August 13, 2015

Book Review: Elke Cloots, National Identity in EU Law (Oxford 2015) (Pietro Faraguna, NYU & Trieste)

We are pleased to share this review of Elke Cloots' book National Identity in EU Law, published earlier this year by Oxford University Press, from network member Pietro Faraguna (NYU & Trieste).

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In an era in which the dominant narrative is that of an increasingly interconnected world, Europe seems to be in the grip of a strong counter-narrative, with a call for nations and nationalism growing steadily over the last twenty-five years. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe’s borders were redrawn along increasingly ethnic lines, with the collapse of the last multinational States within the core of Europe (Czech and Slovak Republics), at its borders (Yugoslavia) or beyond (USSR). A massive amount of literature in historical, political and sociological science has focused on this phenomenon in recent years, but it has been relatively neglected in legal scholarship. In European Union (EU) scholarship in particular, many authors have preferred to focus on the challenges of a post-national order, including the implications of the Member States’ surrender of sovereignty and the gradual erosion of distinctively national claims. Elke Cloots’ book on “National Identity in EU law” aims to fill this gap in the EU law literature.

Cloots’ book is divided into two main sections. The first section is primarily concerned with a theoretical analysis of the notion of national identity in EU law, and adopts an innovative perspective.  The author devotes her attention not only to the classic legal dimension of the obligations deriving from Art. 4(2) of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU), but she investigates also a moral dimension of the duty to respect Member States’ national identities. On Cloots’ account, thus, the legal obligation to respect the Member States’ national identities in Art. 4(2) not only serves valuable purposes: it also reflects a moral claim to protection in a multinational polity like the EU. Cloots convincingly demonstrates the compatibility of Art. 4(2) with both liberal nationalism and European cosmopolitanism.

In the second section, the author adopts a more traditional doctrinal approach, investigating the approach of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to the legal duty to respect national identity and investigating the trade-offs that this approach implies. Her view is that the CJEU should attempt to reconcile the apparently incompatible Treaty approaches to national plurality within the EU (integration v. accommodation), rather than preferring one over the other. This part of the book highlights and explores the variety of the decision-making methods that are available to address conflicts between accommodation and integration, and identifies judicial doctrines that may help the CJEU structure these trade-offs in the optimal way. She offers strong grounds to prefer a rule-based style of decision-making to a standard-based one in cases involving conflicts between Treaty provisions and claims based on national identity.

The book’s core conclusion is that the CJEU lacks a principled and coherent view of the position national identity should occupy in EU law. This thesis is structured around five propositions: a lack of transparency of the CJEU case-law; a limited volume of case law on Art. 4(2) TEU; the qualitatively underdevelopment of the case law; significant inconsistencies, ambiguities, and contradictions in the Court’s approach; and, finally, the absence of any reference to national identity in cases where the notion could play a central role.

Overall, Cloots’ book offers a comprehensive overview of a complex and obscure notion, drawing deeply upon the case law of the Member States’ supreme and constitutional courts and offering a valuable and up-to-date account of the CJEU’s case law.  Her distinctive, thoughtful conclusions and sustained analytical attention to the CJEU’s practice make this book a valuable contribution to the effort to improve the legal investigation of the recent resuscitation of national identity claims in the EU. 

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