Research Seminar

The Limits of Judicial Independence. How is the European Court of Justice Politically Constrained?

Date: 4 October 2013
Time: 13.00-14.30

Daniel Naurin, Department of Political Science, Göteborg University

Judicial independence is a challenge for courts whose decisions have politically salient consequences. Several tools are available for legislatures and executives to engage in court curbing, including budgetary restrictions, impeachments, limiting jurisdiction or simply ignoring the Court’s decisions. Furthermore, legislators - or governments in the case of international courts - may override court decisions that run counter to their preferences by making new laws or negotiating changes to intergovernmental treaties.

In spite of these potentially powerful constraints some of the worlds most politically consequential courts – including the US Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) - seem to be acting with remarkable independence. An important reason for that, according to the attitudinal model, is that override of court decisions is a non-credible threat when the legislature or the contracting parties face high decision-making hurdles and heterogeneous preferences. The ECJ, in particular, has been portrayed as something of a runaway agent, promoting European legal integration and limiting the national sovereignty of the EU member states beyond their original intent.

We question the validity of this claim. Using previously unavailable data on EU governments’ briefs to the ECJ, and taking advantage of the variation in legislative procedures in the EU, we show that the ECJ judges follow closely the preferences of the EU governments, in a pattern predicted by the override mechanism.

Registration for the research seminars.

The research seminars are free of charge and take place Fridays at 13.00–14.30 in the Institute, Holländargatan 13 in Stockholm.


Daniel Naurin is associate professor of political science at the University of Gothenburg and at the seminar he presented new research on the political influences on the European Court of Justice – one of the most important institutions in Europe.

Naurin initially presented three different perspectives on how the European Court of Justice works. According to the legalistic-normative argument, the Court is only a neutral technical interpreter of applicable law; according to the neo-functionalist argument the Court is totally independent and promotes increased Europeanization; and according to the intergovernmental perspective, the Court is clearly influenced by political views and power relations in member countries.

The analyzes that Naurin presented at the seminar strongly support the third perspective. He has found obvious signs that the Court's ruling is affected by the political views expressed by member states in different areas. However, the results also showed that the European Court of Justice is much more pro-European than any of the member states.

Learn more about Daniel Naurin and his research.

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