Practical Implications of the New Legal Framework for Foreign Direct Investment in the European Union

By Dr. Philipp Stompfe, LL.M. (London)*

In March 2018, following an initiative of Germany, France and Italy, the Council of the European Union (“EU”) approved a Regulation on establishing a framework for screening of foreign direct investments (“FDI”) into the European Union (“Regulation”).

The new Regulation entered into force on 10 April 2019 and will apply from 11 October 2020.

The Regulation creates an enabling framework for Member States to screen foreign direct investments on grounds of security and public order. The Regulation does not require Member States to adopt a screening mechanism for foreign direct investment, nor does it exhaustively mandate the substantive or procedural features for screening mechanisms. It only sets out basic requirements that should be common to Member States’ screening mechanisms.

Furthermore, the Regulation creates a co-operation mechanism between Member States to share information about foreign direct investment planned or completed on the territory of one or several Member States. It also provides the possibility for other Member States and the Commission to comment on such investment, but leaves the final decision on the appropriate response to the Member States in which the investment is planned or completed.

Moreover, the Regulation introduces the possibility for the Commission to screen foreign direct investments which are likely to affect projects or programmes of Union interest on security and public order grounds.

At least according to official EU announcements, the new Regulation does not attempt to harmonize the existing investment screening mechanisms of the Member States or to introduce an EU-wide screening mechanism. However, there is no doubt that the Regulation will have a very practical impact on foreign direct investments into the EU, both in substance and procedure.

Background

The European Commission (“EC”) constantly emphasizes that the EU maintains an open investment environment and welcomes foreign investment.

In its recent Reflection Paper on “Harnessing Globalisation” issued on 10 May 2017, the EC confirmed that openness to foreign investment remains a key principle for the EU and a major source of growth, but at the same time it recognised that there have been some concerns about foreign investors, notably state-owned enterprises, taking over European companies with key technologies for strategic reasons, and that EU investors often do not enjoy the same rights to invest in the country from which the investment originates.

The list of controversial company takeovers and acquisitions of major European companies is getting longer and longer. Kuka, Aixtron or OSRAM light are just a few examples.

Against this backdrop, the growing political will to more actively screen, control, and ultimately even prevent foreign direct investments flowing into Europe does not come as a surprise.

In this regard, screening mechanisms on the national level are not a novel tool. Rather, almost half of the EU Member States maintain foreign investment control regimes, i.e. Austria, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

In particular, the new EU Regulation is to be seen in the context of recent amendments to foreign investment review laws in Europe’s major economies, Germany and France.

On 19 December 2018, the German government passed amendments to the German Foreign Trade and Payments Act (“AWG”) and to the German Foreign Trade and Payment Ordinance (“AWV”).

In this regard, the German legislator has lowered the threshold for the screening of FDI to the acquisition of 10% of the voting rights of a German company being active in the military and encryption sector and of German companies which are operating in the field of critical infrastructure according to the Regulation for Identifying Critical Infrastructure.

At first, the French foreign investment review regime was limited to a small number of business activities, in particular to gambling, private security services, weapons, warfare equipment and cryptology. However, due to serious amendments to the French Monetary and Financial Code by Decree No. 2014-479 dated 14 May 2014 and Decree No. 2018-1057 dated 29 November 2018, the right of the French Ministry to review and restrict foreign investment has been substantially increased.

With solid and reasonable arguments it can be concluded that the Regulation as well as the relevant national laws seriously struggle to establish an appropriate balance between addressing legitimate concerns with regard to certain FDIs, in particular those originating from state-owned enterprises and sovereign wealth funds, and the need to maintain an open and positive regime for such investment into the EU.

The new EU investment screening regime

In general, the overriding objective of the Regulation is to provide a framework of substantial and procedural rules for the Member States, and the EC to screen and control FDI in the EU. The precondition for issuing any screening decisions are impairing grounds on “public order and security”.

The main features of the Regulation are the following:

Scope of application

One main characteristic of the Regulation is a broad definition of FDI.

The Regulation defines FDI as an investment of any kind by a foreign investor aiming to establish or to maintain lasting and direct links between the foreign investor and the entrepreneur to whom or the undertaking to which the capital is made available, in order to carry on an economic activity in a Member State, including investments which enable effective participation in the management or control of a company carrying out an economic activity.

In addition, “foreign investor” means a natural person of a third country or a legal entity (undertaking) of a third country, intending to make or having made a foreign direct investment.

It must be highlighted that any post-Brexit UK investors are going to be qualified as “foreign investors” within the meaning of the Regulation.

Relevant economic sectors

The Regulation introduces a wide scope of economic sectors that may be controlled and reviewed:

  • critical infrastructure, whether physical or virtual, including energy, transport, water, health, communications, media, data processing or storage, aerospace, defence, electoral or financial infrastructure, and sensitive facilities, as well as land and real estate crucial for the use of such infrastructure;
  • critical technologies and dual use items including artificial intelligence, robotics, semiconductors, cybersecurity, aerospace, defence, energy storage, quantum and nuclear technologies as well as nanotechnologies and biotechnologies;
  • supply of critical inputs, including energy or raw materials, as well as food security;
  • access to sensitive information, including personal data, or the ability to control such information; or
  • the freedom and pluralism of the media.

In that regard, it is also possible for Member States and the EC to take into account the context and circumstances of the FDI, in particular whether a foreign investor is controlled directly or indirectly by foreign governments, for example through significant funding, including subsidies, or is pursuing State-led outward projects or programmes.

No minimum threshold

It must explicitly be pointed out that the Regulation, contrary to national regulations such as in Germany and France, does not impose any minimum threshold for the screening of FDI, neither regarding the total amount nor pertaining to the corporate stake.

Minimum requirements

The Regulation establishes framework rules which Member States must adhere to that already maintain an FDI screening regime or wish to adopt one. These rules, inter alia, include the following:

  • Member States shall set out the circumstances triggering the screening, the grounds for screening and the applicable detailed procedural rules;
  • Member States shall apply timeframes under their screening mechanisms;
  • Confidential information, including commercially-sensitive information, made available to the Member State undertaking the screening shall be protected;
  • Foreign investors and the undertakings concerned shall have the possibility to seek recourse against screening decisions of the national authorities;
  • Member States which have a screening mechanism in place shall maintain, amend or adopt measures necessary to identify and prevent circumvention of the screening mechanisms and screening decisions.

Co-operation mechanism regarding FDI undergoing screening

The Regulation introduces a co-operation mechanism between Member States and the EC. In this context, Member States shall notify the EC and the other Member States of any foreign direct investment in their territory that is undergoing screening by providing the following information as soon as possible:

  • Whether the ownership structure of the foreign investor and of the undertaking in which the foreign direct investment is planned or has been completed;
  • the approximate value of the foreign direct investment;
  • Whether the products, services and business operations of the foreign investor and of the undertaking in which the FDI is planned or has been completed;
  • Whether the Member States in which the foreign investor and the undertaking in which the foreign direct investment is planned or has been completed conduct relevant business operations;
  • the funding of the investment and its source, on the basis of the best information available to the Member State;
  • the date when the foreign direct investment is planned to be completed or has been completed.

Based on the information received, Member States are entitled to make comments on FDI in another Member State, if that FDI is likely to affect its security or public order, or has information relevant for such screening.

Where the EC considers that a foreign direct investment undergoing screening is likely to affect security or public order in more than one Member State, or has relevant information in relation to that foreign direct investment, it may issue an opinion addressed to the Member State undertaking the screening. The EC may issue an opinion irrespective of whether other Member States have provided comments.

Generally, comments or opinions shall be addressed to the Member State undertaking the screening and shall be sent to it within a reasonable period of time, and in any case no later than 35 calendar days following receipt of the information stated above. It must be considered though, that this timeframe may be extended to an additional 20 days in cases in which additional information were requested.

In any event, the Member State undertaking the screening shall give due consideration to the comments of the other Member States and to the opinion of the EC. However, the final screening decision shall be taken by the Member State undertaking the screening.

Co-operation mechanism regarding FDI not undergoing screening

Where a Member State considers that an FDI planned or completed in another Member State which is not undergoing screening in that Member State is likely to affect its security or public order, or has relevant information in relation to that foreign direct investment, it may provide comments to that other Member State.

The same applies to the EC which is entitled to issue an opinion in cases where FDI is not undergoing screening in the relevant Member State.

The most controversial element in this regard, resulting in great legal uncertainty for planned and even completed FDI, is that making comments and issuing an opinion is allowed up to 15 months after the FDI has been “successfully” completed.

FDI likely to affect projects or programmes of Union interest

Where the EC considers that an FDI is likely to affect projects or programmes of Union interest on grounds of security or public order, the EC may issue an opinion addressed to the Member State where the foreign direct investment is planned or has been completed.

In this regard, projects or programmes of Union interest shall include those projects and programmes which involve a substantial amount or a significant share of Union funding, or which are covered by Union law regarding critical infrastructure, critical technologies or critical inputs which are essential for security or public order.

In particular, this includes the following projects or programmes: Galileo & EGNOS, Copernicus, Horizon 2020, TEN-T (Trans-European Networks for Transport) and TEN-E (Trana-European Networks for Energy).

Practical implications

The mechanisms on foreign investment screening have become an increasingly relevant issue in cross-border transactions that require in-depth legal risk assessment and management prior to concluding the transaction. As a direct consequence thereof, foreign investors are well-advised to seek comprehensive legal and legal policy advice prior to conducting any investment activities in the EU.

In particular, the new reguation will lead to the following:

  1. The lack of any minimum threshold grants the EC and other Member States wide authority to directly interfere in the screening process of FDI in a specific Member State.
  2. Due to the right to directly interfere in the FDI screening of a particular Member State it cannot be ruled out that major European economies are going to force smaller Member States to impede certain FDI, in particular in sensitive sectors.
  3. The Regulation in conjunction with the current amendments of relevant national laws in major European economies further enlarges legal policy protectionism towards FDI.
  4. The new Regulation establishes a dual-system of review and control of FDI on the European level. In addition to screening acquisition transactions under a merger control perspective pursuant to the EC Merger Regulation, the EC now has the competence to review transactions and issue opinions from an FDI perspective.
  5. The Regulation will have a serious impact on the timing of FDI screening. Due to the right of other affected Member States to provide comments and the right of the EC to issue an opinion, flanked by the obligation of the host state (the state where the investment is made) to properly consider those comments and opinions, national scrutiny procedures are likely to be delayed. Furthermore, as a direct consequence, the Regulation will decouple national scrutiny procedures from the short initial review phase pertaining merger control pursuant to Article 10 EC Merger Regulation.
  6. The statutory right of Member States and the EC to provide comments, and to issue an opinion, respectively, for up to 15 months after the relevant transaction has already been completed, creates great legal uncertainty. Especially taking into consideration that, e.g. in Germany and France, the transaction shall remain pending and ineffective until the final approval of the competent government authority. In consequence, this procedural element by itself may further tremendously delay the finalization of cross-border M&A transactions.
  7. The Regulation, inevitably, will raise further awareness of the sensitivities originating from FDI, which in turn may lead to an alignment of substantial and procedural rules of Member States that, until now, have a less comprehensive investment review regime.
  8. This is not the end – it is just the beginning: until today, the new Regulation only grants the EC a “coordinating role”. However, the EC, on a regular basis, in its own publications, emphasizes that other elements will be further assessed accompanying the Regulation. Therefore, considering the unstoppable regulatory craze in Brussels, it is to be expected that the competences of the EC, regarding the review and control of FDI, will be substantially enlarged in the near future.
  9. One major missing element: the Regulation does not contain any default provision for cases where Member States fail to duly consider the comments of other Member States or the opinion of the EC, or even completely fail to duly inform other Member States likely to be affected by the FDI in question.

*Dr. Philipp Stompfe, LL.M. (London) is attorney at law at Alexander & Partner (Berlin/Stuttgart/Paris/Vienna/Doha/Riyadh/Ras Al Khaimah/Cairo/Muscat). Within the team of Alexander & Partner, Dr. Philipp Stompfe is primarily involved in international litigation and arbitration. He is constantly acting as counsel in commercial and investment arbitrations before all of the major arbitral institutions mainly related to construction, energy, distribution, real estate and M&A disputes. He is specialized in international investment law and further advises on international contract and corporate law and on the structuring and implementation of cross-border investment projects, in particular in the Near and Middle East.

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.

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.

The new EU Regulation on the screening of foreign direct investments: A tool for disguised protectionism?

