CIVICA Research project on the politics of the EU judiciary is focus of EUI-Hertie conference

Scholars convene to examine the resilience of the EU political order and role of the judiciary.

Scholars from across the CIVICA European university alliance met on 16-17 June at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence to discuss how politicisation of the EU judiciary affects the European constitutional order. The conference brought together scholars involved in the CIVICA Research project, “Contesting the Court: Examining Judicial Politics in the European Union”. It was organised by Hertie School Professor of European Law and Governance Mark Dawson, Professor Bruno de Witte of the EUI and Professor Elise Muir of the KU Leuven.

The 18-month CIVICA Research project gathered leading lawyers and political scientists in the CIVICA network to examine the constitutional resilience of the EU political order and the role of the judicial branch in safeguarding its basic principles ¬– a key research priority of the eight-member university alliance.

Decisions of European Courts are increasingly contested

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has long been considered an important actor in European integration, but its role is being increasingly contested, says the Hertie School’s Mark Dawson. National courts and scholars have labelled some rulings as “activist”, and in other cases complained that the ECJ failed to defend European values. The CIVICA Research project aims to examine the causes and outcomes of this increasing contestation of the EU judiciary.

Today, in Europe as in the US, Courts are more at risk of being seen as politicized actors, says Dawson, noting the negative reaction of some national courts to decisions of the ECJ. “This project is really about the response of courts at the European level to national contestation. In some areas, the EU Courts are re-asserting their authority – the more contested they are, the more they insist on their judicial role.” But this differs depending on the issue, he notes. For example, on core value-based issues such as the rule of law, the ECJ is developing an assertive jurisprudence while in other areas, such as internal market rulings, it is showing more deference toward national decisions. 

“This project will bring a deeper analysis of how the Court of Justice reacts to political controversy: what happens when institutions long ignored by politics become the center of political attention?” he says. “From a scientific point of view, it is about how this reaction looks across different policy areas. Do Courts react the same way when the subject is politically more or less sensitive? Does it react differently when dealing with areas regulated legislatively? And how does the ECJ react to assertive rulings coming from national Courts?”

Project will culminate in an open-access book

The June conference was one of several that took place over the course of the project. Six CIVICA member institutions were involved – the Hertie School, Central European University (CEU), London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), EUI, Sciences Po and Bocconi University. The project included experts from all partner institutions and junior researchers from across the CIVICA network, as well as external scholars and practitioners. 

The project will culminate in an open-access book that brings together the various threads of research conducted by the scholars involved. The scholars hope this edited collection will help to disseminate the research results more widely.

By focusing on a common area of interest and using new research on judicialisation in law and political science, the project aims to lay the foundation for broader and more ambitious research collaboration within CIVICA on international Courts and the European constitutional order. 


CIVICA Research brings together researchers from eight leading European universities in the social sciences to contribute knowledge and solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. The project aims to strengthen the research & innovation pillar of the European University alliance CIVICA. CIVICA Research is co-funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. To stay up to date with CIVICA Research developments and opportunities, subscribe to the newsletter

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More about our expert

  • Mark Dawson, Professor of European Law and Governance