Is there space for populism in EU law?

In the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Mark Dawson offers ways to understand the relationship between EU law and populism.

The rise of populist movements in Europe has many people wondering whether the European Union’s legal system is strong enough to withstand such a political shift. Populists have questioned central elements of the international order, constitutional states and their fundamental values. This makes Europe and its institutions a key battleground for the future of the constitutional state, writes Hertie School Professor of European Law and Governance Mark Dawson in an article in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. While populist ideas pose a challenge, he says, populism is not necessarily incompatible with EU law.

In the article, “How Can EU Law Respond to Populism?”, Dawson examines how EU law has responded to previous political challenges to draw lessons for a possible ‘populist’ future. He presents three ways to understand the interaction between EU law and populism. EU law may protect itself from populist threats by insulating its institutions from populist contestation, by accommodating populist ideas, or by confronting populist strategies, such as attempts to capture independent domestic institutions (such as Courts).

The idea is to “sketch ideal types, providing a road map of strategies that can be used to articulate the relationship between populism and EU law,” Dawson writes. Naturally, he says, EU citizens will have different ideas as to whether any of these types are desirable.

In dealing with the changes that populism may bring, Dawson concludes: “At its best, EU constitutional law provides a set of tools to navigate such changes: tools which many may might find detrimental to the normative goals upon which the EU was founded. Through such tools, EU law might yet survive the populist wave. Whether such a structure of EU law would be fundamentally worth saving is another matter.”

Read the journal article here.

More about Mark Dawson

  • Mark Dawson, Professor of European Law and Governance