Is the European Union trustworthy?

A wave of sound on a screen

Trust and the Law in the European Union.

The European Court of Justice is perhaps the most influential court in the European Union. One of its recent preoccupations has been the notion of trust. Trust plays an important role in the law governing the European Arrest Warrant. This allows for the rapid transfer to a Member State in which a crime has been committed of a suspect who has been apprehended in another Member State. The process assumes that the second state trusts the first state to treat the suspect fairly. That fundamental issue has been the subject of proceedings before the Court of Justice which have allowed it to develop its case law on trust.

These developments prompt questions about what trust means and whether the Union itself may be considered trustworthy. The meaning of trust has been considered by many philosophers and thinkers. They do not always agree. However, there seems to be a measure of consensus on some points.

For example, trust is not blind but it does involve letting someone else take care of someone or something one cares about. Extending trust is voluntary: no-one can be forced to trust. People will only be trusted if they are considered trustworthy. Establishing a person’s trustworthiness requires the exercise of good judgment based on information and evidence by the prospective truster. An important indicator of trustworthiness is whether or not someone has a track record of consistently meeting commitments.

We can apply trust talk to institutions and other corporate entities. In diffuse or decentralised systems, however, it may be hard to establish whether commitments have been met. The danger of disguised abuses of discretionary power may mean that trust in such bodies is misplaced or withheld. If we apply tests such as these to the European Union generally, it sometimes comes up short. In the fields of economic and monetary union and enlargement, for example, the Union has not always acted with the necessary degree of circumspection. The European Commission, one of the Union’s most powerful institutions, has not always observed the highest stands of probity. 

For trust in the Union to flourish, it is necessary to create conditions which allow it to develop organically. A start could be made if all the institutions resolved to demonstrate through their actions that they are trustworthy. This might be achieved if a consensus could be built around some practical principles of good governance and an example were set, particularly by those who hold positions of leadership.

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