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Disagreement—Commonality—Autonomy: EU Fundamental Rights in the Internal Market


The contribution explores the implications of disagreements about rights in the ‘multi-layered’ European polity for the autonomy of EU fundamental rights law. It argues that insomuch as the EU’s weak claim to supra-national political authority is corroborated by a strong case for economic integration, the internal market operates not simply as a constraining factor in the effective realisation of fundamental rights, but provides the very foundation of their autonomous interpretation in the EU legal order. Sections II and III elaborate upon the relationship between conflicts of authority in the European legal space and the autonomous interpretation of EU fundamental rights law under conditions of political disagreement. Section IV links the argument to the often-alleged instrumentalisation of EU fundamental rights in the service of the market. Sections V and VI substantiate the guiding contention of the contribution—that the autonomy of EU fundamental rights law is rooted in the unity of the market—with an analysis of pertinent case law. The concluding section suggests that the transformation of the EU into a ‘genuine’ human rights polity must proceed through a politicisation of the market by virtue of fundamental rights law.

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1 Case 26/62 NV Algemene Transport- en Expeditie Onderneming van Gend en Loos v Nederlandse Administratie der Belastingen [1963] ECR 1.

2 See, eg, Case 120/78 Rewe-Zentral AG v Bundesmonopolverwaltung für Branntwein (Cassis de Dijon) [1979] ECR 649, where the Court held that ‘free movement of goods … constitutes one of the fundamental rules of the Community’.

3 See, eg, Douglas-Scott S, ‘The European Union and Human Rights after the Treaty of Lisbon’ (2011) 11 Human Rights Law Review 645 .

4 See further below, section IV.

5 Dehousse R and Weiler JHH, ‘The Legal Dimension’ in Wallace W (ed), The Dynamics of European Integration (London, Continuum, 1990) 242 .

6 Waldron J, ‘A Right-Based Critique of Constitutional Rights’ (1993) 13 OJLS 18 ; Dworkin R, ‘Does Britain Need a Bill of Rights?’ in his Freedom’s Law (Harvard, Harvard University Press, 1997) 352 ; see further Waldron J, Law and Disagreement (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1999). The context of the debate was the incorporation of the substantive provisions of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms into British domestic law via the Human Rights Act 1998.

7 Waldron, ‘Rights-Based Critique’ (n 6) 29.

8 Ibid 30.

9 Ibid 32.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid 33.

12 Suffice to recall the debate on European constitutionalism between Jürgen Habermas and Dieter Grimm. See Grimm D, ‘Does Europe Need a Constitution?’ (1995) 1 European Law Journal 282 ; Habermas J, ‘Remarks on Dieter Grimm’s “Does Europe Need a Constitution?”’ (1995) 1 European Law Journal (1995) 303 ; and Habermas J, ‘Why Europe Needs a Constitution’ (2001) 11 New Left Review 5 .

13 See, eg, von Bogdandy A, ‘The European Union as a Human Rights Organisation? Human Rights and the Core of the European Union’ (2000) 37 CML Rev 1307 ; and more recently Williams A, The Ethos of Europe (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010). For a differentiated account of the evolution of fundamental rights in the European polity, see De Búrca G, ‘The Road Not Taken: The EU as a Global Human Rights Actor’ (2011) 105 American Journal of International Law 649 .

14 For an excellent discussion of Waldron’s democratic challenge to rights-based constitutionalism in the EU context, see Walker N, ‘Human Rights in a Postnational Order: Reconciling Political and Constitutional Pluralism’ in Campbell T, Ewing KD and Tomkins A (eds), Sceptical Essays on Human Rights (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001) 119 .

15 Ingolf Pernice is amongst those who have pointed to the political origins and rationale of fundamental rights in the European integration process leading up to the EU Charter. See Pernice I, ‘The Treaty of Lisbon and Fundamental Rights: Walter Hallstein-Institut Paper 7/08’ in Griller S and Ziller J (eds), The Lisbon Treaty: EU Constitutionalism without a Constitutional Treaty? (New York, Springer, 2008).

