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Befriending the European Court of Justice

AMSTERDAM– On March 25, the European Union celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which gave birth to the European Economic Community and set the stage for the EU’s creation. Like any birthday, it was an opportunity not just to celebrate, but also to consider what has been achieved – and what must change.

At a time when member countries are increasingly pulling away from the EU – and the United Kingdom is actually leaving – the need for reform is clear. Discussions about how to bring the European Council, Commission, and Parliament closer to EU citizens, thereby closing Europe’s “democratic deficit,” are frequent and animated. But another institution that could benefit from more input from EU citizens is often left out of these discussions: the European Court of Justice.

The ECJ is the EU’s judicial authority. It gives preliminary rulings on the interpretation of the European treaties and the validity of actions taken by EU institutions. It has played a central role in the legal integration of the EU, adjudicating the limits of the EU’s authority and shaping the definition and application of its core principles. And it acts de facto (if not de jure) as a constitutional court.

Over the years, the ECJ’s judicial activism has encountered both praise and criticism, with some claiming that its growing powers have eroded its popular legitimacy. Such claims have gained traction since the expansion of the court’s jurisdiction to include areas like human rights, monetary policy, immigration, and citizenship.