The Judicial Battle over Mutual Trust in the EU: Recent Cracks in the Façade

von Daniel Halberstam

In a little-noticed decision in April, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) significantly revised its approach to the doctrine of mutual trust among the member states. Even though the decision was issued only as an interpretation of the European Arrest Warrant, it will have profound consequences for the Area of Freedom Security and Justice more generally, including ongoing controversies concerning refugees.


Mutual trust in the area of freedom, security, and justice has been at the center of judicial disagreement across Europe. Well known, for instance, is the longstanding skirmish between the CJEU and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg about the limits of the Dublin system’s requirement that a refugee be returned to the Member State of first entry for processing. The ECtHR has held that any court – a court of an EU member state – must first conduct an individualized inquiry to ensure that a refugee not be returned to another state if such return would create a “real risk” that the individual will suffer inhuman and degrading treatment. The CJEU, by contrast, has insisted that the EU’s foundational principle of mutual trust constrains such inquiries by one member state into the affairs of another. The CJEU limited a refugee’s claim against return to the member state of first entry to cases in which there is proof of a “systemic deficiency” in the member state of first entry. The CJEU’s insistence on “systemic” risk thus potentially foreclosed certain individualized claims of harm, unless they were accompanied by proof of broader deficiencies in the recipient country that were system wide. Member State courts caught in the middle between these two doctrines have shown some resistance to Luxembourg, with the U.K. Supreme Court, for example, saying it would disregard Luxembourg’s interpretation and heed the U.K.’s obligations to Strasbourg instead ...

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