Prof. Nikos Lavranos, Secretary General of EFILA

In December 2018, the EU institutions agreed on the text for an EU Regulation establishing a mechanism for screening all foreign investments into the EU.

In just over a year the EU institutions adopted this Regulation, which is unusually fast and reflects the apparent political will of the institutions involved to deliver something tangible that would address the fear against Chinese investments that would essentially take over the European economies.

The Regulation is in particular noteworthy because it introduces an EU-wide screening mechanism at the EU level as well as at the Member States’ level, which in many ways is similar to the US screening mechanism (CFIUS) whose scope of application was recently also significantly expanded. (The revised CFIUS text is part of the very extensive National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, sections 1701 et seq.)

The EU Regulation is also significant in that it gives the Commission and other Member States the power to directly interfere in the screening of FDI in a particular Member State.

At the Member States’ level, it should be noted that there is a disparity among them regarding their approach of whether or not to screen FDI, and if so, under which conditions and procedures.

According to the Commission, about half of the Member States have currently no screening mechanism at all, while the other half does have one. In addition, the conditions and procedures of the existing screen mechanisms differ.

Accordingly, the Regulation aims to harmonize this situation by grandfathering all existing screenings mechanisms and by encouraging all Member States, which have not yet one, to establish such a mechanism. In addition, common basic criteria for the screening of FDI are laid down in this Regulation. Indeed, all Member States are required to register all incoming FDI and to report them to the Commission and to all other Member States. In fact, the Member States and the Commission are required to set up a dedicated contact point for that purpose.

At the European level, the Regulation gives the Commission – for the first time – the power to actively screen FDI – not only those that are “likely to affect projects or programmes of Union interest on grounds of security or public order”, but also those that are “likely to affect security or public order in more than one Member State”.

The Commission may issue opinions, which the Member State concerned is required to duly take into consideration. Similarly, Member States can comment on the screening of FDI in other Member States.

However, what is most interesting is the wide scope of the sectors that may be screened, which covers, inter alia, the following areas:

(a) critical infrastructure, whether physical or virtual, including energy, transport, water, health, communications, media, data processing or storage, aerospace, defence, electoral or financial infrastructure, as well as sensitive facilities and investments in land and real estate, crucial for the use of such infrastructure;

(b) critical technologies and dual use items as defined in Article 2.1 of Regulation (EC) No 428/2009, including artificial intelligence, robotics, semiconductors, cybersecurity, quantum, aerospace, defence, energy storage, nuclear technologies, nanotechnologies and biotechnologies;

(c) supply of critical inputs, including energy or raw materials, as well as food security;

(d) access to sensitive information, including personal data, or the ability to control such information; or

(e) the freedom and pluralism of the media.

Also, noteworthy is the fact that there is no minimum threshold of the amount of the FDI for screening, which means that potentially any FDI from 1 to 100 billion euros could be screened.

While the fear against a Chinese takeover of the European economies is widespread and understandable, it is not supported by facts. Indeed, as a recent study by the well-respected Copenhagen Economics institute shows that countries other than China invest much more into the EU.

According to this study the US is by far the largest investor in the EU and accounted for 51.1% of the M&As by third country investors, followed by Switzerland (10.8%), Norway (4.6%) Canada (3.8%), while China comes only fourth with a meager 2.8%.

When it comes to investments by State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) from third states, Russian investors accounted for 16.6% of M&As, followed by Norway (15.8%), Switzerland (11.8%), while Chinese SOEs account only for 11% of the M&As.

In other words, the amount of Chinese FDI are far lower than from several other third countries, but which seemingly are considered friendlier and thus approached with less hostility.

Be that as it may, the real risk of this Regulation is not so much the screening of FDI but that it could be abused as a tool for disguised protectionism and classic state-governed economic nationalism.

This is so because the big Member States will be able to force smaller Member States to block FDI, for example from China, in order to give preference instead to French, German or Spanish investors.

Similarly, the Commission may force a Member State to block an FDI for unrelated more important geopolitical reasons.

This can also raise the tension among EU Member States which are competing for FDI. For example, if the Rotterdam harbour wants to attract Chinese investments for upgrading and expanding its facilities in order to be able to better compete against the harbour of Hamburg, Germany might very well use the argument of “security or public order” in this Regulation to force the Netherlands to block the Chinese investor and rather accept a European investor instead, or forget about the whole project altogether.

This is not to say that one should be naïve about Chinese, American or Russian investments, which are often connected with geopolitical aims or potentially (business) espionage. The example of Huawei, which has been restricted in developing the 5G network in some Western countries, is telling. At the same time, one should not forget that EU Member States are competing with each other to attract FDI and have the vested interests of their national champions always in mind.

Thus, the line between genuine protection of “security and public order” and disguised protectionism is very thin and tempting to cross for short term political and/or economic gains. However, this Regulation – unsurprisingly – does not contain any effective mechanisms to mitigate this risk.

Therefore, when this EU Regulation enters into force, foreign investors are well-advised to seek proper in-depth advice prior to investing into the EU.

A New And Improved Investment Protection Regime: Truth Or Myth!

Shilpa Singh Jaswant, LLM (Hamburg)

The proposed investment court system by the European Commission aims to limit criticism revolved around Investor-State Dispute Settlement due to its lack of legitimacy, transparency and appellate mechanism. The investment regime under Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada (hereinafter “CETA”) and European Union-Viet Nam Free Trade Agreement (hereinafter “EUVFTA”) could be a solution by bringing transparency, consistency and institutionalisation in investment protection. The blog addresses the compatibility of the new system with EU law as any violation to autonomy of EU law as laid down in the previous judgments would not be optimistic to its future and followed by other blog in future would address the features of the Tribunal system and its difference from arbitration. Meanwhile Member states of the EU seek opinion from the Court of Justice (hereinafter “the CJEU”) though it is promising and would lay down stepping stones of an improved investment protection.

Achmea ruling and its effect to jurisdiction of the Tribunal under CETA and EUVFTA

Achmea ruling confirms that intra-EU BITs are incompatible with EU law while its effects reverberate to agreements entered by the EU with third countries. As per the CJEU in Achmea in para 58 (also in Opinion 1/09 of 08.03.201, para 89), arbitral tribunals under investment agreements, when entered between Member states, are outside the judicial system of the EU and incompatible with autonomy of EU law since arbitral tribunals were empowered under the principle of lex loci arbitri to include and interpret EU law (the Community treaties and secondary laws). However, the ruling may not be applicable in full since investment protection in CETA and EUVFTA are concluded as mixed agreements meaning the EU and its Member states are parties to them.

A logical conclusion is that the Tribunal established under CETA and EUVFTA would not fall within judicial framework of the EU since its jurisdiction is limited to claims related to breaches of investment agreements and to determine if a measure of a Member state and/ or of the EU is in violation of the standards set in the agreements. It can only resolve a dispute under the applicable law i.e., the provisions of investment agreement.

The CJEU places responsibility on arbitral tribunal to protect autonomy of EU law by not giving inconsistent interpretation to it. In the past the CJEU in Opinion 2/13 of 18.12.2014 and Opinion 1/09 in para 65 has protected autonomy of EU in many cases and call it as the “essential” characteristics originating from an independent source of law, i.e., the Treaties. Further saying that standard of review to protect autonomy of EU law is a matter of these tribunals and Member states too. Since the CJEU has never been eager to open doors of interpretation to a tribunal which is out of the EU judicial framework and Member states are obligated to bring issues related to EU law to the CJEU.

On the contrary, if the CJEU finds that the Tribunal under CETA and EUVFTA is part of judicial framework of the EU and that it could send for preliminary ruling under Article 267 TFEU departing from its previous judgments, even then it has responsibility to protect autonomy of EU law along with uniform and consistent interpretation and application of EU law. In both situations, an interpretation of EU law done by the tribunals may affect the consistency. However, by looking at the features (as discussed below) of the Tribunal assure that autonomy of EU law is protected, at least in theory.

Ensure jurisdiction of domestic courts and CJEU

CETA in Article 8.22(1)(f) & (g) and EUVFTA in Article 3.34 (1) preclude parallel proceedings at a domestic or international court or tribunal so as to not to undermine the authority of tribunals which could mean taking away exclusive jurisdiction of the CJEU.  Even when the agreements do not allow parallel proceedings for disputes related to an alleged measure which is inconsistent with agreements, the Tribunal is under obligation by Article 8.24 CETA and Article 3.34(8) EUVFTA to stay its proceedings or take into account proceedings under international agreement which may affect the findings of the Tribunal or the compensation awarded due to the use of “shall”. Article 8.28 CETA and Article 3.42 (1) EUVFTA assure that in case the Tribunal fail to do so, appellate body has authority to modify or reverse award on “manifest errors in the appreciation of facts, including….. relevant domestic law”. It is important that the tribunals under agreements take into consideration decisions of the CJEU and domestic courts effectively and importantly, ensure supremacy of EU law and full respect to decisions of the CJEU.

Perhaps the limited scope of disputes of the Tribunal done by the drafters of the agreements, especially interpretation and application of EU law is a solution to it. The tribunals under Article 8.31 CETA and Article 3.42(3) EUVFTA are not allowed to interpret and apply the provision of EU Treaties including prevailing domestic laws and shall follow the prevailing interpretation given to the domestic law. While determining consistency of measures, it has to consider the domestic law as matter of fact which also includes EU law.

Issue of competence and international responsibility

After the opinion of the CJEU on EU-Singapore FTA, it is important to look at nature of agreement concluded: CETA and EUVFTA are concluded as mixed. It is clear that the question of competence would not affect the interpretation of the investment agreements done by the tribunals. The question of determining obligation arising from the agreements whether it would be responsibility of the EU or Member states requires interpretation of the agreements and due to their drafting it would be within the jurisdiction of the CJEU. The agreements have placed obligation of international responsibility on the EU to determine respondent.

In other words, the right to access tribunal as per the rules to determine respondent by the EU in both agreements would allow foreign investors to initiate proceedings without affecting the autonomy of EU law, supremacy of EU law and would promote legal certainty. This conclusion would also put away any future doubts on competences, inter alia on law making and concluding the agreement between Member states and the EU which would be mutually exclusive of the determination of respondent done to fix international responsibility. The issue of competence would however justify the reason to conclude the agreements as mixed agreements since some areas are shared between the EU and its Member states.

Unique features of the Investment court system

The institutionalization would ensure legitimacy and consistency to decisions after introducing an appellate body. While allowing participation of non-disputing third parties and interpretations of provisions to the agreements from scholars and person of interest, having compulsory resolution through amicable mechanism like conciliation and mediation and transparency are front runners. The members of tribunals are appointed by a committee as per the agreement while cases are allotted on random basis to a roster of judges much like done in WTO panel. After the award, the Tribunal would be dissolved and question of sending back to the same tribunal after appellate body’s decision is still unanswered. Moreover, it does not contribute to ‘permanent structure’ since members are paid retainer fees and not salary, and are allowed to take up other occupation unless otherwise decided. It can still be said that the system is not balanced out and independent, instead it seems semi-permanent or hybrid.

Due to proliferation of investment agreements, the tribunals organized may give arise to different conclusions relating to similar commercial situation and similar investment rights to the similar in the provisions of these agreements questioning procedural fairness. None of the agreements deal with correlation of the tribunals. Also another procedural flaw observed that both the agreements do not directly deal with a question on jurisdiction and thus the parties have to wait until the final award is issued to appeal a positive or mixed jurisdiction award.

In sum, the investment protection in the agreement has room for improvement and that can be done by creating a new regime of investment protection with a multilateral investment court which would be permanent in nature with full tenured and impartial judges for the problem of coherence and determinacy. The consistency would be ensured with a permanent appellate mechanism and the treaties would be considered at par with one another. As concluding remarks, the present system in the agreements are a way forward to institutionalise investment protection but this optimism should not be taken blindly and hinder improvement and develop a better system.

Post-Achmea Energy Charter Treaty Coherence and Stability: Upheld or Hindered?

Alexandros Catalin Bakos, LL. M.*

[…] but this is not where or how it ends. Fate promises more twists before this drama unfolds…completely (in-game dialogue from the intro scene of the video game Soul Reaver 2).

