Why is no one talking about the European Court of Justice?

Article published on Oct. 14, 2002
community published
Article published on Oct. 14, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Enlargement to the East will increase the importance of this judicial body.

There has been much talk in recent months about the future of the EU as it confronts a number of challenges to redefine its politico-institutional profile: much discussion has centred around the role of the Parliament and that of the Commission, as well as the powers of individual states, but there has been no debate on the determining role played by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the judicial organ that represents the highest level of jurisprudence to which EU citizens have recourse in matters of Community competence.

This body, according to the principles of common law, is also a 'creator' of law: that is, its judgement, once passed, is binding for every EU citizen. This is a function which could be underscored if Community regulations (especially 'directives') were clear and precise in their scope. Unfortunately however, experience teaches us the contrary, and therefore the interpretative function exercised by the ECJ becomes decisive in determining the future application of Community law.

The Treaties and Community norms are often born out of political compromises which render the core articles of EU acts difficult to apply, leading governments to charge the Court with the task of overcoming political "barriers" that have stood in the way of the creation of really clear and effective norms.

But will it still be like this in the future? In a Europe which errs on the borders of democracy, can legislative authority be entrusted to an organ which itself is largely undemocratic? The ECJ is appointed by governments who select dignitaries largely unknown to the majority of EU citizens, who for their part know little of the role and at times, the existence of this institution.

The debate over changes to the European institutions needs to take into account this additional dimension, because enlargement of the Union to the East will lead to further frictions between states, and creating clear norms will be still more difficult by virtue of the increase in conflicting positions.

The political debate on Europe should allow for a thorough analusis of the role and scope of the individual institutions: the link between Parliament and legislative power, government and executive power, the European Court of Justice and judicial power should be upheld in the interest of these institutions. At risk is the very democratic principle which drives the European system and the efforts to bring the Union closer to its citizens.