IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The European Union's Legal System and Domestic Policy: Spillover or Backlash?


  • Alter, Karen J.


Under what conditions do domestic actors use international legal mechanisms to influence domestic policy? Drawing on the European case, where legalization has progressed the furthest, I develop a generalizable framework for explaining variation in the use of the European Union's legal system by domestic actors to influence national policy. Four steps are involved in using the European legal process to pressure for policy change: (1) there must be a point of European law that creates legal standing and promotes the litigant's objectives; (2) litigants must embrace this law, adopting a litigation strategy; (3) a national court must refer the case to the European Court of Justice or apply ECJ jurisprudence; and (4) domestic actors must follow through on the legal victory to pressure national governments. Different factors influence each step, creating cross-national and cross-issue variation in the influence of EU law on national policy. Raising a significant challenge to neofunctionalist theory, I argue that negative interactive effects across the four steps and backlash created by the success of integration can stop or even reverse the expansionary dynamic of the legal process. I conclude by exploring the generalizability of this framework to other international contexts.

Suggested Citation

  • Alter, Karen J., 2000. "The European Union's Legal System and Domestic Policy: Spillover or Backlash?," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 54(03), pages 489-518, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:54:y:2000:i:03:p:489-518_44

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: link to article abstract page
    Download Restriction: no


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Mondré Aletta & Neubauer Gerald & Helmedach Achim & Zangl Bernhard, 2010. "Uneven Judicialization: Comparing International Dispute Settlement in Security, Trade, and the Environment," New Global Studies, De Gruyter, vol. 4(1), pages 1-34, August.
    2. Andreas Grimmel, 2011. "Integration and the Context of Law: Why the European Court of Justice is not a Political Actor," Les Cahiers européens de Sciences Po 3, Centre d'études européennes (CEE) at Sciences Po, Paris.
    3. Stefan Voigt, "undated". "Iudex Calculat: The ECJ's Quest for Power," German Working Papers in Law and Economics 2003-1-1066, Berkeley Electronic Press.
    4. Richard Perkins & Eric Neumayer, 2007. "Implementing Multilateral Environmental Agreements: An Analysis of EU Directives," Global Environmental Politics, MIT Press, vol. 7(3), pages 13-41, August.
    5. Grimmel, Andreas, 2011. "Politics in robes? The European Court of Justice and the myth of judicial activism," Discussion Papers 2/11, Europa-Kolleg Hamburg, Institute for European Integration.
    6. Perkins, Richard & Neumayer, Eric, 2007. "Do membership benefits buy regulatory compliance?: an empirical analysis of EU directives 1978-1999," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 3057, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    7. Tridimas, George & Tridimas, Takis, 2004. "National courts and the European Court of Justice: a public choice analysis of the preliminary reference procedure," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 125-145, June.
    8. George Tridimas, 2004. "A Political Economy Perspective of Judicial Review in the European Union: Judicial Appointments Rule, Accessibility and Jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 18(1), pages 99-116, July.
    9. Marlene Wind, 2010. "The Nordics, the EU and the Reluctance Towards Supranational Judicial Review," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48, pages 1039-1063, September.
    10. Mückenberger, Ulrich, 2008. "Civilising Globalism: Transnational Norm-Building Networks – A Research Programme," GIGA Working Papers 90, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:54:y:2000:i:03:p:489-518_44. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Keith Waters). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.