Coping with Vague EU Legal Concepts

  • Martina BajčićEmail author
Part of the Europeanization and Globalization book series (EAG, volume 4)


The notion of vagueness can be explored from both the linguistic and legal perspective. In light of the fact that in law vagueness is often deemed to lead to legal indeterminacy, i.e., a situation where a legal question has no single answer, vagueness has been a topic of interest among legal scholars. Observed from a linguistic perspective on the other hand, vagueness is regarded as a linguistic phenomenon in relation to ambiguity and polysemy. In the case of legal concepts, this basic sense of “vague” takes on additional features, most notably imprecision and uncertainty, which are detrimental to the application and interpretation of the law. Putting the focus on the implications of vagueness for understanding and defining EU legal concepts, this chapter departs from the premise that linguistic theories, and in particular terminology, can provide a better understanding of legal concepts and their role in the field of law. Despite the fact that legal language strives for precision, legal concepts that occupy the central position in legal language insofar as they express legal norms are often indeterminate (This is not to say that all EU legal concepts can be considered vague and indeterminate; however, this chapter concentrates on the difficulty of defining such concepts). This indeterminacy can be attributed to the need to apply legal concepts to different real-life situations in order to regulate the changing social circumstances. This is the case with certain concepts of EU labor law, such as worker. The meaning of “worker” plays second fiddle to issues concerning labor law and the free movement of workers in the EU enshrined in Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (hereinafter TFEU) (Consolidated Version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union 2008 O.J.C 115/47). As a cornerstone of Union citizenship, the freedom of movement of workers hinges on the meaning of “worker.” The recent economic and migrant crisis has once again put the spotlight on the importance of defining a worker and examining the benefits of having a worker status. Nevertheless, the latter concept is not explicitly defined in EU regulations. Instead, its meaning has been established by the Court of Justice of the European Union (hereinafter CJEU) in its settled case law. On hand of examples this chapter illustrates how terminology studies contribute to a better understanding of such open-textured EU concepts and provide adequate tools for coping with their inherent vagueness.


  1. Bajčić M (2017) New insights into the semantics of legal concepts and the legal dictionary. John Benjamins, AmsterdamCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Croft W, Cruse DA (2004) Cognitive linguistics. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cruse A (2000) Aspects of the micro-structure of word meanings. In: Yeal R, Leacock C (eds) Polysemy: theoretical and computational approaches. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 30–31Google Scholar
  4. Engberg J (2015) Autonomous EU concepts: fact or fiction? In: Šarčević S (ed) Language and culture in EU law. Multidisciplinary perspectives. Ashgate, Farnham, pp 169–183Google Scholar
  5. Faber P, López Rodrĭguez CI (2012) Terminology and specialized language. In: Faber P (ed) A cognitive linguistic view of terminology and specialized language. De Gruyter Mouton, Berlin, pp 9–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Langacker R (1987) Foundations of cognitive grammar, vol 1. Stanford University Press, StanfordGoogle Scholar
  7. Rosch E (1978) Principles of categorization: a historical view. In: Rosch E, Lloyd BB (eds) Cognition and categorization. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale, pp 27–48Google Scholar
  8. Rosch E, Mervis CB (1975) Studies in the internal structure of categories. Cogn Psychol 7:573–605CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Temmerman R (2000) Towards new ways of terminology description: the Sociocognitive approach. John Benjamins, AmsterdamCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. White RCA (2011) Revisiting free movement of workers. Fordham Int Law J 33(5):1563–1587Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Law, Department of Foreign LanguagesUniversity of RijekaRijekaCroatia

Personalised recommendations