The EU’s backlash against intra-EU (Bilateral?) Investment Treaties – intra-EU (B)ITs – reached its peak when the CJEU issued its decision in the Achmea (C-284/16) case. According to the CJEU, intra-EU BITs such as the one analysed in the Achmea case are contrary to EU Law because they created a parallel jurisdiction (that of investment arbitration tribunals) to that of the domestic judicial courts. Such a jurisdiction may impair especially the consistency, full effect and autonomy of EU Law because investment arbitration tribunals are not able to rely on instruments such as the preliminary question (§§ 35-60 of the Achmea decision). Although the Achmea decision has been criticised (here and here), the present analysis is not concerned with the merits of the decision itself. The object of this analysis regards the effects of the Achmea decision on the Energy Charter Treaty’s (ECT) provisions on investment. This is of high practical importance since the International Investment Agreement which is most commonly invoked in intra-EU investment disputes is the ECT. An analysis of this issue raises the following questions:

Firstly, what are the immediate effects of the CJEU’s judgement on Article 26 (3) (a) of the ECT (the ECT’S Investor-State Dispute Settlement  – ISDS – provision)? Any analysis should begin with an analysis of the meaning of intra-EU BITs and if that meaning shall extend to the ECT – a treaty to which the EU is a formal party –, as well. As will be seen, the fact that the EU is a formal party to the ECT is of high importance (1).

Secondly, if it is to be considered that the Achmea decision does refer to the ECT, as well, and, as such, that it is conflicting with the ECT ISDS provision as regards EU Member States parties to the ECT, it must be seen whether the practice of terminating the intra-EU BITs between EU Member States can be undergone in the case of the ECT, as well. As such, could EU Member States – only as between themselves – denounce – partially or in its entirety – the ECT (2)?

The last point of this analysis is whether the EU’s international responsibility under Public International Law could be engaged for the Achmea decision – provided it is considered that the Achmea decision does refer to the ECT, as well. This question arises since the EU is a formal party to the ECT and an analysis needs to be made as regards the compliance of such an act – the Achmea decision – with the ECT (3).

Before concluding, I will address a less evident but very important issue generated by the Achmea decision – again, provided it is considered to refer to the Energy Charter Treaty, as well. The issue regards the systemic effects of the decision on the International Legal Order (4).

  1. What is the meaning of intra-EU BITs? If it covers the Energy Charter Treaty – as between EU Member States –, how does it affect the ISDS provision therein?

The departing point of analysis is the Achmea decision itself. The CJEU expressly made a differentiation, within the decision between investment treaties to which the EU was a formal party and those to which it was not (see §§ 57-58 of the Achmea decision). Essentially, this differentiation was made in the context of describing the characteristics of the BIT which was thought to conflict with the EU legal order (§58). Moreover, the EU pointed out that an international agreement which sets up a dispute resolution mechanism and is binding on the EU institutions is not in principle incompatible with EU law (§57).  It is hard to conceive that the CJEU made this differentiation by accident. In fact, it can be reasonably derived from here that the CJEU wanted to limit the scope of the decision’s effects by referring expressly to treaties to which the EU was not a formal party.

As the CJEU itself referred to international agreements to which the EU was a formal party and as the ECT is such an agreement, it follows that the CJEU considers that a different legal treatment shall be applied to such agreements – in this particular situation, to the ECT – than to intra-EU BITs – to which the EU is not a formal party. It can reasonably be inferred that this differentiation is based the principle of pacta sunt servanda (Article 26 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties – VCLT) which binds the parties to an international treaty. This principle is doubled within the EU legal sphere by Article 216 (2) of the TFEU: agreements concluded by the Union are binding upon the institutions of the Union and on its Member States. As such, for the Achmea decision to be compatible with the obligations deriving from the ECT – especially the obligation contained in Article 26 (3) of the ECT – and those incumbent on the EU institutions by virtue of Article 216 (2) of the TFEU, any interpretation of the Achmea decision, in order not to be unreasonable and self-contradictory, must be made to the extent that the CJEU did not refer to the ECT in its decision. If the CJEU had wanted the Achmea decision to refer to the ECT, it would have expressly mentioned this so as not to create confusion as regards a possible infringement of Article 216 (2) TFEU – in addition to the infringement of the ECT. In other words, the CJEU must have been aware that it was under a duty, if it had wanted the Achmea decision to refer to the ECT, to actually explain why such a decision would not have contradicted Article 26 (3) of the ECT and Article 216 (2) of the TFEU. Not doing this, the CJEU basically concluded that the ISDS provision in the ECT is not contrary to the EU legal order. Moreover, in this context, it is hard to envision that the EU would have entered into ECT negotiations and would have subsequently become a party to the ECT had it considered the ECT as contrary to EU Law (RREEF Infrastructure (G.P.) Limited and RREEF Pan-European Infrastructure Two Lux S.à r.l. v. Kingdom of Spain (ICSID Case No. ARB/13/30). Decision on Jurisdiction, § 76).

At this point, although the previous conclusion seems logical and necessary, there are analyses that accept the possibility that the Achmea decision referred to the ECT, as well (here and here). Moreover, it has been argued, constantly, before arbitral tribunals applying the ECT that the ISDS provision contained within the ECT is incompatible with EU Law (RREEF v. Kingdom of Spain. Decision on Jurisdiction, §§ 40 – 50; Charanne B.V., Construction Investments S.A.R.L. v. The Kingdom of Spain. Final Award, Court of Arbitration of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services of Madrid (Arbitration No.: 062/2012), unofficial translation by Mena Chambers, §§ 207 – 224; Masdar  Solar & Wind Cooperatiff U.A. v. Kingdom of Spain. Award (ICSID Case No. ARB/14/1), §§ 296 – 300, § 305 and § 325). In all the cited cases, jurisdiction was upheld by the arbitral tribunals. It was considered that there was no conflict under Public International Law between the ECT and the EU Law. However, there are some arguments relied on to support the contention that a tribunal does not have jurisdiction over intra-EU disputes based on the ECT which I would like to mention here – not exhaustively, but only as examples – in order to clarify the debate. For example, it was argued that there existed an implicit disconnection clause within the ECT as regards intra-EU ECT disputes, because of the nature of the EU Legal Order. The effect of such a clause would be that in intra-EU investment disputes EU Law would derogate from the ECT, rendering the latter inapplicable. Moreover, it was argued that there was no difference between the territory of the home state and that of the host state when both were EU parties. As such, the condition that the territories of the host state and of the home state must be different (Article 1 (10) (a) and (b) of the ECT) was not satisfied (the Charanne Award, § 214).

The argument that the ECT impliedly included a disconnection clause which rendered the ECT inapplicable as between EU Member States is flawed on different levels:

Firstly, an implied disconnection clause would run contrary to the pacta sunt servanda principle – the implied disconnection clause is nothing more than a speculation relied on to avoid treaty obligations. Moreover, the same pacta sunt servanda principle is contrary to an implied disconnection clause if such clause is not expressly contained in the ECT. This is because obligations must be observed as agreed by the parties and supposing the existence of an implied disconnection clause would actually be contrary to Article 31 (1) of the VCLT, which sets up an interpretation of the treaty according to the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty. This latter point regarding interpretation on the basis of Article 31 of the VCLT was reinforced by the Charanne tribunal (§ 437).

Secondly, the negotiating history of the ECT shows that, although a disconnection clause was proposed by the European Community bloc and expressly rejected, the EU still became a party to the ECT. This essentially means that the parties rejected the disconnection clause and any interpretation to the contrary would be unjustified under Article 32 of the VCLT, which in this case would mean reliance on the negotiating history to confirm the initial interpretation (see, for the use of Article 32 of the VCLT as a means to confirm the interpretation made under Article 31 of the VCLT, Mark E. Villiger, Commentary on the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Leiden, Boston (hereinafter referred to as Villiger), 2009, pp. 446-447).

As regards the territorial identity in the case of the host and the home state of the investor, this argument was rebutted, as well. It was found that being a state party to a Regional Economic Integration Organization (REIO) and party to the ECT while that REIO (the EU, in the present case) is a party to the ECT, as well, does not create an identity between the territory of the state and that of the REIO. This is true as long as the REIO and the state party to the REIO can both have individual standing as respondents under the ECT (Novenergia II – Energy & Environment (SCA) (Grand Duchy of Luxembourg), SICAR v. The Kingdom of Spain. Final Arbitral Award, Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (2015/063), § 453).

Notwithstanding all the above arguments, there was even an arbitral tribunal which ruled expressly that the Achmea decision did not apply to the ECT: the Masdar tribunal (§§ 678 – 683) effectively ruled that the Achmea decision is limited to intra-EU BITs, excluding, thus, multilateral investment treaties such as the ECT.

  1. Could EU Member States – only as between themselves – terminate – partially or in its entirety – the ECT?

If it was considered that the Achmea decision, in spite of the above, would apply to the ECT, as well, this would raise another practical issue: could the EU Member States terminate the ECT between themselves, similarly to what has been done regarding intra-EU BITs? How would this work? Would this be a partial termination – only as regards Article 26 (3) of the ECT – or a complete termination? Such questions raise issues of treaty termination by reference, especially, to the object and purpose of that treaty. In order to answer the previous questions, the analysis is divided in two parts: firstly, the issue of treaty termination as regards the possibility of only certain parties to the treaty to proceed to this end shall be addressed (a). Subsequently, it must be seen whether a partial termination of the ECT – as regards Article 26 (3) only – is indeed a real possibility when tested against the object and purpose of the Energy Charter Treaty (b).

  • The possibility of certain parties to a multilateral treaty to denounce it only as between themselves:

The ECT provides in Article 47 (1) that […] a Contracting Party may give written notification […] of its withdrawal from the Treaty. While this clarifies the general issue of withdrawal, the question remains whether the EU Parties can denounce the ECT as between themselves only. It is considered that a partial withdrawal vis-à-vis several, but not all of the other parties, is possible (Thomas Giegrich in Oliver Dörr, Kirsten Schmalenbach (editors), Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. A Commentary, Springer – Verlag Berlin Heidelberg, 2012, pp. 952-953, § 25). However, while this may seem possible, generally, serious issues may arise when attempting to terminate the ECT as between certain parties to it only. This can be seen when interpreting Article 47 (1) of the ECT according to Article 31 of the VCLT – in the light of the object and purpose of the ECT. As will be demonstrated within (b) of this part of the analysis, a partial termination of the ECT would effectively create micro-regimes within the ECT and this would be against the object and purpose of the ECT. Would termination between certain EU parties not have the same effects? More specifically, coherence as to measures in the energy sector would be affected if what is applied under the ECT between EU and non-EU parties would not be applicable between EU parties. Any policies, in this context, lose their cogency, because of lack of (even legal) coherence. In effect, this would defeat the object and purpose of the ECT, since coherent policies are incredibly important in the energy sector – for example, major infrastructure projects, such as pipelines, usually span over several states. Because of all this, it can be argued that Article 47 (1) of the ECT must be interpreted as precluding termination between EU Member States only.

  • Is it possible to partially terminate the ECT as regards the ISDS provision?

Partially terminating the treaty, while possible (Villiger, p. 685), is more problematic, in the present context. Article 44 (1) of the VCLT provides that withdrawal from a treaty, where provided expressly by that treaty, may be undertaken only with respect to the whole treaty unless the treaty otherwise provides or the parties otherwise agree. Accordingly, since there is no express provision as to partial termination within the ECT, the only legal basis for partially terminating the ECT as between the EU Member States would be if the ECT parties agreed. Nonetheless, even if there is no provision as to partial termination in Article 47 (1) of the ECT, an analysis of the remainder of Article 44 (2) – (4) of the VCLT – which sets out, exceptionally, the legal regime of severability, especially when there is no express provision as to partial termination – can still be undertaken (Villiger, p. 563). In this respect, Article 44 (3) provides a series of conditions which must be met – cumulatively (see the term and at the end of indent (b)) – for separability to be possible.

A problem with such an outcome is that one of the conditions provided for in Article 44 (3) of the VCLT is not met: that the clause which is sought to be terminated does not hold a high importance in the general architecture of the treaty. Or, in the words of Article 44 (3), that acceptance of the clause – which is sought to be terminated – was not an essential basis of the consent of the other party or parties to be bound by the treaty as a whole. This is essentially an indirect reference to the object and purpose of the treaty.

The importance of the ISDS provision – which is the clause which the EU Member States would want to terminate –, in this context, is fundamental. Firstly, an investment treaty lacking an ISDS mechanism would be devoid of all practical effect (Opinion of Advocate General Wathelet in the Achmea case, § 207; although the AG referred to BITs in the context of this statement, the reasoning can easily apply to any investment agreement since the importance of ISDS is the same). Secondly, it can be seen that a proper investment framework is an important element needed to attain the object and purpose of the Energy Charter Treaty. This is demonstrated by the ECT’s preamble, which repeatedly mentions the importance of a proper investment regime to the attainment of the ECT’s goals.

