The ‘Mixed’ Future of the EU’s Investment Law and Arbitration Policy

by Nikos Lavranos, Secretary General of EFILA*

The year 2016 must be considered a real “annus horribilis” for the EU’s investment law and arbitration policy. The following list is just an incomplete overview of the failures of the European Commission to deliver any positive results:

  • TTIP was not concluded within the presidency of the Obama Administration and seems to be put in the freezer by President-elect Trump;
  • Even after Wallonia has been appeased, CETA is still not certain of being actually ratified by all Member States and enter fully into force, since the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) is going to opine on the compatibility of the investment court system (ICS) with EU law;
  • AG Sharpston recently delivered her opinion on the EU-Singapore FTA, arguing that this FTA must be concluded as a “mixed” agreement, i.e., signed and ratified by all Member States and the EU. Consequently, also this FTA will most likely face similar difficulties as CETA, in particular since it still contains the ostracized “old school” ISDS provisions.
  • The European Commission intensified its efforts of destroying the intra-EU BITs by mounting infringement proceedings against 5 Member States and by prohibiting Romania to pay out the $ 250 million Micula award and thereby fulfilling its international.
  • Similarly, the European Commission continues to intervene in all intra-EU BITs and intra-ECT disputes, trying to prevent European investors to rely on the rights granted to them by these treaties, which are still valid and in force.

In short, after 7 years since the EU obtained exclusive competence for “foreign direct investments”, the EU’s investment policy is not only practically absent but has – more importantly – created legal uncertainty and cast doubt as to the investment climate and the rule of law within the EU. This is even more disappointing in light of the unprecedented financial and economic crisis, which has hit most of the EU Member States and continues to smoulder beneath the surface. Instead of attracting new foreign direct investments, which would create jobs, the European Commission has been financing anti-ISDS, anti-investment and anti-globalization groups to scare the general public and media about something that has been in place for more than 50 years.

Looking ahead, the year 2017 should be used for pause and reflection, and ultimately, change of the chosen path.

After the CETA-drama and the Opinion of the CJEU on the EU-Singapore FTA, which will most likely follow AG Sharpeston’s analysis, the European Commission should – for a start –

accept and embrace “mixity” as the new reality. This would be a very important move by the European Commission because it could allow her to stop fighting with the Member States about competences, thereby enabling it to spend her resources on more relevant issues.

As the CETA-drama has aptly demonstrated, involving the Member States – including their regional parliaments – is a necessity in order to create any sufficient level of support for FTAs. In other words, “mixity” is a tool for increasing democratic involvement and control by the Member States and their voters. In light of the rising populism in Europe – and in light of the upcoming elections in France, Germany and Netherlands which all will take place in 2017 – this point should not to be underestimated.

In this connection, it may be advisable if the European Commission would apply the motto “less is more”. Currently, the European Commission is negotiating more than a dozen FTAs ranging from China to Tunisia. Considering the efforts, time and resources necessary for negotiating and concluding just one FTA, a prioritization of all these FTA-negotiations is essential.

In the second place, the European Commission and the European Parliament should stop stirring up the hysteria again investors, investment protection and arbitration. Investment protection and arbitration have been important and necessary elements for the promotion and protection of European investments and investors investing abroad and thereby creating jobs in Europe as well as improving the economic development in the countries of their investment destinations. Moreover, investment treaties continue to have an important role as a tool for improving the rule of law situation in many countries in the world.

Therefore, in the third place, the discourse has to change towards how investment treaties can be used as a tool for improving the functioning, efficiency and transparency of state organs across the board, in particular with the aim of eradicating corruption. This would not only benefit foreign investors but – more importantly – domestic investors and the general public.

In sum, 2017 should be the year in which the demonization of investment treaties, investment protection and arbitration has to end. Instead of spreading myths and hysteria, all relevant stakeholders should calm down and return to a fact- and merit based discourse.

As in the past years, EFILA will continue to exactly do that.

Starting with our 3rd Annual Conference on 23 February in Vienna.

At the same time calling for submissions of papers for the European Investment Law and Arbitration Review.

By requesting blogpost submssions for the EFILAblog.

