The Purpose of Europe

From “functions” and “tasks” to a “constitutional sense of purpose” of the European Union

The Hague Institute’s Senior Researcher Dr. Joris Larik published an article in the latest issue of the renownedInternational & Comparative Law Quarterly (ICLQ) (Vol. 63, Issue 4 (2014), pp. 935-962) entitled “From Speciality to a Constitutional Sense of Purpose: On the Changing Role of the Objectives of the European Union”. Dr. Larik argues that while the goals of the European Union (EU) have become increasingly varied and ambitious, they have lost their role of delimiting the powers of the Union. Unlike the “tasks” and “functions” of traditional international organizations, they have rather come to instill a broader sense of purpose in the European polity.

The article proceeds from the observation that following the Lisbon Treaty, as the most recent major reform of the EU and its institutions, the objectives the EU is supposed to pursue have become more numerous and ambitious than ever.

In 1957, the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community (EEC), only stipulated a single objective for the EEC, i.e. establishing the Common Market (Article 2). Today, the Treaty on European Union states as the overall aim of the EU “to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples”. Internally, this includes next to an economically prosperous and competitive internal market also maintaining an “area of freedom, security and justice”.

Regarding the EU’s “relations with the wider world”, the Treaty furthermore vows that the Union shall contribute to, among many other things, “the sustainable development of the Earth”, “free and fair trade”, “eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights”, and “the strict observance and the development of international law” (Article 3). Hence, in terms of Europe and its contribution to Global Justice, the EU Treaty sets a rather high bar for the Union institutions to live up to.

But whatever one may think of these goals as political desiderata, and however optimistic (or not) one may see the chances of them being met, also an important legal question imposes itself which the article seeks to answer by harnessing insights from both the law of international organizations and comparative constitutional law: what place do these objectives assume within EU law?

The argument advanced by Dr. Larik is that this position is now markedly different from that of the tasks enshrined in the original European Communities, and even the pre-Lisbon Community and Union, due to the maturing nature of the EU’s legal order.

In essence, today more objectives do not equal more power, much less the need for a complete revamping of the Union’s power structure and nature. Rather, they entail more obligations and guidance for the exercise of power. The EU no longer justifies its existence solely by striving for a particular set of goals. Rather, these norms represent an entrenched duty to pursue these objectives through the actors, structures and procedures available, regardless of the Union’s ultimate form (finalité).

International & Comparative Law Quarterly (ICLQ) was founded in 1952 and is the flagship journal of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law. It has maintained its pre-eminence as one of the most important journals of its kind and it continues to offer practitioners and academics wide topical coverage without compromising rigorous editorial standards. The journal encourages innovative and original articles of the highest standard that explore the interconnectedness between the legal subject areas, moving across the boundaries that divide the law in a way that provides vital analysis at a time when formal distinctions, in scholarship and between jurisdictions, are becoming less relevant.

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