09 March 2013

Rawls, Rights Hierarchies and the CJEU

'Fundamental Rights and the EU Internal Market: Just How Fundamental are the EU Treaty Freedoms? A Normative Enquiry Based on John Rawls’ Political Philosophy' by Nik J. de Boer in (2013) 9(1) Utrecht Law Review 148-168 assesses
whether the EU Treaty freedoms - the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital - should be considered as fundamental rights which are hierarchically equal to other fundamental rights. It uses the political philosophy of John Rawls to assess why we should attach priority to certain rights and which rights should therefore be considered fundamental rights. On this basis it is argued that we should recognise two main types of fundamental rights, namely basic rights and liberties associated with Rawls' first principle of justice and the rights associated with the principle of fair equality of opportunity. This is followed by an analysis of the interpretation that the European Court of Justice (CJEU) gives to the Treaty freedoms. On the basis of the normative framework, it is argued that the Treaty freedoms can be seen as fundamental rights insofar as they embody the value of equality of opportunity. Nonetheless, the CJEU increasingly seems to rely on a broader market access approach rather than an equal treatment approach in interpreting the Treaty freedoms. It is argued that where equal treatment is not at stake, the Treaty freedoms should not be seen as fundamental rights. Therefore, in cases where there is a conflict between a fundamental right and a Treaty freedom the CJEU should carefully distinguish between these two different interpretations of the Treaty freedoms. In cases where it is merely market access that is at stake, the CJEU should regard the protection of fundamental rights as more important, and be very careful in allowing a restriction of fundamental rights in order to protect the exercise of the Treaty freedom. On the other hand, in cases where the Treaty freedoms can be seen as protecting equality of opportunity and where they conflict with other fundamental rights, the Court is justified in construing the conflict as a right-right conflict in which a fair balance has to be sought.