European agenda on migration launched

CATHERINE DONNELLY Following the terrible loss of life in the Mediterranean in April, the EU introduced a European agenda on migration on May 13th.

In the short term, the focus is on increasing the budget for Frontex – the EU’s agency for the management of co-operation at external borders of the union – to provide for ships and aircraft to save lives at sea and to provide for safe and legal resettlement of people to Europe.

In the longer term, the EU’s objectives include reducing the incentives for irregular migration, saving lives and securing external borders. However, as the measures proposed relate to justice and home affairs, Ireland has an “opt in” right and will be bound by such measures only if it so chooses.

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager announced a proposal at the end of March for an inquiry into the e-commerce sector, out of concern for the fact that while about half of all EU consumers shop online, only 15 per cent of them buy from a seller based in another EU member state, suggesting significant barriers to e-commerce still exist.

The EU’s principle of institutional balance between the European Commission, European Parliament and European Council featured in Case C-409/13. Displeased with amendments made by the council and the parliament to one of its legislative proposals, the commission withdrew its proposal.

The Court of Justice ruled that, while the commission did enjoy a power of withdrawal of proposals, this power was subject to an obligation to state the grounds for the withdrawal, which grounds would have to be supported by cogent evidence or arguments.

There was an interesting ruling of the Court of Appeal in the UK at the end of March, in the case of Vidal-Hall v Google, which invoked the charter of fundamental rights to strike down UK legislation which limited the ability to sue for non-economic losses in the context of data protection law, and which may have repercussions for enforcement of other EU rights.

In Case C-446/12, the Court of Justice gave an indication in April of the limits to the reach of the charter, holding that where a member state stores and uses fingerprint data, originally collected in compliance with an EU regulation, but which the state then uses for purposes other than those stipulated in the regulation, the member state is not acting within the scope of EU law and therefore is not bound by the charter. This ruling will be welcomed by states who have concerns about the potentially broad scope of application of the charter.

Finally, preliminary rulings continue to be sought by the Irish courts from the Court of Justice, with the Supreme Court referring the question of whether the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland is an “emanation of the State”. Úna Butler and Catherine Donnelly are members of the Irish Society for European Law.