Law As Weapon of the Weak? A Comparative Analysis of Roma and Women's Groups Legal Mobilisation At the EU Level

Wednesday, June 26, 2013
2.04 (Binnengasthuis)
Sophie Jacquot , ISPOLE, Université catholique de Louvain
Tommaso Vitale , Centre d'études européennes, Sciences Po
Based on the comparative analysis of two European-level groups of interest dedicated to the promotion of Roma and women’s rights (the European Roma and Travellers Forum, ERTF, and the European Women’s Lobby, EWL), this paper will explore the diverse and sometimes ambiguous interactions between these groups, European institutions and law, which acts here as both a resource (the EU as an alternative venue compared to the national ones, law as a source of legitimization, case law as a source of rights promotion) and a constraint (the strict and even restrictive perimeter of EU competencies and the definition of who is/isn’t legitimate with regard to this perimeter).

Doing this, this paper will analyse their contrasted relationship to litigation as a rights advancement strategy, bringing new elements to the debate between EU studies specialists, who mainly consider litigation as a weapon of the strongest (i.e. private corporate actors), and socio-legal studies specialists, who mainly consider law as a weapon of the weak. This comparative analysis will help us to underline that when we look at the European system of governance, we see that the main weapon of the weak is less legal mobilisation than adaptation to the specificities of this system of interest representation. Roma and women’s groups are examples of survival of the ‘adaptativest’!

More precisely, in a first part, we will focus on the period of the emergence of the Roma and women’s groups under study. The examples of the ERTF and the EWL allow to show how law contributes to shape the legitimate categories of public action and how these categories have in turn an impact on the shape of the groups themselves. The European Commission has initiated the constitution of a specialized élite fitting its standards in the two fields under study. New categories of “weak” and “strong” have been created within these groups of weak actors.

In a second part, we will question the role of law as a “weapon of the weak” at the EU level. This part explores a contrasted situation where the ERTF massively invest in cause lawyering and case law engineering in order to promote Roma’s rights, and where the EWL, despite the groundbreaking influence of the Defrenne case, invest in another model of lobbying which does not rely on the usage of law. We will try to make sense out of these different modes of actions and strategies, which are largely modelled by the evolving nature of the EU modes of governance in the two fields.

  • Jacquot-Vitale_CES Amsterdam.pdf (229.2 kB)