FIDE 2021 Opening Ceremony Speeches: main takeaways
The FIDE 2021 Congress was officially inaugurated today in The Hague for the second time in the Conference’s history, one year and a half after it was rescheduled due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following a reception hosted the evening before at the Hall of the Knights, the solemn room where the King of the Netherlands annually addresses the Parliament, participants gathered for the opening ceremony, where speeches were delivered by Corinna Wissels, President of FIDE; Dineke de Groot, President of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands; Koen Lenaerts, President of the Court of Justice; Marc van der Woude, President of the General Court; and Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission.
Ms. Wissels highlighted that despite the two forced reschedulings, the original programme of the Conference remains highly relevant to today’s societal, economic and political challenges and to their EU law response. The Conference is structured around three topics: (i) national courts and the enforcement of EU law, (ii) the new EU data protection regime, and (iii) EU competition law and the digital economy, which will be dealt with through panel discussions on the basis of the respective reports specifically drafted for the conference. Ms. Wissels further highlighted the EU’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a new impetus in EU integration and concluded by establishing the FIDE Conference as a bridge between older and younger generations of EU lawyers.
Following an interlude poem by Hanneke van Eijke, President de Groot structured her speech around the role of national courts (especially those of last instance) in dispute resolution and the development of EU law. She noted that legal cooperation with the Court of Justice is fundamental for all national courts on a daily basis, and expanded on the example of the Dutch Supreme Court as a substantial stakeholder in maintaining the rule of law both in the Netherlands and in the EU as a whole. She further commented on the Court of Justice’s recent confirmation of the CILFIT criteria in Consorzio Italian Management (C-561/19), rejecting the approach proposed by the Advocate General.
President Lenaerts delivered a robust speech in which he warned that the Court of Justice and the primacy of EU law is currently experiencing an ‘extremely serious situation’ by being under attack, inter alia, by ‘certain constitutional courts’. In what is perhaps a warning directed to the EU and Member States in general, he noted that the survival of the European project, as it currently stands, is at stake because of the current challenge faced by the Court of Justice. President Lenaerts stressed that judicial decisions must be respected by losing parties across the EU, especially when such parties are governments, and not call into question the independence or impartiality of courts. However, he further clarified that the undermining of the rule of law also takes place when courts fail to respect each other and diminish dialogue and that the EU legal order can only function when it is clear who has the last word when it comes to the interpretation of EU law.
The President made a call for the respect of the principle of primacy as interpreted by the CJEU in order to ensure the unifying role of EU law, and recalled the Court’s Wightman (C-621/18) case law as a confirmation that the condition of membership is voluntary and exercised through a democratic and sovereign decision, which entails the acceptance of the conditions attached to membership. In this sense, he stressed that as long as a Member State is part of the Union, it must accept EU law as interpreted by the Court of Justice. In this sense, he noted that the Court of Justice and national constitutional courts should be ‘allies’ and not ‘adversaries’, and welcomed, as a sign of the former, the record number of requests for a preliminary ruling received annually by the Court. Finally, he elaborated on the idea that EU law and the Court of Justice offers discretion to Member States in order to accommodate different approaches to important societal questions and debates, signaling as examples of respect of national identity the Court’s recent judgments in Centraal Israëlitisch (C‑336/19) and WABE & MH Müller Handel (C-804/18 & C-341/19).
President van der Woude then reflected on the General Court’s role in the light of its current reform process, which he said would allow it to take on more responsibilities and help the Court of Justice relieve its docket and enable it to focus on the more important cases. On what specific model of reform should be prioritised, the President expressed his preference for a ‘conceptual’ model that would allow for the Court of Justice to adopt more of a constitutional court role by entrusting the General Court the less substantive cases and building on its existing expertise in areas such as competition law, intellectual property or regulatory affairs.
Finally, Vice-President Timmermans described the current state of affairs as only comparable to the first industrial revolution in terms of the profound societal changes and the effects they are having on institutions. In light of these changes, he expressed the need to adapt to the future while sticking to the values that underlie our societies, such as the rule of law. Specifically, he reckoned that there is a risk, as in past times, of the rule of law backsliding into a ‘rule by law’. In the EU context, he noted that the possibility for all actors to interpret EU law on their own will necessarily lead to the disappearance of EU law as such.
News on other highlights from the FIDE Congress will be available soon on EU Law Live.