The ‘Justice’ Potential of EU Constitutional Law

The term justice is far too abstract to provide meaningful guidance on how to resolve specific legal questions. Normative ideals of justice are usually conceptualised, in contemporary constitutional law, in terms of human rights and countervailing public policy objectives. While I am, by and large, happy with the constitutional infrastructure of the EU, my outlook on the judicial practices of European Court of Justice is less optimistic.

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The Unfair Eurozone

The Eurozone crisis has raised serious concerns about injustice in the distribution of resources, burdens and risks. The functioning of the Eurozone has had great unintended consequences. In the past five years five member states have needed assistance of one kind or another (Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Cyprus) and are going through painful adjustment. This shows that the problem is systemic, not particular to each one of them. The problems in the design of the Eurozone, which is not an ‘optimal currency union’ are well known.

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Justice within and between Polities

My account on Europe’s justice deficit will depart from a tension inherent to the project, and I will submit three groups of observations: The first one will deal with what we have experienced about the nature of “the economic”; with the use of this notion, I wish to insinuate an analogy to what we associate with “the social”; namely, the social embeddedness of the economy. The following observations are concerned with the distinction between justice within consolidated polities and justice between such polities. The third part of my story will ask, first, whether a synthesis of both concerns, i.e., of domestic and inter-European justice, is conceivable in principle – and then whether it is still available. After the crisis, this is the 1 million dollar question: How can the European project get back on track, regain legitimacy, rise from its ruins?

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How just is the EU, or: is there a ‘new’ European deficit?

Let us face it: the EU affects the lives of many people in ways they perceive as profoundly unjust. Lives are dramatically affected by the policies of austerity, widely understood to be EU-imposed. With the Court of Justice appearing to stand for its own authority and EU autonomy at any cost; with migrants attempting to reach fortress Europe and drowning en masse as the EU cuts back its rescue services; and with economic inequalities in the Member States reaching new heights, could it be that there is a justice deficit in Europe, exacerbated by the European Union? It has never been made abundantly clear whether the achievement of justice is among the EU’s objectives, thus leading to a sub-optimal legal-political reality. There is an urgent need to address the question of justice openly and without reservation, and not to permit nationalists and Eurosceptics to monopolize this debate.

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