed collateral estoppel as a general principle of law (para. 7.1.2). The tribunal noted ‘that the doctrine of collateral estoppel is now well established as a general principle of law applicable in the international courts and tribunals such as this one. [footnote omitted] (ibid.). However, it did not come to this conclusion itself, but rather relied on other tribunals’ conclusions.[12] What is surprising after looking at the cited cases is that neither of them clearly endorses estoppel as a principle of law.

For example, the Amco v. Indonesia tribunal referred to res judicata as a principle of law (paras. 26-46). One cannot exclude the possibility of this encapsulating estoppel as well, but such a conclusion is not clear. This lack of clarity is further compounded by the fact that the Amco v. Indonesia tribunal mentioned that ‘it is by no means clear that the basic trend in international law is to accept reasoning, preliminary or incidental determinations as part of what constitutes res judicata’ (idem, para. 32). As issue/collateral estoppel necessarily implies the fact that the reasoning of an award must be considered for this mechanism to arise,[13] the finding of the Amco v. Indonesia tribunal raises serious doubts as to the conclusion that estoppel was part of the principle to which that tribunal referred.

As regards the other relevant case (Southern Pacific Railroad Co. v. United States, which arose before the Supreme Court of the United States) it is true that what the cited tribunal referred to was issue estoppel (pp. 48-49). It mentioned that a general principle existed which mandated ‘that a right, question, or fact distinctly put in issue, and directly determined by a court of competent jurisdiction as a ground of recovery cannot be disputed in a subsequent suit between the same parties or their privies, and, even if the second suit is for a different cause of action, the right, question, or fact once so determined must, as between the same parties or their privies, be taken as conclusively established so long as the judgment in the first suit remains unmodified’ (ibid.). What the tribunal does not mention, however, is whether this general principle is a general principle common to all nations or whether this was a general principle specific only to the common law system.

There are tribunals which even seem to rely on estoppel, although, in reality, they are applying res judicata. This was the case with the Marco Gavazzi and Stefano Gavazzi v. Romania tribunal (paras. 164-166). In the first place, the tribunal analyzed whether an initial decision (which was alleged to preclude the claims before the forum) had ‘conclusive effects on the Parties to the present proceedings under the doctrine of res judicata or issue estoppel’ (idem, para. 164). Subsequently, it went on to mention that ‘under international law, three conditions need to be fulfilled for a decision to have binding effect in later proceedings: namely, that in both instances, the object of the claim, the cause of action, and the parties are identical’ (idem, para. 166). Although it did expressly refer to issue estoppel at one point, the tribunal referred to the conditions which were necessary to be fulfilled in order for res judicata to operate (the three-element test, as mentioned above). Moreover, it conflated issue estoppel with cause of action estoppel. As shown earlier, identity of cause of action is only necessary in the case of cause of action estoppel and not in the case of issue estoppel.

All the above examples demonstrate that estoppel as such is not applicable in investment arbitration (by virtue of international law, at least) and that tribunals seem to ignore this. There is no general principle – as understood by Article 38 (1) (c) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, as an authoritative reflection of the sources of international law – of estoppel. At least no principle which could cover cause of action or issue estoppel. There is no evidence of a customary rule encapsulating estoppel either.[14] Moreover, not even investment treaties seem to contain this mechanism. For example, the 2012 US Model BIT – selected for being relevant to a common law jurisdiction – does not make any reference to estoppel. Neither does one of the latest UK BITs (the UK-Colombia BIT) contain any reference to estoppel – although it does allow the tribunal to address abuse of process; however, this is different than estoppel.


[1] Editor at avocatnet.ro and Associate Expert at DAVA | Strategic Analysis. This post is based on part of my thesis, submitted for the completion of an LL. M. in Law and Economics at Utrecht University. I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Yulia Levashova, for her continuous support and for an in-depth and comprehensive feedback. In any case, I take full responsibility for the opinions and they are exclusively mine, not reflecting anyone else’s or any other institution’s.

[2] Audley Sheppard, ‘Chapter 8. Res Judicata and Estoppel’ in Bernardo M. Cremades Sanz-Pastor and Julian D.M. Lew (eds.), Parallel State and Arbitral Procedures in International Arbitration, p. 225 (hereinafter referred to as ‘Sheppard’).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sean Wilken QC, Karim Ghaly, The Law of Waiver, Variation and Estoppel. Third Edition (Oxford University Press 2012), para. 14.08 (hereinafter referred to as Wilken QC, Ghaly).

[5] Gavan Griffith; Isabella Seif, ‘Chapter 8: Work in Progress: Res Judicata and Issue Estoppel in Investment Arbitration’, in Neil Kaplan and Michael J. Moser (eds), Jurisdiction, Admissibility and Choice of Law in International Arbitration: Liber Amicorum Michael Pryles (Kluwer Law International 2018), p. 124 (hereinafter referred to as ‘Griffith; Seif’).

[6] Wilken QC, Ghaly, para. 14.09.

[7] Ibid..

[8] Sheppard, p. 225.

[9] Griffith; Seif, p. 126.

[10] Charles T. Kotuby Jr. and Luke A. Sobota, General Principles of Law and International Due Process. Principles and Norms Applicable in Transnational Disputes (Oxford University Press 2017), footnote 262, p. 200. Such a conclusion (that estoppel is not a general principle of law) is in accordance with one of the major views in international legal relations as to what constitutes a general principle of law: one ‘which can be derived from a comparison of the various systems of municipal law, and the extraction of such principles as appear to be shared by all, or a majority, of them [emphasis added]’, Hugh Thirlway, The Sources of International Law. Second Edition (Oxford University Press, 2019), p. 108.

[11] Stating that estoppel is a principle of law serves two aims: firstly, the tribunal justifies the application of estoppel by reference to a source of international law (usually, part of the applicable law). Secondly, this gives the tribunal legitimacy, as the tribunal grounds its decision to rely on estoppel on a widely-applicable source of law (whether objectively true or not is not as important).

[12] The cases to which the RSM tribunal referred were mentioned at page 27, footnote 34 of the award: Amco Asia Corporation v Republic of Indonesia, ICSID Case No. ARB/81/1, Decision on Jurisdiction (Resubmitted Case), 10 May 1988, para. 30; Company General of the Orinoco Case, 10 R.I.A.A. 184 (1905); and Southern Pacific Railroad Co. v. United States, 168 U.S. 1 (1897). The second tribunal quoted in turn the third one. As such, I will refer only to the first and third tribunals in the remainder of this part.

[13] Sheppard, p. 234; Griffith, Seif, p. 121.

[14] Christopher Brown, ‘A Comparative and Critical Assessment of Estoppel in International Law’, University of Miami Law Review [Vol. 50:369 1996], pp. 384-385;Pan Kaijun, ‘A Re-Examination of Estoppel in International Jurisprudence’, 16 Chinese Journal of International Law (2017), p. 761.

Ensuring Equitable Access to All Stakeholders: Critical Suggestions for the MIC (EFILA Submission to the UNCITRAL WG no. 3 on ISDS Reforms)

EFILA has recently submitted its suggestions to the UNCITRAL Working Group no. 3 on ISDS Reform. The entire document can be found here. An extract can be read below.

The European Federation for Investment Law and Arbitration (EFILA) believes that no discussion about the reform of the investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS) system should occur without taking stock of the interests of all stakeholders. This is particularly true for the proposal for a Multilateral Investment Court (MIC), which is currently being discussed and negotiated in UNCITRAL Working Group III. Without the active participation of all stakeholders (i.e. all potential users of the MIC) – including investors and their legal counsel – any ISDS system will lack legitimacy.

