Sovereignty, Article 4(2) TEU and the Respect of National Identities: Swinging the Balance of Power in Favour of the Member States?

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The question of whether and to what extent sovereignty has been transferred to the European Union (EU) from its Member States remains a central debate within the EU and is interlinked with issues such as Kompetenz-Kompetenz, direct effect and primacy. Central to any claim to sovereignty is the principle of primacy, which requires that Member States uphold EU law over national law where there is a conflict. However, limitations to primacy can traditionally be found in national jurisprudence and the Maastricht Treaty introduced a possible EU limitation with the requirement that the EU respect national identities of Member States. The Lisbon Treaty provided only minimal further support to the principle of primacy whilst simultaneously developing the provision on national identities, now found within Article 4(2) TEU. There are indications from the literature, national constitutional courts and the Court of Justice of the EU that the provision is gathering strength as a legal tool and is likely to have a wider scope than the text might indicate. In its new role, Article 4(2) TEU bolsters the Member States’ claim to sovereignty and the possibility to uphold aspects crucial to them in conflict with EU law and the principle of primacy. Consequently, it is central to the relationship between the constitutional courts of the Member States and the CJEU, and where the final elements of control remain in ‘hard cases’. However, it does so as part of EU law, thereby facilitating the evasion of direct fundamental conflicts and reflecting the concept of constitutional pluralism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-334
Number of pages37
JournalYearbook of European Law
Issue number1
Early online date14 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Sovereignty
  • national identity
  • EU law
  • Constitutional pluralism
  • primacy
  • supermacy


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