EU Court of Justice Annuls Frontex Sea Borders Rule – EU Parliamentary Approval Required (28.11.2012 update)

[UPDATE 28 November 2012: The European Commission intends to present a legislative proposal in early 2013 to replace the annulled Frontex sea border operations rule (Council Decision 2010/252/EU).  See EC’s “Second biannual report on the functioning of the Schengen area” covering the period 1 May 2012-31 October 2012.  (COM(2012) 686 final, 23.11.2012)]

The EU Court of Justice, Grand Chamber, issued a judgment on 5 September 2012 annulling Council Decision 2010/252/EU of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by [Frontex] (OJ 2010 L 111, p. 20), i.e. the Frontex Sea Borders Rule.  ECJ Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi issued an Opinion on 17 April 2012 recommending that the Court annul the Rule.

The Court concluded that the provisions of the contested rule were not minor, non-essential provisions, but instead “constitute[d] a major [new] development in the [Schengen Borders Code] system” and which therefore required the consideration and approval of the European Parliament.

The Court stated that the Schengen Borders Code (“SBC”) as it currently stands “does not contain any rules concerning the measures which border guards are authorised to apply against persons or ships when they are apprehended….”  The contested rule “lays down the measures which border guards may take against ships [authorising] ships to be stopped, boarded, searched and seized…”  The contested rule “lays down rules on the disembarkation of the persons intercepted or rescued …stating that priority should be given to disembarkation in the third country from where the ship carrying the persons departed.”

The Court said the adoption of such rules conferring “enforcement powers on border guards …entails political choices falling within the responsibilities of the European Union legislature, in that it requires the conflicting interests at issue to be weighed up on the basis of a number of assessments. Depending on the political choices on the basis of which those rules are adopted, the powers of the border guards may vary significantly, and the exercise of those powers require authorisation, be an obligation or be prohibited, for example, in relation to applying enforcement measures, using force or conducting the persons apprehended to a specific location. In addition, where those powers concern the taking of measures against ships, their exercise is liable, depending on the scope of the powers, to interfere with the sovereign rights of third countries according to the flag flown by the ships concerned. Thus, the adoption of such rules constitutes a major development in the SBC system.”

The Court also noted that “the powers conferred in the contested [rule] mean that the fundamental rights of the persons concerned may be interfered with to such an extent that the involvement of the European Union legislature is required.”

For these reasons the Court decided that the “contested [rule] must be annulled in its entirety because it contains essential elements of the surveillance of the sea external borders of the Member States which go beyond the scope of the additional measures within the meaning of Article 12(5) of the SBC, and only the European Union legislature was entitled to adopt such a decision.”

The Court ordered “the effects of the contested [rule] [to]  be maintained until the entry into force, within a reasonable time, of new rules intended to replace the contested decision annulled by the present judgment.”

Click here or here for Judgment.

Extensive Excerpts from Judgment:

THE COURT (Grand Chamber), composed of V. Skouris, President, A. Tizzano, J.N. Cunha Rodrigues, K. Lenaerts, J.-C. Bonichot and A. Prechal, Presidents of Chambers, R. Silva de Lapuerta, K. Schiemann, E. Juhász, G. Arestis, T. von Danwitz (Rapporteur), M. Berger and E. Jarašiūnas, Judges,

Advocate General: P. Mengozzi,

having regard to the written procedure and further to the hearing on 25 January 2012, after hearing the Opinion of the Advocate General at the sitting on 17 April 2012, gives the following Judgment

1. By its action, the European Parliament seeks the annulment of Council Decision 2010/252/EU of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by [FRONTEX] (OJ 2010 L 111, p. 20, ‘the contested decision’).

2. [***] The Parliament submits that the provisions of the contested decision ought to have been adopted by the ordinary legislative procedure and not by the comitology procedure based on Article 12(5) of the SBC [Schengen Borders Code].

I – Legal context

A – Decision 1999/468/EC

3.-7. [***]

B – The SBC

8.-16.[***]

C – Regulation (EC) No 2007/2004

17.-21.[***]

D – The contested decision

22.-29.[***]

II – Forms of order sought by the parties and the procedure before the Court

30. The Parliament claims that the Court should:

– annul the contested decision;

– order that the effects of the contested decision be maintained until it is replaced, …

31. The Council contends that the Court should:

– dismiss the Parliament’s action as inadmissible;

– in the alternative, dismiss the action as unfounded, …

32.[***] the Commission was granted leave to intervene in support of the form of order sought by the Council and, in its statement in intervention, it requests the Court to dismiss the Parliament’s action …..

