A Day at the European Court of Justice

As the legal intern here at the U.S. Mission, I am tasked with analyzing European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgments that have a nexus with U.S. policy. Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Luxembourg to observe an oral hearing at the EU General Court, a lower court that is part of the ECJ system. As a law student in the United States spending my summer in Brussels, I was thrilled to have this opportunity, as it allowed me both to understand how EU court hearings operate, and to pinpoint certain differences between EU and U.S. law.

Andrew Schlossberg visits the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Photo: USEU
Andrew Schlossberg visits the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Photo: USEU

The hearing I observed involved a Belarus businessman challenging his listing on the EU’s restrictive measures list. The EU (like the U.S.) places economic sanctions on individuals and entities that support oppressive regimes. Recently, however, many parties have successfully challenged their listings in EU courts. This particular businessman brought an action alleging that the EU failed to obtain sufficient evidence linking his company to support of the Lukashensko regime in Belarus; thus, his listing must be annulled.

As soon as I arrived in the courtroom, I noticed an obvious difference between EU and U.S. court hearings – the translation issue. An applicant can bring a case in any of the 24 official EU languages, so interpretation boxes filled the outside portion of the courtroom. This particular case was argued in French, but I listened to most of it in English through an ear piece. With the presentation of complex legal arguments, I initially thought I would miss key concepts lost in translation, but found that the interpreters were excellent.

Secondly, both parties presented their arguments to the judges and then engaged in a Q&A session, mostly regarding factual clarification issues. This is a stark difference from oral hearings in U.S. courts, where frequently an attorney can hardly get a sentence in before being cut off by an inquisitive judge asking a long-winded hypothetical question.

In terms of substance, however, many of the legal arguments paralleled those given by attorneys in the United States. First, both sides referred to precedents in other ECJ sanctions cases, a common technique used in U.S. courts. Also, the Belarussian businessman’s attorney argued that each factor alone demonstrated no link to the Lukashensko regime, whereas the Council (EU) attorney argued that the Court must look at the totality of the circumstances in deciding whether to annul the listing. This line of reasoning is quite similar to what I used in mock oral arguments during this past year in law school.

I enjoyed spending the day at the Court of Justice, and hope I have been able to contribute to our Mission’s understanding of how EU courts operate and how their judgments affect U.S. interests. In addition, since the U.S. is very interested in tracking EU sanctions litigation, I hope the reporting I did following my trip to Luxembourg will further our understanding of how EU courts treat future sanctions cases.

By Andrew Schlossberg, Legal Intern, Executive Office of the U.S. Ambassador to the EU

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