The EU as a Democratic Polity in International Law


On June 28, 2011 a conference was held about the European Union as a Polity in International Law at the Academy Hall of the Peace Palace, The Hague, The Netherlands. The conference was held at the initiative of Mr. Jaap Hoeksma, Director of Euroknow. This initiative was supported by Dr P. H. Kooijmans, Prof Dr L-J Brinkhorst, Dr W.F. van Eekelen, Dr W.van Gerven and Dr Th. van Boven.

From its inception, the main goal of the European Union and its integration in the legal as well as political systems of the Member states has been faced with conceptual problems regarding the final goal of the establishment of the European Union. The purpose of the conference was to discuss whether the Lisbon Treaty has overcome the problems by constructing the EU as a democratic polity without turning the Union into a state. If so, what are the consequences for the place of the EU as a polity in international law and for its role in international relations? [1].

The audience consisted of a cross-section of Members of the European Parliament and national parliaments, judges of the ECJ and national constitutional courts, civil servants of the EU-institutions and the national administrations, representatives of the governments of the Member states, members of the corps diplomatique as well as members of the academic community and representatives of the media, staff members of the International Court of the former Yugoslavia ( ICTY) and staff members of the Carnegie Foundation.

Chairman Professor Steven Blockmans (T.M.C. Asser Instituut The Hague, University of Leuven) welcomed all attendees and gave a short introduction regarding the main themes of the conference.

Professor Laurens-Jan Brinkhorst (Leiden University, former Minister for European Affairs) opened the conference with a short lecture about the legal status of the EU. Brinkhorst stated that these are difficult times for the EU. The main concern is whether the EU as a polity in international law has achieved enough identity to withstand the “attack on EU governance”. Are we confined to European citizenship or a union of independent states? Will the EU go back to a Westphalian phase of the concept of sovereignty or will we become a ‘United States of Europe’, an EU super state or a union of independent states? What will be the nature of the EU? Brinkhorst stated that the EU needs to create a new framework, one voice. The European Union needs to represent the Member states as a transnational democracy at a global level.

HE Judge Bruno Simma (International Court of Justice, The Hague) held a lecture about the place of the EU in international law. Simma expressed that his passion is in public international law but that he has 30 years of experience in teaching European Union law. Furthermore, Simma mentioned that the concept of the EU is difficult to comprehend. He stated that the EU is a “thing for which lawyers have no name”. According to Simma, the European Court of Justice is mainly responsible for the development of community law. Whereas in the early stages, according to EU jurisprudence, EU law was regarded as a new legal order of international law. Over time, the EU legal system evolved in an autonomous legal system or a lex specialis, separate from international law. The argument of autonomy has served as a basis of hierarchy/superiority of the EU law over national law. This has led to a constitutional basis in national law of the Member states. Judge Simma concluded his lecture stating that there is no need for EU Law to emancipate from International law. To Judge Simma, such an attempt can be considered overkill: “Neither is it possible to totally detach EU Law from international law, they remain connected in many respects, both in positive and negative ways”.

The academic research of Professor Michael Burgess (University of Kent, UK), is focused on comparative federalism, the European Union, Canadian federalism and constitutional politics and British Constitutional Politics. His lecture was titled “The emergence of the EU from a federal perspective”.In his lecture Professor Burgess emphasized the importance of the Schuman Declaration and the difficult circumstances in which the European Union came into existence. He stated that we know where we’ve been even though we might not where we’re going. Monnet, the founding father of the European Union, was convinced that Europe was to become a federalist union with economic development as its main priority. Professor Burgess also spoke about the legacy of Monnet. He stated that Monnet believed that the institutions that make up the European Union should be built on political trust.According to professor Burgess, the shadow of Monnet is still alive today. With regard to the question of federalism, he concluded that the European Union is a new federal model.

The third and last lecture was given by Professor Christiaan Timmermans (Erasmus University Rotterdam). Professor Timmermans, who served as judge at the Court of Justice of the European Union from 2000 – 2010, talked about the role of the Court of Justice in the evolution of the EU into a democratic polity of states and citizens. In his lecture, he mainly focused on the evolution of the EU treaties and the relation between Member states and the EU and the concept sovereignty. The purpose of all the EU treaties is to bring the Union closer to European Integration. He argued that special attention should be given to bringing the Union closer to the citizens of the Member states. This can be considered as a role of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

At the end of the conference all the attendees received a board game, called Eurocracy’, about the EU and a Constitution for the EU. The board game was created by Jaap Hoeksma. The game has been used in the spring of 2005 in preparation for a referendum concerning the constitution for Europe.


[1] The EU as a democratic polity in international law, Asser Institute.