16 Dworkin R, Is Democracy Possible Here? (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2008) 32 .

17 Ibid 36, 43–45.

18 Van Gend en Loos (n 1); Case 6/64 Flamino Costa v ENEL [1964] ECR 585.

19 Williams (n 13) 111.

20 Weiler JHH, ‘Fundamental Rights and Fundamental Boundaries: On the Conflict of Standards and Values in the Protection of Human Rights in the European Legal Space’ in his The Constitution of Europe (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999) 102 .

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid 104.

23 On the maximum/minimum standard conundrum, see, eg, Besselink L, ‘Entrapped by the Maximum Standard: On Fundamental Rights, Pluralism and Subsidiarity in the European Union’ (1998) 35 CML Rev 629 ; de Witte B, ‘The Past and Future Role of the European Court of Justice in the Protection of Human Rights’ in Alston P, Bustelo and M Heenan J (eds), The EU and Human Rights (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999) 859 ; Avbelj M, ‘European Court of Justice and the Question of Value Choices’ (2004) 06/04 Jean Monnet Working Paper; Pérez A Torres, Conflicts of Rights in the European Union (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009); and further below, section V.

24 Case 11/70 Internationale Handelsgesellschaft v Einfuhr und Vorratsstelle für Getreide und Futtermittel [1970] ECR 1125.

25 On the CJEU’s circular reasoning in bootstrapping the principles of supremacy and direct effect in Van Gend en Loos and Costa, see Lindahl H, ‘The Paradox of Constituent Power: The Ambiguous Self-Constitution of the European Union’, (2007) 20 Ratio Juris 485 .

26 Internationale Handelsgesellschaft (n 24).

27 Weiler (n 20) 117.

28 See, eg, Weiler’s assessment that ‘defending the constitutional identity of the state and its core values turns out in many cases to be a defence of some hermeneutic foible adopted by five judges voting against four’: Weiler JHH, ‘In Defence of the Status Quo: Europe’s Constitutional Sonderweg’ in Weiler JHH and Wind M (eds), European Constitutionalism Beyond the State (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003) 7, 17.

29 Alston P and Weiler JHH, ‘An “Ever Closer Union” in Need of a Human Rights Policy: The European Union and Human Rights’ in Alston P, Bustelo M and Heenan J (eds), The EU and Human Rights (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999) 3, 23.

30 Opinion 2/94 [1996] ECR I-1759 [27].

31 See Knook A, ‘The Court, the Charter, and the Vertical Division of Powers in the European Union’ (2005) 42 CML Rev 367 .

32 Article 51(1) EU Charter, the so-called ‘Wachauf’ situation.

33 Explanations relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union [2007] OJ C303/17, art 51.

34 Case C-617/10 Åklagaren v Hans Åkerberg Fransson (ECJ, 26 February 2013) [21].

35 Von Bogdandy (n 13) 1321.

36 Mancini F, ‘The Making of a Constitution for Europe’ (1989) 26 CML Rev 595 .

37 Case 44/79 Hauer v Land Rheinland-Pfalz [1979] ECR 3727 [14].

38 Coppel J and O’Neil A, ‘The European Court of Justice: Taking Rights Seriously?’ (1992) 12 Legal Studies 227, 245.

39 See the lengthy response by Weiler JHH and Lockhart N, ‘“Taking Rights Seriously” Seriously: The European Court and its Fundamental Rights Jurisprudence’ (1995) 32 CML Rev 51 (Part I), 579 (Part II).

40 I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for bringing this point to my attention.

41 Williams (n 13) 267.

42 Nicol D, ‘Europe’s Lochner Moment’ (2011) 2 Public Law 308 , with reference to Lochner v New York (1905) 198 US 45.

43 Coppel and O’Neil (n 38).

44 Williams (n 13) 267.

45 Case C-159/90 The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Ireland Ltd v Stephen Grogan [1991] ECR I-4685 [20].

46 See, eg, Besselink L, ‘The Protection of Fundamental Rights Post-Lisbon: The Interaction between the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Convention on Human Rights and National Constitutions’, in Reports of the FIDE Congress, Tallinn (2012) 1, 10–16. Available at:

47 In its Preamble, the EU Charter ‘reaffirms … the rights as they result, in particular, from the constitutional traditions and international obligations common to the Member States, the Treaty on the European Union, the Community Treaties … and the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Communities and of the European Court of Human Rights’.

