Category Archives: EU

Could arbitration be a solution for Brexit?

ISDS

The discussions about the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union are ongoing. Recently, it was suggested that some of the open questions are instead determined by an arbitral tribunal.

It is the think-tank Bruegel that launched the idea. It is based on the reports that the EU and the UK differ on how much UK would have to pay in order to leave the union. This divergence stems from the fact that the parties use different calculation models. Since the quantification of the UK’s bill is a relatively technical issue – that often ends up before tribunals in other contexts – Bruegel suggests that it could be put before a tribunal, for example at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague. Then the two parties could instead focus on their future relationship, rather than disputing over liability and quantification.

It is far from unusual that complicated disputes between states are put before arbitration tribunals; history is full of such cases. However, even if the prospect of such a procedure for the economic and legal consequences of Brexit is attractive, it is not automatically achievable in this case, because of EU law. For example, it is not likely that the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg would allow an independent tribunal to determine an issue that is so intertwined with EU law. Therefore, it remains to be seen to what extent the proposal is supported by the parties.

Just published: Analysis of EU’s ”Investment Court System”

Chicago downtown skyscrapers looking upThe American Bar Association (ABA) is a leading organization in international legal debate. On 14 October, the ABA Task Force on investment law published a report on the EU’s proposal for an “Investment Court System” (ICS). We wrote about ICS when the proposal was first presented.

The authors of the report, a number of American lawyers who have previously expressed different individual perceptions of ISDS, pointed out that they do not take a position on the different views on the legitimacy of the system and the need for reform. Instead, the report focuses more specifically on the EU’s ICS proposal, which is also included in the CETA. The report examines whether the ICS will achieve the objectives that the EU have set itself: is ICS neutral, effective and predictable? Is the proposal practical, effective and feasible?

The short answer is “maybe”. The report identifies a number of aspects where the ICS proposal can be improved to achieve the stated objectives. First is that there is a risk that the proposal will lead to less diversity among the judges who will decide on future disputes. The report recommends that it should be expressly stated that diversity (in terms of geography, legal background and gender) should be sought in the nominations of the judges.

Another significant weakness identified in the report is the enforcement of judgments. There is a risk that ICS judgement might not be able to be enforced outside states that signed the agreement, since ICS is not considered to be arbitration, but rather a quasi-judicial process. The ICSID Convention and the New York Convention might not be applicable in this case which means that the ability to have the judgment enforced globally might sharply deteriorate. As we have written before, the possibility of getting arbitration awards enforced worldwide is one of the most important reasons why arbitration has largely replaced litigation in international trade.

The third concern raised in the report is the imbalance between the parties in dispute. ICS proposal entails the fact that state parties can influence the proceeding, including by changing the court’s procedural rules with binding effect during the proceeding and also when the EU replaces a Member State as a respondent. According to the report, this means an imbalanced proceeding, to the investor’s disadvantage.

Former ICJ President Criticizes EU Investment Court Proposal

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????In a May 17 address, independent arbitrator and former president of the International Court of Justice Stephen M Schwebel criticised the EU proposal for the establishment of a permanent investment court in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Schwebel spoke in Washington, DC at a public event organized by Sidley Austin, the American Society of International Law, and the District of Columbia Bar Association. Read the full speech here.

The current system of investor-state arbitration – the standard dispute-resolution mechanism in 3,000 bilateral investment treaties – “works reasonably well”, Schwebel noted. He expressed concern that the EC is now seeking to replace that system with “a system that would face substantial problems of coherence, rationalisation, negotiation, ratification, establishment, functioning and financing.” The EU proposal for an investment court, Schwebel argued, is a mere “appeasement” of “uninformed or misinformed critics”.

ISDS critics often presume that an arbitrator appointed by an investor is biased in favor of the investor – a presumption not supported by the record of investor-state arbitration. The EU’s proposal, Schwebel notes, instead risks entrenching pro-state bias by allowing states to appoint all the judges on the investment court, and depriving investors of influence over the appointment process. If the goal is a truly fair and neutral dispute resolution, “is there reason to presume that judges appointed only by states will not be biased in favour of states?”

