Lunch seminar with Päivi Leino-Sandberg

In the Shadow of Law: The Politics of Legal Expertise in EU Policy Making


It is no secret why I chose to write about legal advisers. I used to be a legal adviser, and perhaps one day, I will be a legal adviser again. During this time I met hundreds of legal advisers working for the EU institutions and Member State governments. Working in this professional community has made me aware of its power and influence. This power, influence and allegiance are something that this book wishes to make visible by giving a voice to this group of legal professionals but also by assessing their contribution from an external, critical angle. This book is about how legal expertise – believed to be technical and objective – is used in EU policy making, and the politics that its application involves. Its focus is on the operation and influence of legal advisors working in the three core EU institutions – the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament – and the contribution of government legal advisors in Member States to EU policy making. It is not intended as a comprehensive introduction into how EU decisions are taken; instead, it observes these processes through particular lenses, those of the EU legal advisor.

My inquiry, just as those of many other empirically oriented legal scholars, searches to uncover non-glamorous and mundane aspects of legal decision-making and discover the development of informal implementation practices. The method used to reach out to a broader understanding of ‘law’ and its operation in the context of EU policy making is interviews. I use a data set of 50 interviews to map out how legal advisers work: what they do, how they see their role, what kind of assumptions or professional rules guide their work and how key policy makers (including MEPs, Ambassadors and Cabinet members) see the effect of legal advice on the political agenda. I examine the effects of framing questions as legal and the effects of professional language and discourse on political choice. These data are combined with case studies and studies of legal ethics and legal professionalism to highlight that legal expertise given in the context of political processes would benefit from a closer look, especially considering the high levels of confidentiality it has traditionally enjoyed in the EU.

All interested are welcome to attend. Registration is not necessary.