48 Which raises a set of distinct institutional problems I cannot discuss here. See, eg, Douglas-Scott S, ‘The Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights after Lisbon’ in De Vries S, Bernitz U and Weatherill S (eds), The Protection of Fundamental Rights in the EU After Lisbon (Oxford, Hart Publishing, 2013) 153 .

49 See, eg, Torres Pérez (n 23) 36–7.

50 Case C-399/11 Stefano Melloni v Ministerio Fiscal (ECJ, 26 February 2013) [56].

51 Ibid [58].

52 See already B Liisberg, ‘Does the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights Threaten the Supremacy of Community Law?’ (2001) Jean Monnet Working Paper 04/01. According to Liisberg, art 53 merely serves the twofold political purpose of re-stating the supremacy of EU law while at the same time assuring Member States that EU fundamental rights law will not replace their national constitutional human rights traditions.

53 In order of appearance: BVerfG (German Federal Constitutional Court), Caroline von Monaco II, Judgment of 15 December 1999, 1 BvR 653/96; Case of von Hannover v Germany App No 59320/00 (ECtHR (Third Section), 24 June 2004); BVerfG, Caroline von Monaco III, Judgment of 26 February 2008, 1 BvR 1626/07; Case of von Hannover v Germany (No 2) App Nos 40660/08 and 60641/08 (ECtHR (Grand Chamber), 7 February 2012).

54 Case of von Hannover v Germany (No 2) (n 53) [107].

55 See, eg, A Stone Sweet, ‘On the Constitutionalisation of the Convention: The European Court of Human Rights as a Constitutional Court’ (2009) Yale Law School Faculty Scholarship Series Paper 71, 6. Stone Sweet, however, believes that this approach results in higher standards of protection across the board.

56 Case of Open Door and Dublin Well Woman v Ireland App Nos 14234/88 and 14235/88 (ECtHR, 29 October 1992); Grogan (n 45).

57 Judgment of the Irish Supreme Court of 16 March 1988, as cited in Open Door (n 56) [19].

58 Ibid [54], [65].

59 Ibid [68]; see further the case of Vo v France App No 53924/00 (ECtHR, 8 July 2004), where the ECtHR concludes that ‘the issue of when the right to life begins comes within the margin of appreciation … [because] there is no European consensus on the scientific and legal definition of the beginning of life’ ([82]). In a more recent case, the majority of the Court avoided finding the Irish prohibition of abortion in direct violation of Article 8 ECHR by emphasising the freedom of movement that Irish women have under EU law to seek abortions in third countries. See A, B and C v Ireland App No 25579/05 (ECtHR (Grand Chamber), 16 December 2010).

60 Grogan (n 45) [19].

61 Ibid [20].

62 Judgment of the Irish Supreme Court of 16 March 1988, as cited in Open Door (n 56).

63 Grogan (n 45) [20].

64 According to the Court’s rather obscure reasoning in Josemans, an activity (the marketing of cannabis products in the Netherlands) cannot be considered a service under EU law if it is prohibited in all Member States. See Case C-137/09 Marc Michel Josemans v Burgemeester van Maastricht [2010] ECR I-13019.

65 Grogan (n 45) [21].

66 Weiler (n 20) 117.

67 See, eg, Besselink (n 46) 47.

68 Craig P and de Búrca G, EU Law: Text, Cases, Materials, 5th edn (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011) 371 .

69 See, eg, Cases 46/87 and 227/88 Hoechst v Commission [1989] ECR 2859 [17]. The CJEU refused to extend the protection of Article 8 ECHR to business premises ‘because there are not inconsiderable divergences between the legal systems of the Member States in regard to the nature and degree of protection afforded’. The required ‘commonality’ was later supplied by the ECtHR in Niemitz v Germany App No 13710/88 (ECtHR, 16 December 1992), and the CJEU changed its approach accordingly; see Case C-94/00 Roquettes Frères SA v Commission [2002] ECR I-9011.