By submitting its views to the public consultation on the investment court system.

Finally, by hosting the next Annual Lecture, which will be delivered by a well-known arbitration expert, sometime in the fall of 2017.

With this hopeful outlook, I wish you all a very peaceful new year.


* Nikos Lavranos, Secretary General of EFILA, visiting professor Verona University, Fellow at the WTI.

 

Why the EU’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Competence Should be Re-nationalized

by Nikos Lavranos, Secretary General of EFILA

At the last meeting of the Trade Policy Committee (TPC) at Full Members level, that is at Director General level, encompassing all MS and the European Commission, DG Demarty of the Commission is quoted as saying that the EU trade policy would have a “big credibility problem” if it could not ratify the CETA deal and added that it would be “close to death.”

He is definitely correct with this assessment, but he does not draw the necessary conclusions from this assessment, namely, that the Commission has spectacularly failed to provide the added value when the Member States rather unconsciously transferred the competence on foreign direct investment to the EU. This in turn leads to the conclusion that the trade and investment policy has been de facto re-nationalized.

In order to understand this conclusion, it is important to give a short historic overview of what has happened (or rather not) since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force in December 2009.

The unconscious transfer of the FDI competence

There seems to be no documented story on why, how and when exactly the FDI competence was transferred from the Member States to the EU. Anecdotal stories tell that in the very last minutes before the European Convention was concluded, which was tasked with drawing up a European Constitution, the European Commission rather secretly smuggled the three words “foreign direct investment” into the provision containing the exclusive trade competence of the EU.

At that time, since investment policy had been a purely national matter of the Member States, no investment policy or arbitration experts were present or involved in the drawing up of the European Constitution. Rather general EU law experts were doing the job, which were told since the EU’s internal capital market provisions already also apply to foreign investors, it makes sense as a sort of mirror provision to expand the EU’s competence to include foreign direct investment. In this context, it is interesting to note that nowhere was there any further definition or description of the scope of  FDI. As will be explained below, this lack of clarity is the root of the failure of the EU’s investment policy.

Whether or not the anecdotal stories are true, the fact is that after the European Constitution was re-labelled as Lisbon Treaty, FDI became part of Art.207 TFEU, which used to be the old Art.133 EC, covering the European Common Commercial Policy, in particular WTO law.

So, when the Lisbon Treaty entered into force in late 2009, neither the Member States nor the Commission really knew what this meant.

Mixity: the big elephant in the room

But from the very beginning, it was clear that there was one big elephant in the room, named “mixity”.

The mixity issue surfaced regularly at various levels and has created constant tensions between the Member States and the European Commission.

The first issue where mixity came up was regarding the scope of the FDI competence.

While most Member States understand FDI in a narrow sense, encompassing  only direct investments, the Commission naturally construed it broadly, covering also indirect investments.

These divergent views have been simmering in the background all the time with occasional burst outs. For example, when Member States or rather the Council issued negotiating mandates to the Commission for FTAs. The Member States always stressed that they assumed these FTAs should be mixed, whereas the Commission always claimed that they are in principle EU exclusive, and in any case this would depend on the final content of the FTAs.

In other words, this issue was never settled and it appeared that only the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) could settle this for good. Indeed, Karel de Gucht, the former Trade Commissioner, was so fed up about the mixity issue, that in his final day in office he brought the question to the CJEU. He asked the CJEU for an opinion as to whether the EU-Singapore FTA is mixed or EU exclusive. The Commission obviously being of the opinion that it is EU exclusive.

Mixity as a political appeasement instrument

 

While the general public has largely been unaware of the EU-Singapore FTA and the mixity issue before the CJEU, the widespread political hysteria against TTIP, and to lesser extent against CETA, has forced the Commission to adopt a selective U-turn on the mixity issue.

First, with regard to TTIP, Commissioner Malmstrom rather quickly understood that in order to save TTIP and obtain some minimum acceptance in several key Member States, such as Germany, France, Netherlands and Austria, a vote by the respective national parliaments is an absolute precondition for getting the TTIP deal done. Accordingly, Malmstrom has been touring most Member States assuring them that their parliaments will be voting on TTIP.

