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European Values in Context: Challenges and Comparative Insights

Among the multiple crises that have affected the European Union (EU) over the last decade, the challenges to the founding values of the EU occupy a central position. The values laid down in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) – respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities – are supposed to lie at the heart of the supranational constitutional project and, crucially, to be “common to the Member States”. Furthermore, the founding values of the EU might also perform other distinctive functions: promoting cohesion among the citizens of the Union, shaping a common identity, testifying to the advance and achievements in the supranational constitutionalisation process. However, legal and political developments in the last decade have shown that the basic consensus around these values is possibly far from being settled.

Constitutional crises and constitutional backsliding in some Member States (MSs), notably in Central and Eastern Europe, have been the most visible manifestation of a state of uneasiness regarding the current legal scenario. Constitutional evolution (sometimes labelled as retrogression or backsliding) in Hungary and Poland and threats to the rule of law in a number of MSs, including Romania and Slovakia, have given rise to political reactions and to academic discussion. Most of all, the weaknesses of the value enforcement mechanisms in Article 7 TEU, famously defined a nuclear option by former Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso, have been carefully analysed and criticised. This has led the Commission and other institutions to develop a number of alternative strategies in order to tackle the challenges arising from some Central and Eastern European countries. A few examples might be cited: the preventive EU Rule of Law Framework launched by the European Commission, strategic resort to infringement procedures by the Commission itself, the discussion about some form of budget conditionality during negotiations on the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework. Meanwhile, the academic debate has addressed the same problems from three main vantage points: the need to take EU citizenship seriously, the meaning and implication of Article 2 values, most notably the rule of law, and the possibility of thinking of the EU as a militant democracy, adopting a proactive course of action in order to defend its basic constitutional core. In the run-up to the European election of May 2019 and immediately afterwards, the role of values within the evolving law of European political parties has been considered more and more carefully. Indeed, Regulation no. 1141/2014 makes registration as a European political party dependent, among other requirements, upon compliance with the founding values of the EU. The rise of populist and hard Eurosceptic parties, both in the “old” and “new” MSs, has increasingly drawn public attention to the procedure for (de-)registering European political parties.

This JM Module is based on the following key points. First, it aims to spread knowledge of a crucial component of European constitutional law, i.e. the place and functions of the founding values, through a number of teaching activities and events, including a workshop and a final conference. The training activities will be aimed at students but also at representatives of national institutions and civil society. The Module also seeks to develop a critical approach towards the possible ways of protecting the values of the EU and to make proposals on how they could be enforced, also based on institutional practice in some selected federal or multilevel jurisdictions. The comparative focus of some of the training activities will allow highlighting the distinctive features of the case of the European Union. In terms of method, the legal approach will be complemented by other disciplines, notably political science and political philosophy. Moreover, the analysis of crucial EU law issues will take advantage of the extensive resort to comparative law. In terms of contents, the JM Module will be based on a background hypothesis: Article 2 values may serve different purposes but a unitary, consistent consideration of their implications is needed. In order to achieve these goals, the Module will be divided into three subsections distributed over three years, with 40 hours of activities and events per year.

The Module will strengthen the training activities of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (hereinafter also SSSA) in the areas of EU constitutional law and comparative public law. The proposal builds on research and training experience acquired by SSSA staff in the areas of comparative federalism, EU constitutional law, and the crisis and reform of the enforcement mechanisms of Article 7 TEU. Furthermore, this Module will spread the knowledge of EU law not only among undergraduate and PhD students but also among a wider audience, including civil society and officials of the national institutions.