A Europe of Judges

MAYNOOTH, IRELAND – As the Greek financial drama reaches its sorry dénouement, another crisis looms for the European project – this time in Germany, beginning with a case now before Germany’s Constitutional Court.

Away from the rarefied atmosphere of EU summits (which, so far, have been shaping the Union’s response to events in Greece), other institutional actors have been – and are – shaping the EU system. In particular, courts have driven European integration forward as much as politicians have.

The powerful European Court of Justice (ECJ), in particular, has frequently been criticized for using European law to disguise an integrationist agenda. Without the ECJ’s doctrines of “direct effect” and “primacy,” and without national courts that are willing to enforce these doctrines in their own jurisdictions, the EU most likely would not have attained the level of integration that it has.

National courts may consider the effects of European integration on their constitutional and democratic institutions, affirming or rejecting the integration that has already taken place, or setting limits to supranational arrangements that might further impinge on national sovereignty.