The European court's political power

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132 Scopus citations


The European Court has emerged as one of the most powerful political institutions in the European Union and the most influential international court in existence. National courts are the linchpins of the European legal system, making European Court decisions enforceable and creating an independent power base for the European Court. This article examines why national courts agreed to take on a role enforcing European law supremacy against their own governments and why national politicians did not stop an institutional transformation of the European legal system which greatly compromised national sovereignty. Competition between lower and higher national courts, each trying to enhance their influence and authority vis-à-vis each other, explains how national legal interpretive barriers and high-court ambivalence regarding the European Court's declaration of European Law Supremacy was overcome. Politicians proved unable to reverse national court acceptance of European law supremacy, and institutional rules kept politicians from sanctioning either national courts or the European Court for judicial activism. Legal doctrine became a form of institution-building, and a mechanism to make international law enforceable was created, giving the European Court the ability to make unpopular decisions and to compel compliance with European law.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)458-487
Number of pages30
JournalWest European Politics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations

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