The Force of a Weak Field: Law and Lawyers in the Government of the European Union (For a Renewed Research Agenda)


  • Antoine Vauchez is currently a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (European University Institute, Florence). He is on leave from his position as a full-time Research Fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) at the CURAPP (Centre universitaire de recherche sur l’administration et le politique). Trained in political science at Sciences Po Paris and at the Université Paris-I Sorbonne, he received his PhD from the European University Institute (December 2000) where he wrote a dissertation on the judicialization of Italian politics. He has been a postdoctoral fellow at the American Bar Foundation (Northwestern University, Chicago 1999–2000), and has been teaching in various universities in France (Université Paris I, Paris II, Sciences Po Paris, Université de Picardie) and abroad (International Institute for the Sociology of Law). He recently co-edited a Symposium, “Law, lawyers, and transnational politics in the production of Europe,” for Law and Social Inquiry, vol. 32 (1), and a volume entitled La Constitution Européenne: Elites, mobilisations, votes (Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 2007).


Rather than considering legal and judicial arenas as the mere surface of the weighty social processes that shape European integration, this article contends that they are actually one of the essential spaces where the government of Europe is being produced. To account for this paramount role played by law in EU polity, two hitherto unexplored research paths are followed. First of all, a socio-historical perspective focuses on the critical junctures at which Law has been formalized as a science of European government providing critical devices for integration. Second, a more sociological stance is taken in relation to the functioning of the “European legal field” (ELF). A preliminary inquiry leads to its characterization as weak, with porous internal and external borders. This article argues that this weak autonomy is what makes it strong and influential when it comes to shaping the representations and principles of EU government.