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Statutory Interpretation in the EU: The Augustinian Approach

32 Pages Posted: 4 Jul 2007  

Lawrence M. Solan

Brooklyn Law School

Date Written: July 2007


EU legislation is written in all of the EU's official languages. Each version is authoritative, and no version is privileged as "the original," at least not as an official matter. The existence of a regime of multilingual legislation appears to create a daunting task for a court that must resolve disputes over a statute's applicability in a particular situation. The opportunity for inconsistencies among the various language versions is so profound that it would not be surprising if the entire system collapsed under its own weight.

But that has not happened. Whatever problems face Europe and the EU, statutory interpretation is not high on the list. On the contrary, the European Court of Justice resolves disputes among member states in what appears to be a routine manner. In this article, I argue that the proliferation of languages actually assists the interpretation of statutes by the ECJ. To the extent that the goal of the court is to construe statutes to effectuate the intent of the legislature and to further the goals of the enacted directive or regulation, the existence of so many versions of the law makes this task easier. In the manner of St. Augustine, the ECJ looks at several versions of the statute, and then triangulates. Using advances in linguistics, cognitive psychology and philosophy, I explain how this process can serve to reduce the universe of plausible interpretations, thus making statutory interpretation more faithful to the goals of the enacting legislature.

Keywords: statutes, EU, textualism, purpose

JEL Classification: K10, K41

Suggested Citation

Solan, Lawrence M., Statutory Interpretation in the EU: The Augustinian Approach (July 2007). Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 78. Available at SSRN: or

Lawrence M. Solan (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States
718-780-0357 (Phone)


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