We may have hinted at this before: Bilateral investment treaty litigation is the new, big frontier of EU law.
This arbitral award in the case of Eureko BV v. The Slovak Republic will delight some, worry others.
The story, much abbreviated, goes something like this. The Slovak Republic and the Netherlands had concluded a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) back in 1992 (the Slovak Republic, becoming independent and separated from the Czech Republic in 1993 succeeded to the original BIT). The BIT contained the usual clauses protecting inward investment and a clause providing for arbitration in the event of dispute. Eureko BV, a Dutch corporation providing insurance cover including health insurance, invested heavily in the Slovak Republic when that country liberalized its health insurance market in 2004. But then, in late 2006, a new Slovak government sought to reverse the liberalization of 2004. Eureko claimed that change in policy ruined its investments in the Slovak Republic and began arbitration proceedings against that state in accordance with the arbitration clause in the BIT.
Slovakia claimed, among other things, that the arbitration proceedings should cease as the arbitration Tribunal lacks jurisdiction because the arbitration clause is incompatible with EU law. It claimed that since it had acceded to the EU in 2004, the stipulations of the BIT on capital movements and investment were superseded by the provisions on free movement of capital in the EU and breach the provisions on equal treatment and non-discrimination.
The Arbitration Tribunal decided in its carefully reasoned award of October 26th 2010 to dismiss the objections to its jurisdiction and to continue with an examination of the merits. The Tribunal held that the issues raised by the Slovak Republic concern the merits of the case and no provision of EU law actually prohibits investor-state arbitration.
What is really a cause for concern is the involvement of the European Commission. That institution submitted a brief which, if the Tribunal's description of it (paragraphs 176 to 196 of the award) is anything like accurate, is wildly anti- arbitration. It would seem to be very wrong too. The Commission seems to have claimed that the arbitration clause constitutes discrimination against investors of other nationalities whose nations had not concluded similar BITs with the Slovak Republic (thus ignoring the judgment of the Court of Justice in Case C-376/03 D v. Inspecteur van de Belastingdienst ECR  I-5821, paragraphs 52 onwards. The Commission also relied heavily on the judgment of the Court of Justice in Case C-459/03 Commission v. Ireland ECR  I-4635 (the famous "MOX Plant" case, see our post here) but that case concerned disputes between member States and the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court of Justice laid down in what is now Article 258 TFEU (ex Article 226 EC) not between investors and States. And if that were not bad enough, the Commission stated it was "firmly opposed to the 'outsourcing' of disputes involving EU law" to tribunals outside the EU courts (see paragraph 184 of the award).
Is the Commission seriously claiming that a choice of jurisdiction clause which selects a court of a non member State would breach EU law if a point of EU law had to be decided in a dispute to be submitted to that court ?