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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Institutionalization of Sex Equality for Europe: Women Activists and the European Court


In the last forty years, we have witnessed the evolution of an unprecedented form of supranational governance in western Europe. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has played a powerful integrative force in this transformation. This chapter examines how the ECJ has operated to expand the integration project and has done so by serving as a forum for political action by national and transnational social movements. This analysis studies this integrative dynamic through the evolution of sex equality policy in the European Union (EU). The purpose of this chapter is two fold. First, I will examine the Court's expansive development of this EU policy sector through its case law. In particular, I will evaluate whether the policy preferences of national governments have significantly impacted the Court's judicial decisions. Second, I will examine the relationship between the Court and private litigants and women's groups and how this leads to the construction of EU policy through litigation. Specifically, I am interested in tracing the dynamic which has led to the institutionalization of sex equality norms at the European level. The larger purpose of the analysis is to offer systematic evidence of how activists (both national and transnational) are utilizing European space (as provided by EU institutions) and are doing so to bring about significant national policy changes. Furthermore, this project provides empirical evidence of how EU institutions engage in a mutually empowering relationship with activists. This dynamic interaction leads not only to the expansion of EU competence, but also illustrates how both EU institutions and rules have been used in unintended ways.

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