Second, and in contrast to the politically sensible U-turn regarding TTIP, which though is in clear conflict with the Commission’s longstanding view that it is exclusively competent for all investment issues, Malmstrom, and her adjutant Demarty, until very recently maintained their position that CETA should be ratified as an EU-exclusive agreement. After all, CETA and in particular the hated ISDS provisions have been drastically reformed, so all concerns have been addressed and a vote by the European Parliament on CETA should give sufficient comfort to the Member States and their citizens.

But the massive critique against any trade deal in the Member States has been gaining so much momentum that the Commission had to give in – also regarding CETA. Thus, CETA will be ratified as a mixed agreement, which may take several years before all parliaments (it appears that also several regional parliaments will vote on it as well) have ratified it.

This brings us to the third thorny issue, namely the so-called “provisional application” of CETA (or any other trade deal). It has become tradition in the past to apply trade deals provisionally as soon as the Council signs it off, while awaiting the conclusion of the whole ratification process. The obvious advantage of this is that the benefits of the trade deal can be reaped immediately, notwithstanding the non- fulfillment of the formal legal requirements. The question, which pops up in this context is, which parts of the trade deal can be immediately “applied provisionally”? That depends on which parts of the trade deal are considered to fall in the exclusive competence of the EU and which parts are still wholly or partly with the Member States’ competence.

Again, the Commission started off from its maximum position that the whole treaty should be provisionally applied. But the Member States – having realized how far the Commission is ready to go in order to save the CETA deal – came up with a whole list of policy areas (which most likely will be extended after the summer break), which are to be excluded from the provisional application of CETA. In addition to investment protection rules, Member States have flagged in particular transport, sustainability chapter in parts, culture subsidies, mediation and criminal sanctions to protect intellectual property, as areas to be excluded from provisional application.

The Commission already has accepted that investment rules should be excluded but continues to fight any further expansion of the list, arguing that this would undermine any meaningful provisional application.

This battle will go for some weeks ahead, but the intention is that CETA is finally signed at the EU-Canada summit on 27 October 2016. Accordingly, sometime in early October the Member States and the Commission must agree on the list of policy areas, which de facto are considered to be mixed.

The de facto re-nationalization of the trade and investment policy

Again, it can be expected that the Commission will be flexible in order to get the deal done, which only  enhances the position of the Member States.

That will be even more so in the case of TTIP, which is far more important (politically and economically speaking), but also far more contagious and politicized in the public debate. Member States have realized that they are in a much stronger position if they appear to be critical or outright against TTIP rather than in support of it. Consequently, citing domestic public outcry against TTIP, Member States can not only request that TTIP must be mixed, but can extract further demands from the Commission, such the exclusion of certain policy areas or further “improvements” of highly politicized areas such as regulatory cooperation, geographical indications, agricultural etc.

All this boils down to the conclusion that the Commission’s position that it has exclusive competence over all trade and investment aspects can simply not be maintained anymore by the Commission. Whereas the original idea might have been good to give the Commission a carte blanche because it presumably could negotiate better trade deals, it has become clear over the past 6 years that the Commission has failed to deliver. The main reason for that is that it “forgot” to take the Member States’ concerns serious and instead consistently opted to remind them that they have no say anymore on trade and investment issues. In other words, rather than working closely together with the Member States and carefully listen to them, the Commission did what it wanted. However, in the current political climate and with Brexit ahead of us, the support for the EU is rapidly dwindling. Instead, Member States are reasserting their powers again. Indeed, it is striking to see how easily and within months the Member States have been able to force the Commission to give up its almost sacred position of exclusive competence. The Commission has now seemingly adopted a more practical and realistic approach of accepting mixity for free trade deals. Although, it remains to be seen how it will handle the outcome of the Opinion of the CJEU regarding the EU-Singapore FTA.

In sum, it must be concluded that the transfer of the FDI competence to the EU has not yielded any results since the beginning. After 6 years no single trade deal has been fully signed, ratified and entered into force. In addition, the Commission is spreading doubts about the legal certainty of Member States’ BITs (both intra and extra) and is undermining the application of the ECT. Therefore, the Member States are only right in re-asserting control over trade and investment issues. Indeed, Brexit will offer an excellent opportunity to delete FDI from the exclusive EU competence, when the EU treaties have to be modified anyway.

