The elusive cause and the extensive effect of the principle of supremacy of EU Law

AuthorLyubomira Midelieva
PositionUniversity of Southampton
[2017] University of Southampton Student Law Review Vol.7
The elusive cause and the extensive effect of the principle
of supremacy of EU law
Lyubomira Midelieva
University of Southampton
This paper explores the emergence and impact of the principle of supremacy of
European Union (EU) law. The first part focuses on its origins. It suggests that the
historic-political context in which supremacy emerged seemingly supports the
contention that the principle resulted from judicial activism. However, it also
highlights, and I argue, the purpose and autonomous nature of EU legislation proves
that Member States, rather than activist judges, triggered the supremacy of EU law.
The second part discusses the impact of the principle. It perceives it as two-fold:
supremacy both equipped EU law with constitutional effect and strengthened concerns
over EU law’s lack of essential constitutional characteristics. These concerns prompted
the EU legislature and judiciary to bolster the EU’s democratic legitimacy and enter
the non-mercantile field of protection of human rights. Thus, it is concluded that
supremacy engendered the remarkable transformation of EU law into what now
resembles a fully-fledged Constitution.
rom the remnants of war and terror, the European Union was associated with
the notions of equality, human dignity and democracy. Notably, the significant
growth and prosperity of what is today known as the European Union (“EU”)
are largely owed to the emergence of the principle of supremacy of E U law.139 On the
one hand, the EU ensured the attainment of the main purpose underpinning the
Treaties - the creation of a common market.140 On the other hand, it brought about the
introduction of new objectives onto the European agenda, extending the Treaties
initially narrow focus exclusively on economic integration141 to fields of promotion of
human rights and democracy. Thus, but for supremacy, the Community established in
1957 would probably not have evolved into anything similar to what it is today. This
article will attempt to explore the true meaning and significance of the principle by
139 Paul Craig, Gráinne De Búrca, EU Law: Text, Cases, and Materials (OU P, 6th edn, 2015) p. 4.
140 Consolidated Version of the Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community (2 002) OJ C
325 33-184, Art 2.
141 Craig and Burca, (n 139) 4. The authors link the initial focus on the economic, rather than t he
political, to the demise of more ambitious projects preceding the EEC, such as t he European Defence
Community and the European Political Community. They also note that, although the E EC initially
confined its focus to the economic, ‘[t]he underlying, long-term objective may well have been political’.

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