III – The action

A – The admissibility of the action

33.-40.[***]

41. It follows from the above that the action for annulment must be declared to be admissible.

B – Substance

1. Arguments of the parties

42. [***]

(a) As regards the principles governing the implementing powers

43. The Parliament submits that the regulatory procedure with scrutiny can have as its subject-matter the modification or removal of non-essential elements of a basic instrument or the addition of new non-essential elements, but not the modification of the essential elements of such an instrument. [***]

44.-45.[***]

46. The Commission contends that [it has] the power to put flesh on the bones of the essential elements which the co‑legislators have chosen not to detail in extenso . It is authorised to supplement those elements and to regulate new activities within the scope of the essential subject-matter and of the essential rules.

(b) As regards the contested decision

47. Although the Parliament does not challenge the objectives of the contested decision, it takes the view that its content ought to have been adopted by means of a legislative act and not by an implementing measure. That decision goes beyond the scope of the implementing powers referred to in Article 12(5) of the SBC because it introduces new essential elements into that code and alters essential elements of the SBC as well as the content of the Frontex Regulation.

(i) Introduction of new essential elements into the SBC

48. As regards the introduction of new essential elements into the SBC, the Parliament submits that Parts I and II to the Annex of the contested decision lay down measures which cannot be considered to be within the scope of border surveillance as defined by the SBC or to be a non‑essential element of that code.

49. Thus, …, paragraph 2.4 of Part I to the Annex of the contested decision does not merely lay down detailed practical rules of border surveillance but grants border guards far‑reaching powers. The SBC is silent as to the measures which might be taken against persons or ships. However, the contested decision lays down far-reaching enforcement measures, yet does not ensure the right of persons intercepted on the high seas to claim asylum and associated rights, whereas, in accordance with Article 13 of the SBC, returning the persons concerned to the country from where they came can only arise in the context of a formal refusal of entry.

50. In addition, the rules relating to activities such as search and rescue and disembarkation in Part II to the Annex of the contested decision do not, in the Parliament’s view, fall within the concept of surveillance. Even though the title of Part II contains the word ‘guidelines’, Part II is binding and is intended to produce legal effects as against Member States which participate in an operation coordinated by the Agency, due to its wording, the fact that it is contained in a legally binding instrument, and the fact that it forms part of an operational plan provided for by the Frontex Regulation. The contested decision thus contains essential elements of the SBC and could not therefore be regulated in an implementing measure.

51. In addition, the Parliament submits that the contested decision exceeds the territorial scope of the SBC . In accordance with Article 2(11) of the SBC, surveillance is limited to the surveillance of borders between border crossing points and the surveillance of border crossing points outside the fixed opening hours, whereas, in accordance with paragraph 2.5 of Part I to its Annex, the contested decision applies not only to territorial waters, but also to contiguous zones and to the high seas.

52. [***]

53. [***] The Council contends that the argument alleging an extension of the territorial scope of the SBC is unfounded, since that code does not define the concept of a sea border, which must be understood as applying also to border surveillance carried out in the contiguous zones as well as on the high seas.

54. [***] Admittedly, helping ships in distress is not a surveillance measure in the narrow sense. However, if such a situation were to occur during a surveillance operation coordinated by the Agency, it would be indispensable to coordinate in advance how the search and rescue was conducted by various participating Member States. In those circumstances, the Council takes the view that the contested decision does not introduce new elements into the SBC.

55. The Commission contends that border surveillance is an essential element of the SBC, but that the essential rules governing that matter are found in Article 12 of the SBC which lays down provisions regarding the content as well as the object and purpose of the surveillance without serving to regulate that surveillance extensively and exhaustively. The co-legislators conferred on the Commission the power to supplement those essential elements. The power to regulate new activities allows the Commission to regulate the content of border surveillance and to define what that activity entails.

