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Why has the European Court of Justice been so central to the process of integration?

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  1. Introduction.
  2. 1951-1965: The solid foundations of the ECJ.
    1. The European Community a legal entity.
    2. The Treaties of Paris and Rome empowering the ECJ.
    3. The judges' expansive methods.
  3. 1965-1986: The ECJ as the driving force behind integration.
    1. The ECJ at variance with initial technical conception.
    2. Law as a 'mask' and a 'shield' for a 'set of political objectives'.
    3. Extending the scope of the individual rights in EC law.
  4. 1986-2005: A defensive and more cautious case law.
    1. The principle of mutual recognition and unwanted attention.
    2. Moderate 'spill-over' effects and defence of its area of competence.
    3. Increasing criticism of the ECJ.
  5. Conclusion.
  6. Bibliography.

?Law is often still treated as if it were a separate field, clearly distinct from the economic or political spheres? . As the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has never been given a lot of media coverage, most of the time, its role in the integration process is either disregarded or ignored. Although the first judges and advocates general of the institution had set its original rules by March 1953, interests in the Court's political contribution began to arise in the early 1990s, i.e. some forty years later. What role has it played in the integration process? ?Of all Community institutions, the Court has gone furthest in limiting national autonomy, by asserting the principles of superiority of Community law and of the obligation of Member States to implement building acts consistent with Community directives?
Keohane and Hoffmann, 1991 In parallel, European integration is described by Haas as the process ?whereby political actors in several, distinct national settings are persuaded to shift their loyalties, expectations and political activities towards a new centre, whose institutions process or demand jurisdiction over the pre-existing national states?. In order to complete the syllogism, one could say that ?limiting national autonomy? in Keohane and Hoffmann's terms ? i.e. in late intergovernmentalist theory ? equals ?shifting their loyalties? and ?demand jurisdiction over the pre-existing national states? in Haas' terms, i.e. in the neofunctionalist theory. Now that we have our two premises and our middle term, the conclusion can be deduced: the ECJ is the institution which has done the most towards the European integration process.

[...] Thanks to the ECJ, the European integration process had just passed an important milestone: it revealed the will to ?reach out to the individual? expressed in the Treaty through the creation of the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee[29]. The corresponding critique is that the ECJ could have left the role of defender of the individual's rights to these institutions. A judicial organ is not supposed to take political steps, especially steps of such significance as direct effect and supremacy. [...]

[...] Conclusion To sum up, the ECJ has been central to the integration process first because it has had a great potential by definition, by essence, as a Court in charge of interpreting the fundamental Treaties. The judges turned these texts into a constitution to some extent and thus became a sort of Supreme Court, a wise adviser endowed with legal legitimacy. In the last statement, the Court was central in the sense that it was on top of the legal pyramid. [...]

[...] They claim that the ECJ has been ?courting the national courts' so as to make them increase their of article which is the one related to the preliminary rulings procedure. This is also a key condition for gaining some effective power and thus playing an important role in the European integration process. Indeed, ?article 177 allows national courts, seized of a dispute which raises questions concerning Community law, to ask the ECJ which interpretation should be given to relevant EC provisions or to question the validity of acts of the institutions?[20]. [...]

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