"Unity in Diversity" Reloaded: The European Court of Human Rights' Turn to Subsidiarity and its Consequences (2021)
in: Law & ethics of human rights, Volume 15, Issue 1, p. 93-123
The European Convention of Human Rights system was originally created to sound the alarm if democracy was threatened in the member states. Yet, it eventually developed into a very different system with a focus on providing individual justice in an ever growing number of member states. This transformation has raised fundamental questions as to the level of difference and diversity allowed within the common European human rights space. Was the system to rest on minimum standards with room for domestic differences, or was it to create uniform standards? These questions have come up as increasingly contentious issues over the past years and have triggered a number of reforms seeking to introduce more subsidiarity in the system, striking a different balance between the European and national oversight of human rights. The article analyses this turn to subsidiarity by exploring whether the reform process has introduced new forms of difference and diversity within the common space of European human rights. Covering the period from 2000 to the end of 2019 and using a dataset of all judgments of the period, the article provides a structural analysis of developments in reference to the margin of appreciation which is the European Court of Human Rights' long-standing tool for balancing the common standards, yet leaving space for individual member states to find local solutions to implementing those standards. It concludes that recent developments have contributed to a more federal-style construction of European human rights with more space for differences within the common general standards.