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Europe

EU Civil Servants Get Very Own Court

Creating a new EU court sounds like more red tape for an over-bureaucratized bloc, but the EU Civil Service Tribunal is actually meant to ease the load on existing courts. The question is whether it's really needed.

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Help's coming for an overtaxed European Court of Justice

This week the seven judges of the newly created European Union Civil Service Tribunal were sworn in, adding a new arm to an already the 25-member bloc.

The new court is meant for the over 40,000 civil servants and employees of the various EU institutions who until now have been turning to the Court of First Instance, an independent court attached to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, when they've run into problems with their employers.

The Court of First Instance itself was originally created to adjudicate in disputes between the EU and its civil service and ease the burden on the European Court of Justice. But, the former was considered overstretched when it came to dealing with tangled labor disputes. The new EU Civil Service Tribunal is now expected to step in and help out.

The decision to create the new specialized court is also an important step in the implementation of the reforms of the judicial system provided for by the 2001 Treaty of Nice and which the EU Council agreed to adopt last November.

The new Civil Service Tribunal will also be located in the same building as the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Sensible Investment

Horstpeter Kreppel, German judge at the newly created specialized court said the new structure is a sensible investment.

"The Court of First Instance deals with antitrust disputes, which involve billions," he said. "And then if -- due to 200 complaints by civil servants -- there's a two-year postponement, then the creation of a specialized court does mean increased efficiency."

The argument seems valid in light of the fact that a 2004 overhaul of the EU civil service, which has done away with several perks and bonuses, is expected to trigger a flood of complaints and lawsuits by civil servants.

Wasteful?

But, not everyone thinks creating a new court is the answer.

Michael Jäger of the German Taxpayers' Association said it still remains to be seen whether the specialized court would actually prove worth its while.

"If higher costs are going to be generated at a time when coffers are cash strapped, one has to seek another solution," Jäger said. "If however, the courts have been overburdened by intricacies of labor law which has led to a backlog, then a new court does make sense. But there has to be an advantage in terms of time and money."

Wait and see

Even the European Court of Auditors, the EU's internal control organ, is reserved about the new court and is adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

Markus Ferber, a member of the budgetary committee of the European Parliament made no bones about the fact that the new court is a mistake.

Too little thought was given to other alternatives, said Ferber, who added that even an arbitration court or a smaller legal chamber at the European Court of Justice would have sufficed.

"Unfortunately the European Court of Justice didn't make any sensible suggestions, it thinks in old structures," Ferber said, adding that it had also created a new administration for the specialized court with several permanent jobs.

Another court for trademark law?

The 2001 Treaty of Nice specifically foresees the creation of specialized courts in the face of the growing numbers of EU members and competencies. The decisions of the EU Civil Service Tribunal will be subject to appeal on questions of law only to the Court of First Instance and, in exceptional cases, to review by the Court of Justice.

In addition, the EU plans a specialized court for trademark law. The judges would be drawn from different EU member states, from the fields of labor law, research, politics as well judges so far at the European Court of Justice.

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