Common Foundations of Law in Europe
Full course description
What do Europeans have in common? Part of the answer to this question is: their law. Currently, approximately 50% of all new legislation in the member states of the European Union has a non-national, European origin. This international outlook of law in Europe is not a new phenomenon. Even when concentrating on the so-called ‘national laws’ of the various European nations, it must be admitted that these laws find a strong foundation in a non-national, truly European tradition. This tradition dates back to the Middle Ages. Since it is the conviction of the course coordinator that a true understanding of the growing importance of the European institutions and policies can only be achieved by understanding the common legal history of Europe, the present course concentrates on this shared (legal) past. In doing so, it takes as its focal point the ius commune, i.e. the common, scholarly European approach to the law that originated in the Middle Ages and that was strongly based on Roman Law. This medieval tradition forms the common ground on which the present national legal systems in Europe have developed. It has strongly contributed to the creation of the idea of a common European culture.
In a manner that is highly relevant for an audience of non-lawyers and lawyers alike, the course starts with discussing Roman Law. The so-called Corpus Iuris Civilis will be used as the point of departure since most of what we know about Roman Law derives from this compilation of legal materials that was made in the 6th century AD on the orders of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. The texts that this emperor included in his collection were the product of a thousand years of unbroken legal development. During this millennium, roughly from 500 BC to 550 AD, Rome expanded from a small city-state to a world empire. While Roman law was adapted to cope with the changing society, the idea was maintained that it was essentially the same law that had been part of the early Roman way of life.
The course will also concentrate on the different approach to the law that existed and still exists in Anglo-American jurisdictions. It will try to explain the legal differences today between continental Europe and the British Isles. Additionally, some elements of American legal history will be studied. In doing so, the many similarities that lie beneath the seemingly radically different outward appearance of law in Anglo-American jurisdictions will come to light. This exercise will demonstrate that Anglo-American law is not so different from continental European law as some writers would like us to believe.
The course will conclude with a study of a selection of similarities and differences that exist in today’s European legal landscape.
- To provide students with a better notion of law as a harmonising phenomenon in European culture.
- To provide students with a basic notion of similarities and differences in the approach to law in the various member states of the European Union (and the USA).
- To give students a better understanding of basic legal notions such as property, contract and delict.
- To provide students with a greater ability to evaluate the significance of the transfer of law making powers from the national to the European institutions.
- O.F. Robinson, T.D. Fergus, W.M. Gordon, European Legal History, London etc., 2000 or later edition.
- Additional materials, to be announced during the course.