New Report on the Proposed EU Permanent Investment Court

EFILA_EUThe European Federation for Investment Law and Arbitration (EFILA) recently released a new report on the permanent investment court proposed by the European Commission within the context of the TTIP negotiations. The report is highly critical of the EU proposal, on two main grounds. First, under the proposed court system, states have the exclusive power to appoint judges, while investors lack any influence over who hears the disputes. This removes a significant benefit of arbitration as a method of dispute resolution, and creates an inherent imbalance between investors and states. Second, the proposed system has two tiers – the Tribunal of First Instance and the Appeals Tribunal – and allows parties to appeal an award on issues of law and fact. This undermines the finality of arbitral awards, and is likely to burden small and medium-size investors by increasing the length and cost of proceedings.

EFILA launched the report at its Annual Conference, held in Paris on 5 February 2016. The event, entitled “Investment Arbitration 2.0?”, brought together experienced arbitration experts, state officials, and representatives of investors to discuss current issues in investment arbitration. Panels discussed such topics as third party funding, the role of tribunal secretaries, and the relationship between investment arbitration and the rule of law.

One session of the conference was dedicated to discussing the EU court proposal. Most, but not all, panelists agreed with the criticisms advanced in the EFILA report. One speaker noted that investors are unlikely to trust the neutrality of judges that are appointed and paid by states. A U.S.-based academic retorted with examples from other permanent international courts showing that state-appointed judges are not necessarily pro-state in how they rule. Another panelist noted that the proposed investment court would not have a secretariat or its own set of arbitration rules, and that it would be impossible to apply a pre-existing set of arbitration rules to the proposed two-tier court structure populated by permanent judges.

Someone commented that the EU proposal “appears half-baked”. Nonetheless, as EFILA secretary-general Nikos Lavranos emphasized, the arbitration community must take it seriously.

The U.S is sceptical of the European Commission’s ISDS proposal

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????In mid-September, the European Commission presented its proposal on dispute resolution in the TTIP, as we have previously discussed on this blog. In our previous post, we find it promising that the Commission’s proposal is built on existing practices but we also note that the proposal raises many questions.

The Commission’s proposal is only a proposal. It must first be accepted at home within the European Union and later be put on the negotiating table with the U.S counterpart. There has been some suspicions that the U.S would have doubted the proposed changes and this suspicion has now been confirmed.

The U.S Trade Representative Michael Froman especially expresses scepticism about the proposal of appeal mechanism in which the entire case will be reheard (in the current system, an award may only be appealed on procedural grounds). The U.S is among the countries that has been sued the most in ISDS nevertheless it has never lost a case, and the U.S Trade Representative is hesitant to give investors a second chance in the proceeding. As he puts it, “It’s not obvious to me why you would want to give companies a second bite of the apple”.

Another aspect of the proposal that has been widely criticized is the closed list of arbitrators to be pre-appointed unilaterally by states, in contrast to the current system in which each party in dispute may appoint an arbitrator.

Michael Froman would prefer that the investment chapter of the TTIP has provisions closer to those in the U.S model investment agreement of 2012. This model agreement is considered to be the most progressive of its kind and is based on international “best practices”.

The text of the completely negotiated TPP, which has recently been released, is based largely on such American model agreement. Froman believes that this should be the starting point of the TTIP.

A quick read of the EU Commission’s Investment Court Proposal

CommissionYesterday the EU Commission presented its proposal for the investment chapter in the TTIP, which is the result of a long consultation. The text, which runs to almost 40 pages, is available here. It will now be discussed internally in the EU and then put on the negotiating table with the US.

Below we briefly go through some of the noteworthy aspects:

The dispute procedure

-        A “court system” consisting of one Investment Tribunal and one Appeals Tribunal is set up.

-        The tribunals will work under established arbitration rules: ICSID, UNCITRAL or “any other rules agreed by the parties”, depending on the choice of the investor in the particular case. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the Commission is here relying on established practice.

-        While it is positive that the proposal draws so extensively on established arbitration rules, many areas remain where the interaction between the proposal and those rules must be studied further. This is most obvious when it comes to the enforcement of awards, but also other aspects such as the Appeals Tribunal and the appointment of arbitrators need extensive analysis before being included in a treaty.

-        It is made clear that the tribunal only has the mandate to look at cases through the lens of international law. Consequently, domestic law cannot be applied or reviewed by the tribunal.