Right to Regulation & Investment Court System: Alternative to ISDS? (Part I)

   by Pratyush Nath Upreti, Upreti & Associates*

Intellectual Property is sexy! Its romantic endeavor with other branches of law makes it appealing for IP scholars. This romance can be seen through the lens of the global Intellectual property regime. In today’s industrialized world, the landscape of the intellectual property is changing. Mostly, all forms of ‘intellectual property’ have raised debate in the trade agreements domain, making it an important aspect of trade negotiation. The open market economy encourages the developed countries to opt for Investment/Trade Agreement such as Free trade agreement (FTA), Bilateral Investment Treaties to attract investors by strengthening IP regimes. It is evident that IP as incentive commodity has turned into assets, trading commodity.

Similarly, the expectation of investors is increasing. Recent cases such as Philip Morris v. Uruguay have revealed the complexity and potential overlap between intellectual property, Investment Law, and Trade Law. The nature of claims raised in such cases has raised serious concerns regarding state’s sovereign right to regulate, which is reflected in the ongoing negotiation of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The recent public consultation report on investment protection and investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the TTIP reveals that the Commission received a total of nearly 15,000 replies and an overwhelming majority showed concern to the inclusion of ISDS in TTIP.

One of the aspects is the EU Right to regulate provisions in the Investment Agreement. The concern raised is that the ISDS would be a potential limitation to the rights of government to regulate on public interest. Earlier September, European Commission published a draft text of the Investment Chapter in the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US, propose the ‘Investment Court’, which has generated discussion.

Right to Regulation

According to the report from the Swedish National Board of Trade, the term ‘right to regulate’ is misleading. The report refers right to regulate as ‘to the extent to which the state can legislate and make decisions without running the risk of being found in violation of the treaty and having to pay damages’. It has been an established principle of state sovereign right to regulate on public, health and environment affairs. But the diverse opinions of tribunals and increasing legitimate expectation of Investor has seriously narrowed the state right to regulate.  The very fundamental question is to what extent can investors expectations rise?

In Eli Lilly vs. Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Eli Lilly a pharmaceutical company invoked investment claims under UNCITRAL rules, on the ground that the patent invalidation by a Canadian Court violated a principle of fair and equitable treatment, including Lilly’s legitimate expectation about the treatment of its investment and Canada’s obligation to refrain from conduct that is arbitrary, unfair, unjust and discriminatory. Further, it was argued that ‘Lily was entitled to reasonably rely on the stability, predictability, and consistency of Canada’s Legal and business framework existing at each stage of the establishment, expansion, and development of Lilly’s Investment.

The above cases raised a fundamental question on the scope of application of ‘fair and equitable treatment or reasonable expectation of investment’ under intellectual property investment claims. The investor expectation should not be subjective and not all investor expectations are legitimate. Moreover, the arguments put forward by the claimant in Lilly directly come in conflict with state sovereign right to regulate the domestic Intellectual Property. The investor completely ignores the difference between the pre-existing rights and post-existing rights. Both the pre and post rights have limitation. The right does not arise if a prerequisite is not fulfilled. Similarly, once rights are acquired, they cannot be absolute; they are subject to changes on several grounds.

In practice, fair and equitable treatment and full protection and security are not absolute, there being limitations. Parkerings-Compagniet AS v. Lithuania tribunal analyzed the state sovereign power to regulate lies on higher foot then claims of free and equitable treatment. The Tribunal stated:

 

“It is each state’s undeniable right and privilege to exercise its sovereign legislative power. A state has the tight to enact, modify or cancel a law at its own discretion. Save for the existence of an agreement, in the form of a stabilization clause or otherwise, there is nothing objectionable about the amendment brought to the regulatory framework existing at the time an investor made its investment. As a matter of fact, any businessman or investor knows that law will evolve over time. What is prohibited however is for a State to act unfairly, unreasonably or inequitably in the exercise of its legislative power.”