70 Case C-36/02 Omega Spielhallenund Automatenaufstellungs-GmbH v Oberbürgermeister der Bundestadt Bonn [2004] ECR I-9609 [34].

71 Ibid [37].

72 Ibid, [39].

73 See further Case C-208/09 Ilonka Sayn-Wittgenstein v Landeshauptmann von Wien [2010] ECR I-13693, where the Court explicitly acknowledges a Member State’s constitutional identity as a limit to EU law.

74 Pursuant to the CJEU’s ERT ruling, Member States are bound by EU fundamental rights when they claim national public policy exceptions to EU fundamental freedoms. See Case C-260/89 Elliniki Radiophonia Tileorasse AE (ERT) v Dimotiki Etaria Pliroforissis and Sotirios Kouvelas [1991] ECR I-2925. Whereas the following examples focus on ERT -type situations, the broader conceptual point—that EU fundamental rights are rendered determinate and consistent in relation to the internal market as the fundamental boundary of the European polity—arguably also applies to cases in which the CJEU scrutinises the fundamental rights compatibility of EU law itself.

75 S Weatherill, ‘From Economic Rights to Fundamental Rights’ in De Vries, Bernitz and Weatherill (n 48) 11, 24.

76 ERT (n 74) [43].

77 Case C-112/00 Eugen Schmidberger, Internationale Transporte und Planzüge v Austria [2003] ECR I-5659 [77].

78 Ibid [81], [82].

79 As Brown remarks, ‘using the language of prima facie breach or restriction of economic rights suggests that, even if the restriction is ultimately justified, it remains something which is at its heart “wrong”, but tolerated. This sits rather uneasily with the state’s usually paramount constitutional obligation to protect human rights’: Brown C, ‘Case C-112/00, Eugen Schmidberger, Internationale Transporte und Planzüge v Austria, Judgment of 12 June 2003 Full Court’ (2003) 40 CML Rev 1499, 1508.

80 Case C-438/05 International Transport and Workers’ Federation and Finnish Seamen’s Union v Viking Line ABP and OÜ Viking Line Eesti [2007] ECR I-10779; Case C-341/05 Laval and Partneri Ltd v Svenska Byggnadsarbetareförbundet and others [2007] ECR I-11767.

81 That is, it imposes obligations on public authorities to protect fundamental rights in the relationship between non-state actors. This indirect horizontal protection of fundamental rights needs to be distinguished from the direct application of human rights standards in the private sphere via EU legislation. See Case C-144/04 Mangold v Rüdiger Helm [2005] ECR I-9981 and, more recently, Case C-555/07 Seda Kücüdeveci v Swedex GmbH & Co KG [2010] ECR I-00365.

82 Viking (n 80) [57].

83 Similarly, see Hinarejos A, ‘Laval and Viking: The Right to Collective Action versus EU Fundamental Freedoms’ (2008) 8 Human Rights Law Review 714, 725.

84 Case of Demir and Baykara v Turkey App No 34503/97 (ECtHR, 12 November 2008).

85 Nicol (n 42) 324.

86 Article 15(2) EU Charter provides that ‘Every citizen of the Union has the freedom to seek employment, to work, to exercise the right of establishment and to provide services in any Member State’; pursuant to art 45 EU Charter, ‘Every citizen of the Union has the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States’.

87 Besselink (n 46) 19.

88 Alston and Weiler (n 29) 23.

89 Douglas-Scott (n 3) 681.

90 Besson S, ‘The European Union and Human Rights: Towards a Post-National Human Rights Institution?’ (2006) 6 Human Rights Law Review 323 .

91 Williams (n 13) ch 8.

92 For the relationship between market-driven legal integration and depoliticisation in the EU, see Veitch S, ‘Juridification, Integration, De-politicisation’ in Augenstein D (ed), Integration through Law Revisited: The Making of the European Polity (Farnham, Ashgate, 2012) 85 .

94 Weiler JHH, ‘The Transformation of Europe’ in his The Constitution of Europe (n 20) 1, 89.

* I am grateful to the participants in my seminar at the Cambridge Centre for European Legal Studies and to two anonymous referees for their generous and insightful comments on earlier drafts of the chapter.

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