The College of Europe, Department of European Legal Studies, in collaboration with the SAXO Institute of the University of Copenhagen, organized a high-level international conference exploring history of European law on Friday, 12 June 2015, under the title “Towards a New History of European Law”.
In contemporary Europe, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) functions as a uniquely authoritative international court. Its key doctrines – direct effect and supremacy – ensure a relatively effective enforcement of European legislation compared to standard international organizations. Likewise, the system of preliminary references sent from national courts to the ECJ has given voice to private litigants across Europe to pursue the rights given to them by the European treaties and legislation. In fact, the ECJ has today become so central in the EU that sympathetic academic observers claim that it has become a European Supreme Court of sorts and that it has built a constitutional, proto-federal legal order. How did this happen? How could a set of international treaties, the Treaties of Rome (1957) albeit of a somewhat unusual nature, lead to the establishment of a ‘constitutional practice’? What effects did the ‘constitutional practice’ have on the nature of the European legal order in terms of enforcement and efficiency? And to what extent did national governments and legal elites in the member states accept this development?
Whereas legal and social science research has studied the ECJ and the development of European law for decades, the historiography of European integration has until recently ignored the role of law in the European construction. This conference, jointly organized by the College of Europe, Department of European Legal Studies, and the Saxo Institute of the University of Copenhagen addressed this lacuna by presenting the results of the first large international research project – Towards a New History of European Public Law – on the history of European law from 1950 to 1993. The aim of the conference was not only to evaluate the results in an interdisciplinary light, but also challenge them with the help and insights and memories of the former insiders.