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The Road Not Taken: The EU as a Global Human Rights Actor

American Journal of International Law, Vol 105, 2011

50 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2010 Last revised: 23 Jan 2011

Grainne De Burca

New York University (NYU) - Law School

Date Written: November 8, 2010


This paper challenges the traditional account of the EU’s engagement with human rights. The classic narrative begins with the silence of the EEC Treaty in 1957 and depicts a gradual engagement with human rights over the decades, culminating in the establishment of a substantial EU human rights regime in recent years. The paper provides an alternative account of the EU’s trajectory by returning to its origins in the 1950s and comparing the ambitious but long-forgotten plans for European Community engagement with human rights drafted in the early 1950s with today’s EU human rights framework. The paper argues that the current EU human rights system is in several ways less robust and less ambitious than that envisaged in the 1950s, and that the two main causes for criticism of today’s EU system – namely that it lacks a serious human rights mechanism, and that there is a double-standard as between internal and external human rights policies – have survived the changes introduced by the Lisbon Treaty and have to some extent been enshrined by those changes. The paper concludes by suggesting that the EU’s aspiration to be taken seriously as a global normative actor is hindered by its exceptionalism in this field.

Suggested Citation

De Burca, Grainne, The Road Not Taken: The EU as a Global Human Rights Actor (November 8, 2010). American Journal of International Law, Vol 105, 2011 . Available at SSRN:

Grainne De Burca (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Law School ( email )

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