The thing that should not be: European Enforcement Order bypassing acta jure imperii
In a dispute between two Cypriot citizens and the Republic of Turkey concerning the enforcement of a European Enforcement Order issued by a Cypriot court, the Thessaloniki CoA was confronted with the question, whether the refusal of the Thessaloniki Land Registry to register a writ of control against property of the Turkish State located in Thessaloniki was in line with the EEO Regulation.
I. THE FACTS
The dispute began in 2013, when two Cypriot citizens filed a claim for damages against the Republic of Turkey before the Nicosia Disctrict Court. The request concerned compensation for deprivation of enjoyment of their property since July 1974 in Kyrenia, a city occupied by the Turkish military forces during the 1974 invasion on the island. The Kyrenia District Court (Eparchiakó Dikastírio Kerýneias), which operates since July 1974 in Nicosia, issued in May 2014 its ruling, granting damages to the claimants in the altitude of 9 million €. Almost a year later, the latter requested the same court to issue a certificate of European Enforcement Order. The application was granted. Within the same year, the claimants filed an application before the Athens Court of first Instance for the recognition and enforcement of the Cypriot judgment. Prima facie it seems to be a useless step, however there was a rationale behind it; I will come back to the matter later on. The Athens court granted exequatur (Athens CFI 2407/2015, unreported).
Following almost a year of inactivity, the claimants decided to proceed to the execution of their title by attaching property of the Turkish State in Thessaloniki. Pursuant to domestic rules, the enforcement agent serves the distraint order to the debtor; afterwards, (s)he requests the order to be registered at the territorially competent land registry. Both actions are imperative by law. At this point, the chief officer of the land registry refused to proceed to registration, invoking Article 923 Greek Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) which reads as follows: Compulsory enforcement against a foreign State may not take place without a prior leave of the Minister of Justice. The claimants challenged the registrar’s refusal by filing an application pursuant to Article 791 CCP, which aims at the obligation of the registrar to proceed to registration by virtue of a court order. The Thessaloniki 1. Instance court dismissed the application (Thessaloniki CFI 8363/2017, unreported). The claimants appealed.
II. THE RULING
The Thessaloniki CoA dismissed the appeal, confirming the first instance ruling in its entirety. It began from the right of the land registrar to a review of legality, thus the right to examine the request beyond possible formality gaps. It then referred to Articles 6.1 ECHR, 1 of the 1. Additional Protocol to the ECHR, and Articles 2.3 (c) and 14 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in order to support the right to enforcement against a foreign State. The appellate court continued by analyzing Article 923 CCP and its importance in the domestic legal order. It emphasized the objective of the provision, i.e. to estimate potential repercussions and to avoid possible tensions with the foreign State in case of execution. The court founded its analysis on two ECHR rulings, i.e. the judgments in the Kalogeropoulou and Others v. Greece and Germany (59021/00), and Vlastos v. Greece (28803/07) cases, adding two rulings of the Full Bench of the Greek Supreme Court from 2002. Finally, the court concluded that there has not been a violation of the EEO Regulation, stating that the process under Article 923 CCP is not to be considered as part of intermediate proceedings needed to be brought in the Member State of enforcement prior ro recognition and enforcement; hence, the rule in Article 1 of the EEO Regulation is not violated.
In general terms, one has to agree with the outcome of the case. Nevertheless, there are a number of issues to be underlined, so that the reader gets the full picture of the dispute.
- The claim before the Kyrenia District Court bears some similarities with the ruling of the ECJ in the Apostolidis/Orams case: The Court decided then that: The suspension of the application of the acquis communautaire in those areas of the Republic of Cyprus in which the Government of that Member State does not exercise effective control, provided for by Article 1(1) of Protocol No 10 on Cyprus to the Act concerning the conditions of accession [to the European Union] … does not preclude the application of Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters to a judgment which is given by a Cypriot court sitting in the area of the island effectively controlled by the Cypriot Government, but concerns land situated in areas not so controlled. In both cases, the property under dispute was located in the Kyrenia district. The difference lies in the defendants: Unlike the Orams case, the respondent here was a foreign State. Article 4 Brussels I Regulation grants the right to claimants to avail themselves of domestic rules of jurisdiction, which is presumably what the claimants did in the case at hand.
- The issue of the EEO certificate seems to run contrary to Article 2.1 EEO Regulation. The matter was not examined by the Thessaloniki courts, which focused on the subject matter, i.e. the refusal of the land registrar on the grounds of Article 923 CCP.
- The exequatur proceedings in Greece seem to be superfluous, given that a EEO may be enforced without the need for a declaration of enforceability (Article 5 EEO Regulation). One reason which possibly triggered additional exequatur proceedings might have been the fact that, unlike the EEO Regulation, the acta iure imperii clause was not included in the Brussels I Regulation (see Article 1.1). Still, the matter was examined in the Lechouritou case even before the entry into force of the Brussels I bis Regulation. Hence, it would not have made a difference in the first place.
- The appellate court focused on the compatibility of Article 923 CCP with the EEO Regulation. However, the claimants carried out the execution in Greece on the grounds of the Cypriot judgment, not the EEO certificate.
Finally, two more points which should not be left without a comment.
- Throughout the proceedings, the Turkish State demonstrated buddhistic apathy. There was not a single remedy brought forward, neither in Cyprus nor in Greece. It was a victory in absentia. A reason for this stance was surely the following: The property of the Turkish state in Thessaloniki hosts one of its General Consulates in Greece. This is not just another Turkish Consulate around the globe: It is built upon the place where the father of the Turkish Republic (Mustafa Kemal Atatürk) was born. It also includes the house where he was raised.
- The Thessaloniki CoA emphasized that a potential refusal of the Greek Minister of Justice to grant leave for execution would not harm the essence of the Cypriot judgment: Enforceability and res iudicata remain untouched; hence, the claimants may seek enforcement of the judgment in the foreign country, i.e. Turkey… The argument was ‘borrowed’ by the ruling of the ECJ in the Krombach case (which is cited in the text of the decision); therefore, it is totally alien to the case at hand. Even if the claimants were to find any assets of the Turkish Republic in the EU, like the Villa Vigoni in Italy, the ruling of the ICJ in the case Germany v. Italy: Greece intervening) would serve as a tool to grant jurisdictional immunity to the Turkish state.
Article 923 CCP is the first line of defence for foreign states in Greece. In the unlikely event that the Greek Minister of Justice grants leave for execution, a judgment creditor will be confronted with a second hurdle, if (s)he’s aiming at the seizure of property similar to the case discussed here: the maxim ne impediatur legatio (ad hoc see Greek Supreme Court, 29 November 2017, decision no. 1937/2017, reported in English here). Hence, the chances to capitalize on the enforceable title are close to zero.