Looking for the ‘Justice’ in EU civil and private law?

It is great to see this debate on the EU justice deficit. To me this debate goes to the fundamental issue of legitimacy, with which the EU continues to grapple. However I have one regret, which relates to the lack of attention devoted to the European Union’s justice deficit in the area of civil and private law. All of us enter into private law obligations throughout our lives, making small contracts, buying property, inheriting property, being involved in an accident; the list is endless. The justice or injustice consequences of these civil law interactions, in terms of the way in which these obligations operate, are construed and adjudicated upon which can dramatically impact individuals and society.

For me this was a recurring worry as an MEP for 12 years (1999-2012). Throughout this time I was an active member of the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, originally the Legal Affairs and Internal Market Committee. It was this policy committee’s role to deal with most of the civil and commercial law policy and legislation. I had this nagging doubt that somehow we did not spend enough time talking about the overall justice implications of what we were doing. This in the most basic sense, of examining the fairness of various political options in terms of the outcomes caused by constructing the law in a particular way. The guiding mantra always seemed to be the Internal Market with justice issues hiding in the back ground and presented mainly under the heading ‘access to justice’ rather than the content of the law itself.

Often I tried to explain to parliamentary colleagues from other committees the crucial nature of what I thought we were doing, or maybe could do. I watched as their eyes glazed over, my own enthusiasm was not enough to convince. The Legal Affairs Committee tended to be a quiet, perhaps unexciting rather technical committee in the way it was perceived ...

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