The volume EU Law Enforcement. The Evolution of Sanctioning Powers, edited by Stefano Montaldo, Francesco Costamagna and Alberto Miglio (Routledge/Giappichelli, 2020) touches upon one of the most crucial themes characterising the development of our European societies into a more-federal like legal system.
The establishment of centralised sanctioning powers is indeed one of the most relevant features that contributes to defining State sovereignty. Among populism and Corona-driven paralysis, the increasing trend of conferring punitive powers to the European Union is indeed a welcoming sign, pointing towards a slow, but (at least in the last few decades) steady strengthening of the supranational structure of the European Union.
A clear example in this sense stems from the creation of the whole new system of financial regulation and enforcement, created in the aftermath of the 2006-2008 crisis: a reform that affected not only the secondary legislation, but also the institutional structure itself of the EU supervisory layout.
Such a consideration, however, remains true also with regard to the area of sanctions par excellence: criminal law. This field is indeed experiencing a strong supranational intervention, both in defining strategic priorities and in the harmonisation of the legal bases. Like in other crucial sectors, moreover, the competence of the EU in criminal law can today count on (quasi) centralised bodies as well, such as the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) or the soon-to-be-operational European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO).
Further areas that require a similarly bold approach, combining regulatory interventions and institutional reforms, are likely to emerge in the near and more distant future, for instance to address the challenges posed by public health management and digital development.
As famously known, with great power comes great responsibility. This is why it is today pivotal – for legal scholars, as well as for practitioners – to give full consideration to the diversity of EU punitive regulations, and to the impact that such powers exercise on the fundamental rights of the European citizens and residents.
In this sense, the principle-oriented and rights-compliant perspective, traditionally belonging to criminal law, now needs to find application also in other areas of law. Either because of their classification as matière a coloration pénale in light of the Engel criteria or just because of the need to maintain a democratic level of control over sanctioning prerogatives, the development of enforcement mechanisms requires indeed a careful balance of requests for effectiveness and the compliance with fundamental rights.
Such is the valuable perspective adopted in the volume, in which the impact of sanctioning powers is firstly analysed from a theoretical perspective, in light of the proportionality principle, the EU’s founding values, and, more broadly, fundamental rights.
Subsequently, the book covers in detail the EU non-criminal law areas characterised by significant sanctioning powers. From the EMU Economic Pillar, to the European Central Bank; from competition law, to environmental protection, not forgetting the GDPR regime and the sanctioning measures adopted in the (still to be fully developed) EU foreign policy, the authors of the volume depict a comprehensive picture of the many, and different, fields in which the European Union is increasingly exercising its direct punitive powers.
In doing so, the volume not only provides a synthetic and accurate analysis of several critical sectors of EU law. It also helpfully prepares the ground for future studies to assess future evolutionary paths of EU sanctioning powers.
New roads, for instance, are currently marked out in light of the increasing application of digital and automated technology for surveillance goals. The book provides an informed perspective, equipping the reader to face such incoming challenges, with the awareness that sanctioning powers can contribute to more efficient societies only as long as their enforcement complies with the silent but essential boundaries of democratic values.
Giulia Lasagni, PhD, is a Junior Assistant Professor in Criminal Procedure at the University of Bologna. She is the author of several papers on defence rights, also in light of automated technological development, and published a monograph on the complex recognition of fair trial rights in ‘criministrative’ financial proceedings (Banking Supervision and Criminal Investigation. Comparing the EU and US Experiences, Springer/Giappichelli, 2019).