A Constitutional Defense of CJEU Opinion 2/13 on EU Accession to the ECHR (and the way forward)

von Daniel Halberstam

The Court of Justice of the European Union has arrived! Gone are the days of hagiography, when in the eyes of the academy the Court could do no wrong. The judicial darling, if there is one today, is Strasbourg not Luxembourg. Only hours after Opinion 2/13 struck down the Draft Agreement (“DA”) on EU Accession to the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR”), scholars condemned the opinion as “exceptionally poor.” Critical voices mounted ever since, leading to nothing short of widespread “outrage.”

I disagree with the critics. In an article, “‘It’s the Autonomy, Stupid!’ A Modest Defense of Opinion 2/13 on EU Accession to the ECHR, and a Way Forward” forthcoming in the German Law Journal, I provide the first comprehensive legal analysis and constitutional reconstruction explaining why the Court’s concerns are mostly warranted. I also identify the changes that must be – and reasonably can be – made to move accession forward. Finally, and in a twist of irony, I show that one of the Court’s greatest concerns – mutual trust – goes to the very survival of the Union and demands not an exemption, but full accession.

My defense is not a nostalgic plea for a return to gentler days. To the contrary, as a critic on record of both the CJEU[1] and the Bundesverfassungsgericht,[2] I have little patience for judicial hagiography. No court is an entirely innocent actor. Opinion 2/13’s abrasive and uncompromising style, to which the title of my article alludes, suggests Strasbourg is not welcome in Luxembourg. Wary of its younger overburdened sibling, the CJEU seems intent on guarding its privileged judicial position in Europe.

And yet, dismissing the Court as selfish would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The bracing exchange of pluralism, which I support, lacks value (and values) if constitutionalism is not part of the mix ...

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