56. The Commission contends that the contested decision does not introduce new essential elements into the SBC. Surveillance must, in the light of its purpose, not only encompass the detection of attempts to gain illegal entry into the European Union but also extend to positive steps such as intercepting ships which are suspected of trying to gain entry to the Union without submitting to border checks. Article 12(4) of the SBC specifically mentions one of the purposes of surveillance as being to apprehend individuals. In order to assess whether ‘search and rescue’ falls within the concept of surveillance, it is important to take into consideration the factual circumstances in which attempted illegal entries arise. In many instances, the surveillance operation will prompt the search and rescue situation, and it is not possible to draw a sharp distinction between those operations. The issue of whether or not the guidelines are binding does not arise, given that the measures which they lay down fall within the concept of surveillance.

(ii) Modification of essential elements of the SBC

57. As regards the modification of the essential elements of the SBC, the Parliament contends, in particular, that the contested decision alters Article 13 of the Code. Since that article applies to any form of interception, persons who have entered illegally into the territorial waters and contiguous zones cannot be forced back or asked to leave without a decision pursuant to Article 13 of the SBC. However, paragraph 2.4 of Part I to the Annex of the contested decision confers on border guards the power to order the ship to modify its course outside of the territorial waters, without a decision within the meaning of Article 13 being taken or without the persons concerned having the possibility to challenge the refusal of entry.

58. In that connection, the Council and the Commission contend that Article 13 of the SBC does not apply to border surveillance activities so that the contested decision does not amend that article.

(iii) Amendment of the Frontex Regulation

59. As regards the amendment of the Frontex Regulation, the Parliament contends that Article 12(5) of the SBC does not grant the Commission the power to lay down rules which amend the powers and obligations set out by the Frontex Regulation for the operations co-ordinated by the Agency. The contested decision is not the appropriate legal instrument for creating obligations in relation to those operations or for modifying the provisions of the Frontex Regulation.

60. However, the contested decision is intended to apply only within the context of operations coordinated by the Agency and is obligatory not only for the Member States but also for the Agency, in light of the fact that its Annex forms part of the operational plan for each operation, whilst Article 8e of the Frontex Regulation determines the main elements of that plan. The mandatory inclusion in the operational plan of the rules and guidelines set out in the Annex of the contested decision significantly amends the list of necessary elements for the implementation of that plan, such as the roles of border guards, the participating units and the Rescue Coordination Centre, respectively.

61. In that connection, the Council contends that the contested decision does not amend the tasks of the Agency, even though the Annex of that decision forms part of the operational plan. [***]

62. According to the Commission, the contested decision does not affect the operation of the Frontex Regulation. The requirement in Article 1 of the contested decision that both Parts to the Annex are to be part of the operational plan imposes a requirement not upon the Agency, but rather the Member States as the persons to whom that decision is addressed and responsible for ensuring that the Annex forms part of that plan. In those circumstances, the contested decision does not amend the Frontex Regulation.

2. Findings of the Court

63.-68. [***]

69. As to whether the Council was empowered to adopt the contested decision as a measure implementing Article 12 of the SBC on border surveillance, on the basis of Article 12(5) of that code, it is first of all necessary to assess the meaning of that article.

70.-72.[***]

73. Although the SBC, which is the basic legislation in the matter, states in Article 12(4) thereof, that the aim of such [border] surveillance is to apprehend individuals crossing the border illegally, it does not contain any rules concerning the measures which border guards are authorised to apply against persons or ships when they are apprehended and subsequently – such as the application of enforcement measures, the use of force or conducting the persons apprehended to a specific location – or even measures against persons implicated in human trafficking.

74. That said, paragraph 2.4 of Part I to the Annex of the contested decision lays down the measures which border guards may take against ships detected and persons on board. In that connection, paragraph 2.4 (b), (d), (f) and (g) allows, inter alia, ships to be stopped, boarded, searched and seized, the persons on board to be searched and stopped, the ship or persons on board to be conducted to another Member State, and thus enforcement measures to be taken against persons and ships which could be subject to the sovereignty of the State whose flag they are flying.

75. In addition, paragraph 1.1 of Part II to the Annex of the contested decision lays down, inter alia, the obligation of the units participating in sea external border operations coordinated by the Agency to provide assistance to any vessel or person in distress at sea. Paragraph 2 of Part II lays down rules on the disembarkation of the persons intercepted or rescued, the second subparagraph of paragraph 2.1 stating that priority should be given to disembarkation in the third country from where the ship carrying the persons departed.

