During the first two months of the year, the European Court of Justice issued three judgments and opinions regarding citizens’ rights. The most recent one concerns the EU’s competence to conclude, on its own, the Marrakesh Treaty on access to published works for visually impaired people. The second one is a decision annulling a Commission decision to reject the registration of an ECI on linguistic and cultural diversity in the EU. The third one considers the relationship between a member state and its overseas territory as regards the freedom to provide cross-border services in the EU.
In an opinion of 14 February, the Court contends that the EU, acting on its own, without the Member States’ participation, may conclude the Marrakesh Treaty on access to published works for people who are visually impaired. This treaty requires the contracting states to provide in their national law that certain entities may, without the authorisation of the right holder, reproduce or distribute copies of published works in a format which gives access to the works for persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. The Court confirms in its opinion that the body of obligations laid down by the Marrakesh Treaty falls within an area that is already covered to a large extent by EU common rules, and that since the conclusion of the Treaty may affect them, the EU has exclusive competence to conclude the Treaty on its own, against claims of no-competence made by eight member states.
On 3 February the EU General Court annulled the Commission’s decision to refuse the registration of a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) entitled “Minority SafePack – one million signatures for diversity in Europe”, which called on the EU to improve the protection of persons belonging to national and linguistic minorities and to strengthen cultural and linguistic diversity in the EU. While the Commission acknowledged that respect for the rights of persons belonging to minorities is a value of the EU, it refused to register the initiative by stating that it “manifestly fell outside” the framework of its powers. Following the Commission’s decision, the citizens’ committee responsible for the ECI decided in November 2013 to start judicial proceedings before the General Court of the European Union. After more than 3 years, the General Court delivered its final judgment on 3 February 2017 annulling the Commission’s decision on the grounds that the reasoning given for refusing registration of the ECI was manifestly inadequate.
In the opinion of Advocate General Szpunar, the UK and Gibraltar are to be treated as one EU Member State for the purposes of the freedom to provide services, with negative implications for Gibraltar. In 2014, the UK adopted a remote gambling taxation regime requiring all UK-facing operators, no matter whether they were located inside or outside the territory, to pay a gaming duty on revenue from UK gambling consumers. Gibraltar Betting and Gaming Association (GBGA) challenged the UK’s new tax regime on the grounds that it violated Article 56 of TFEU, which prevents member states from introducing restrictions that could hamper the free movement of goods and services within the EU’s borders. According to the Advocate General, the UK and Gibraltar count as a single member state and, if that is the case, the UK’s new tax regime on gambling is a domestic affair and Article 56 of TFEU cannot be cited as an authority for action.
Recently published statistics concerning the EU Court’s judicial activity for 2016 show a positive trend to the benefit of citizens, as the average duration of proceedings was the shortest since its creation. In parallel, requests for preliminary rulings submitted by national courts reached a record of 470 cases, showing the trust placed by national courts in the EU Court as the key interpreter of EU Law.