In this context, in order to understand the impact of a partial termination of the ECT as between EU Member States in the case of the ISDS provision of the ECT and the relationship of the ISDS provision to the object and purpose of the ECT, consider the following: if EU Member States were able to denounce the ISDS clause of the ECT as between them and leave the treaty in effect between them and the other parties – from outside the EU –, this would, effectively, create micro-regimes within the ECT system – especially since energy investment in the EU by investors from within the EU would not be covered by the ECT anymore or, at least, not by the ISDS clause. Would this not defeat the object and purpose of the treaty, since such a fragmentation would hinder the possibility of attaining the objectives the treaty was supposed to achieve? Perhaps the most important objective the ECT set out to achieve was a “level playing field for investment in the energy industry, which is notoriously complex, expensive and long-term in nature (Norah Gallagher, The Energy Charter Treaty (1994) (ECT), WORLD ARBITRATION REPORTER 2d Edition, p. 3). Additionally, proper investment in the energy sector is needed for attaining security of supply (Sanam S Haghighi, Energy Security. The External Legal Relations of the European Union with Major Oil- and Gas-Supplying Contracts, Hart Publishing, Oxford and Portland, Oregon, pp. 24-25).This is because investments in the energy sector are characterised by a Return of Investment spanning sometimes even several decades. Thus, an investor wants to be assured that the protections will be in place over such a time-span. However, lack of such protections – which refers to the existence of ISDS, as well – may disincentivise a potential investor to invest in the energy sector. And this is how security of supply may be compromised, in addition to compromising the object and purpose of the ECT, in the first place.

The previous considerations can reasonably lead to a conclusion that any termination as regards the ISDS provision of the ECT is not possible owing to the provisions of Article 44 (3) of the VCLT, because of the importance of ISDS to the object and purpose of the ECT. What this means, effectively, is that EU Parties have only one choice: termination of the ECT as between themselves – whether in its entirety or only partially – only by agreement between all the parties to the ECT. Such an outcome is hard to imagine: non-EU ECT parties’ companies have subsidiaries registered in the EU. If the intra-EU investment regime in energy matters governed by the ECT were to be affected (or even the ECT in its entirety as between EU Member States), this would effectively affect such companies. Because of this, it is highly unlikely that the other ECT Parties would agree to partial termination of the ECT as between EU Member States – either as to the entire treaty or only regarding Article 26 (3) of the ECT.

As such, it has to be concluded that EU Member States which are parties to the ECT cannot, only on the basis of their own will, terminate the ECT as between themselves – neither completely nor partially. And since it is practically very hard to envision acceptance by the non-EU parties – among them existing energy-exporting states which hold negotiating power – as regards intra-EU ECT termination, the answer must be that, for practical purposes, it is more likely that the EU Member States cannot terminate the ECT.

  1. Could the EU’s international responsibility be engaged for the Achmea decision?

Whatever the answers to the previous enquiries are, the EU is bound by the provisions of the ECT which it accepted when it signed and ratified the treaty. As such, if the Achmea decision refers to the ECT, it is  contrary to the provisions of the latter. In this context, an analysis must be undertaken regarding the responsibility of the EU for internationally wrongful acts. However, such an analysis implies two different steps: firstly, it needs to be seen whether the responsibility of international organisations for internationally wrongful conducts exists under International Law (a). If it can be demonstrated that such responsibility indeed exists, it must be seen if the Achmea decision can lead to engaging the responsibility of the EU (b).

  • Does responsibility for internationally wrongful acts exist in the case of International Organisations?

The idea behind the existence – or lack – of responsibility for internationally wrongful acts committed by IOs is a complex one and it is not my attempt, within the present analysis, to exhaustively address it. However, for clarity of the argument, before analysing the issue of the Achmea case, the following need to ascertained: firstly, is there any legal basis for responsibility of IOs? Secondly, what is the scope of such responsibility in the case of the IOs and, specifically, in the case of the EU?

It is accepted in legal literature that there exists a legal basis for the responsibility of IOs (Mirka Möldner, Responsibility of International Organizations – Introducing the ILC’s DARIO, in A. von Bogdandy and R. Wofrum (eds.), Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law, Volume 16, 2012, pp. 286-287; Konrad Ginther, International Organizations, Responsibility, in Rudolf Bernhardt (ed.), Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law. International Organizations in General. Universal International Organizations and Cooperation, Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1983, p. 162). Whether this is based on custom, principle or even the international legal personality of the IO is not important for present purposes (although it is accepted that the legal source for responsibility of IOs for internationally wrongful acts could be any of the previously-mentioned sources). However, what must be mentioned, here is that it can hardly be argued that there exists a single unified regime regarding the framework of international responsibility of IOs for internationally wrongful acts (see p. 5 of the linked article). The difference between IOs, their legal characteristics – such as the principle of speciality – do not justify a single legal regime (Ibid.). As such, I will not pursue this analysis by relying on the general framework set by the International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on Responsibility of International Organizations (DARIO). They are not considered to reflect customary international law (p. 9 of the linked article) and, at the same time, they offer a general framework whereas I referred earlier to the fact that hardly any general regime can be considered to exist to this end. What I will do, instead, is look for any legal elements which could justify the responsibility of  the EU for internationally wrongful acts.

A solution can be found in one of the EU’s internal acts themselves: EU Regulation No. 912/2014 establishing a framework for managing financial responsibility linked to investor-to-state dispute settlement tribunals established by international agreements to which the European Union is party. It is provided there that financial responsibility arising from a dispute under an agreement (IIA) shall be apportioned to the Union when such financial responsibility arises from treatment afforded by the institutions, bodies, offices or agencies of the Union (a) or when such financial responsibility arises from treatment afforded by a Member State where such treatment was required by Union law (Article 3, 1. of Regulation No. 912/2014). It is true that this provision refers to financial responsibility – which entails an obligation to pay a sum of money awarded by an arbitration tribunal or agreed as part of a settlement and including the costs arising from arbitration (Article 2 (g) of Regulation No. 912/2014) – and not exactly to what is commonly understood as responsibility for internationally wrongful acts. However, such financial responsibility cannot exist in a void. Unless a violation of an IIA occurred (under Public International Law, this is a violation of the primary norms which triggers the secondary norms on responsibility and, specific to the present regulation, the norms on reparation – financial responsibility), financial responsibility would not exist. Moreover, the premises for engaging the financial responsibility of the Union is that the Union was actually the catalyst to the infringement of the IIA (under Public International Law, this would actually refer to attribution of the acts to the EU). It is doubtful that the EU would have adopted such a legally binding document on itself unless it had considered that there existed an obligation under Public International Law to provide reparation for internationally wrongful acts which could be attributed to it (this being a sign that the EU acted out of a sense of obligation when it bound itself to the triggering of its financial responsibility for internationally wrongful acts caused by it – essentially, this would be the opinio juris of the customary norm on responsibility). And because the secondary norms on responsibility for internationally wrongful acts are inextricably linked to the primary obligations of the States/ International Organisations under Public International Law and, in all actuality, cannot exist if the primary ones are not breached, one can only analyse the law on responsibility of IOs for internationally wrongful conducts in this context. As such, the entire procedure would be: firstly, an analysis of the breach of the primary norm would be made; secondly, attribution of the initial violation would be undertaken, which would result in engaging the responsibility of the perpetrator; finally, reparation would occur – which is what the financial responsibility actually means. Because of this procedure, there cannot exist reparation – financial responsibility – without attribution and, continuing the reasoning, without a breach of the primary norm. Thus, the EU actually conceded within Regulation No. 912/2014 that it considered itself bound by the customary norm on responsibility of IOs for internationally wrongful acts – and, implicitly, that this is part of International Law.

One must admit the possibility that a counterargument can be brought as regards the previous argument along the following lines: Regulation No. 912/2014 is a legally binding instrument for intra-EU relations and, as such, it does not reflect opinio juris as regards a customary norm on responsibility of IOs for wrongful acts on part of the EU. While prima facie this could seem true, a look at the context and language of the Regulation would render such a counterargument moot. Firstly, the Regulation is concerned with the EU’s external relations with other subjects of International Law. This means that it reflects the EU’s perspective on the international law of Multilateral Investment Treaties, which is, in the end, concerned with primary obligations of Public International Law. Secondly, it is expressly provided within the Regulation what shall happen when the EU is a respondent in arbitration proceedings initiated by a claimant (Article 4 of Regulation No. 912/2014). Both the previous considerations clearly state that the Regulation reflects the EU’s opinion as to its legal relations under Public International Law. Because of this, the conclusion that the Regulation No. 912/ 2014 reflects the EU’s opinio juris as regards responsibility of an IO for internationally wrongful conducts – at least those in breach of a Multilateral Investment Treaty, if it is considered that different customary rules apply (or do not exist) when different regimes are concerned – is valid.

Another counterargument which could be brought against the international responsibility of the EU is that a  custom as the one mentioned earlier is hard to ascertain due to lack of clarity regarding the practice element of a custom. In any case, the legal basis for engaging the EU’s responsibility for internationally wrongful acts does not even have to be a custom. As mentioned earlier, the source of such responsibility could be a principle of law. Moreover, an unilateral act could give rise to obligations under International Law (Wilfried Fiedler,  Unilateral Acts in International Law, Rudolf Bernhardt (ed.), Encyclopedia of Public International Law. History of International Law. Foundations and Principles of International Law. Sources of International Law. Law of Treaties, Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., 1984, pp. 517-518 and 522). Regulation No. 912/2014 is such an unilateral act  (from an International Law point of view, as it concerns the EU as a single entity) for purposes of ascertaining an obligation of reparation on the part of the EU – an obligation which could not logically exist without engaging the responsibility of the EU. What is relevant, however, is that Regulation No. 912/2014 demonstrates more than the EU’s opinion juris as regards its international responsibility for internationally wrongful acts in investment matters. The position of the EU is that there indeed is a legal obligation (this can be ascertained from the mandatory language employed within Regulation No. 912/2014 and from its binding character) and not just a sense of a legal obligation to provide reparation for internationally wrongful acts attributed to the EU in the sphere of investment agreements to which the EU is a party. In other words, the source of the legal obligation must not necessarily be the custom; it can be any of the previously-mentioned sources. And, continuing the reasoning, this demonstrated the existence of international responsibility on the part of the EU for such internationally wrongful acts.

As for the legal forum where the responsibility of the EU for violations of the ECT could be engaged: that would be an arbitral tribunal which shall rule upon issues concerning the ECT – this is supported by Regulation No. 912/2014 and was reinforced by an arbitral tribunal (Electrabel S.A. v. The Republic of Hungary (ICSID Case No. ARB/07/19). Decision on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law and Liability, § 3.21).

  • Can the Achmea decision be considered a breach of the ECT and, as such, entail the responsibility of the EU?

It was demonstrated that the EU’s responsibility can be engaged for breaches of international investment agreements and, moreover, that the EU itself acknowledges this by undertaking the obligation to repair the harm caused by its acts or by those of EU Member States generated by it. This means that there is legal basis for attribution and reparation of the wrongful act. As such, is the Achmea decision such an act? At this point in time, it is too early to tell clearly. The premise of this part is that the Achmea decision refers to the ECT. Thus, the effects would be that EU Member States, sitting as respondents in intra-EU arbitration on the basis of Article 26 (3) of the ECT, would be in breach of EU Law. Contrariwise, respecting the Achmea decision would entail breaching Article 26 (3) of the ECT. As such, if an arbitral tribunal found such a breach, attributed it to the EU and, moreover, found that such breach gave rise to an obligation of reparation (financial responsibility), this would demonstrate that the EU’s responsibility for the Achmea decision could be engaged. However, this would not be a typical investment arbitration as the tribunal would not be judging a violation of investment standards of protection. It would be effectively analysing a violation of the arbitration clause in the ECT. Nonetheless, there is the possibility that this violation could give rise to a claim based on the Fair and Equitable Treatment standard, for violation of legitimate expectations as regards dispute settlement. But even if the claim is based only on a violation of Article 26 (3), legal cause for such a claim would still exist. This is because the applicable law would be the ECT in its entirety, not only the investment standards of protection (Article 26 (7) of the ECT). What remains to be seen is whether the Achmea decision itself is enough for a claim against the EU or if EU Member States need to act on the basis of the Achmea decision in order to generate a claim against EU. Practically, it is more likely that the latter would be the case, since harm would be easier to assess in that context.

In conclusion, the Achmea decision – if it is considered that it refers to the ECT, as well – can potentially give rise to the engaging of the EU’s international responsibility for internationally wrongful acts.

