September 2017 - international litigation blog
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September 2017

Validity of Arbitration Clauses in Intra-EU BITs – Some Thoughts on AG Wathelet’s Opinion in Achmea (Part 1)

On 19 September 2017, Advocate General Wathelet (AG Wathelet)* handed down a long-awaited, surprising and potentially far-reaching opinion (the Opinion) on the compatibility, with respect to EU law, of an arbitration clause contained in an intra-EU bilateral investment treaty.

The dispute at hand concerned a Dutch insurance company, Achmea (Achmea), which had established a subsidiary in Slovakia in order to market private sickness insurance products in this country. In 2008, following a change of legislation in the insurance sector in Slovakia, Achmea initiated investor-State arbitral proceedings against that State on the basis of a bilateral investment treaty (a BIT) entered into in 1991 between the former Czechoslovakia and the Netherlands (the Czechoslovakia-Netherlands BIT). Essentially, Achmea alleged that Slovakia’s legislative amendments violated certain provisions of the BIT.

In 2012, the arbitral tribunal sided with Achmea and issued an award ordering Slovakia to pay Achmea damages of approximately EUR 22 million.

Subsequently, and since the place of arbitration was in Germany, Slovakia brought an action before the German Courts seeking the annulment of the award rendered against it. In those proceedings, Slovakia argued that:

– The arbitration clause contained in the Czechoslovakia-Netherlands BIT infringed the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of nationality contained in Article 18 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). More particularly, Slovakia argued that the arbitration clause contained in the Czechoslovakia-Netherlands BIT was discriminatory since it only offered Dutch investors the possibility to recourse to arbitration to solve their dispute with Slovakia whereas investors of the Member States which had not concluded any BIT with Slovakia were precluded from benefiting from a similar treatment.

– The award rendered against Slovakia was contrary to public policy since the arbitral tribunal established in accordance with the Czechoslovakia-Netherlands BIT – being unable to request the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to give a preliminary rulings on the interpretation of EU law – failed to take account of fundamental principles of EU law (such as rules on the free movement of capital or the rights of defence). This argument was based on the fact that, pursuant to Article 267 of the TFEU, only courts and tribunals of Member States are entitled to request the CJEU to give a preliminary ruling on a matter pending before them. However, the arbitral tribunal established pursuant to the Czechoslovakia-Netherlands BIT was not a “court or tribunal of a Member State” and it was therefore not entitled to request preliminary rulings from the CJEU.

– The arbitration clause contained in the BIT infringed Article 344 TFEU which prohibits EU Member States from submitting a dispute concerning the interpretation or application of EU law to any other method that those provided for in the EU treaties.

Uncertain as to the answers to those issues, the German court stayed the proceedings and referred the matter to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling. Prior to the judgment of the CJEU (which will be delivered in the coming weeks/months), AG Wathelet handed down his independent Opinion.READ MORE


Multilateral Investment Court – Belgium Seeks Opinion to CJEU while EU Commission Requests Authorisation to Open Multilateral Negotiations

As we already discussed in several posts before (here, here, here and here), the European Commission (the Commission) has been pushing forward the establishment of a multilateral investment court (Multilateral Investment Court) in order to address the numerous criticisms concerning the existing investor-State dispute resolution (ISDS) mechanisms.

In essence, the Commission’s proposal aims at dealing with procedural issues arising in the context of ISDS. In this vein the Commission proposes:

(i) The creation of a permanent investment court which would have exclusive jurisdiction to rule on investment claims and would therefore render forum-shopping and multiple parallel proceedings impossible;

(ii) That this permanent court would be composed of a First Instance Tribunal and an Appellate Tribunal;

(iii) That judgments would be made by publicly appointed judges; and

(iv) That proceedings would be transparent and a right to intervene for all interested countries would be provided.

The original idea of the Commission was to institutionalise the system for the resolution of investment disputes within each bilateral investment treaty concluded by the European Union (the EU). Such a system (called the Investment Court System (ICS)) was the method followed during the negotiations for the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The Commission, however, has since realised that, in the long run, this approach would lead to a duplication of the system (since there would be one ICS for each of the different investment treaties entered into by the EU) as well as further administrative and budgetary complexities. In order to address this issue, the EU decided to push its proposal one step further and suggested that, instead of negotiating bilateral ICS, it would seek the establishment of an international court which would have jurisdiction to hear investment disputes.

The idea has received a positive echo from the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in July 2017. Indeed, UNCITRAL has agreed to consider a possible reform of the existing ISDS mechanisms and to act as a forum for negotiations in order to consider a reform of the existing systems.

In anticipation of those negotiations (which are scheduled to begin shortly), the Commission published, on 13 September 2017, a Recommendation (the Recommendation) for a Council Decision authorising the opening of negotiations for a Convention establishing a Multilateral Investment Court.

This Recommendation (adopted pursuant to Article 218 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU) aims (i) at allowing the Council of the EU to authorise the opening of negotiations for the establishment of a Multilateral Investment Court; and (ii) at appointing the Commission as EU representative during those negotiations.READ MORE


Comparative Analysis: Belgian and Nigerian Courts on Admission of Third Party Challenge Against Arbitral Awards

On 5 June 2017, I attended a conference in Nairobi on the development of arbitration in Africa. On this occasion, Mr Seyilayo Ojo (Senior Partner at S. O. & C. Legal in Lagos, Nigeria), who participated in a panel on the topic of “Arbitration as a Catalyst for Economic Growth on the Continent“, mentioned the so-called “FIRS” judgment rendered a couple of years ago by a Nigerian court which allowed a third party to challenge an arbitration award*.

This issue has been a hot topic for Belgian practitioners after the Belgian Constitutional Court also recently ruled that third parties should be entitled to lodge third party opposition (tierce opposition) against arbitral awards (we previously discussed this decision on this blog on 7 March 2017 and 28 March 2017). I therefore thought that it would be interesting to draw a comparative analysis between the judgment rendered by the Nigerian court and the judgment rendered by the Belgian Constitutional Court.READ MORE