Designing the ECtHR Project

Designing the ECtHR Project

This study is about the meaning and place of supranational human rights institutions in the world of contemporary nation-states. It studies the European Human Rights System as a case of human rights supranationalism. Forty-seven states with diverse domestic and international preferences recognise the authority of the European Court of Human Rights in deciding how they should treat citizens and non-citizens. The European Human Rights System not only represents a political and legal experiment in international affairs, but it is also an empirical puzzle with regard to the predominant narratives about international institutions and regimes. The supranational model exemplified by the European Court of Human Rights shows that the interactions that sustain this institution are not limited to those of government agents and that models that predict cost-benefit analysis cannot alone explain the persistence of human rights supranationalism in Europe. A diverse range of domestic actors, from judges to members of parliament to human rights lawyers and activists are involved in the operation of this institution. Governments ultimately retain the power to pull out of the system, but as long as they are plugged into it, the supranational institution feeds in from a complex constellation of systems of meanings about legitimacy, authority, special role and contribution for its institutional continuity and impact.

How can we understand this apparent puzzle of supranationalism entrenched into the domestic practice of legislatures, judges and lawyers? What enables the European Court of Human Rights to monitor the use of political power in sovereign countries as diverse as Turkey, Ireland, Bulgaria, Germany and the United Kingdom? Why have an ever-increasing number of states reviewed their own domestic political preferences and policies in the light of decisions by the European Court of Human Rights? What legitimizes the domestic actors’ acceptance of the authority of the European Court of Human Rights? What does the European Court of Human Rights experience mean for our understanding for the persistence and success of supranational institutions?

In order to answer these questions, this study aims to identify and analyse the pool of normative justifications for why domestic actors support the supranational model of the European Court of Human Rights. This study has a constructivist-interpretivist approach to political science research and the study of international courts. The study is constructivist in nature as it emphasises the primacy of context in research and identifies supranationalism as a context-specific practice. The study is interpretivist as it is primarily interested in understanding what motivates legal and political elites to support the European Court of Human Rights and its judgments and what meaning frame could best explain the supranational practices in a diversity of contexts that support it. This approach allows the study to identify the systems of meanings that sustain the European Court of Human Rights and it offers clues about how a supranational model of institution takes root in the issue area of human rights. The study takes questions of legitimacy, authority and compliance further by inquiring into the boundaries of these concepts by asking what characteristics of this system leads it to be viewed as legitimate among the legal and political elites and in what ways compliance is negotiated. The findings of this study will make it possible to set out the logic of supranationalism as a differentiated and distinctive category of understanding of the role of institutions beyond the state as well as how the legitimacy of supranational institutions are built and maintained in politics and to what extent this affects compliance with supranational human rights decisions.

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