Anna Wallerman

År: 2017 // Anslagsförvaltare: Göteborgs universitet //

Område: Rättsvetenskap post doc // Belopp: 1 592 537 kr

Min forskning

Som man frågar får man svar? Den hänskjutande domstolens inflytande på EU-domstolens förhandsavgörande

En domstol kan begära förhandsavgörande från EU-domstolen i ett mål där EU-rätt är tillämplig. EU-domstolen avgör då i en dom hur EU-rätten ska tolkas, både i det målet och i framtiden. 

Sådana förhandsavgöranden har stor betydelse för EU-rättens utveckling. Det är dock de nationella domstolarna som avgör om ett mål ska hänskjutas till EU-domstolen för förhandsavgörande, som formulerar vilka frågor EU-domstolen ska svara på, och som sätter dessa frågor i ett sammanhang. De kan också ge sin egen syn på hur frågorna bör besvaras. Förhandsavgörandeproceduren ger på så vis de nationella domstolarna en möjlighet att gå i direkt dialog med EU-domstolen. 

Projektet ska undersöka om och hur de hänskjutande domstolarna genom att begära förhandsavgörande och genom hur de utformar sina skrifter till EU-domstolen kan påverka hur EU-rätten utvecklas. Analysen kommer att visa dels om de domstolarna försöker påverka EU-domstolen, och dels om EU-domstolen faktiskt låter sig påverkas av hur den hänskjutande domstolen argumenterar och formulerar sig. 

Resultatet av projektet kommer att öka vår förståelse av EU:s rättsväsende och särskilt de nationella domstolarnas roll och betydelse. Detta kan få effekter för hur de nationella domstolarna, och de enskilda som processar vid dem, agerar i framtiden.

Mer om forskningsprojektet

The preliminary ruling procedure under Article 267 in the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) provides that the European Court of Justice (ECJ), at the request of national courts in the Member States, can deliver rulings on the interpretation or validity of EU law. Throughout the years the preliminary ruling procedure has given rise to many milestone judgments and some of the most characteristic traits of EU law, most famously the doctrines of supremacy and direct effect. 

The preliminary ruling procedure is often described as a dialogue between the ECJ and its national counterparts. By virtue of its role in the preliminary ruling procedure, the national court has a direct channel of communication with the ECJ. It is for the national court to decide if and when to request a preliminary ruling, to formulate the questions and to provide the Court’s first impression of the issue at stake. Furthermore, in its order for reference (OfR) the national court has the opportunity to criticise previous ECJ judgments, defend points of domes¬tic law or national identity, or invite the Court to strike a new balance. For these reasons it has been claimed in literature that the referring national courts are influential actors and collaborators in the judicial development of Union law.

These claims have, however, not been substantiated. The proposed project seeks to close this gap. If it is true that the national courts through their references for preliminary rulings have the power to influence the ECJ and thereby the direction of EU law development, this would provide an incentive for a different approach to preliminary rulings from the national judiciaries. 

In the idea of a dialogue lies an assumption of agency on the part of both interlocutors, as well as mutual exchange and reception of ideas. The agency – sometimes labelled activism – of the ECJ has been vividly debated, and that its voice is heard by its individual interlocutors and beyond can hardly be questioned. This study will focus on the other, and less discussed, side of the exchange – that provided by the national courts. 

Previous studies have asserted that activism is not an exclusive prerogative of the ECJ. National courts, too, tend to act in furtherance of certain interests. Several studies have discussed the willingness of national judiciaries to turn to the Court of Justice with requests for preliminary rulings. It has in this connection been suggested that national courts strategically neglect requesting preliminary rulings in order to avoid undesirable precedents.

When it comes to more active participation in the preliminary ruling dialogue, the national courts’ use of preliminary references in order to promote a particular legal position has also been subject to research, particularly from a political science perspective. Drawing on a dataset of free movement and gender equality cases from mainly German, Dutch and British courts, Nyikos has argued that national courts do make strategic use of the possibility to refer cases. She finds inter alia that the referring courts have submitted opinions on the questions in 41 percent of the cases, with lower instance courts being more active than courts of final instance. In a Swedish context, Leijon and Karlsson have studied the references sent from Swedish courts on all levels of the judiciary between 1995 and 2009. They conclude inter alia that the cases referred from Swedish courts are relatively equally distributed on the scale from the unpolitical to the highly politically sensitive cases, and that the referring court offers an opinion in 52 percent of the cases. 

It thus appears to be clear that national courts, like the ECJ, take active positions in the preliminary ruling dialogue. It has however not been established to what extent the national courts’ voices are heard and their actions produce the desired effects; none of the previous studies examine to what extent the Court of Justice has been influenced by the views offered by the national courts. Furthermore, both Nyikos’ and Leijon and Karlsson’s studies rely solely on the materials produced by the ECJ: judgments and, in the study by Leijon and Karlsson, Advocate General (AG) opinions. This means that the arguments and preferences of the national courts must be deduced from the judgments or AG opinions., which can be suspected to constitute a source of errors in their research.

The objective of the proposed project is to establish whether and to what extent national courts are able to influence the outcome reached by the ECJ by the way they draft their requests for preliminary rulings. 

In a first stage of the study it needs to be established to what extent national courts seek to influence the ECJ or in other ways take an active interest in the development of Union law through their OfRs. In other words, to what extent do national courts make strategic use of the preliminary ruling institute in order to influence the development of Union law? As we have seen, this question has already been subject to research. However, the proposed study will be able to provide a fuller and more nuanced picture by relying directly on the documents provided by the referring courts. 

The results of the analysis of referring court practise will constitute a first finding of the project, but will also serve as a stepping stone for the analysis of ECJ judgments in the light of the OfRs. This analysis will provide the answer to the main research question: To what extent does the Court of Justice allow itself to be influenced by the referring court? In answering this question, the project will be able to verify or qualify claims previously levelled but supported only anecdotally, or not at all, in legal scholarship, about the influential role of the national courts in the preliminary reference procedure. The project is therefore reaching beyond the current edge of knowledge in the field, adding to our understanding of the interplay between national and Union levels of judicial law-making and to the ongoing debate about the role of courts and the judiciary in society.