-        Mediation provisions have been introduced. While mediation is sometimes often possible under the current system (and most disputing parties so far have elected not to mediate) such a procedure makes sense for reasons of efficiency. Mediation is however a challenge from a transparency perspective as it is hard to mediate openly.

The arbitrators/the system

-        The relationship is unclear between this proposal (which is aimed only at the TTIP) and the ambitious but vague multilateral dispute settlement mechanism envisioned by the Commission (which is to set up some sort of World Investment Court in the future). Under Article 12, many parts of the current proposal will cease to apply when/if a permanent multilateral system is set up. With this solution, the Commission is kicking the can further down the road.

-        Arbitrators can only be drawn from a list established by states. This is problematic because one of the two parties (the state) will set the frames for the disputes when the other (the investor) can only appoint from a list pre-approved by the state. Under the current system, each party can freely choose its own arbitrator.

-        States have to negotiate over whom to put on the list of arbitrators. This risks a politicization of the appointments, which is exactly what investment arbitration is intended to avoid.

-        Furthermore, the arbitrators must fulfill an almost impossible list of requirements to be eligible for the list. Annex II – where the arbitrators’ code of conduct is set down – in combination with the requirements in Article 9(4), leave a very small group of people eligible. In practice, depending on how the requirements are interpreted, it is likely that only retired lawyers (and probably only retired judges) will be able to sit as arbitrators. This restricts the parties’ possibility to appoint the most suitable arbitrator and also ensures that only a small elite gets to adjudicate investment disputes.

-        The Appeals Tribunal, allowing the case to be reheard on its merits, is sure to make disputes much longer and much more expensive; the average dispute would likely be twice as expensive as under the current system, which affects both investors and states.

Transparency

-        An express reference to the UNCITRAL Transparency Rules is included. The proposal even goes further than the Rules by making clear that many documents, including everything from proceedings before the Appeal Tribunal, shall always be made public.

-        The proposal extends the possibility for third parties to intervene. While the general tendency towards transparency is desirable, Article 23 states that the tribunal “shall permit any natural or legal person which can establish a direct and present interest in the result of the dispute”. This seems to (i) restrict the tribunal’s discretion by saying that it “shall” allow such submissions and (ii) considerably widen the scope of who shall be allowed to file submissions. In comparison, the UNCITRAL Rules on Transparency states that the tribunal “may” allow such submissions, after consulting the parties and only if it finds the submission could be helpful.

 

Investment Treaty Forum in Stockholm

ITFSeminarThe Investment Treaty Forum was recently held for the first time in Stockholm.

The British Institute of International and Comparative Law, in cooperation with the SCC, Mannheimer Swartling and Uppsala University, organized Investment Treaty Forum in Stockholm on 12 June 2015.

The Investment Treaty Forum was founded in 2004 with the aim to provide a global centre for serious high level debate in the field of international law. The theme of the meeting – Europe as an Investment Treaty Actor – brought together speakers and participants from government, legal practitioners, academia, politicians and business. See the full program here.

The importance of investment treaty for European economic development was one of the topics discussed. Investment treaty contributes to predictability, stability and transparency in investment relation. It was further highlighted that investment treaty will benefit not only the industry, but also governments and consumers. Investment treaty has the potential to open up new market opportunities for European investors abroad and also to make Europe a more attractive place for investment. But there were also critical voices raised, questioning the need for investment protection.

The evolution of substantive terms of investment treaty was equally addressed. States retain full control of the regime, among others by issuing interpretation of the treaty and by introducing new provisions of investment protection. The former has been done by the state parties to the North American Free Trade Agreement and the latter by, among others, the European Commission.

The seminar ended with the well-anticipated discussion on the roles of the European Commission in investment law regime. In addition to its role as negotiator of future investment treaty, the Commission has also emerged as litigator and enforcer in the regime.

More pictures and presentation materials from the seminar will be published here shortly.

 Photo: Björn Leijon

 

 

 

The Evolution of BITs

CogwheelInternational investment regime, like any other field of international law, is not static. It continues to evolve and adapt to the present day needs and situation. States as the primary actors of the regime maintain full control in its evolution.

Historically, bilateral investment treaties (BITs) emerged as a response to the inadequacies of international law on protection of property of foreigners. Western states also sought to obtain better market access for their nationals to invest in developing states. See more explanation on the history of BITs here.