  1. Systemic effects of the Achmea decision:

As mentioned in the beginning, this point of analysis is applicable only if it is considered that the Achmea decision refers to the Energy Charter Treaty, as well.

When I analysed the applicability of the Achmea decision to the Energy Charter Treaty, I referred to the negotiating history of the ECT. I mentioned, in that context, that the negotiating parties rejected a proposal by the European Commission to derogate from the rules of the ECT – even those concerning the dispute-settlement clause in Article 26 (3) – as between the EU Parties. Nonetheless, the EU still signed and ratified the ECT, essentially admitting under Public International Law that the ECT shall be applicable to the EU parties.

This has strong implications, from a systemic point of view: if the EU is concerned about rule of law standards – especially coherence –, it has to take into account the obligation under Article 26 (3) of the ECT taken together with the representations it made during negotiations to the ECT. The issues of coherence regard the relations between the EU and the other parties to the ECT – even EU Member States which, under Public International Law, are different formal parties to the ECT than the EU and their interests may not always converge. Here, coherence is a fundamental aspect of the liberal doctrine within International Relations which comes to explain the functioning of the Public International Law mechanism (Andrea Bianchi, International Law Theories. An Inquiry into Different Ways of Thinking, Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom, 2016, pp. 113-114). In other words, coherence is a fundamental pillar of the rules-based international order on which especially the Western Powers seek to rely. Since the rules-based international order manifests itself within an anarchic world where a central executive agency which could guarantee the enforcement of the rules does not exist, coherence has a special meaning in this context. And since the liberal theory of international relations which I mentioned earlier and which underpins a great number of arguments regarding the effectiveness of international law as a part of a rules-based international order, is based, among others, on international cooperation and mutual benefits, coherence is, effectively, necessary for such cooperation and trust to exist. Because of this, without coherence there would hardly be any stable international legal order. In other words, when one of the major economic actors in this system – the EU – is not coherent in its approach to its international obligations and is actually trying to enforce its views regarding the supremacy of EU Law to the detriment of International Law upon its member states, any feeling of mutual benefits and international cooperation is eroded. Trust in the actions of the major international actors becomes scarce and incentives actually appear which determine the other actors to start ignoring international rules, as well. This is basically the prisoner’s dilemma after one of the parties deflected. One can easily imagine the future responses of the other parties after experiencing the real risk of deflection and wondering whether such deflection is recurrent. And this is how cracks appear in the current international law architecture. As such, the most important actors of such an international order – the EU being among them – have a special duty to ensure that this order is maintained and that the mechanism which underpins the effectiveness of this order is properly functioning. Thus, the EU – a proponent of the rules-based international order – should reassess its approach to its international obligations and, in this specific case, to the ISDS provision within the ECT.

  1. Conclusion:

There is no clear and predictable answer as to what will happen after the Achmea decision as regards the Energy Charter Treaty. The variables are numerous and they are generated by decisions adopted by different actors: the ECJ – in its future decisions and opinions on the issue of ISDS, such as the opinion requested by Belgium regarding investment provisions contained in CETA; the EU Member States – who have yet to decide what will their approach to the ECT be after some of them decided to terminate intra-EU BITS; and, finally, arbitral tribunals who are faced with challenges to their jurisdiction, requests to reopen proceedings or to review their decisions or simply the fact that such tribunals are faced with an additional element which must be accounted for when adopting decisions to the ECT cases which are still pending before them. However, what is certain is that the whole issue has gone past the point where the catalyst to future evolutions was the CJEU. While the CJEU still plays an important role in this whole issue – perhaps the most important one –, it is not alone anymore in influencing the final outcome. Nonetheless, it can still find a way to balance the interests and recreate a framework of relative predictability. But in order to do this it must account for several considerations: it must understand that the EU legal regime is not a self-contained one and any future decision on the part of the CJEU as regards ECT Arbitration has several implications which are, in essence, produced under the framework of Public International Law and not only under the framework of EU Law. Ignoring those aspects may lead to severe hidden consequences which nobody would desire: weakening of the ECT and more unpredictability in the energy sector; questions of responsibility under Public International Law for internationally wrongful acts; and, perhaps most important, problems of coherence both at International and EU regional level. In the end, all the above create problems of legitimacy and one can ask himself: are the consequences really bringing more benefit than harm?


* I am aware of the European Commission’s latest Communication on Protection of intra-EU investment (19.7.2018). And while it is true that the Commission expressly referred to the Energy Charter Treaty investor-State arbitration mechanism established in Article 26 of the Energy Charter Treaty as being covered by the Achmea decision (pp. 3-4 and 26 of the cited Communication), the present analysis is still relevant, as are the arguments herein. This is because of two reasons: firstly, the aforementioned Communication is, essentially, the EU Commission reinforcing its traditional position as regards intra-EU investment arbitration. However, this is not a new position on the part of the EU Commission, as it has repeatedly argued against the incompatibility between intra-EU Investment Treaties (including the investment provisions of the Energy Charter Treaty) and the EU Legal Order. Secondly, the EU Commission’s Communication does not clarify the Achmea decision itself. Unless the CJEU expressly and unambiguously considered the Energy Charter Treaty as being contrary to the EU Legal Order, the questions regarding the scope of the Achmea decision and its applicability to the Energy Charter Treaty would still exist.

The Relationship between EU State Aid law and Obligations Arising under Investment Treaties

by Alexandros Catalin Bakos, LL.M 

I. Introduction:

In recent years, a series of debates have emerged in regard to the relationship between the EU State Aid law[1], on the one hand, and obligations arising under Investment Treaties (to which the EU is not a formal party)[2], on the other hand. Those debates manifest themselves at different levels and have powerful implications: firstly, they clarify the scope of State Aid law and its relationship with one of the most important fields – that of Investment Law. Secondly, they clarify – or complicate, depending on the vantage point from which one analyses the issue – the relationship between EU law and Public International Law[3]. And, thirdly, they raise questions of interpretation of EU law, especially from a historical interpretation point of view and from a teleological point of view – this is a great tool to understand the limits of EU law (the real limits, not the attempts to politically force an interpretation which extends the limits of EU law beyond what the Member States had envisioned initially).

Needless to say, the practical importance of the relationship between State Aid law and obligations arising under ITs can hardly be overstated. One can only look at the recent Micula affair[4] and the unenviable position in which Romania finds itself: on the one hand, it is faced with severe opposition from the European Commission as regards the observing of certain obligations arising under ITs (more specifically, the obligation to pay compensation to the Micula brothers as the final award against Romania dictates). On the other hand, Romania cannot outright ignore the legal framework set by the ITs (including the binding effect of the awards within this field) and show total disregard to the interests (and even rights) of investors.

As such, I endeavour in this study to provide an analysis of this relationship between State Aid law and obligations arising under ITs. I will focus my attention only on the first tier of this issue – the relationship between State Aid law and obligations arising under ITs themselves – and, as such, I will not analyse more general issues such the relationship between General Public International Law and EU law. Moreover, I will ignore general issues of interpretation of EU law. However, those issues will be touched upon where relevant for the analysis conducted through the present study.

II. Analysis:

Before starting, it should be stated that this analysis is composed of two parts. Firstly, I will analyse the relationship between State Aid law and obligations arising under ITs signed by EU Member States (intra-EU ITs) (1). Subsequently, I will analyse what the relationship between State Aid law and obligations arising under ITs when the ITs’ signatories are both from within the EU and from outside the EU (2).

  1. The relationship between State Aid law and obligations arising under ITs signed by EU Member States (intra-EU ITs):

(a) Scope of analysis:

The problem with intra-EU ITs and State Aid law seems to be that compensation given to investors by member states, as a result of an investment tribunal award, is considered illegal state aid, in cases such as the Micula one.[5] As such, the analysis should address the following: can an investment award rendered by an investment tribunal on the basis of an intra-EU IT be considered illegal State Aid? If so, when can it be considered as such (b)? Following, the next question should be: notwithstanding specific issues of whether enforcement of an investment arbitral award can be considered illegal State Aid, is it justified to ever argue for the termination of an intra-EU IT relying on State Aid law? In other words, can the intra-EU IT, by itself, be considered as violating EU rules on State Aid (c)?

(b) Can an investment award rendered by an investment tribunal on the basis of an intra-EU IT be considered illegal state aid? If so, when can it be considered as such?

In order to address this question, the first issue which must be clarified is what exactly is considered illegal state aid[6]: under Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union[7], state aid refers to any aid granted by a Member State or through State resources in any form whatsoever which distorts or threatens to distort competition by favouring certain undertakings or the production of certain goods in so far as it affects trade between Member States.[8]

In other words, a number of four conditions must be met in order for a measure to be considered State aid: the State must intervene through that measure (and that measure must be imputable to the state[9]); the beneficiary of the intervention must be conferred an advantage; competition must be distorted; and the intervention must be likely to affect trade between member states.[10] As such, (when) is an investment award rendered by an arbitral tribunal on the basis of an intra-EU IT considered State Aid? In order to answer the question, a qualification of an investment award which leads to an obligation on the State to pay compensation to a wronged investor must be made (including its subsequent enforcement).[11] In simple terms, an award is a final judgement or decision, esp. one by an arbitrator or by a jury assessing damages.[12] Continuing, the enforcement of an award is the act or process of compelling compliance with a law, mandate, command, decree, or agreement.[13]

Of course, there is a question which arises, at this moment: supposing an arbitral tribunal renders an award against an EU member-state based on an intra-EU IT and the State enforces it, what is the legal basis for that? The answer can be found in the two most relied-on arbitration frameworks: the ICSID[14] Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States[15] which provides that the award given under its framework shall be binding on the parties[16] and the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards[17] which provides that each Contracting State shall recognize arbitral awards as binding and enforce them[18]. Thus, an obligation to respect and enforce arbitral awards arises for the state under Public International Law.[19]

This leads to an important question regarding State Aid law: is the condition that the measure must be imputable to the State met? The issue of imputable conduct has been defined by the CJEU as follows: this condition is met when the decisions of Member States by which, in pursuit of their own economic and social objectives, they give, by unilateral and autonomous decisions, resources to undertakings or other persons or procure for them advantages intended to encourage the attainment of the economic or social objectives sought.[20]

Can arbitral awards which are enforced as an obligation under Public International Law be considered as being unilateral and autonomous? Enforcement is, in the end, the latter part of a judicial proceeding. There is nothing autonomous or unilateral about it. And it would be artificial to separate the arbitral decision itself from the enforcement. Just because there is no central executive authority to enforce decisions rendered under Public International Law does not mean that the enforcement of those awards can be separated from the framework in which they arose: obligations owed to other legal subjects which, usually[21], have as their ultimate basis a treaty or customary relationship (a bilateral or multilateral relationship).

This view is shared by two other authors who base their approach on the fact that, when enforcing arbitral decisions, states do not act in their sovereign powers, but as agent(s) of the international community[22]. And there is undeniable merit to this view: that States, when undertaking obligations in their sovereign capacity, are giving up part of their sovereignty.[23] Moreover, even EU official bodies have constantly repeated this fact.[24] In other words, because States give up part of their sovereignty when undertaking legal obligations, they can no longer act unilaterally and autonomously within the fields and situations where they are under certain obligations.

Therefore, it can be concluded that, under EU law, as a rule, a state acting on the basis of an investor-state arbitration award, is not acting unilaterally and autonomously and, as such, the analysed measure regarding a possible issue of illegal State Aid cannot be imputable to the State – a condition for a measure to be considered State Aid.

In the following, I shall research whether there are exceptions to this rule and, as such, whether certain cases of compensating investors as a consequence of an arbitral award can be considered illegal State Aid. A practical case may offer better insights into this question.

Perhaps the most important case for the present analysis which could demonstrate whether there can exist exceptions to the rule that enforcement of arbitral awards rendered within the framework of ITs is not illegal State Aid is the Micula case. In short, this is what happened: the Micula brothers were handed, on the basis of a BIT (the Romanian – Swedish Bilateral Investment Treaty) certain custom duty exemptions. This happened before accession to the EU by Romania. Subsequently, close to the moment of accession (in 2004), Romania repealed the said exemptions, as a compliance mechanism with EU State Aid rules. On the basis of this measure, the Micula brothers challenged the measure in an arbitral tribunal under the relevant IT.

