EUstitia: Institutionalizing Justice in the European Union

Hartnell, Helen Elizabeth | January 1, 2002

Madame Guigou’s prediction that a “single judicial space” might be in place by the year 2020 signals a brave new horizon for the rule of law in the European Union. Yet even her dramatic claim fails to convey the range, depth, and momentum of changes wrought by the Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam in the realm of justice. The European Union is installing new infrastructure upon which to build a “genuine European area of justice.” This “European judicial area” constitutes a key component of the “area of freedom, security and justice” (“AFSJ”). The Amsterdam Treaty added the AFSJ as a dimension of the Union, in order to promote the free movement of persons. “EUstitia” is a neologism that aims to capture both pragmatic and aspirational aspects of this new European governance project. The term is used here to refer solely to the civil law component of the AFSJ. This article both examines EUstitia’s key features, and explores the implications of institutionalizing civil justice in the European Union. In particular, it contextualizes and examines measures that have been taken, proposed, or planned to establish the “genuine European area of justice” since the Amsterdam Treaty entered into effect in May 1999. EUstitia comprises the “communitarization” of private international law, together with other measures related to “judicial cooperation in civil matters.” The European Union’s efforts to create a “genuine area of justice . . . based on the principles of transparency and democratic control” have been rapid and dramatic. Yet, however remarkable the initial burst of activity, the European Union has just crossed the threshold of this burgeoning field of law- and policy-making. The developments surveyed in this article are the leading edge of a wave that will alter the European legal landscape in the years ahead.