Germany is the first state to sign the first BIT, with Pakistan, in 1959. Other states quickly followed this effort: Switzerland in 1961, the Netherlands in 1963, Italy in 1964 and Sweden in 1965. BITs in this period were generally quite short – approximately five to six pages. These BITs focus on core protection such as the obligation to accord non-discriminatory and fair and equitable treatment to foreign investors.

Early on, BITs began providing for binding ISDS in the form of international arbitration. However, international arbitration has been used to resolve claims from foreign investors with respect to their property since the 18th century.

In recent years some states have begun adopting new model BITs which are more elaborate than older treaties. The most recent one is India, where its 2015 model BIT provides more detailed ISDS provisions, among others setting time limit of submitting a claim to ISDS and possibilities of counter-claims by a state against a foreign investor. And the Norway 2007 Model BIT provides for example that the unsuccessful party in ISDS shall bear the costs of arbitration.

The ISDS blog has previously discussed some ISDS reforms embodied in the Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement between the European Union and Canada (CETA) and the US 2012 Model BIT.

ISDS key figures and findings

worldisdsA report by Notre Europe Jacques Delors Institute, a think-tank working on European Union issues, summarizes important numbers related to bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and ISDS.

The report puts numbers into perspective – with some of its findings as follows:

  1. The number of BITs increased five-fold between the late 1980s and the end of 1990s.
  2. In parallel, the external stock of FDI demonstrates a ten-fold increase over 20 years with a growth from USD 2,400 billion in 1992 to USD 23,600 billion in 2012.
  3. There is now a total of 3,200 investment agreements worldwide, 93% of them provides an ISDS clause.
  4. Out of the 98 countries who have been a respondent in an ISDS proceeding, about three-quarters were developing countries or economy in transition. Less than one-third of claims were brought against developed countries.
  5. The average compensation claimed was USD 343.5 million, however the average amount awarded was USD 10.4 million.

The European Union member states have signed a total of 1,356 BITs with non-EU member states, in addition to around 190 BITs between themselves.

With regards to the EU – United States relationship, the report notes that nine member states have signed investment agreements with the U.S – all include ISDS as dispute resolution mechanism. These member states consist of Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. There have been so far 9 known ISDS claims between the U.S and the EU, all submitted by US investors (4 against Poland, 3 against Romania, 1 against the Czech Republic and 1 against Estonia).

ISDS is included in the EU’s upcoming agreements, including free trade agreements with Canada and Singapore – the negotiations of which have been concluded. According to the report, ISDS is also mentioned in agreements currently negotiated between the EU and China, Myanmar, Morocco, Thailand and Vietnam.

Seminar report: ISDS – A Way Forward

AndrinaSeminariumImage2red3BloggThe SCC, in cooperation with the Association of International Arbitration and Brussels Diplomatic Academy of Vrije Universiteit Brussels organized a seminar, ISDS: Away Forward in Brussels, on 27 May 2015. The speakers were arbitration practitioners from Sweden, Belgium and France, including SCC Legal Counsels and representatives from the International Bar Association Subcommittee on Investment Arbitration. Read the full programme here.

The historical background of ISDS was explained, and how the mechanism was established under the ICSID Convention as a response to inefficient diplomatic protection to foreign investors. The discussion continued with the currently-debated issue, ISDS and environmental protection. SCC presented research findings that the number of ISDS cases where investors brought a claim because of environmental regulation is small. The findings from these cases support a conclusion that arbitral tribunals have not questioned the power of government to regulate for environmental protection.

In addition, some procedural aspects of ISDS were addressed, particularly transparency and public participation. The speakers emphasized that this is in fact not a new development, as tribunals have supported transparency and public participation to an increasing extent in the past decade. A new procedural development of ISDS, emergency arbitrator, was also discussed.

A speaker reminded that when discussing reform of the system, public opinion should always be taken into account.  It is important to ensure that the democratic values are preserved. The International Bar Association (IBA) is working on a project to bring together opinions from different stakeholders in ISDS. The ambition is to address the criticisms surrounding ISDS and to propose improvements of the system, when needed.

IBA has also recently published a statement, addressing facts of ISDS.

The dynamic and forward-looking discussion from the participants were much appreciated. More discussions will follow ahead to preserve the rule of law and ISDS.