During proceedings, the EU Commission intervened as amicus curiae, effectively arguing against any reinstatement of the exemptions since that would amount to illegal State Aid. However, the arbitral tribunal ignored the Commission’s arguments and found against Romania, effectively ruling that a breach of the claimants’ legitimate expectations occurred, awarding damages.[25] As such, the claimants sought the enforcement of the arbitral decision in Romanian courts. They succeeded although the Commission had once again intervened looking to oppose the enforcement. This led the Commission to open a formal investigation into what they argued could constitute illegal State Aid. It was eventually decided by the Commission that the enforcement of the award (the payment of compensation) constituted illegal State Aid[26] and this bore upon Romania the obligation to recover the awarded compensation.[27] Moreover, the Micula brothers challenged the Commission’s decision in the CJEU, the case pending before the Court at the moment (case T-646/14).[28]

The entire Micula case complicates the matters. In order to better analyse the whole issue, two elements should be separated from the facts: on the one hand, there is the issue of the initial exemption, itself. Romania effectively considered the initial exemption to be illegal State Aid and, as a consequence, repealed it. Moreover, it seems that a formal analysis into the whole exemption leads to the same conclusion: this is an act imputable to the State, which offers the beneficiary an economic advantage, distorts competition and can affect trade between Member states. What complicates matters is that the relevant BIT, on the other hand, protects the legitimate expectations, not a specific exemption such as the custom duties exemption offered by Romania. Of course, once a specific benefit offered to the investors generated legitimate expectations, the standard of legitimate expectations set by the BIT becomes applicable and enforceable. However, there is a difference between the exemption and the obligation to guarantee legitimate expectations.

But the questions which have to be addressed now are: firstly, at the moment of the granting of the exemption, which was fairly close to the moment of Romania’s accession to the EU, were the exemptions granted by the Romanian State to be considered as having generated legitimate expectations? And secondly, what is the basis for ignoring the investment tribunal’s award, by the European Commission? I have already mentioned that I do not consider the EU Legal Regime as being totally autonomous. Thus, it is not separated from the framework of general Public International Law. It is just a system which, from a Public International Law point of view, is in (apparent) conflict with another system: that of Foreign Investment Law. Thus, which is to be considered as having primacy and why?

I will now address the first question: I argue that legitimate expectations indeed existed. I base my claim on two elements: firstly, the arbitral tribunal’s decision to award compensation to the Micula brothers, as a result of the repealing of the custom duties incentive scheme[29]. Secondly, it has been found in case-law regarding Foreign Investment that if a benefit awarded by a State to an investor was presented, by representations made to the investor, as having been in compliance with the legal requirements of the host state, the investment must be awarded the expected degree of protection (by respecting the awarded benefits on which the investor relied), even if, in reality it conflicts with the host state’s law.[30] It is true that in the previously-mentioned case the claimant relied on the principle of estoppel[31], which is a specific application of the legitimate expectations doctrine[32], but the principles applied in the Kardassopoulos v. Georgia case clarify the issue for the Micula case, as well.

Thus, it is not for the investor to bear the risk of an investment which is non-compliant with the legal rules of the host state, when the host state created the expectation of conformity. And this is what happened in the Micula case, because the investment had been protected for a few years, before the repealing of the incentive scheme, creating the proper expectations of legitimacy and legality. Therefore, legitimate expectations existed and were violated by Romania through its repealing act.

Subsequently, there is the issue of analysing the (apparent) conflict between obligations arising under BITs and ones arising under EU law. As mentioned earlier, those are two conflicting legal systems with no apparent hierarchy between them (neither the obligations under foreign investment law nor the ones under EU State Aid law can be considered jus cogens – norms of a peremptory character under International Law, from which no derogation is admitted; in other words, norms of a superior value). Therefore, because those norms are considered to be of equal value, the (apparent) conflict must be settled by relying on the principle of lex posterior derogat (legi) priori.[33]

Under this framework, it can be argued that the subsequent legal regime implemented by the EU State Aid legal regime would derogate from schemes of custom duties exemption such as the one presented earlier. Such exemptions constitute State Aid and since both Romania and Sweden are part of the EU Legal Regime, it can be considered that they have derogated from the possibility to implement such State Aid. As such, if there had been an obligation under the ITs to grant such an economic advantage to the investors, there could have been a real conflict between the ITs and the EU State Aid rules.

However, there did not exist any such obligation. And this is why I mentioned earlier that there was just an apparent conflict between those two international legal regimes – the EU legal regime and the Foreign Investment legal regime – and not a real one. The obligations under ITs are not conflicting with the EU State Aid Rules. What is conflicting is the effective benefit given by the Romanian State to the Micula brothers. While this is inherently linked to the IT, it is not identified with it. This may be a nuance, but it is an important one. It demonstrates that, at least as to the relationship between obligations arising under intra-EU ITs and EU State Aid rules there is no formal conflict.

Thus, this custom duties exemption is a different thing to the protection of legitimate expectations – the ones which are actually protected by the Romanian – Swedish BIT –, expectations which had been created before the EU laws prohibiting State Aid became effective. The legitimate expectations, as mentioned earlier, must be protected, even more so when the investors acted in good faith by relying on the representations of the Romanian officials.

Moreover, it has been proved that payment of compensation as a result of an investment tribunal’s award is not a form of State Aid, because it is neither unilateral nor autonomous, as needed for measure to be imputable to the State and, as such, to be considered State Aid. Therefore, the answer to the second question must be that, while the custom duties incentive scheme constitutes State Aid, the protection of legitimate expectations – through granting compensation –, especially when they were created at a moment when the conflicting rules on State Aid had not been effective, is not State Aid.

As such, there is no obligation for Romania, neither under International Law nor under EU law to recover the paid compensation. However, there are two authors who argue that a compensation rendered as an enforcement of an arbitration award under Foreign Investment Law can constitute a violation of Article 107 of the TFEU if the action leading to an obligation to compensate consists of repealing benefits that are themselves illegal state aid under Article 107 of the TFEU[34]. While I do agree, in principle, with the authors and the opinion of Advocate General Ruiz-Jarabo Colomer in Joined Cases C-346/03 and C-529/03 that if an entitlement to compensation is recognized, the damage cannot be regarded as being equal to the sum of amounts to be repaid, since this would constitute an indirect grant of the aid found to be illegal and incompatible with the common market[35], I cannot agree that this is applicable always, as an absolute rule.

The issue should be assessed on a case by case basis. The authors’ and the Advocate General’s statements do not take into account the legitimate expectations created to the investor. And from an Investment Law point of view, not only does the investor have locus standi under arbitral proceedings in Foreign Investment proceedings, but he is considered a subject of Public International Law[36]. As such, who is to make a hierarchy between the investor’s interests – the protection of his legitimate interests – and those of another subject of Public International Law, the EU – where the fundamental interest is that of the effectiveness of the Internal Market, through a proper competition framework which underpins the functional trade between the EU Member States? From a public international law perspective, the EC legal system remains a subsystem of international law.[37]

Thus, I find such a hierarchy between a subject of Public International Law within the Investment Law field, on the one hand, and the officials of the EU, on the other hand, arbitrary and in violation of basic principles of Public International Law. Moreover, as has been stated somewhere else regarding a similar issue of EU law: just because something is mentioned repeatedly does not turn it into reality.[38]

(c) Notwithstanding specific issues whether enforcement of an investment arbitration award can be considered illegal State Aid, is it justified to ever argue for the termination of an intra-EU IT on the basis of that treaty violating the rules on State Aid prohibition?

Can the intra-EU IT, by itself, be considered as violating EU rules on State Aid? The answer, in my view, is in the negative. This is because investment treaties govern issues such as what constitutes an investment[39], admission of investments[40] or what protection does an investor receive once an investment has been made[41]. In other words, such ITs govern the abstract rules applicable to all investments, not referring to a certain specific investment (of course, the specific investment will benefit from the protection, but on the basis of fitting the framework set by the treaty, not by other means). As such, there is no obligation, ipso jure, to grant an economic advantage which can be considered State Aid under EU rules. The choice to grant that advantage is an economic/ political choice of the State, not an obligation under ITs.

Therefore, it can be concluded that investment treaties are not prohibited under State Aid rules. However, this doesn’t render the issue of the validity of intra-EU Bilateral Investment Treaties obsolete. On the contrary, this is a different discussion, which takes into consideration the common trade policy set by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty[42] and various issues such as questions of jurisdiction of investment tribunals when the parties are an EU Member and an investor from another EU Member[43]. Nonetheless, this is a different issue, going beyond the scope of the present analysis.[44]

  1. What does the relationship between State Aid law and obligations arising under ITs entail when the ITs’ signatories are both from within the EU and from without the EU:

This issue should be easier to analyse, given all that has been presented until now. One of the main problems with the relationship between the obligations arising under intra-EU ITs, on the one hand, and EU State Aid rules, on the other hand, was that the parties to the TFEU were, at the same time, parties to those intra-EU ITs. This situation complicated matters because the conflict was noticeable (although from a different perspective than the one of this analysis – that of the validity of intra-EU ITs). In the case of EU State Aid rules and obligations arising under ITs concluded with third parties, the simple answer is that, because the third party is not a party to the EU, the rules on State Aid are not opposable to it.[45] This does not mean that the EU party granting benefits to an investor from a third State, after the TFEU became effective, is not liable for violations of Article 107. But, at the same time, this will not have any bearing on the earlier obligations arising under the ITs. In that case, if the EU member state decides to repeal any State Aid benefit, it may be in compliance with EU rules on State Aid, but its responsibility will be engaged under customary international law for violating a legal obligation arising under ITs. As a consequence, this breach of international obligations gives rise to an obligation of reparation[46], which does not constitute State Aid – as has been proven in the first part.

III. Conclusion:

The debate over whether there exists a conflict between the legal regime instituted by ITs (excluding those where the EU is a party), on the one hand, and the EU’s legal regime, on the other, is neither straightforward nor devoid of political and economic implications. Through this study, I have analysed a part of this debate: the relationship between ITs, on the one hand, and the legal regime of State Aid law, on the other. I demonstrated, firstly, that obligations specifically arising under ITs are not, by themselves, in conflict with State Aid rules, because there is no ratione materiae identity.

In this context, I made a differentiation between the measures which can be considered illegal State Aid and the ITs (and their provisions such as the ones related to the protection of legitimate expectations), which, although inherently linked to such measures (such as in the Micula case) are, in the end, different. Continuing, I demonstrated why something which tends to be considered an absolute truth – the supremacy of EU law – must be qualified in the international sphere: there is no legal basis under Public International Law to consider such a supremacy when the EU legal regime is in conflict with other international legal regimes. And, finally, I analysed the situation where an IT has signatories both from within and without the EU There, I made a clear differentiation between what can amount to liability of an EU State for violations of Article 107 TFEU and responsibility of the same State under the Customary Law on State Responsibility for violations of obligations contained within ITs. I have shown how an EU State can infringe both legal regimes, at the same time, and why the EU legal regime is relative (and opposable) to the EU States only.


[1]Hereinafter referred to as State Aid law

[2] Hereinafter referred to as IT

[3] For a critique of the concept of self-contained regimes (the idea that supranational or international regimes, such as the EU, are self-contained and cannot be influenced by Public International Law rules, such as Treaty Law or the Law on State Responsibility), see Bruno Simma and Dirk Pulkowski, Of Planets and the Universe: Self-Contained Regimes in International Law, The European Journal of International Law, Vol. 17, no. 3, 2006, hereinafter cited as Simma and Pulkowski. This aspect of mutual influence between those regimes is of utmost importance to the present study, since the starting premise of the present study is that there is a mutual link between semi-autonomous regimes – such as the EU –, on one hand, and general Public International Law rules, on the other. See, for the opposite view (that the EU Legal Regime is an autonomous legal order which is not influenced by Public International Law), Laurens Ankersmit, Is ISDS in EU Trade Agreements Legal under EU law?, https://www.iisd.org/itn/2016/02/29/is-isds-in-eu-trade-agreements-legal-under-eu-law-laurens-ankersmit/ (last visited on 10/02/2018, at 20:58)

[4] Kelyn Bacon, BIT arbitration awards and State aid – the Commission’s Micula decision, http://uksala.org/bit-arbitration-awards-and-state-aid-the-commissions-micula-decision/ (last visited on 10/02/2018, at 20:53)

[5] Christian Tietje, Clemens Wackernagel, Outlawing Compliance? – The Enforcement of intra-EU Investment Awards and EU State Aid law, Policy Papers on Transnational Economic Law, June 2014, p. 2, hereinafter cited as Tietje, Wackernagel

[6] Although a thorough analysis should begin with what constitutes an undertaking, under EU law – since those entities are the beneficiaries of state aid –, I will not undertake such an analysis, for reasons of brevity. Thus, the analysis is considered to refer, implicitly, to such elements.

