Spanish Supreme Court condemns State for not fulfilling its relocation obligations

Monday, July 9, 2018

On 9 July 2018, the Administrative Chamber of the Spanish Supreme Court condemned the Spanish State for partially failing to meet its obligation under the Council Relocation Decisions 2015/1523 and 2015/1601. The action was brought by the association Stop Mare Mortum.

First, the Supreme Court disagreed with the arguments put forward by the State’s Attorney who argued that the European Commission had the sole responsibility for supervising the compliance of EU law and therefore the national courts lacked competence in this regard. Observing that the relocation decisions have direct effect, national courts must be able to monitor compliance with them on the basis of actions brought by persons or entities concerned, a possibility which does not conflict with the Commission’s prerogatives to consider and initiate, if it so wishes, infringement proceedings against the Member State concerned. In this case, the Supreme Court notes that the Commission has not taken any initiative against Spain with regard to the relocation decisions, giving space for the Supreme Court to examine and rule on the compliance of the decisions. Even if the Commission had initiated infringement procedures, the Supreme Court argues that it could receive actions on the failure of the State to comply with the decisions, but in that case would have to halt the proceedings until a CJEU decision on the matter. The Supreme Court did not follow the State Attorney’s request to submit preliminary questions to the CJEU on this matter.

After an analysis of the relocation decisions, the Supreme Court observed that Spain had only fulfilled nearly 13% of its relocation obligations (that is, 2.500 relocations out of its quota of 19.449 relocated persons). The Court rejected the State’s arguments that Spain was making efforts to comply with its obligation but the delays were caused by the complexity of the relocation process. The Supreme Court noted that the Spanish State chose not to make use of the provisions under the relocation decisions that allow Member States to request for a reduction of up to 30% of their relocation quota. While recognising that the limited number of relocations throughout the EU can be explained by a number of different factors, including the lack of cooperation from some Member States, the “generalised failure to comply with the decisions does not constitute a justification for the negligent behaviour” of the State.

Finally, the Supreme Court rejects the argument that, being an emergency and temporary measure, the State cannot be obliged to comply with its relocation obligations after the deadline prescribed in the decisions. It noted that the European Commission, in its Eleventh Report on relocation and resettlement, stated that “Member States' legal obligations do not stop after September 2017. Therefore, the relocation procedure set out in those Decisions must still be carried out by the Member States for eligible applicants within a reasonable timeframe thereafter”. Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded that the Spanish State had partially failed to meet its obligations under the relocation decisions and must continue with its efforts to comply with the obligations set thereunder.

Based on an unofficial translation by the ELENA Weekly Legal Update. The EWLU would like to thank Paloma Favieres, ELENA Coordinator in Spain, for bringing this case to our attention.

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