UCL European Institute


Challenges to the rule of law

Respect for the rule of law has been put into question in a number of member states. Together with a related slow-motion crisis of democratic backsliding, this is an existential issue facing the Union.

We explored this through four kinds of activities: a new LLM Module, and international workshop bringing together high-level acacemics and legal and policy practitioners, a number of classes and events, and podcasts and blogs. 

New LLM module

This work package included the integration of a new LLM module into the curriculum of the Faculty of Laws.

Developed and run by Ronan McCrea, Professor of Constitutional and European Law, as the Faculty of Laws, the new course 'The Rule of Law in the European Union' will be offered from 2023-24..

The module aims to bring together legal, political science and historical perspectives to assess:
•    whether there is a rule of law crisis in the EU,
•    if so, what the reasons for this crisis are,
•    why the rule of law and judicial independence are so important to the European Union,
•    the effectiveness of the legal and political countermeasures taken by the Union in relation to rule of law issues,
•    what debates around the issue of the rule of law tell us about the future of the Union.


On 29 June 2023, we held the workshop 'The Rule of Law in Europe' at UCL, bringing together top academics and legal and policy practitioners. 

They explored the role of the rule of law in the face of democratic backsliding. They focused on questions such as: 

  • Can the rule of law crisis in the EU be discussed separately from the broader issue of democratic backsliding?  
  • Ought efforts to uphold the rule of law distinguish between the question of judicial independence and wider notions of the rule of law? What is the importance of the nature of the EU legal order and the role of judges within it in this regard?  
  • To what extent does a morally and institutionally diverse European Union—whose multiple demoi are often themselves morally divided—need “ideological homogeneity”? Does the EU—does EU law—have an “identity”? Are these terms very useful at all? (How) can the EU accommodate migration-sceptic or socially-conservative member states? To what degree would defence of a narrower view of the rule of law be compromised by an approach that seeks to require adherence to a wider definition of the rule of law as a requirement of EU membership?  
  • What are the respective roles of and limits of the roles of judicial and political bodies in the protection of the rule of law—and what is the role of civil society?  

Find the full programme and workshop rationale here

Student-facing and public events 

We convened a number of masterclasses and round tables around rule-of-law and democratic-backsliding themes.

Related podcasts and blog posts

Finally, we produced a number of podcasts and 18 blog posts on themes around challenges to the rule of law in Europe. 

Here are two podcast highlights. Scroll down to find links to all our podcasts and videos, and the UCL Europe Blog. 

Podcast with Jeff King, Valentina Arena and Nomi Lazar, hosted by Uta Staiger

Find out more and listen here

Podcast with Thomas Lorman, Sean Hanley and Ronan McCrea, hosted by Uta Staiger

Find out more and listen here



Podcasts and videos

Explore all our podcasts and videos.


UCL Europe Blog
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