EU Responsibility in the International System (EURIS)

Concept: The competences and activities of the European Union have grown exponentially during the last decades, leading to an increased visibility of the EU as an autonomous actor in international relations. From its crucial role in the negotiations leading to the creation of the WTO to its pioneering contribution in international investment law via the new generation of mega-regional trade and investment agreements, and from its decisive influence on international environmental policies to the placing of fundamental rights at the heart of its mandate, the European Union has increased its powers and imprint in the international legal order.

Yet, with power comes responsibility. The increased visibility of the EU in international relations has raised voices about the lack of a clear framework concerning its accountability when activities implementing Union policies are in breach of international law. In Greece, specifically, the role of the European Union in the management of the refugee flows by deploying FRONTEX in the Greek borders or involving EASO’s personnel in the review of asylum requests, as well as EU’s conditions for Greece’s rescue packages during the financial crisis, have raised the question of its liability when international law rules, and human rights in particular, are violated.

In this framework, calls about the EU acknowledging its responsibility in various contexts are frequent. Nevertheless, from a legal perspective, the ways EU’s responsibility engages independently from, or in conjunction to, its member-States responsibility remain understudied. The EU is a notoriously complex and opaque organization whose sui generis nature does not allow for the simple transposition of the general rules on the responsibility of international organizations drawn in the framework of the International Law Commission. Instead, different models have been proposed and applied in varied scenarios (trade, investment, environment, refugees, peace and security, human rights etc) in order to determine whether the European Union is responsible for breaches of international law. The organic model insists on looking responsibility allocation rules through an institutional prism and focusing on whether a State organ acts as an agent of the Union. The competence model emphasizes the internal division of competences between the Union and its member-State in order to determine where responsibility lies. The remedy model, on its part, is more interested in who, between the Union and its member-States, is more apposite to remedy a breach of international law.

These inconsistent theories do not only concern the academic world, but greatly influence practice reducing the effectiveness of accountability mechanisms put in place and creating procedural obstacles for those seeking to raise claims that invoke the Union’s responsibility. More importantly, the general public and civil society do not understand the limits of EU activities’ reach and normative control, so as to address their legitimate claims to the appropriate entity. Additionally, the Union’s complexity discourages the development of cooperation schemes with other international actors, whether States, international organizations or non-State actors, in the international legal order.

Purpose and Utility: This Jean Monnet project aims at fleshing out the intricacies of EU’s responsibility in the international system, systematizing and thus, rendering more accessible the governance schemes that impact on the liability question. Its structure will follow a path starting from the examination of specialized fields, where the question of responsibility for EU activities has been raised, and gradually bringing together a more coherent approach to EU responsibility, where questions going beyond the legal realm will be equally highlighted. Its main contribution concerns the spreading of knowledge on mechanisms in relation to EU liability, as well as encouraging cross-fertilization in a field that is presented as eminently juridical, but can definitely benefit from interaction with other fields of study such as sociology, political science, as well as philosophy.

Structure of the Project: In this framework, the initial steps will be founded on four clusters, each one representing a field of EU activity:

  • International investment and trade law
  • International environmental law and law of the sea (climate change, fishing, the question of EU’s responsibility for failing to exercise due diligence etc)
  • International human rights law (EU accession to the ECHR; EU responsibility for refugee glows and in asylum request processing; EU responsibility for sanctions etc)
  • Common Foreign and Security Policy (EU responsibility for peace support activities; for financing development projects etc)

For each cluster an academic conference accompanied by seminars for professionals will take place, where theoretical aspects on EU responsibility in the specific field will be combined with experience from practice, where advice on rendering more effective any strategies for invoking EU’s responsibility will be given. Roundtables accessible to the wider public including experts and practitioners from other, non-juridical, fields will complete those conferences allowing for the immediate dissemination of the conference’s results. The outcome of the conferences will be published in the JMP’s website in a Working Papers series, or form an edited number of a periodical in a peer-reviewed journal in Greece or abroad. Interviews with the roundtable experts will be conducted, videotaped and uploaded to the Jean Monnet’s project Youtube page forming an Audiovisual Library, where questions about EU accountability and its reach will be touch upon in a way that will be accessible to non-lawyers, such as human rights advocates, personnel of NGOs, companies and chambers of commerce and industry.

Still at the first level of the project and parallel to the preparation and implementation of the four conferences, an Observatory on EU responsibility will be launched in the website of the Jean Monnet project. There, young scholars and advanced students will be called to take up cases from the news, where the EU responsibility/accountability is invoked and explain in simple terms the role of law in such debates and the answers international law provides thereto. This will allow the engagement of a younger cohort of scholars with the project and the further spreading of the debates on EU responsibility in order to reach a wider public, with non-legal background.

A second step in the project will include the publication of manuals uploaded in the Jean Monnet project’s website, where techniques and explanations for understanding how EU responsibility is engaged in the various fields will be provided in an accessible way to serve practitioners in the legal field and beyond (engaging in investment arbitration, human rights advocacy, asylum counseling etc). These manuals will present the jurisprudential choices on EU responsibility (WTO Panel and Appellate Body Reports, Investment Arbitration Awards, Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights), as well as the EU’s legislative and policy positions thereon (i.e. EU law provisions on the allocation of responsibility between the EU and its member-States).

Simultaneously, a two-day conference, in English, will be organized seeking to bring academics and experts specializing on issues of EU responsibility together to further and deepen analysis on the issue of legal and policy models for better comprehending EU responsibility in the international system. The proceedings of the conference will be published in a series of volumes, in a renowned publication house in Greece or, preferably, abroad. The publication will allow to reach a wider audience, particularly abroad and contribute to the dialogue on EU responsibility models that has stalled during the last few years, despite an increased visibility of the Union in international governance.

A third step will consist in organizing a Summer Course on the responsibility of the EU in the fields of human rights and the CFSP. The Koufa Foundation having acquired an expertise on the basis of the successful organization of the Thessaloniki Summer Courses during the last six years, will seek to disseminate the acquired knowledge on models of EU responsibility with an emphasis to human rights. The Course will intervene at crucial moment, as negotiations on the EU accession to the ECtHR have recently regained traction raising the hope that as the Courses will be taking place in June 2022, an draft agreement will be underway.

Moreover, the Jean Monnet project will seek in its last phase to forge cooperation with other Jean Monnet programmes (such as Jean Monnet Centers of Excellence or Jean Monnet University Chairs primarily in Thessaloniki and elsewhere) that will allow the further dissemination of the Foundation’s and the Jean Monnet project Coordinator’s acquired expertise to a wider audience beyond a strictly legal background.