Similarly, in Chemtura v. Canada, the tribunal upheld the Canadian government’s right to legislate laws based on scientific reviews and dismissed the investor’s claims. However, critics of ISDS have raised that such limitation of state right to regulate may bring regulatory snare. Therefore, Europe is trying to narrow down the scope of provision under the agreement to avoid vague interpretation by a tribunal. The previous agreements such as CETA and EU Singapore FTA, were drafted in a way to have a higher benchmark on the right to regulate.

For example under CETA, Article X.9 clears list down the contents of fair and equitable treatment such as (i) denial of justice in criminal, civil or administrative proceedings (ii) fundamental breach of due process (ii) arbitrary conduct and among others. The closed list avoids unwarranted interpretation by the tribunal, which may affect state right to regulate. Similarly, Article X.11 excludes expropriation claims on compulsory license and exclusively explains that indirect expropriation occurs when measure substantially deprives the investor property right such as (i) right to use (ii) enjoy and dispose of its investment (ii) transfer of title or seizure. In spite of such approach, public outcry on ISDS provisions seems to be a major hurdle for the European Union.  Therefore, to negate such a scenario and create a positive public opinion on TTIP, the Commission has proposed ‘Investment Court’ to address Investor claims.

Investment Court: Coffin for ISDS?

The concept of ‘Investment Court’ has been floating through Commission Draft Text of TTIP, which opens with a disclaimer that the document is solely for internal purpose and the commission will consult with the EU’s Member States and discuss the proposal with the European Parliament before presenting it formally to the United States.  The said EU proposal for an Investment Court is described as ‘over ambitious’ and deprives investors of the traditional possibility to choose their arbitrator. The proposal establishes a two tier court system; Tribunal of First Instance (tribunal) and Appeal Tribunal. The tribunal will follow the existing international arbitration rules of ICSID and UNCITRAL. Similarly, Article 13 allows the tribunal to apply only international law and interpret agreements in accordance with customary rules of interpretation. The provision expressly argues that the tribunal is not obliged by domestic interpretations of the law and the tribunal shall not have jurisdiction to determine the legality of a measure under the domestic law of the disputing party.

One of the criticisms of ISDS was the lack of transparency and maverick arbitrators. The proposed Investment Court has overcome such criticism. According to Article 11 of the proposal, judges of the Tribunal and members of the Appeal Tribunal must be persons whose independence is beyond doubt. Similarly, judges shall not be affiliated with government or organizations and also upon appointment, they shall refrain from acting as counsel in any pending or new investment protection disputes under this or any other agreement or domestic law.  In addition, the party to the dispute may challenge the appointment of the judge if it considers that the judge or member has a conflict of interests.

The very fundamental principle of investment arbitration is the investor’s active role in the appointment of an arbitrator. The proposed draft takes away this privilege of investors. However, the proposed draft gives an opportunity to the United States and the European Union to appoint permanent judges to the Appeal Tribunal and also to the Tribunal of First Instance.

This makes me suspicious regarding the possible political appointment of judges. This is very much possible, considering the worries of EU. Moreover, such pro-state judges will keep in mind to avoid unnecessary interpretation which limits the state’s right to regulation.  I believe that the investors cannot accept such an appointment process as the very fundamental reason for the involvement of investors in the appointment process was to avoid political interference. Therefore, I think the Commission should reconsider the appointment of judges and – if needed – some share should also be given to investor to balance the appointment process.

The proposed draft clearly fills the demand for more transparency in the arbitration process by abiding with the ‘UNCITRAL Transparency Rules’ and lists down documents to be publicly made available upon request. Additionally, it goes beyond and allows disclosure of third party funding to the parties.  This is indeed a very important aspect of the proposed draft.

In the end, I conclude that the proposed Investment Court seems a way to avoid ISDS. Moreover, it looks that proposal aims to gather positive public opinion on TTIP. The major question is even if the proposal of Investment Court System is accepted, then will it be applied retrospectively to all previous several Investment Agreement to which EU is member? If not, then there is always a scope of diverse opinion, which may narrow the state right to regulate. Time will tell whether ‘Investment Court’ is coffin to ISDS or muffin to the EU trade policy.

