EU Court Settles Power Struggle Over Antarctic Proposals

(CN) – Upholding submissions Tuesday related to the conservation of Antarctic resources, the European Court of Justice resolved a power struggle between two of the EU’s decision-making bodies.

Seals like these pictured above are abundant in the Weddell Sea whose land boundaries are defined by the bay formed from the coasts of Coats Land and the Antarctic Peninsula. (Image via Wikipedia)

The European Commission, which is considered the legislative arm among the EU’s seven institutions, brought the challenge at issue as dueling actions for annulment before the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice.

Both cases took aim at submissions made by another of the EU’s institutions, the Council of the European Union, to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

Distinct from a third institution known as the European Council, the Council of the European Union represents the the governments of EU member states in the EU legislature. The European Council by contrast represents the heads of state or government along of the member states.

Concerning the council’s submissions, the commission took umbrage with the fact that the proposals were made on behalf of the EU and its member states, rather than the EU alone.

Rejecting those challenges Tuesday, the Court of Justice found this morning that the measures did not fall within the EU’s exclusive competence.

The first submission, which was made in 2015, involved a reflection paper relating to a future proposal to create a marine protected area in the Weddell Sea, otherwise known as the Antarctic peninsula.

The Commission argued that this paper’s objective fell within the exclusive competence that the EU possesses under the Common Fisheries Policy, but Tuesday’s ruling from the court’s Grand Chamber says otherwise.

“Contrary to the commission’s submissions, fisheries constitute only an incidental purpose of the reflection paper and the envisaged measures,” the opinion states. “As protection of the environment is the main purpose and component of that paper and those measures, it must be held that the contested decisions do not fall within the exclusive competence of the European Union laid down in Article 3(1)(d) TFEU, but within the competence under Article 4(2)(e) TFEU regarding protection of the environment that it shares, in principle, with the Member States.”

The commission brought its second challenge meanwhile in 2016, contesting a submission that included three proposals for the creation of marine protected areas and a proposal for the creation of special areas for scientific study of the marine area concerned, of climate change and of the retreat of ice shelves.

But the court emphasized Tuesday that nothing in the the 1980 Canberra Convention, which established the CCAMLR, grants regional integration organizations such as the European Union a fully autonomous status within the CCAMLR.

“To permit the European Union to have recourse, within the CCAMLR, to the power which it has to act without the participation of its member states in an area of shared competence, when, unlike it, some of them have the status of Antarctic Treaty consultative parties, might well, given the particular position held by the Canberra Convention within the system of Antarctic agreements, undermine the responsibilities and rights of those consultative parties — which could weaken the coherence of that system of agreements and, ultimately, run counter to Article V(1) and (2) of the Canberra Convention,” the ruling states.

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