With this in mind, EFILA submits the following, non-exhaustive suggestions for ISDS reform and, in particular, for the MIC proposal:

The Appointment & Selection of MIC Judges: Central to the ISDS system’s ability to effectively resolve disputes between investors and States is the confidence of all stakeholders in their decision-makers. For this reason, EFILA believes that investors should continue to have a direct and indirect say in the choice of their decision-makers. The MIC should:

  1. Let a college of representatives chosen by the investors, as users of the system, participate in choosing candidates for the MIC;
  2. Give all stakeholders a right to strike out a given number of judges assigned to their panel; and
  3. Allow all stakeholders to retain the right to challenge MIC judges on the basis of clearly defined standards before an independent body.

Consistency of MIC Decisions: EFILA agrees that consistency in legal decisions is an important element of any well-functioning dispute resolution system. Consistency, however, must be objective. It cannot be used as a means to “correct” awards that arrive at unwelcome results. Any responses to consistency must respect the rule of law and the equality of the parties.

Accordingly, any final design of the MIC should:

  1. Not allow joint binding interpretations with potentially retroactive effect;
  2. Avoid unnecessarily reducing the material scope of the standards of investment and investor protection; and
  3. Limit exclusions of certain types of investors, investments and sectors to only to the
    extent objectively and reasonably necessary.

Access To Justice For SMEs: Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are an integral part of the global economy. Any proposed reform of the ISDS system cannot disregard SMEs or discourage them from making full use of the ISDS system. The MIC, therefore, must include structural and systemic solutions that effectively ensure access to the system for SMEs. These include:

  1. Adopting cost-efficient rules that promote access to justice by SMEs;
  2. Establishing a process that informs and educates SMEs about the ISDS system and helps them to assess their claims; and
  3. Creating a financial support system for accessibility to the ISDS system for SMEs.

Enforcement of MIC Decisions: The application of the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention) to MIC decisions (even if just on an interim basis) raises serious potential obstacles to the enforceability of those decisions. Further thought should be given to ensuring that MIC decisions will be enforceable.

These suggestions, EFILA believes, will encourage confidence from all stakeholders in the MIC system and thus make the MIC a fair dispute settlement system for all users.

The entire document can be found here.

Schrödinger’s Investment: the EU’s General Court Considers that the Compensation Ordered by the Micula Tribunal is Not a Form of State Aid (Although it Might as Well Have Been)

Alexandros Catalin Bakos, LL.M. Candidate, Utrecht University

In a somewhat fortunate turn of events for the stability (or what is left of it in any case) of the intra-European Union (intra-EU) investment treaty system, the General Court of the European Union (GCEU) has annulled the EU Commission’s decision rendered against Romania for illegal state aid concerning the enforcement of the Micula arbitral award. Although the GCEU’s decision may be good news for the investors themselves, it does nothing to allay fears regarding the future of intra-EU ISDS. In the grand scheme of things, the effects which culminated with the Achmea judgement are still there.

This latest installment in the long-running saga of intra-EU investment treaties and their conflict with the EU legal order does not substantially change the paradigm. In fact, one may argue that it complicates the matters: the only certain conclusion that can be derived from the General Court’s decision is the fact that there can be no conflict between EU State Aid rules and intra-EU Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs)/awards based on such treaties if the compensation ordered by the tribunal relates to measures which were taken prior to the entry into force of EU law. However, the Court did not analyze what is the situation of compensation which needs to be paid for measures adopted after the entry into force of EU law.

In any case, before continuing with the decision’s analysis, a short recap of the major developments in this situation is in order.

How did we get here? 

