The Americanization of the European legal space

Authored by: Mary L. Volcansek

Routledge Handbook of European Politics

Print publication date:  January  2015
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415626750
eBook ISBN: 9781315755830
Adobe ISBN: 9781317628361


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The legal style found in the United States has been characterized as unique, differing from the styles observed in other parts of the world and even from that of the United Kingdom, whose system of common law was inherited by the US. Robert Kagan (2001) has labelled this style of adjudicating disputes ‘adversarial legalism’. However, according to Keleman (2011), this peculiarly American style has been transported to Europe as a consequence of the development of the European Union (EU), creating what he calls ‘Eurolegalism’. I argue that aspects of law in Europe have indeed taken on some salient features of the American legal style, but not solely because of the EU. Rather, the increasing emergence of transnational regimes that regulate trade, environmental concerns and human rights in and among the nations that are signatories to various treaties and conventions – indeed, the phenomenon of globalization itself – has introduced what I refer to as a ‘cosmopolitan legalism’ that exhibits some characteristics that reflect the law and judicial processes found in the US. A similar trend towards a cosmopolitan law that ‘circumscribes and delimits the political power of independent states’ (Held and McGrew 2001: 326) has been identified; a form of cosmopolitan legalism would seem to be a natural outgrowth of this development. Interestingly, the transposition of American adversarial legalism is most evident in Europe. This essay explores how cosmopolitan legalism has manifested itself in Europe, introducing features that were once uniquely American and thereby, in certain significant ways, ‘Americanizing’ elements of European legal traditions.

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