On the 17th of February 2014, this year’s Annual Lecture was delivered by Judge Koen Lenaerts, the Vice-President of the EU Court of Justice, whom DELI had the pleasure and honour of hosting. His lecture was entitled ‘Upholding Union Values in Times of Societal Change: The Role of the Court of Justice of the European Union’ and he stressed the notions of continuity and change in EU law.
After giving a general introduction about the balance between upholding founding values of the EU and adapting to the change in European societies, he divided his lecture into 3 main parts, starting with a discussion of ‘the interaction between EU law and European societies’. In this context, there have been both ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ influences. Whilst the EU elevated democratic principles in the candidate countries for EU accession through imposing the ‘Copenhagen criteria’, the social changes in the Member States, specifically within the context of gender roles, immigration and individual freedom, shaped the direction that the Union has taken. This interaction is woven into EU law and in fact has a significant impact on the considerations the Court makes.
Secondly, Judge Lenaerts dealt with the question of whether the Court has, in fact, facilitated these changes. Distinguishing ‘constitutional consensus’ from ‘legislative consensus’, he drew attention to cases, such as Kadi and Berlusconi, where the Court upheld the highest rank of EU norms, which reflected the ‘constitutional consensus’. However, this does not indicate that the Court does not take into consideration the societal changes, such as gender equality. In Roca Álvarez, the Court derived the principle of equal treatment of men and women from Directive 2006/54 and hold that men, as well as women, should be able to leave work early in order to take care of their children. Judge Lenaerts also tackled the question of how the Court approaches the cases where there is no consensus. He contended that though the Court is not involved in judicial law-making, Member States do not enjoy an absolute discretion and the Court may interfere with this discretion for the sake of upholding EU values, as it did for the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in Hay.
In the third part of the lecture, the interplay between the notions of unity and diversity in EU law was analysed. He explained this interplay by contrasting two CJEU cases, Melloni and Jeremy F. Whilst in Melloni, the Court decided in favour of endeavours to harmonise the grounds for non-recognition of decisions rendered in absentia, Jeremy F. demonstrates that the Court allows national constitutional diversity as well. He concluded the lecture by asserting that through achieving a balance between unity and diversity, the ideal of an ‘ever-closer Union’ can be achieved.
After the lecture, Judge Lenaerts answered individual questions about the system of judicial appointments in the CJEU and the recent case law on Union citizenship. DELI members are very grateful to have had the opportunity to listen to Judge Lenaerts, and DELI would like to offer sincere thanks to him for delivering such a stimulating Annual Lecture. We look very much forward to welcoming him at our Institute again.
The full text of the Annual Lecture can be accessed here.
Student Representative at DELI