Constitutional Politics in the European Union: Parliamentarization and the Institutionalization of Human Rights

Research question/goal: 

This project has shed light on the question of why the member states of the EU have gradually endowed the European Parliament with more competencies and why human right guarantees have been institutionalized at the EU-level. These two constitutionalization processes can be considered integral for the existence and development of a 'constitutional state'. To explain the constitutionalization of the EU, the project has developed a theory that goes beyond existing rationalist and constructivist explanations of institutional change. This theory sets off with the assumption of strategic action in an international community environment. According to this theory, the constitutionalization of the EU progresses via the mechanism of effective moral pressure and actors' disposition to avoid to be shamed or shunned. It is argued that whenever EU governments agree on further steps of functional integration, these steps threaten to undermine the competencies of national parliaments and of domestic as well as international human right guarantees. Supporters of the constitutionalization of the EU are able to effectively exercise moral pressure on recalcitrant governments by highlighting that functional integration undermines fundamental liberal-democratic values. As a consequence, the powers of the European Parliament will be enhanced and human rights institutionalized in EU treaty reforms. To test this theoretical argument, the project conducted a set of quantitative and qualitative comparative case studies. These case analyses were diachronic, looking at constitutionalization processes between 1950 and 2004, and synchronic, highlighting different aspects of constitutionalization in the two areas under scrutiny. The empirical findings support the 'constitutionalization hypothesis' which posits that constitutionalization progresses, if a proposed step of European integration is perceived to undermine the powers of the European Parliament or human rights provisions and if the norm in question carries a high degree of legitimacy.

Fact sheet

Thyssen Stiftung
2003 to 2006
Data Sources: 
qualitative comparison, process-tracing analysis
Geographic Space: 



Rittberger, Berthold, and Frank Schimmelfennig (Eds.) (2006): Die Europäische Union auf dem Weg in den Verfassungsstaat. Frankfurt/New York: Campus. [Mannheimer Jahrbuch für Europäische Sozialforschung; 10] more
Holzinger, Katharina, Christoph Knill, Dirk Peters, Berthold Rittberger, Frank Schimmelfennig and Wolfgang Wagner (Eds.) (2005): Die Europäische Union. Theorien und Analysekonzepte. Paderborn: Schöningh (UTB). more
Rittberger, Berthold (2005): Building Europe's Parliament: Democratic Representation Beyond the Nation-State. Oxford: Oxford University Press. more