Judicial Activism at the European Court of Justice

Judicial Activism at the European Court of Justice

Edited by Mark Dawson, Bruno De Witte and Elise Muir

Detailed chapters from academics, practitioners and stakeholders bring diverse perspectives on a range of factors – from access rules to institutional design and to substantive functions – influencing the European Court’s political role. Each of the contributing authors invites the reader to approach the debate on the role of the Court in terms of a constantly evolving set of interactions between the EU judiciary, the European and national political spheres, as well as a multitude of other actors vested in competing legitimacy claims. The book questions the political role of the Court as much as it stresses the opportunities – and corresponding responsibilities – that the Court’s case law offers to independent observers, political institutions and civil society organisations.

Chapter 1: Introduction: the European Court of Justice as a political actor

Elise Muir, Mark Dawson and Bruno de Witte

Subjects: law - academic, european law


The context within which this volume was developed is the rise, in the last years, of concerns among national authorities and judiciaries, and within European civil society, about alleged judicial activism at the European Court of Justice. The subject of judicial activism has become a fashionable topic of academic commentary once again. This volume does not take sides in this debate, in the sense that it does not seek to offer a simple answer to the question of whether the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is indeed an activist court. Indeed, a simple answer would be misleading when the question itself is underdetermined. Arguing that a court is activist may indeed mean many different things. We do, however, assume that the Court of Justice is (also) a political actor. It is sometimes claimed by judges of the ECJ that their institution cannot be a political actor for the simple reason that it is a passive institution which has to wait and see which cases will come its way, and which then will try to solve those cases as best it can, without the capacity to steer the evolution of EU law on the basis of political priorities. Although one can understand why members of the Court should claim such a politically neutral status, that claim is not very plausible.