Let time be the protagonist.


Pratyush Nath Upreti recently completed Advanced Master (LLM) Intellectual Property Law & Knowledge Management (IPKM) from Maastricht University, Netherlands.  He is also an active member of New IP Lawyer’s, a wing of school of Law and its research centre SCule (Science, Culture and the Law) under University of Exeter, United Kingdom. He can be reached by p.upreti@student.maastrichtuniversity.nl

A BIT-By-BIT Understanding of the EU’s Present & Future Investment Agreements

by Emma Spiteri-Gonzi*

Anyone with an interest in European investment and trade will undoubtedly have heard of the EU-US TTIP or, to use its full name, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Naturally, this makes sense as the US is the EU’s top trading partner and a trade agreement of this significance would unquestionably make headlines. The reality, however, is slightly different and the TTIP has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. One of these is the controversy generated from its investment chapter, more specifically its investor state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS). The aim of this piece is to shift focus away from this arduous debate and instead take a glance at the whole of the EU’s trade policy agenda.

Amidst the controversy of the TTIP negotiations the EU has already concluded a free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea. The final text of the EU-Singapore FTA was also agreed upon, along with five Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, the Southern African Development Community, Ghana and the East African Community. These new generation EU investment agreements form part of an ambitious trade agenda by way of the EU’s Common Commercial Policy (CCP), Articles 206 and 207 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which call for the ‘harmonious development of world trade’ and ‘the progressive abolition of restrictions on foreign direct investment’. Prior to the CCP EU Member States entered into their own investment agreements with third countries. The first bilateral investment treaty was the German-Pakistan BIT, a bit ironic given the heated opposition to TTIP from that member state.  After the German-Pakistan BIT individual member states concluded around 1200 bilateral investment treaties. The Commission is now tasked with finding a consensus approach to trade agreements amongst member States.

For a moment, let’s ignore the hyperbolic headlines (e.g. ‘Trojan TTIP’) and review instead what these new generation agreements will mean for us. The Commission has said that if the EU was to complete all its current free trade talks tomorrow, it could add 2.2% to the EU’s GDP or €275 billion. This is equivalent to adding a country as big as Austria or Denmark to the EU economy. The agreements will cover goods, services, intellectual property and the procurement by government agencies of goods and services for a public function. Furthermore, these agreements will set out provisions on regulatory coordination and cooperation to facilitate trade in the covered areas, as well as establish rules to govern what qualifies as an investment and who qualifies for protection as an investor. They will contain commitments on customs duty reduction, access to services markets, and also consolidate and regulate technical barriers to trade (TBT) such as technical regulations relating to labeling or marking requirements.

The EU is also undergoing treaty negotiations with its second and third largest trading partners, China and the ASEAN [1] countries respectively. Chinese EU trade negotiations have reached their seventh round, with the eighth round scheduled to take place in Brussels at the end of November 2015. Also underway are negotiations for a FTA with JAPAN. Negotiations with Japan, the EU’s second biggest trading partner in Asia, are in their twelfth round, though as yet no agreement on an investment chapter has been reached. A Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with Morocco has entered the fourth round of negotiations. And, with recent or coming regime change in India, Burma and Argentina those countries are destined to move up the ladder on the EU’s trade negotiation agenda.

With Canada, the EU’s twelfth most important trading partner, the EU has concluded a Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA). This agreement’s investment chapter is the investment chapter on which the TTIP’s investment chapter was modeled. Yet, the CETA managed to reach final form without attracting the scrutiny of TTIP critics. The EU has also entered into a DCFTA with Moldova and Georgia, which began to apply provisionally from September 2014. The EU-Ukraine DCFTA was completed and provisional application will begin once it has been ratified.

With the proliferation of present and pipeline new generation EU investment agreements, do critics use time wisely merely focusing on the TTIP and tarnishing ISDS? We stand to miss the forest for the trees. Europeans ought not lose focus on the end goal, the creation of favourable investment climate and the economic rewards that come with it.


[1] The EU is currently negotiating with three Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.


* Emma Spiteri Gonzi, Legal Counsel- Nemea Bank Plc.