Janek Tomasz Nowak
The case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is the preferred research subject of a majority of EU law scholars. Yet very little research has actually been carried out about the institution that produces that case law. How does the CJEU function internally? Who manages the CJEU? How are responsibilities attributed? What is the status of its members? The saga surrounding the termination of the mandate of former Advocate General Sharpston has demonstrated that many of these questions are still open, even though the Court has been around for almost seven decades now. This is all the more puzzling since the CJEU’s composition and internal functioning undoubtedly have an impact on the content of the judgments it produces.
While the body of scholarship on these topics is gradually expanding, it largely consists of individual articles or contributions focussing on specific aspects, such as how judges are being selected. Also, many of these contributions have been written by people internal to the CJEU, which means that they are largely descriptive and lack much critical analysis.
This book is different in the sense that it has been written by someone outside of the CJEU and focuses exclusively on the CJEU as an institution. The book is divided into three parts and covers the composition and the organisation of the CJEU, as well as the internal functioning of the Court of Justice. The author mixes a descriptive and historical overview with current debates on controversial and less controversial issues and does not hesitate to take a critical stance towards a number of accepted practices.
It should be pointed out, however, that the book has been published in the ‘Systèmes’ series of LGDJ. This is a series of books that cover ‘in a deliberately synthetic and concrete form, the major legal and social questions in the fields of taxation, local financing, public law, constitutional law and institutions’ (own translation from French). Therefore, one should not expect a comprehensive treatise on the CJEU. The author nevertheless masters the art of synthesis and has brought together all relevant issues in less than two hundred pages, including a wealth of resources. This is excellent news for the primary audience of the book, namely students and researchers, who now have a great book at their disposal to familiarise themselves with the CJEU. The downside of this approach is that discussions or criticisms are not always developed in depth. More seasoned observers of the CJEU may thus be left wanting, although they may find pleasure in discovering forgotten historical facts or institutional technicalities. I learned, for example, that it is the Court’s registrar who represents the CJEU in the Council when the CJEU exercises its right of initiative. Also, the discussion on the management of the CJEU, in particular when it comes to the difficult relationship between the Court and the General Court, will make for interesting reading for any reader, as well as the concise comparative overview of selection procedures for judges and advocates general covering an impressive 15 Member States.
What I find regrettable, however, is that part three of the book only deals with the judicial decision-making process of the Court of Justice. Perhaps the choice not to include the judicial decision-making process of the General Court was again a consequence of the format of the book. It is nevertheless unfortunate as the decision-making process of the General Court differs considerably from that of the Court of Justice. The General Court works in a much more decentralised way, with less power for the plenum (conférence plénière), which is the equivalent of the Court of Justice’s general meeting (réunion générale), and the president. Instead, presidents of chamber exercise considerable powers and important decisions are taken during chamber meetings. Moreover, only rarely does the General Court sit in a Grand Chamber formation whereas this is frequent practice at the Court of Justice. All this means that judgments of the General Court are much less the outcome of a collaborative effort compared to the Court of Justice, where all judges are at some point involved in the judicial decision-making process. The difference between the two courts is not unimportant when trying to understand how the institution works. It also impacts on the question of legitimacy and representativeness, which are two important themes of the book.
This criticism does not detract from the quality of the book, however. The author has produced a well-written introduction to the CJEU as an institution. Comprehensive and concise at the same time, I cannot but recommend this book to students and early stage researchers with an interest in the CJEU. More seasoned observers of the CJEU might also find the book a useful addition to their EU law library.
To conclude, it can only be hoped that the author builds on this work and turns it into a proper treatise on the CJEU as an institution. Having read this book and bearing in mind the author’s thesis on the advocate general, there is little doubt that such a treatise would be an instant EU law classic.
Janek Tomasz Nowak, Lawyer at a law firm in Brussels, Research Fellow at KU Leuven, and Lecturer at MCI Innsbruck