The UK's opt-in Protocol: implications of the Government's approach - European Union Committee Contents


This report focuses on the Government's approach to the opt-in Protocol, introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, by virtue of which the UK has a right not to participate in EU justice and home affairs (JHA) measures. At issue is whether the opt-in Protocol can be interpreted to mean that it is the content of an EU measure which determines the application of the Protocol, rather than a legal base under the JHA title of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (Title V).

We express no view on the desirability or otherwise of the opt-in mechanisms introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. The function of this report is to examine the way in which the Government has sought to interpret those mechanisms.

We examine the Government's interpretation of the expression "pursuant to [Title V]" in the opt-in Protocol, and conclude that it has an accepted legal meaning, namely that a Title V legal base is required before the opt-in can be triggered. As a consequence, we recommend that the Government reconsider its broader interpretation.

We consider the Government's approach to determining the legal base of an EU measure with JHA content. We conclude that the distinction it draws between whole, partial, and incidental JHA measures is misconceived. We again recommend it reconsider its approach.

We consider whether the Government's overall approach to the opt-in Protocol gives rise to legal uncertainty. We draw a distinction between potential and actual legal uncertainty, concluding that the potential of the Government's policy to create legal uncertainty is considerable. We further conclude that the Government's approach risks breaching the EU legal duty of "sincere cooperation".

We then look at how the opt-in Protocol has been interpreted by the EU institutions. The Government believes that the Commission has actively pursued a policy of "legal base shopping", in order to undermine the UK's opt-in rights. In one specific case it provides evidence that lends some support to this allegation, in respect of the former Commission. With this partial exception, however, we conclude that there is no persuasive evidence to suggest that the Commission has circumvented the UK's opt-in rights.

We review the approach of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) to determining the legal base of international agreements and, while recognising the Government's concerns, conclude that there is no evidence to suggest that the CJEU has sought deliberately to undermine the safeguards in the opt-in Protocol. We conclude that it is highly unlikely that the CJEU will change its established approach to determining legal base, including for measures with JHA content. We recommend that the Government review its litigation strategy in the light of this conclusion.

Finally, we recommend that the Government consider the feasibility of an inter-institutional agreement on the scope of Title V.

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