[7] Hereinafter, referred to as The TFEU

[8] EC (European Commission): Communication from the Commission: Draft Commission Notice on the notion of State aid pursuant to Article 107 (1) TFEU, § 5, p. 4

[9] Tamás Kende, Arbitral Awards Classified as State Aid under European Union Law, ELTE Law Journal 2015/1, p. 40

[10] http://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/overview/index_en.html (last visited on 10/02/2018, at 02:55)

[11] It is true that the situation varies from one case to the other, but I have decided to begin the analysis by qualifying an investment award in abstracto, in order to assess its legality under EU State Aid law and only afterwards I shall address specific cases.

[12] Bryan A. Garner (Editor in Chief), Black’s Law Dictionary. Ninth Edition, WEST. A Thomson Reuters business, St. Paul, MN, USA, 2009, p. 157

[13] Idem, p. 608

[14] The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes

[15] Hereinafter referred to as The ICSID Convention

[16] Article 53 of The ICSID Convention

[17] Hereinafter referred to as The New York Convention

[18] Article III of The New York Convention

[19] According to Article 26 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of the Treaties, every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith.

[20] Case 61/79, Amministrazione delle finanze del- lo Stato v Denkavit italiana [1980] ECR 1205, § 31

[21] Under Public International Law, the sources of legal obligations can include unilateral conduct or general principles of law, as well (see, for a comprehensive analysis, Malcolm N. Shaw, International Law. Seventh Edition, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2014, Chapter 3: Sources, pp. 49-91). But, for the present study, this is not important, since obligations arising in Investment Law are based mostly on investment treaties (more specifically, obligations to respect and enforce arbitral awards are the relevant ones for the present analysis), while those based on general principles of law cannot be considered to have appeared from a consensual relationship between the parties to a dispute in a specific dispute. Anyway, from a strictly technical point of view, no matter the source of obligation, the ensuing legal relationship is, in the end, always (at least) bilateral (the correlative existence of the right and of the duty): Arthur L. Corbin, Rights and Duties, 33 Yale Law Journal 501, 1923-1924, p. 502. But what is important, as a bottom-line, is that an arbitral award (and the subsequent obligation of enforcement) arose under a legal relationship outside the scope of the State’s discretionary powers.

[22] Tietje, Wackernagel, p. 7

[23] Sir Hersch Lauterpacht, The Function of Law in the International Community, Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom, 2011, pp. 3-4

[24] For example, see Case 26/62, Van Gend en Loos [1963], p. 2, § 2 and Case 6/64, Costa v. Enel [1964], p. 594

[25] Ioan Micula, Viorel Micula and others v. Romania: Final Award (ICSID Case No. ARB/05/20)

[26] Article 1 of Commission Decision (EU) 2015/1470 of 30 March 2015 on State aid […] implemented by Romania – Arbitral award Micula v. Romania of 11 December 2013

[27] All the factual information regarding the Micula affair mentioned so far has been gathered from: Kelyn Bacon, BIT arbitration awards and State aid – the Commission’s Micula decision, http://uksala.org/bit-arbitration-awards-and-state-aid-the-commissions-micula-decision/ (last visited on 10/02/2018, at 20:53)

[28] Volterra Fietta, Further attempts by the European Commission to eradicate intra-EU BITs, https://www.volterrafietta.com/further-attempts-by-the-european-commission-to-eradicate-intra-eu-bits/ (last visited on 10/02/2018, at 20:54)

[29] Ioan Micula, Viorel Micula and others v. Romania: Final Award (ICSID Case No. ARB/05/20)

[30] Ioannis Kardassopoulos v. Georgia: Decision on Jurisdiction (ICSID Case no. ARB/05/18, §§ 191-192)

[31] Andreas Kulick, About the Order of Cart and Horse, Among Other Things: Estoppel in the Jurisprudence of International Investment Arbitration Tribunals, The European Journal of International Law, Vol. 27, no. 1, p. 119

[32] I will not get into a detailed discussion of what constitutes estoppel and what is the difference between it and other institutions, such as the one of legitimate expectations. For a detailed analysis of estoppel in International Law and its application by the International Court of Justice, see Alexander Ovchar, Estoppel in the Jurisprudence of the ICJ. A principle promoting stability threatens to undermine it, Bond Law Review, Volume 21, Issue 1.

[33] http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195369380.001.0001/acref-9780195369380-e-1282 (last visited on 10/02/2018, at 20:55)

[34] Tietje, Wackernagel, p. 7

[35] Joined  Cases C-346/03 and C-529/03. Opinion of Advocate General Ruiz-Jarabo Colomier, delivered on 28 April 2005, § 198

[36] See Robert McCorquodale, The Individual and the International Law Legal System, in Malcolm D. Evans (ed.), International Law. First Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2003, pp. 299, 311-314 and 321-322

[37] Simma and Pulkowski, p. 516

[38] Ibid.

[39] Matthias Herdegen, Principles of International Economic Law. Second Edition, Oxford University Press,  Oxford, United Kingdom, 2016, pp. 444-446

[40] Idem, pp. 448-450

[41] Idem, pp. 448-477

[42] Francesco Montanaro and Sophia Paulini, United in Mixity? The Future of the EU Common Commercial Policy in light of the CJEU’s recent case law, EJIL: Talk! Blog, https://www.ejiltalk.org/united-in-mixity-the-future-of-the-eu-common-commercial-policy-in-light-of-the-cjeus-recent-case-law/ (last visited on 10/02/2018, at 20:55)

[43] Emanuela Matei, The love-hate story of arbitral jurisdiction  over claims against states in the EU, EFILA Blog, https://efilablog.org/2016/10/25/the-love-hate-story-of-arbitral-jurisdiction-over-claims-against-states-in-the-eu/ (last visited on 10/02/2018, at 20:56)

[44] For an analysis of this aspect, see: Nikos Lavranos, The Lack of Any Legal Conflict Between EU law and intra-EU BITs/ECT Disputes, EFILA Blog, 25 February 2016, https://efilablog.org/2016/02/25/the-lack-of-any-legal-conflict-between-eu-law-and-intra-eu-bitsect-disputes/ (last visited on 10/02/2018, at 20:55)

[45] The 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of the Treaties provides, in Article 30 (3.) (b) that when the parties to a later treaty (as is the case when various ITs had existed before the TFEU became effective) do not include all the parties to the earlier one […] as between a State party to both treaties and a State Party to only one of the treaties, the treaty to which both States are parties governs their mutual rights and obligations.

[46] See Article 31 of the ILC Articles on State Responsibility

The EU’s foreign investment screening proposal: Towards more protectionism in the EU

by Prof. Nikos Lavranos, Secretary General of EFILA

Last September, European Commission President Juncker presented a proposal for a European foreign investment screening regulation – apparently following a request by Germany, France and Italy.

The proposal fits the protectionist mood that has taken hold in Brussels and in many EU Member States. The backlash against TTIP, CETA and ISDS – suddenly supported by once free trade minded countries such as Germany and the Netherlands – has prepared the ground for this proposal.

Indeed, the EU has failed to deliver so far anything on its competence on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). TTIP has been put in the freezer; the CETA investment chapter is on hold because it is awaiting adjudication by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) and in the new envisaged trade agreements with Japan, New Zealand and Australia the investment chapter is left out altogether.

So, instead of promoting and protecting foreign direct investments – especially European foreign direct investments abroad – the EU has followed suit on populist calls for protecting Europe from perceived dangerous Chinese and other foreign investors, which aim at supposedly buying up strategic European companies.

As often is the case, the main argument for this European screening mechanism for foreign investments is “harmonization”, since several EU Member States already have a national screening mechanism while other Member States don’t.

Accordingly, the proposal first and foremost claims to provide legal certainty for Member States that maintain a screening mechanism or wish to adopt one. In other words, this Regulation would empower Member States to maintain their mechanisms or to create new ones in line with this Regulation.

Second, the Regulation aims at creating a “cooperation mechanism” between the Member States and the European Commission to inform each other of foreign direct investments that may threaten the “security” or “public order”. This cooperation mechanism enables other Member States and the Commission to raise concerns against envisaged investments and requires the Member State concerned to take these concerns duly into account. In other words, this “cooperation mechanism” is an “intervention mechanism” in disguise by given the Member States and the Commission a tool to review and intervene against planned foreign investments in other Member States.

Third, the proposal also enables the Commission itself to screen foreign investments on grounds of security and public order in case they “may affect projects or programmes of Union interest”.

In short, Member States and the Commission will effectively be enabled to review any screening of any foreign investments and to intervene if they think that their interests may be affected.

If one looks at the description of the screening grounds (“security” or “public order”), it immediately becomes clear that this proposal essentially can cover any investment.

Article 4 Factors that may be taken into consideration in the screening of the proposal states:

In screening a foreign direct investment on the grounds of security or public order, Member States and the Commission may consider the potential effects on, inter alia:

  • critical infrastructure, including energy, transport, communications, data storage, space or financial infrastructure, as well as sensitive facilities;
  • critical technologies, including artificial intelligence, robotics, semiconductors, technologies with potential dual use applications, cybersecurity, space or nuclear technology;
  • the security of supply of critical inputs; or
  • access to sensitive information or the ability to control sensitive information.

In determining whether a foreign direct investment is likely to affect security or public order, Member States and the Commission may take into account whether the foreign investor is controlled by the government of a third country, including through significant funding.

Moreover, in order to be effective, this Regulation essentially will require all Member States – in particular those which have not yet a screening mechanism in place – to create one, otherwise these Member States and the Commission will not be able to share the required information about planned new foreign investments and the review them.

As a result, if this proposal is approved, the screening of foreign investments will become a standard procedure in all Member States.

The question arises to what extent this proposal may be damaging for the economies of the Member States. In this context, it is telling that this proposal is not accompanied by an impact assessment study. This proposal contains the following justification for the lack of the impact assessment:

“In view of the rapidly changing economic reality, growing concerns of citizens and Member States, the proposal is exceptionally presented without an accompanying impact assessment. The proposal targets specifically the main issues identified at this stage in a proportionate manner. Other elements will be further assessed in the study announced in the Communication accompanying this Regulation. In the meantime the Commission proposal for Regulation is accompanied by a Staff working document providing a factual description of foreign takeovers in the EU on the basis of the available data, as well as a brief analysis of the issue at stake.”

This “justification” reveals that the need to satisfy populism quickly is considered more important than performing a proper impact assessment.

Apart from this, there are significant reasons to reject this proposal.

Firstly, the question arises whether such a screening mechanism would be compatible with the 1,500 extra-EU BITs which the EU Member States currently have in place with third states. The proposal does not discuss the potential incompatibility with BITs and neither does it discuss the potential claims based on the BITs by foreign investors against such screening decisions. This is very surprising since one of the main aims of BITs is to promote foreign investments and to protect them against unfair or discriminatory treatment. Prima facie, it seems that such a screening mechanism could lead to breaches of these BITs and thus to subsequent claims.

Secondly, there are many countries within the EU, in particular in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe which actually are in dire need of foreign investments – including also Chinese investments. Creating more obstacles against such investments is not going to help these countries economically.

Thirdly, one may wonder whether it is in the interest of the EU to send out such a protectionist signal to the world – in particular in light of the current US Administration’s protectionist attitude. Indeed, the experience with the American CFIUS mechanism shows that the screening of foreign investments is mainly used for domestic political gains rather than for economic benefits.

Finally, one wonders who will be financially responsible if foreign investments fail to materialize due to the market distorting interventions by other Member States and/or the Commission.

So, for all these reasons, the EU Member States should resist riding on the populist protectionism wave that may be helpful to satisfy short-term political gains, but which will be damaging for the EU as an attractive FDI dentition. The EU Member States are in dire need for more foreign investments, for example in renewable energy but also for large infrastructure projects such as connecting to the One Belt one Road (OBOR) project, which is currently pushed by China.

UK post-Brexit cannot escape the impact of EU law and of the Court of Justice of the EU  

 

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

In recent weeks, the UK has published several papers explaining its aims of leaving the EU and how it intends to shape its future trade relationship with the EU.

One of the aims repeatedly publicly stated by the UK will be “to end the direct jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU)” as declared in the UK’s paper on ‘Enforcement and dispute resolution’.

Moreover, in another UK paper on the ‘Future customs arrangements’, the UK stated that the “exit from the EU will provide considerable additional opportunities for UK business through ambitious new trade arrangements and comprehensive trade deals that play to the strengths of the UK economy”. In order to achieve that, the paper argues that “the UK will need an independent trade policy, with the freedom to set for ourselves the terms of our trade with the world”.