Prior to joining the EU, the Romanian state offered the Micula brothers and the companies controlled by them (the investors) certain custom duty exemptions and other tax breaks (the GCEU’s decision, paras. 5-6). Later, in 2004 and 2005, those exemptions and breaks were suddenly repealed, in an effort to ensure compliance with the EU laws on State Aid – which would become effective from 1 January 2007 (the GCEU’s decision, para 12). Because of this, the investors began ICSID arbitration proceedings, challenging the compliance of the measure with the applicable BIT (the 2002 Sweden-Romania BIT). The arbitral tribunal found in the investors’ favour and ordered Romania to pay compensation amounting to approximately €178 million. The court’s finding was based on a violation of the fair and equitable treatment standard. More specifically, on behaviour contrary to the legitimate expectations of the investors. This is of utmost importance, as what was considered to be in breach of the treaty was not the repealing of the exemptions itself, but the manner in which this occurred. The arbitral tribunal expressly found that ‘by repealing the […] incentives prior to 1 April 2009, Romania did not act unreasonably or in bad faith […] [H]owever […] Romania violated the Claimants’ legitimate expectations that those incentives would be available, in substantially the same form, until 1 April 2009. Romania also failed to act transparently by failing to inform the Claimants in a timely manner that the regime would be terminated prior to its stated date of expiration. As a result, the Tribunal finds that Romania failed to “ensure fair and equitable treatment of the investments” of the Claimants in the meaning of Article 2(3) of the BIT’ (para. 872 of the award).

Subsequently, the investors sought the enforcement of the award. However, this proved difficult because the EU Commission intervened and tried to prevent Romania from enforcing the award. The former argued that an enforcement would constitute a form of illegal state aid. After Romania, nonetheless, partially paid the award, the EU Commission officially adopted a decision against the Romanian state for breach of State Aid rules. The Commission’s argument was that this payment would, in essence, favour the investors in the same way in which the exemptions favoured them in the first place. Romania, thus, was under an obligation to stop paying the award and to recover the amount which had been paid so far. This was eventually challenged by the investors before the GCEU and the judgement analyzed here is the European Court’s decision regarding that challenge.

This turn of events determined other courts where enforcement of the award was sought to stay the proceedings until the European Court will have rendered an award concerning the challenge to the EU Commission’s decision on illegal state aid (see here for an example).

What does the GCEU’s decision entail and what does it not entail?

The GCEU found that the compensation rendered by the Micula arbitral award could not be considered illegal state aid, at least as it regards events which took place before Romania’s accession to the EU (para. 109 of the GCEU’s decision).

The essence of the GCEU’s arguments is based on a clear establishment of the temporal nexus to which the arbitral award referred (paras. 71-93 of the GCEU’s decision). To this end, the Court clarified that all the relevant issues (including the events which gave rise to the right to compensation) arose and produced effects before Romania’s accession to the EU (para. 71). In that respect, even if the arbitral tribunal’s award was rendered after EU law became applicable to Romania, it merely ‘retroactively produced definitively acquired effects which it merely ‘stated’ for the past, that is to say, effects which, in part, were already established before accession’ (para. 84 of the GCEU’s decision). Accordingly, even if the award was rendered after Romania’s accession to the EU, ‘the Commission retroactively applied the powers which it held under Article 108 TFEU and Regulation No 659/1999 to events predating Romania’s accession to the European Union. Therefore, the Commission could not classify the measure at issue as State aid within the meaning of Article 107(1) TFEU’ (para. 92 of the GCEU’s decision).

What is interesting, though, is that the GCEU referred only to a part of the compensation as not being under the Commission’s power of review. It did not exclude the entirety of the award from the Commission’s reach: ‘as regards the amounts granted as compensation for the period subsequent to Romania’s accession to the European Union, namely, the period from 1 January 2007 to 1 April 2009, even assuming that the payment of compensation relating to that period could be classified as incompatible aid, given that the Commission did not draw a distinction between the periods of compensation for the damage suffered by the applicants before or after accession, the Commission has, in any event, exceeded its powers in the area of State aid review’ (para. 91 of the GCEU’s decision). In other words, had the Commission distinguished between the pre-accession and the post-accession periods, the decision may not have been annulled after all (or may have been only partially annulled).

Clearly, the GCEU left open the possibility of finding an incompatibility between State Aid rules and the observance of an arbitral award rendered for acts which occurred after EU law became applicable. And this is what the decision does not entail: it does not clarify whether compensation payable on the basis of an arbitral award is contrary to EU State Aid rules.

