Max Planck Law Fellow Group

Independence and Democracy in the European Union:
A Historical and Socio-legal Approach

Over the past decade, the notion of “independence” has become one of the single most ubiquitous yet fuzzy notions of Europe’s transnational politics. Institutions as different as the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the European Commission, constitutional courts, central banks, governments, or regulatory agencies, have engaged in a heated transnational contest over its meaning, scope and counter-balancing principles (the democracy principle, accountability, transparency, etc). Starting from the premise that the notion is neither self-explanatory, nor historically constant, the Max Planck Law Fellow Group engages in a historical and socio-legal inquiry into the trajectory of ‘independence’.

While the notion has been instrumental to the autonomy of national legal fields (independence from politics), it has developed ever since the 1960s as an instrumental lever in relation to the rise of supranational institutions such as the CJEU and the European Central Bank (ECB) (independence for the European project). Most recently, with the rise of populist constitutionalism or the unprecedented role played by central banks, the “independence wars” have expanded to new policy domains raising a new challenge for the definition of democracy, whether national or European.

The project provides an interdisciplinary meeting point between the history of legal concepts and a socio-legal analysis of European legal fields in action. Its first research strand is historical with a view to understand the salient role which the concept has progressively acquired in the context of the EU polity as well as its “rediscovery” in national legal fields from the 1970s onwards and in the context of enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe in 1990s. Its second strand is socio-legal and analyzes the recent progressive politicization of the issue of independence, mapping out the transnational field of (legal and judicial) contention that has emerged over the past two decades in a large variety of policy fields.

The Max Planck Law Fellow Group is headed by Professor Antoine Vauchez, CNRS Research Professor at the Université Paris 1-Sorbonne (Centre européen de sociologie et science politique). It brings together researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (Heidelberg) and the mpilhlt, under the direction of Professors Armin von Bogdandy and Stefan Vogenauer.

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