General Principles of EU Law: The Ghost in the Platonic Heaven in Need of Conceptual Clarification

Constanze Semmelmann


General principles are en vogue in EU law – and in need of conceptual clarification. A closer look at several concepts of principle in legal philosophy and legal theory sheds light upon the concept of general principles in EU law. A distinction between an aprioristic model of principle and a model of principle informed by legal positivism may contribute to clarifying the genesis of a (general) principle in EU law, as well as its nature and functions. This paper demonstrates that an evolution has taken place from a reliance on seemingly natural law inspired reflections of general principles via the desperate search to ground general principles in various kinds of sources based on a more or less sound methodology  towards an increasing reliance on strictly positivistic approaches. Against this backdrop, general principles are likely to lose significance where there are other norms while retaining an important yet uncontrollable role where the traditional canon of sources is silent.


European Union; General principles of EU law; legal interpretation EU law; teleology

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