Constitutional Pluralism and Loyal Opposition

Image by Udo Pohlmann

Dr. Tom Flynn, Lecturer in Law at the University of Essex, has recently had an article published in the International Journal of Constitutional Law (I•CON) as part of a symposium on last year’s controversial PSPP judgment of the German Federal Constitutional Court (GFCC).

In that judgment, the GFCC for the first time declared a judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to be ultra vires. As the symposium in I•CON demonstrates, this decision has come in for sustained attack from many quarters, and defences of it are partial at best.

Most significantly, critics decry the PSPP judgment of the GFCC for giving succour to the authoritarian governments of particular Member States, most notably Hungary and Poland: if Germany can defy the primacy of EU law, then surely every other Member State can too?

In this context, Dr. Flynn analyses PSPP in the light of previous national court decisions (Italian, Danish, Czech, and Hungarian) that challenged the CJEU’s conception of the primacy of EU law, and argues that it cannot, on its own, be used to justify the imposition or adoption of an absolutist conception of the primacy of EU law.

Instead, we can reconceive national court objection to the CJEU’s conception of primacy as a form of ‘loyal opposition’, analogous to the political concept, where mere opposition to the tendencies and policies of the current government must not be regarded as being somehow disloyal or unspeakable.

The theory of constitutional pluralism, which conceptualises the relationship between EU constitutional law and that of the Member States as being heterarchical rather than hierarchical, must therefore not be regarded as being inherently dangerous, or as an expression of some kind of retrograde ‘sovereigntism’.

Rather, we must pay close attention to the reasoning and justification of any given instance of national disapplication of EU law. This is particularly so in the context of a Union that is showing itself increasingly ill-equipped to handle the rise of authoritarianism in the Member States: just as not all expressions of national constitutional primacy are wicked, not all expressions of Union primacy are good.

Dr. Flynn instead proposes a ‘legitimacy test’, whereby we can learn to distinguish principled, reasoned, ‘loyal’ opposition in the EU constitutional space from unprincipled, unreasoned, ‘disloyal’ constitutional backsliding.

The full citation of Dr. Flynn’s new article is: Tom Flynn, Constitutional pluralism and loyal opposition, International Journal of Constitutional Law, Volume 19, Issue 1, January 2021, Pages 241–268, https://doi.org/10.1093/icon/moab035.

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