76. First, the adoption of rules on the conferral of enforcement powers on border guards, referred to in paragraphs 74 and 75 above, entails political choices falling within the responsibilities of the European Union legislature, in that it requires the conflicting interests at issue to be weighed up on the basis of a number of assessments. Depending on the political choices on the basis of which those rules are adopted, the powers of the border guards may vary significantly, and the exercise of those powers require authorisation, be an obligation or be prohibited, for example, in relation to applying enforcement measures, using force or conducting the persons apprehended to a specific location. In addition, where those powers concern the taking of measures against ships, their exercise is liable, depending on the scope of the powers, to interfere with the sovereign rights of third countries according to the flag flown by the ships concerned. Thus, the adoption of such rules constitutes a major development in the SBC system.

77. Second, it is important to point out that provisions on conferring powers of public authority on border guards – such as the powers conferred in the contested decision, which include stopping persons apprehended, seizing vessels and conducting persons apprehended to a specific location – mean that the fundamental rights of the persons concerned may be interfered with to such an extent that the involvement of the European Union legislature is required.

78. Thus, the adoption of provisions such as those laid down in paragraph 2.4 of Part I, and paragraphs 1.1 and 2.1 of Part II, of the Annex to the contested decision, requires political choices to be made as referred to in paragraphs 76 and 77 above. Accordingly, the adoption of such provisions goes beyond the scope of the additional measures within the meaning of Article 12(5) of the SBC and, in the context of the European Union’s institutional system, is a matter for the legislature.

79. In those circumstances, it must be found that, as the Advocate General observed in points 61 and 66 of his Opinion, Parts I and II to the Annex of the contested decision contain essential elements of external maritime border surveillance.

80. The mere fact that the title of Part II to the Annex of the contested decision contains the word ‘guidelines’ and that the second sentence of Article 1 of that decision states that the rules and guidelines in Part II are ‘non-binding’ cannot affect their classification as essential rules.

81.-83. [***]

84. In those circumstances, the contested decision must be annulled in its entirety because it contains essential elements of the surveillance of the sea external borders of the Member States which go beyond the scope of the additional measures within the meaning of Article 12(5) of the SBC, and only the European Union legislature was entitled to adopt such a decision.

85. Consequently, the Parliament’s arguments to the effect that the contested decision amends the essential elements of the SBC and also the Frontex Regulation do not require to be examined.

IV – The application for the effects of the contested decision to be maintained

86. The Parliament requests the Court, should it annul the contested decision, to maintain its effects, pursuant to the second paragraph of Article 264 TFEU, until that decision is replaced.

87. The Parliament submits that it is necessary to maintain the effects of the contested decision, in the light of the importance of the objectives of the proposed measures in the context of the European Union’s policy on border control operations.

88. [***]

89. The annulment of the contested decision without maintaining its effects on a provisional basis could compromise the smooth functioning of the current and future operations coordinated by the Agency and, consequently, the surveillance of the sea external borders of the Member States.

90. In those circumstances, there are important grounds of legal certainty which justify the Court exercising the power conferred on it by the second paragraph of Article 264 TFEU. In the present case, the effects of the contested decision must be maintained until the entry into force, within a reasonable time, of new rules intended to replace the contested decision annulled by the present judgment.

V – Costs

91. [***]

On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby:

1. Annuls Council Decision 2010/252/EU of 26 April 2010 supplementing the Schengen Borders Code as regards the surveillance of the sea external borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union;

2. Maintains the effects of decision 2010/252 until the entry into force of new rules within a reasonable time;

3. Orders the Council of the European Union to pay the costs;

4. Orders the European Commission to bear its own costs.

2 Comments

Filed under European Union, Frontex, Judicial, News

2 responses to “EU Court of Justice Annuls Frontex Sea Borders Rule – EU Parliamentary Approval Required (28.11.2012 update)

  1. Pingback: European Commission’s Second Biannual Report on Schengen Area | MIGRANTS AT SEA

  2. Pingback: EU Court of Justice Annuls Frontex Sea Borders Rule – EU Parliamentary Approval Required | immigrazione | Scoop.it

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