It is true that the Court began an analysis of whether compensation offered on the basis of an arbitral award can be considered State Aid, but it stopped short of drawing any relevant conclusions. It limited itself to referring to the general conditions necessary for State Aid to arise (paras. 100-103 of the GCEU’s decision) and concluded that it cannot be considered that the compensation amounted to a form of illegal State Aid, at least not until the accession period. However, after the accession period, the analysis would advance to the issue of whether the objective elements of illegal State Aid were present: this, however, was not undertaken by the Court. It never determined whether the measure was imputable to Romania. And one can clearly see why the Court avoided this. It would be very hard to argue that the compensation ordered by the arbitral award can amount to illegal state aid.

Firstly, how can one impute an investment tribunal’s award to Romania? This would mean that Romania had control over the arbitrators, which is clearly not the case. Quite the opposite, as otherwise arbitration would not have been used so often in the settlement of investor-state disputes. Neutrality is one of the reasons ISDS exists. Additionally, for state aid to exist, one needs to demonstrate effective control of the state over the body which adopts the decision alleged to constitute such state aid (para. 52 of the Stardust case – France v. Commission, Case C-482/99). As shown earlier, this is clearly not the case with an investment arbitral tribunal.

Moreover, the GCEU mentioned that ‘compensation for damage suffered cannot be regarded as aid unless it has the effect of compensating for the withdrawal of unlawful or incompatible aid’ (para. 103 of the GCEU’s decision). This must be read together with the Court’s earlier judgment in the Asteris case. The basis of this case-law is that ‘State Aid […] is fundamentally different in its legal nature from damages which the competent national authorities may be ordered to pay individuals in compensation for the damage which they have caused to those individuals’ (para. 23 of the Asteris judgment). In this context, one must tread carefully before concluding that the subsequent compensation is, in fact, a hidden form of State Aid. Given the evident difference between the two, it is of utmost importance to demonstrate in-depth that in a specific case this difference is diluted.

One underlying premise for this difference to be able to disappear is for the EU Member State to actually be the one which formally re-institutes the illegal aid through the formal measure of compensation. The two measures – the initial state aid and, subsequently, the compensation for the withdrawal of the unlawful measure – must be seen as a whole, as having one purpose and as being able to be imputed to one entity – in this case, the Romanian state. In the Micula case, though, this was not present. The initial measure was indeed adopted by the Romanian state. The compensation, though, was decided by an objective and neutral tribunal. They are related, but they do not constitute one whole. Not to mention the fact that it can be very hard to argue that compensation on the basis of an award could offer unjustified economic advantages.

Secondly, one other condition for the compensation to be considered as re-instituting the illegal State Aid is for the compensation to be structured so as to replace the illegal measure itself. Nonetheless, this was not the case with the Micula award. One aspect must be taken into consideration in order to understand the difference between the customs and tax incentives themselves (the illegal State Aid) and the arbitral award. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, it was not the withdrawal of the incentive schemes that was considered to be the basis of compensation. What led to the present outcome was the manner in which the withdrawal took place, essentially leading to an infringement of legitimate expectations. Those are different and it is clear that, in any case, this would not be a case of re-instituting said state aid through the backdoor.

As such, the GCEU’s award is clearly not a silver lining for intra-EU ISDS, as it does not clarify – in the end – the most important aspect: can compensation rendered by an arbitral award be considered illegal state aid? In this context, when one thinks about the general scheme of things, it becomes evident that nothing has really changed: Achmea is alive (the effects have come sooner rather than later). Additionally, nobody knows its scope, especially when it comes to the Energy Charter Treaty’s (ECT) arbitration mechanism. Although arbitral practice seems to insist that Achmea does not preclude intra-EU ISDS on the basis of the ECT, what is eagerly waited is the CJEU’s position on this. After this, the CETA opinion – although reconciling ISDS with EU law when there is a third party (a party outside the EU) involved – does not mean the endorsement of intra-EU ISDS; it can clearly be seen that the EU’s position within UNCITRAL’s Working Group III is still the one we have been used to for so long: ISDS must be replaced with a standing court.


[1] LL. M. candidate in Law and Economics at Utrecht University.