Campus Tilburg University hoogleraren

PhD Defense S. Rainone

Date: Time: 13:30 Location: Aula

The role of the Court of Justice in EU labour law - A case study on the transfer of undertaking directive

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This dissertation addresses the role of the Court of Justice in relation to EU labour law. Historically, EU law has a predominantly economic rationale and the Court often found itself having to delineate the implications for labour rights and standards, sometimes substantially weakening them. This resulted in the Court often being perceived, in the labour law discipline, as guided by a normative bias in favour of enhancing the economic dimension of labour norms to the detriment of workers’ rights.

The aim of this dissertation is to draw a comprehensive account of the Court's approach when ruling on labour law. An analysis rooted in the labour law discipline has been coupled with an analysis focusing on the Court's judicial law-making. The methodology is thus multi-disciplinary: the Court's case law is observed not only in light of the normative implications with respect to labour law, but also in light of the logic and dynamics that underlie judicial proceedings. In particular, attention is paid to the fact that the Court's interpretative activity is embedded in dialectical processes in which the Court interacts with national legislatures, the European Commission and national courts. The research also has a significant empirical dimension, as case studies on the directive on workers' rights in the case of transfer of undertakings are a central part of the analysis.

The main contribution of this dissertation is that it nuances both the impact of the Court's case law on the weakening of labour standards and the extent to which the normative implications of the judgments effectively reflect the Court's normative preferences. On the one hand, the analysis conducted from the labour law's disciplinary perspective shows that the Court has over time moved towards a stronger appreciation of the economic dimension of the interpreted norms. However, the Court does not emerge as a leading actor in marginalising the social underpinning of the considered labour legislation. The perception of the Court as a policy-driven actor is further attenuated when the case law is observed through the analytical lenses of the judicial law-making theories. It indeed emerges that the Court's reasoning is influenced by a plurality of dynamics. Among the most incisive are the Court's affinity with the position of the European Commission and consideration for trans-judicial relations with the national judiciary. The Court's eventual normative bias, therefore, is just one of the elements influencing its rulings. 

A further contribution of the dissertation is to show the added value of complementing the disciplinary perspective of labour law studies with a reflection on the underlying judicial law-making dynamics. Studies conducted within the labour law discipline in fact tend to focus exclusively on the normative implications of the case law. Adopting a broader epistemological framework instead provides a richer insight, in that judicial reasoning emerges as influenced by different normative claims pertaining to the judicial proceeding.

A central recommendation emerging from this research is to not too quickly associate the policy and regulatory implications of judgments with the normative inclination of the Court. The risk otherwise is to simplify the stance, and role, of the Court with respect to the evolution of the normative model underpinning (labour) norms.