The transition between EU governments is painfully slow and this doesn’t help when issues need addressing urgently.
In Brussels, these are the dog days of summer. The roads are empty and the sun is shining. Though there is no national government since the election that took place at the end of May, the country appears to have united around its surprisingly successful World Cup football team.
There have been plenty of flags or flag-covered wing-mirrors, plenty of young people with the national colours painted on their cheeks, and you can usually follow the scoring and the final result from the noise in the street (and from this I know the adventure has just finished).
The EU is passing through its own summer doldrums. After the European elections, positions are being filled at the commission and parliament. The Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding from Luxembourg, has stood down for the second time, this time definitively. The first time it was to campaign in the European elections. Now she has taken up her seat in the parliament.
She has been replaced by Johannes Hahn, the Austrian Commissioner, until the autumn – at which point a newly assigned Commissioner will assume the function. In the UK, we are used to a quick succession of at most a few days between one government and the next, but in both Belgium and the EU the transition is much slower.
I had a meeting this week with commission officials about professional indemnity insurance. They told us that decisions will be delayed until their new political bosses are in place. We are in a holding and waiting phase. But we were told that same thing by other parts of the commission (‘no decisions will be taken until the new Commissioner arrives’) several months ago.
It is as if there is a year of transition between new and old. That does not strike me as efficient. One of the worst crises in the EU’s history – the seizure of Crimea and the signs of civil war in Ukraine, caused by the Ukrainian government’s decision to move towards the EU – needs urgent handling, as do other issues. PII does not fall into that category, but the EU should devise a more rapid transition.
Of course, not everything has stopped altogether. The Court of Justice, a vital EU institution, has been functioning as normal. It has just witnessed an aspect of the continuing struggle against the new patent regime. The judges of the Grand Chamber heard oral arguments on 1 July in the case that Spain is bringing for annulment (Cases C-146/13 and C-147-13) against the two regulations adopted in December 2012 to set up a uniform patent system.
Twenty-five member states have decided to undertake enhanced cooperation in this area (Spain and Italy are not participating, and Croatia was not a member of the EU at the time). Spain alone disputes the validity of the new patent regulations. The advocate-general announced that he will deliver his opinion on 21 October.
Also in the field of intellectual property, a White Paper on copyright policy in Europe was leaked a few days ago. The White Paper is in any case due out shortly. Should the EU launch a revision of the 2001 directive that harmonises certain aspects of the protection of income from the exploitation of protected works?
In particular, should copyright be paid when protected content is identified online or when a hyperlink refers to it, since EU law is currently not clear on this topic? And does the directive need to be adapted to online teaching and search practices that did not exist in 2001?
Finally, the Dutch Parliament is becoming hot and bothered on a topic that causes the UK government’s temperature to rise as well: the planned European Public Prosecutor’s Office. The proposal is aimed at protecting EU funds, and would give the EPPO exclusive competence to investigate and prosecute such crimes in national jurisdictions. The Dutch want the EPPO to be a last resort, to be used only if national institutions do not perform the function themselves.
So, maybe a European team will win the World Cup and give some spark to our becalmed institutions? And the Belgian team has shown that, even though there is no federal government, there are other features of national life that can provide continuity and inspiration.
Jonathan Goldsmith is secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents around a million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs