Thursday, 30 June 2011

Compensation for cancelled flight - AG's opinion in case C-83/10 Sousa Rodriguez

28 June 2011: ECJ Advocate General's opinion in case C-83/10 Sousa Rodriguez and others

A story as one of many you may have heard recently: consumers travelling by air and encountering some troubles with their flight. What makes this case special?

Firstly, it was uncertain whether their flight could be considered as being cancelled (thus enabling them to claim compensation and assistance on the basis of the Air Passenger Compensation Regulation 261/2004 of 11 February 2004) since their flight took off as planned. However, just a short time later it had to turn around and return to the take-off airport due to a technical problem with the plane. Eventually, the passengers were rebooked and flew the following day.

Secondly, aside the standard amount of compensation that passengers have a right to claim on the basis of Article 7 of this Regulation (250 euro in this case), Article 12 gives passengers rights to claim "further compensation". The Spanish judge presiding this case seeks ECJ's guidance as to what might fall under this "further compensation", i.e. what kind of costs might consumers claim. In the given case, consumers tried claiming both material damages of various sorts (e.g. cost of a taxi from the airport to their home; cost of meals at the airport when they had not received assistance from the airline; cost of additional day in boarding kennels for consumers' dogs) as well as non-material damages for the suffering (from 300 to 650 euro each). The Spanish judge asks whether he should evaluate the claim for further compensation on the basis of established national legislation and case-law on breach of contract or whether he can only grant such compensation that is substantiated as consumer's expenses that had not been adequately indemnified by the carrier on the basis of Article 8 and 9 of the Regulation (which grant passengers right to reimbursement of their flight and right to care, i.e. accommodation and meals, etc.).

The AG states, as far as the first question is concerned, that it needs to be answered on the basis of the case at hand and not in general, i.e. ECJ should give an answer as to an aircraft leaving the take-off airport as planned and returning back to it after just a few minutes, and never being resumed. The ECJ's answer would not be automatically relevant for every flight that took off as planned but had not reached its planned destination for whatever reason. (Recital 28 and 29). The question then is:

"Does the term ‘cancellation’, as defined in Article 2(l) of the Regulation, mean only the failure of the flight to depart as planned or does it also include the case in which the flight returns to the airport of departure and proceeds no further?" (Recital 31)

The answer is given in Recital 35:
"It seems to me that, when a flight is planned to carry passengers and their baggage from A to B, and when it departs from A as planned but then returns to A and proceeds no further, simply disgorging its passengers and their baggage at their point of departure, that flight cannot be said to have operated. No part of the ‘unit of transport’ which was due to be performed by the air carrier, according to the itinerary fixed by that carrier, has in fact been performed. Nothing of the essence of the operation has been achieved. The carrier has carried no one, and nothing, anywhere. The passengers are in the same situation as if they had remained in the departure lounge, with no hope of taking their planned flight. Another means of getting them to B will have to be found, since the flight which was previously planned will not be taking them there."

As far as the second question is concerned, regarding the sort of damage that consumers might recover, the AG considers the matter as simple: any type of damage might be claimed, in accordance with national law and Montreal Convention. (Recital 59) In Walz the ECJ has already established that the 'damage' referred to in the Montreal Convention could be both material and non-material damage. What is especially interesting is that in Recital 61 the Advocate General states that the consumer does not have to ask the air carrier, at the relevant time, for care and assistance on the basis of Article 8 and 9 of he Regulation in order to later be able to claim compensation for expenses he had made.

"The obligation to provide care and assistance is in no way contingent on a request by the passenger"

Neither has the consumer an obligation to explicitly rely on these articles while making a claim in front of the national judge (Recital 60). Moreover, the AG considers the compensation under Article 7 and the one under Article 8 and 9 to be "concurrent and cumulative" which means that the "further compensation" paid to the consumer cannot be offset from the amount of compensation under Article 7. (Recital 63)

It is a very interesting opinion, granting more rights to air passengers. It remains to be seen what ECJ will decide in this case.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Pay in order to pay - EU intends to ban fees for paying by credit/debit cards

One of the changes that the new Consumer Rights Directive will hopefully bring into the European consumer law (according to the text of Recital 54 of the draft by the European Parliament of the 23rd of June 2011) is a prohibition for the traders to put excessive surcharges on consumers for making payments by use of debit or credit cards online. Recital 54 points out that according to art. 52(3) of Directive 2007/64/EC on payment services in the internal market the traders could only put such fees on consumers that would compensate them their own cost for enabling such payment methods to consumers.

Introduction and enforcement of this rule would be a welcomed change by all consumers, consumer and fair trading organizations. Anyone who ever tried booking a ticket for a flight online or a train/ bus ride knows that at one point in your booking process you come to a website that adds more to your final price due to the consumer choosing to make a payment via a debit or a credit card. However, consumer's 'choice' is illusory, since often the service provider makes debit/credit card payment an only viable option. If the service provider charged the consumer for use of a debit/credit card accordingly to the cost that it had to make himself, that would be an understandable and reasonable addition to the price of the service (though, still, it could be indicated to the consumer at the beginning of the purchase process). However, the service providers often charge consumers amounts that are not reflecting the actual cost of payment by the financial means being used. As a result, service providers benefit additionally from these extra fees, and consumers are being misled as to the final price they would have to pay for the service. Hopefully, the new European regulation would lead to the introduction of a ban of such practices in all Member States.

More on such practices and problems with their regulation in UK can be found in recent articles on the OFT website (OFT to take action over passenger travel sector payment surcharges after the consumer rights group Which? logged a complaint about these practices with OFT earlier this year), in the Guardian (Debit and credit card surcharges under OFT microscope), Mail Online (Budget airlines told to stop 'unfair' fees on debit cards by OFT), Sky News (Travel Firms Ordered to Scrap Charges). As you can see it's quite a 'hot' subject at the moment.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Class action, group action, collective redress... however you call it, will EU ever get it?

A recent article in EU Observer "EU needs 'class action' law suits, consumer rights groups say" draws attention to the problem of lack of EU regulation of collective redress. It is therefore not a recent development that I'd like to comment on in this post, but lack of that recent development that needs some further description. Only 14 out of 27 Member States allow their consumers to come together and bring one joint claim against a company who has harmed them all. This is a relevant legal measure of consumer protection, since many times the infringement of consumer rights even if significant results in little material damage, which in turn means that consumers are reluctant to claim compensation for that damage. Who would go to court to receive 10 euro compensation? But if the company has hurt hundreds of consumers in the same way, it, of course, can get a substantial profit out of it. Such actions should be discouraged, and what better way of discouragement than allowing lawyers and consumer organizations to represent hundreds of consumers united against a particular seller or service provider who had hurt their rights. The article in EU Observer quotes data gathered by the consumer organization Beuc: 20 billion Euro of unclaimed damages in 2010. That's a substantial amount, indeed.

Of course, it is for the Member States who have not yet regulated a possibility of consumer collective redress to introduce it to their own legal systems. At the same time, however, we need EU initiative within this field, as well, in order for a more effective prevention of cross-border infringements to take place. Still, European Commission does not intend to bring a proposal of the new law on collective redress any time soon. There is a public consultation taking place at the moment (we mentioned before on this blog public hearings organized in Brussels), which should end this year still, but it is likely to end just in further communication of European institutions and not in a legislative proposal. However, with the end of the regulation process on Consumer Rights Directive in sight, it is feasible that consumer collective redress directive could become the next project of the DG Justice and DG Sanco. Let's hope that also in this case the need for protection of consumer interests will win over the lobbying of the business environment to maintain the status quo. Hopefully, articles like the one in EU Observer and other publications drawing attention to this problem will speed this process up.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Cookies opt-in and net neutrality law - pro-consumer Dutch approach

Many times we have mentioned on this blog changes that the harmonizing of European telecommunication law demands from the Member States (e.g. Would you like a cookie? ; Online tracking infringing e-privacy? ; Consumer friendly mobile phone contracts). This week the Dutch Parliament was busy with setting new laws that adapt Dutch law to the required European level but, more interestingly, go beyond the minimum standard of protection expected to be given to consumers.

Firstly, the Dutch Parliament decided to choose for the opt-in system as far as internet cookies are concerned (Tweede Kamer voor cookie opt-in), instead of the opt-out system that was also a possibility according to the e-Privacy Directive. This means that consumers will have to agree (in clear, certain way) to have their personal information store and traced by internet service providers. This consumer's permission will have to be given only once, and what's troubling and potentially problematic is that it has not been made clear in the law whether the consumer would have to consent to every different cookie that the service provider uses or whether it would be sufficient if he consents once to a given service provider (website) collecting and storing his information. As it has been mentioned previously, the most likely application of this regulation in practice will be by placing a cookie-icon on a browser that will inform consumers about the cookies that are being placed by advertisers on this website and will give a chance to consumers to register in a 'do-not-follow-me' register. This application is supposed to be placed on all websites by June 2012... This sounds to me, however, as an example of an opt-out system, so I wonder whether it will be seen as having complied on the new law. The internet service providers claim that this is the only practical way to inform consumers about cookies and that enforcing a demand of having to inform consumers individually about every cookie and asking them for a permission each and single time would be a logistic and practical nightmare... It remains to be seen what wins: protection of consumer interests that Dutch government seems to wish for or the practical approach of the internet service providers' representatives...

Secondly, Dutch Parliament passed a law on net neutrality (Netneutraliteit opgenomen in Telecomwet). Network neutrality means that providers of telecommunication services are not allowed to block consumers' access to network applications, charge extra for them or prioritize one application over the other. In practice, it means that mobile phone providers will have to enable consumers the same bandwidth to connect with all potential websites/internet applications that consumer might want to use, without being able to claim that access was limited or blocked due to e.g. strenuous traffic at the moment, demands of the application (e.g. some applications might slow down the entire network) or simply protection of their own interests (e.g. when consumer wants to connect to skype via their mobile phone, making a phone call via his skype account instead of via his mobile phone). This is seen as a huge progress in protection of consumers, but also of free and independent internet. Surprisingly, the European Commission has not taken a stand on this issue just yet, despite having made lots of statements about then need to keep internet open and despite having received reports on mobile phone service providers blocking consumers' access to VoIP traffic, e.g. (Net Neutrality Advocates Hope Dutch Law Will Inspire Others). Instead EC has adopted a 'wait and see' policy, which means that they will present a report on practices of blocking access to certain application by mobile operators in near future. In the meantime, it seems that according to European standards consumers 'are fine', as long as they are informed about these limitations by their mobile operators and as long as they know that they will be charged extra for making use of certain services via their phones. Dutch legislator considers that to be a too low standard and expects more protection for its own consumers with passing the net neutrality law (so far only Chile has similar regulation). Interestingly, it was the consumers' protests against a new policy of KPN (Dutch mobile operator) who intended to raise charges for its customers using Skype and WhatsApp (free text messaging) applications that led to this legislative initiative. It will be interesting to see whether Dutch example will be followed by other Member States or maybe will energize the European Commission to take more action on this subject. On the other hand, Dutch consumers might be forced to start paying more for their mobile phone subscriptions, to compensate the operators, but that is also something that will have to be watched closely in the coming months. 

More on:

Thursday, 23 June 2011

EP adopts CRD

By an overwhelming majority, the European Parliament today adopted the Consumer Rights Directive. The Directive is meant to strengthen consumer rights in off-premises contracts, especially in online transactions. In its press release following the vote in Parliament, the European Commission enumerates ten ways in which the CRD will give consumers stronger rights when shopping online. These include: protection against 'cost traps' (e.g. paying for 'free' services, such as recipes), banning pre-ticked boxes on websites, allowing the consumer a 14-days withdrawal period, and requiring traders to give better information on digital content (e.g. concerning compatibility of the digital content with hardware and software, and application of technical protection measures).

The next steps in the legislative procedure now are the following:

- Formal approval of the agreed text of the CRD by the EU Council of Ministers (September);
- Publication of the new Directive in the EU's Official Journal (this autumn);
- Transposition of the new rules into the national laws before the end of 2013.

Between parentheses: Seeing all these cheerful messages, one might almost forget that the review of the acquis communautaire in the field of consumer law once (not so very long ago, in 2004) was intended to cover eight Directives. The reduction of the scope of the CRD, first to four Directives (2008) and now to merely two (distance selling and doorstep selling; thus excluding standard terms and hardly providing any general rules on consumer sales) may reflect political reality, but seems somewhat disappointing in light of an idealist agenda for further harmonisation of European contract law.

To be continued...

Friday, 17 June 2011

Consumer Rights Directive will soon be with us?

Just a short note about a progress in adoption of the Consumer Rights Directive. The Internal Market Committee aproved  overwhelmingly a new text of Consumer Rights Directive, finding a compromise between the three proposals that have been introduced so far. The plenary vote on the new proposal in the European Parliament is expected on Thursday 23rd of June. If it is approved, then there will be a new vote in European Council and hopefully within 2 years we will have a new, improved rules protecting consumers concluding doorstep and distance selling.

Press release may be found here.
More details on the current text may be found here.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Replacement of non-conform goods? Seller has to pay for removal of defective goods and installation of new goods! - ECJ in case Weber and Putz

16 June 2011: ECJ case C-65/09 Gebr. Weber and case C-87/09 Putz

Today the ECJ gave its judgement in two combined cases that both asked for interpretation of the Article 3 of the Directive 1999/44/EC on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees. Over a year ago I have discussed on this blog the opinion of the Advocate General in these cases: "Installation at own risk - opinion of AG in ECJ cases C-65/09 Gebr. Weber and C-87/09 Putz".

Since I have previously fully described the facts of these cases, let us focus on the legal problem and the solution thereof by the ECJ. The question referred to the ECJ was whether Article 3 of the Consumer Sales Directive obliges the seller to bear the cost of removing the goods that he had sold and delivered to the consumer, and which turned out to be non-conform only after they had already been installed by the consumer, and additionally whether he has to bear the cost of installing replacement goods. It is clear that the consumer has a right to replacement goods instead of the non-conform goods that he had received, but the problem is who should bear the costs of removing the defective goods and re-installing the new goods. Since the consumer had already paid for installation of the defective goods, he would have to make double installation costs (plus additional removal costs) if this burden is placed on him. On the other hand, if this obligation is placed on the seller - he will be forced to pay for installation (and removal) that was not a part of his original contractual obligations, which could be seen as punitive damages for delivering non-conform goods in the first place. The AG, as mentioned in the previous post, was of the opinion that this is too heavy burden to be placed on the seller:

'the provisions of Article 3(2) and (3) of the Directive are to be interpreted as meaning that where a consumer product, such as the dishwasher at issue, which has been, in a manner consistent with its nature and purpose, installed and connected by the consumer, is brought into conformity by way of replacement, the seller is not required to bear the costs of disconnecting/removing the product not in conformity and of installing/connecting the product free from defects, if under the contract of sale concerned the seller was not obliged to install the purchased product' (Par. 68 in Putz and Par. 67 in Weber)

So what does the ECJ think as a fair solution in this case? The ECJ's judgment does NOT follow the opinion of the Advocate General! The ECJ decides that if the non-conform goods are to be replaced, it is for the seller to pay for the removal of the defective goods and installation of the replacement goods.

The ECJ firstly reminds that the consumer is entitled to require free of charge repair or replacement unless that is impossible or disproportionate (Par. 45). 'Free of charge' aspect of this provision intends to enable consumers to make use of their rights in case of non-conformity, since placing on consumers the risk of financial burdens associated with making such a claim could dissuade them from doing so (Par. 46). For the ECJ the matter is clear: if the consumer has a right to have non-conform goods replaced, but cannot require the seller to pay for removing the already installed goods nor for installing new, replacement goods - that replacement would impose an additional financial burden on the consumer. That burden would not have been there if the seller correctly performed his original contractual obligations to deliver a good free of faults (Par. 47 and 56). If, however, it is for the consumer to bear these additional costs, then obviously the goods would not be replaced free of charge to the consumer (Par. 48 and 49). It does not matter that such costs had not been mentioned specifically among costs listed in Article 3(4) of the Directive since that list is only illustrative (Par. 50). The ECJ further stresses that the interests of the seller are protected by the 2 year time-limit to make a claim set for the consumer in Article 5(1) of the Directive, by the right to refuse replacement if it is a disproportionate remedy as well as by the right of redress to persons liable for non-conformity (Par. 58). What should not matter, according to the ECJ is whether the seller was originally obliged to install the goods delivered, since obligations arising from the rules on consumer protection, especially Art. 3 of the Directive, are independent of the contractual obligations (Par. 59). The ECJ says also that if the seller does not remove the goods and install the replacement goods, the consumer may claim reimbursement of such costs from the seller (Par. 61).

What happens when the replacement is the only remedy available and the costs of removing the defective good and installing the replacement good will be very high? May the seller refuse to replace non-conform goods if he knows that he will have to bear costs of removing the defective goods and installing replacement goods and these costs are disproportionate with regard to the value of the conform goods?

The problem here is: what kind of remedies does the consumer have right to in case of non-conformity and what are the requirements to claim them? Primarily, the consumer has a right to repair or replacement of a non-conform good and the seller may refuse a remedy only if it is disproportionate or demands costs from him that are unreasonable in comparison with the alternative remedy (Art. 3(3) of the Directive). What happens if only one of these two remedies is available? If repair is impossible, may the seller refuse replacement taking into account that it will demand unreasonable costs from him (absolute lack of proportionality)? The ECJ makes it clear that the seller may refuse one of these remedies only if it is disproportionate in relation to the other remedy, which means only in case there is a relative lack of proportionality (and not absolute lack of proportionality) (Par. 68). This view is supported by the recital 11 of the Directive, pursuant to which the costs of a remedy are unreasonable when they are significantly higher than the costs of the other remedy (Par. 69). The ECJ makes it clear: 

"If only one of the two remedies is possible, the seller may therefore not refuse the only remedy which allows the goods to be brought into conformity with the contract." (Par. 71)

This choice is explained by the preference that is given in the Directive to the specific performance of contractual obligations over other remedies (Par. 72). This means that:

"Article 3(3) of the Directive consequently precludes national legislation from granting the seller the right to refuse the only possible remedy because of its absolute lack of proportionality." (Par. 73)

However, the ECJ allows for the national courts to help the seller with his financial burden by limiting the consumer's right to reimbursement of costs of removing defective goods and installing replacement goods to the payment by the seller of a proportionate amount. Such limitation is seen as leaving intact consumer's right to seek replacement of goods not in conformity. (Par. 74)

"In considering whether, in the case in the main proceedings, it is appropriate to reduce the consumer’s right to reimbursement of the costs of removing the goods not in conformity and of installing the replacement goods, the referring court will therefore have to bear in mind, first, the value the goods would have if there were no lack of conformity and the significance of the lack of conformity, and secondly, the Directive’s purpose of ensuring a high level of protection for consumers. The possibility of making such a reduction cannot therefore result in the consumer’s right to reimbursement of those costs being effectively rendered devoid of substance, in the event that he had installed in good faith the defective goods, in a manner consistent with their nature and purpose, before the defect became apparent." (Par. 76)

"Finally, in the event that the right to reimbursement of those costs is reduced, the consumer should be able to request, instead of replacement of the goods not in conformity, an appropriate price reduction or rescission of the contract, pursuant to the last indent of Article 3(5) of the Directive, since the fact that a consumer cannot have the defective goods brought into conformity without having to bear part of these costs constitutes significant inconvenience for the consumer." (Par. 77)

This judgement definitely sets new level of protection for consumers, despite that protection having been effectively weakened by the last paragraphs of this decision.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Filtering of information online

An interesting TED talk by Eli Pariser on danger that 'filter bubbles' (i.e. when we search for information online, our search results are limited by our previous search history and change the results we will get in comparison with someone else who will enter the same search term but has a different search history) might bring about for consumers: Beware online 'filter bubbles'. Listening to this talk made me interested in his book ("The filter bubble") and I thought I'd share this.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Time to sum up – ECC net annual report

The European Consumer Centres all over Europe are proud of themselves. Such conclusion may be drawn from the ECC’ network 2010 Annual Report. The ECC-net aims at “breaking the ice” among consumers in relation to active participation in the Common Market.
No doubt that such pan European initiative is very valuable. In my opinion, information activities and campaigns are of prime importance. As I gathered my early consumer experience in the Polish Consumer Centre, I am still not “satisfied” enough. I definitely would like to “empower” the Centres more.

The ECC-net exists quite a long time because since 1992. Centres conduct information, advisory activities and promotional campaign in the area of consumer issues.

Mission? Provide the consumers with a complete service starting from information concerning their consumer rights and ending with the aid in taking into consideration their complaints and settlement of disputes.

Practice? According to the report, in 2010 problems with products and services purchased in another Member State remained on top of the list (compared to 2009, generating 29.5% of all complaints). Besides products and services, most complaints related to problems with delivery (23.7%), contract terms (12.2%) and price and payment (10.5%). E-commerce transactions represented 56.2% of all complaints which is a slight increase compared to 2009 (55.9%).

