ELG: European Law and Governance

The European Union is by any standards an unconventional polity. It is neither a federal state, nor a loose confederation of states, nor an international organisation. It does not express the will of a single European people or demos. Decision-making authority in most policy fields is shared horizontally among EU institutions and vertically between the Union and the member states.

National officials, local and regional authorities, private interest groups, and civil society organisations are all deeply involved in implementing the Union’s policies. These characteristics pose significant challenges to the role of law in controlling and limiting the exercise of public authority in the EU. Despite its unconventional political structure, however, the EU regularly manages not only to avoid deadlock, but also arguably to produce innovative regulation of equal if not superior quality to that of other developed democracies like the US and Japan. It does so across many policy domains from competition, environmental sustainability, product safety, and consumer protection to data privacy, anti- discrimination, and fundamental rights.

Novel forms of governance

Crucial to such regulation in many cases are novel forms of governance that diverge from standard hierarchical or command -and-control models by their reliance on coordinated learning from decentralised experimentation to advance broad common goals. Because the EU has had to face problems of rising uncertainty under conditions of deep internal diversity and shared authority with the member states, it appears to have found its way to such governance solutions more quickly and consistently than other polities.

Urgent questions

  • The EU’s unconventional political structure and innovative governance in turn raise a host of urgent questions, whose significance reaches well beyond the academy:
  • How do old and new forms of EU governance actually work in different policy fields, and how effective are they in practice?
  • Is the EU’s current political structure adequate to meet the challenges raised by the euro crisis, or must it develop more centralised institutions and policies, at least in certain fields?
  • To whom is EU decision-making accountable, and through what channels and mechanisms? How can core constitutional values such as the rule of law be secured within old and new forms of governance, in compliance with the principle of subsidiarity?
  • In particular, what role should courts play in this multi-level system?
  • Can EU governance be considered democratically legitimate, and if so, according to what criteria?


Affiliated researchers