From Cold War Instrument to Supreme European Court: The European Court of Human Rights at the Crossroads of International and National Law and Politics


  • Mikael Rask Madsen ( is a researcher at the University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law, and an associate researcher of le Centre de Sociologie Européenne, Paris. He holds a doctoral degree in sociology from l’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. His doctoral thesis traced the modern history of human rights (1945–2000) in a number of European countries and analyzed the role and position of law and lawyers in these transformations. His current research focuses on the intersection of law and politics and the interplay between national and international legal orders. The present article builds upon an article published in Critique internationale and a recent paper, The Rise of the ECHR and the Internal and External Production of a European Legal Space at the Crossroads of the National and International, which was presented at the European Ways of Law: First European Socio-Legal Conference in Oñati, Spain, July 2005. The current research has been financed by a grant from the Danish Research Council (Grant No. 24-03-0228).


The history of the genesis and institutionalization of the European Convention on Human Rights offers a striking account of the innovation of a new legal subject and practice—European human rights—that went along with, but also beyond, the political and legal genesis of Europe following World War II. The rise of the European human rights institutions shows not only how law and lawyers played key roles in the early politics of European integration but also how the subtle combination of law and politics—as both national and international strategies—continued to play a decisive part in the institutionalization of European human rights. The article generally argues that the interplay between law and diplomacy had a fundamental impact on the innovation of European law and that lawyers capable of playing an intermediary role between the two were particularly central to this development.