Transport remains the number one problem sector for consumers In 2010, 33.2% of the complaints concerned the Transport sector, and 57% of these complaints related to air passenger’s rights. The percentage of complaints in the transport sector increased by 10% compared to 2009 (30.6%) partly due to the closure of the European airspace because of the “volcanic ash cloud crisis”.

It is worth considering that an increasing number of consumers turn to the ECC-net for help. In 2010 the centres handled over 71,000 contacts with consumers. This showed an increase of more than 15% compared to 2009, when the ECC-Net handled over 60,000 contacts.

Reding on the future of European contract law

Last Friday, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding delivered a keynote speech at the “Towards a european contract law” conference in Leuven. Unfortunately, this speech did not have the same aesthetic elegance as an earlier speech on the topic of cloud computing by Reding, but it is still worth devoting a couple of lines to it.

In her speech, Reding gives a brief overview of the development of European contract law. The speech comes in the usual politically correct forms, but some lines may come in handy the next time you write about European consumer policy. For example. Reding argues that “In many ways, today is a “moment of truth” for European Contract Law.”

In her speech, Reding gives a brief overview of the development of European contract law, including the recent developments concerning the work of the expert group (existing of mainly academics) and the sounding board, made up of representatives of the legal profession, businesses and consumers. Reding also shortly discusses the contributions to the public consultation, presenting different options for the future of European contract law, concluding that the responses show ‘a high degree of controversy about what the Commission should do next.’

Not surprisingly, Reding does at this point not favour full harmonisation of European contract law, nor a compulsory European Code. As expected, the way forward in the view of the Commission is an optional instrument. In a climate of – be it mild – euroscepticism, taking little steps seems the Commission’s only way forward in the process of the development of European private law.

Reding stresses that in the process of making an optional instruments, four issues of concern deserve special attention:
1) It must be made sure that if consumers opt for the instrument they do this consciously, i.e. not by accident;
2) The optional instrument must take into account the reality of the modern information society;
3) The optional instrument must be made effective for small- and medium sized companies;
4) It must be decided whether the optional instrument can only be applies in cross-border transactions or also to domestic transactions.

A proposal by the Commission is expected in November this year.

To read the speech, click here.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The public, the private and the European

My father used to like to refer to the famous ships passing each other by in the night when speaking about the miscommunications he sometimes encountered during his career as a lawyer. I believe it is part of the work of both practitioners and academics to try and understand the different approaches different people may have to legal problems and overcome them together. In the field of European law, one of the most interesting challenges seems to be to bridge the public/private divide that characterises many conceptual and practical approaches to regulation, law-making and adjudication. So far, there were not many fora that allowed for a comprehensive debate on the questions raised in this context.
Times seem to be changing with the inauguration of the European Law Institute, which was officially presented at a conference in Paris yesterday, 1st June 2011. Although it remains to be seen what will be the precise role of the ELI in the further development of European law, its programme provides much room for a further cooperation of public and private lawyers; or perhaps it would be better to speak of European lawyers here. I quote from ELI's manifesto:

Among ELI’s core tasks are:
  • to evaluate and stimulate the development of EU law, legal policy, and practice, and in particular make proposals for the further development of the acquis and for the enhancement of EU law implementation by the Member States;
  • to identify and analyse legal developments in areas within the competence of Member States which are relevant at the EU level;
  • to study EU approaches regarding international law and enhance the role EU law could play globally, for instance in drafting international instruments or model rules;
  • to conduct and facilitate pan-European research, in particular to draft, evaluate or improve principles and rules which are common to the European legal systems; and
  • to provide a forum, for discussion and cooperation, of jurists irrespective of their vocation or occupation, inter alia academics, judges, lawyers and other legal professionals, who take an active interest in European legal development and together represent a broad range of legal traditions.'
ELI welcomes the participation of both practitioners and scholars from all field of European law and invites applications for becoming a Fellow of the institute. More information can be found on the website.
Finally, as regards subjects for first projects, many speakers at the conference mentioned the application of fundamental rights to relationships between private parties, which in my (undoubtedly biased) opinion would be a field to which researchers and practitioners from many different backgrounds (or to stay within the metaphor, on different ships, preferably not just passing in the night) could greatly contribute.