Between Autonomy and Dependence: The EU Legal Order Under the Influence of International Organisations—An Introduction

  • Ramses A. Wessel
  • Steven Blockmans


The European Union’s legal order is traditionally perceived as largely autonomous, not only internally (vis-à-vis the Member States), but also externally (in relation to third states and other international organisations). The source of this perception is to be found in the early case law of the Court of Justice. Stressing its autonomy was believed to be necessary to establish an independent identity and could perhaps be seen as a disguised claim to sovereignty, something international organisations—unlike states—have to fight for. These days, ‘autonomy’ has been given a strong constitutional meaning. Yet, the EU displays a certain ‘openness’ and does not seem to have a problem with allowing binding international norms to become part of its legal order, either through accepting international obligations or by referring to international agreements in its own Treaties. With the gradual development of its external relations and the increase of external competences, the EU even revealed its ‘dependence’ on international law and international normative processes, as it had no choice but to accept that in order to be able to play along on the global stage, it had to follow the rules of the game. Increasingly, normative processes take place within international organisations and other norm-generating bodies. The strong and explicit link between the EU and a large number of other international organisations raises questions concerning the impact of decisions taken by other international organisations and of international agreements concluded with those organisations (either by the EU itself or by its Member States) on the autonomy of the EU and its Member States. In this introductory chapter, the editors give a flavour of the questions which will be addressed in the book.


International Monetary Fund International Agreement Legal Order World Intellectual Property Organisation Lisbon Treaty 
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Copyright information

© T.M.C. Asser Press and the author(s) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TwenteEnschedeThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Centre for European Policy StudiesBrusselsBelgium

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