The European Court of Justice and National Courts: The German Constitutional Perspective After the Maastricht Decision

3 Colum. J. Eur. L. 229 (1997)

Dieter Grimm. Dr. iur. (Frankfurt); LL.M. (Harvard); Professor of Law, University of Bielefeld; Justice of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany.


As a matter of political taxonomy, the European Community is still a novelty in want of a convincing label. Thus for the time being we can only describe it by distinguishing it from traditional forms. On the one hand, the Community is not a state because it has too little sovereign power. On the other hand, the Community is not an international organization because it possesses too much sovereign power. The sovereign authority it exercises with direct effect within the Member States distinguishes it from ordinary international organizations. Its inability to determine autonomously the form and substance of its own political existence distinguishes the Community from a state. Both its basis and its authority are in effect determined by the Member States. The Community, therefore, is a hybrid that is without either precedent or imitation. As such it creates a number of classificatory problems which cannot be solved by reverting to familiar concepts. There is little help to be found in analogy to domestic law. This is true not only for the general character of the European polity but also for the relationship between national and European Community courts. The solution lies in an analysis of the relationship between the national legal orders and their European Community counterpart, as well as between constitutional courts and lower national courts.