In other words, the UK is hoping that by leaving the EU it can escape the impact of EU law and of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU).

But is this really possible and realistic?

From the outset, the UK already admitted that EU law and the jurisprudence of the CJEU will continue to play an important role in the domestic legal order of the UK. Indeed, in the ‘Enforcement and dispute resolution’ paper, the UK explicitly admits that the “Repeal Bill will give pre-exit CJEU case law the same binding, or precedent, status in UK courts as decisions of our own Supreme Court to ensure a smooth and orderly exit”.

If that is taken as a starting point and one examines what will happen in the field of trade and investment law before the CJEU until March 2019 when Brexit is envisaged, it becomes crystal clear that the room for manoeuvre for the UK is highly limited.

The CJEU will shape the EU’s future trade and investment law

  1. Achmea case

The first case in line, is the Achmea (formerly known Eureko) case. This case concerns the preliminary ruling questions of the German Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof) in which it essentially asks the CJEU to rule whether investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) proceedings based on an intra-EU BIT are compatible with EU law. Achmea had won an arbitration award of about 20 million EUR against the Slovak Republic, which the Slovak Republic is trying to set aside before German courts. Although, the German courts so far have rejected the efforts of the Slovak Republic, the Bundesgerichtshof decided to put this matter before the CJEU.

On 19 September 2017, Advocate General Wathelet delivered his Opinion in the Achmea case. Interestingly, he opined that intra-EU BITs and ISDS under these BITs are in full conformity with EU law. At the same time, he argued that international arbitral tribunals are to equalized with domestic courts/tribunals of EU Member States. Consequently, arbitral tribunals established on the bases of intra-EU BITs should be allowed to ask preliminary questions to the CJEU, while at the same time they are fully bound by EU law and CJEU jurisprudence.

It remains to be seen whether the CJEU will follow this rather innovative approach. However, if the CJEU were to decide in mid-2018 that arbitration on the basis of intra-EU BITs is incompatible with EU law, this would be the end of the ca. 190 intra-BITs. This would also affect the 10 intra-EU BITs, which the UK currently has with other EU Member States (i.e., with Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia). In this context, it is interesting to note that a UK investor has just brought a case against Poland based on their intra-EU BIT. That may soon not be possible anymore, if this and the other intra-EU BITs are judged by the CJEU to be incompatible with EU law. On the other hand, if the UK is able to maintain its intra-EU BITs after Brexit, it could become an interesting location for foreign investors to structure investments through the UK in order to benefit from them. The additional advantage would be that these BITs are based on the “Dutch gold standard” model BIT and thus provide a significantly higher level of protection that the so-called new general investment treaties such as CETA.

  1. Micula case

The other case, which will be of significant importance is the Micula case. This case concerns the enforcement of a 250 million USD ICSID award by Swedish investors against Romania. While Romania was ready to pay out the award, the European Commission has prohibited Romania to do so because the payment of the award would – according to the Commission – constitute illegal state aid to the Micula brothers. Romania – being forced to give priority to EU law – has thus stopped paying the award. The Micula’s have brought an annulment case before the CJEU. If the CJEU were to follow the European Commission, this could mean that ICSID awards may not be so easily and automatically enforceable within the EU as they are supposed to be in accordance with the ICSID Convention. In order to avoid such insecurity, which is caused by the Commission for its own policy interests, the UK post-Brexit may become the preferred place to enforce awards against other EU Member States.

  1. The Belgium questions on the compatibility of the Investment Court System (ICS)

Another very recent development concerns the questions, which Belgium has put to the CJEU as regards the compatibility of the Investment Court System (ICS) with EU law. It will be recalled, that Belgium had promised Wallonia to request an Opinion of the CJEU on this matter in return for Wallonia’s agreement to agree on CETA. As is well known, the ICS is already included in CETA and the FTA between the EU and Vietnam. Indeed, the European Parliament has repeatedly stated that it will only accept EU FTAs with the ICS included. However, the EU-Singapore FTA does not yet include the ICS because the negotiations were concluded long before the ICS proposal came out. Due to the position by the European Parliament, the European Commission has no choice but to re-open the negotiations with Singapore. However, it remains to be seen whether Singapore will accept the ICS.

If that is the case and the EU-Singapore FTA, which the UK has signed, would enter into force, it would replace all the BITs between the EU Member States and Singapore. This would also include the UK-Singapore BIT, which dates from the 1970s.

Consequently, if the EU-Singapore FTA would enter into force before the UK leaves the EU, the UK would lose its BIT with Singapore and would also have to leave the EU-Singapore FTA. In other words, the UK would be left with no investment treaty, unless the UK is able to delay the entering into force of the EU-Singapore FTA until after Brexit. In that case, the UK could maintain its BIT with Singapore and would not be affected by the EU-Singapore FTA – whether or not it has to include the ICS.

Either way, the Opinion of the CJEU on the compatibility of the ICS with EU law will be important for the UK post-Brexit.

Firstly, because the UK Government has already publicly admitted that it does not have the capacities to negotiate many new trade agreements on its own. Instead, it will – as far as possible and as far as the third countries agree – copy and paste the EU’s FTA texts.

Secondly, if the CJEU were to conclude that the ICS is compatible with EU law and this Opinion comes out before March 2019, it will also be binding on the UK.

Consequently, the UK may be forced to accept the ICS proposal in CETA, EU-Vietnam FTA and EU-Singapore FTA – whether or not it agrees with it.

In fact, it may very well be that third states will push the UK to copy and paste as much as possible the EU FTAs texts in order to reduce the degree of potential inconsistencies.

In this context, it should also be mentioned that CETA will provisionally enter into force on 21 September 2017, which means it will also be binding on the UK as of that date. Even though the ICS provisions are excluded from the provisional application, once the CJEU gives its green light on the ICS question, the ICS provisions will be applicable also to the UK – if the UK is still member of the EU. But even if these provisions become applicable only post-Brexit, Canada, Vietnam, Singapore and other states such as Australia and New Zealand are very likely to demand the inclusion of the ICS provisions in their new investment treaties with the UK.

The new dispute settlement body for the post-Brexit UK-EU trade relations

Another important and unresolved issue regarding the future relationship between the post-Brexit UK and the EU concerns the issue of who should settle any disputes between the two and their respective citizens and companies?

For the EU the only acceptable and obvious solution would be the CJEU. However, for the UK that would be an unbearable solution because it would prevent it from achieving its stated aim of “ending the direct jurisdiction of the CJEU”.

Arbitration, which the UK had suggested, is probably an untenable solution in light of the recent backlash against arbitration within the EU.

Equally, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) would not be a practical option for the EU.

Consequently, the only possible option seems to be the EFTA court or a new court similar to it. Prima facie, this would be an acceptable compromise for both parties. The UK could argue that this is not an EU court anymore and that it would no longer be under the “direct” jurisdiction of the CJEU. The EU could agree to it because the CJEU has accepted the EFTA court as the only other international court that is allowed to interpret and apply EU law – all be it by being required to copy and paste the CJEU case-law, which means that the CJEU “indirectly” exercises jurisdiction over the EFTA countries. Accordingly, while the EFTA court could be a workable solution, it would at the end of the mean that the CJEU would continue to have an “indirect” but nonetheless significant impact on the domestic courts of the UK, which is not what the Brexiteers promised.

A reality check: The UK cannot escape the impact of EU law and the CJEU

The only realistic conclusion from the above is that the UK cannot escape the impact of EU law and of the CJEU – long after it has left the EU. In fact, the next 18 months will be of paramount importance for the UK’s future trade and investment policy.

However, so far it seems that this reality has not yet fully been accepted by the UK Government and its negotiators. But a precondition for successful negotiations is to have a full and realistic understanding of one own’s position and the position of the other party in order to achieve an optimal result. Ignoring the impact which the above-mentioned CJEU decisions will have on the EU’s and UK’s trade and investment policy would be a costly mistake.

The continued lack of adequate investment protection in Europe

Nikos Lavranos, Secretary General, EFILA

Recently, the UNCTAD Investment Division announced that it had “completed its regular semi-annual update of the Investment Dispute Settlement Navigator, which is now up-to-date as of 1 January 2017”.

The Navigator is a useful web-based search tool containing information regarding pending and closed investor-State disputes based on the thousands of investment treaties.

According to UNCTAD, the key findings of this update are as follows:

“In 2016, investors initiated 62 known ISDS cases pursuant to international investment agreements (IIAs). This number is lower than in the preceding year (74 cases in 2015), but higher than the 10-year average of 49 cases (2006-2015).

The new ISDS cases were brought against a total of 41 countries. With four cases each, Colombia, India and Spain were the most frequent respondents in 2016.

Developed-country investors brought most of the 62 known cases. Dutch and United States investors initiated the highest number of cases with 10 cases each, followed by investors from the United Kingdom with 7 cases.

About two thirds of investment arbitrations in 2016 were brought under bilateral investment treaties (BITs), most of them dating back to the 1980s and 1990s. The remaining cases were based on treaties with investment provisions (TIPs).

The most frequently invoked IIAs in 2016 were the Energy Charter Treaty (with 10 cases), NAFTA and the Russian Federation-Ukraine BIT (three cases each).

The total number of publicly known arbitrations against host countries has reached 767.”

Some of these above key findings are of particular interest and should be put into a broader perspective.

First, it is interesting to note that the number of new ISDS cases has fallen. This is a trend that can also be seen for example in the ICSID statistics, which show that the number of ICSID cases has been falling as well (in 2015 52 new cases were registered, while in 2016 48 new cases were registered).

UNCTAD does not give any explanation as to the possible reasons for the fall in cases. One could of course think of several reasons: the States have improved their behaviour vis-à-vis foreign investors or investors consider the use of investment treaty arbitration as a less attractive option for dispute resolution and instead prefer to use other options. In this context, it is interesting to note that according to the same UNCTAD Navigator, States continue to win more cases (36.4%) than investors (26.7%), while 24.4% of the cases are settled. Investors/Claimants could perceive this as not such an attractive option to resolve a dispute with a State, in particular in conjunction with the high costs associated with the proceedings.

Second, it is noticeable that the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) is the most frequently invoked investment treaty in 2016. This has been a trend of the past years with the explosion of disputes in the renewable energy sector, mainly against Spain but also against several other European States. Moreover, in the past 3 months it has been reported that investment arbitration proceedings – not only based on the ECT – have been initiated against Italy, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Latvia, Greece and Serbia.

This suggests that European States have a poor track record when it comes to the protection of foreign investors and their investments. Again, one wonders what the reasons are for the fact that the ECT is so popular and why European States face some many disputes. Whatever the reasons may be, the fact that the ECT and BITs are used so frequently against European States underlines the continued lack of adequate investment protection in Europe, which in turn confirms the necessity of investment treaties.

In fact, the World Rule of Law index 2016 indicates very clearly the stark differences among European States regarding their Rule of Law track record. This index ranks Denmark (1), Norway (2), Finland (3), Sweden (4), Netherlands (5), Austria (6), Czech Republic (17), France (21), Spain (24), Romania (32), Italy (35) and Bulgaria (53) out of 113 countries.

The Corruption Transparency index 2016 of Transparency International ranks Denmark (1), Finland (3), Sweden (4), Switzerland (5), Norway (6), Netherlands (8), Germany (10), Poland (29), Lithuania (38) Czech Republic (47), Croatia (55), Romania (57), Italy (60), Greece (69) out of 176 countries.

The Doing Business Report 2017 ranks Denmark (3), Norway (6), UK (7), Sweden (9), Finland (13), Germany (17), Lithuania (21), Bulgaria (39) and Malta (76) out of 190 countries.

Obviously, these rankings have their limitations and must be treated with caution but the emerging general picture is nonetheless very clear. The “Nordic” European countries simply have a better track record than the “Southern” and “Eastern” European countries. In other words, they not only treat foreign investors better but they also have less perceived corruption and less red tape for doing business.

It is about time that this reality is generally accepted also in the European institutions living in the “Schuman bubble”.

These obvious conclusion from this is that – contrary to UNCTAD’s and European Commission’s repeated call for “reforming” the current system by inter alia also terminating investment treaties – all efforts should be focused on improving the Rule of Law track record in those European countries which clearly show deficiencies.

However, in the past decades little progress has been made and there is no reason to believe that things will improve very soon. Consequently, in these circumstance investment treaties are still very much needed – in particular in Europe.