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‘Subsidiarity Shaping’ Procedural Review in the European Court of Human Rights: a Model, its Conceptual Foundations and its Legitimation Potential

Applicant Walther Reto
Number 181949
Funding scheme Doc.CH
Research institution Rechtswissenschaftliche Fakultät Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Legal sciences
Start/End 01.09.2018 - 31.07.2021
Approved amount 188'260.00
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Keywords (8)

European Court of Human Rights; European Convention on Human Rights; Subsidiarity; Procedural Review; Legitimacy; Constitutional Dialogue Theory; Allocation of Authority; International Public Authority

Lay Summary (German)

Der Europäische Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte (EGMR) stösst zunehmend auf Widerstand. Dies lässt sich auf Spannungen zurückführen zwischen der Durchsetzung individueller Menschenrechte durch ein internationales Gericht und der demokratisch-politischen Festlegung und Verwirklichung öffentlicher Interessen in den Staaten.
Lay summary
Dieses Projekt untersucht, inwiefern das Subsidiaritätsprinzip, wonach der EGMR gegenüber den staatlichen Institutionen subsidiär ist, dazu beitragen kann, diese Spannungen zu vermindern. Dazu klärt es, was das Subsidiaritätsprinzip genau bedeutet für die Aufgabenteilung zwischen dem EGMR und den staatlichen Behörden: Wer entscheidet was, wann und warum? Zweitens untersucht das Projekt, welche Bedeutung die innerstaatlichen Verfahren haben auf die Gewaltenteilung zwischen dem EGMR und den staatlichen Institutionen: Ist es angezeigt,  dass der EGMR weniger Einfluss nimmt („subsidiärer“ ist), wenn die staatlichen Behörden einen Konflikt zwischen individuellen Menschenrechten und öffentlichen Interessen in einem überzeugenden Verfahren aufzulösen versucht haben? Schliesslich stellt sich die Frage, inwiefern die Subsidiarität des EGMR und ihre Konkretisierung mittels Kontrolle der staatlichen Entscheidungsverfahren zur Legitimation des EGMR beitragen: Stösst die Einflussnahme des EGMR auf die politische und rechtliche Ordnung eines Mitgliedsstaates auf weniger Widerstand, wenn sie davon abhängig gemacht wird, ob die staatlichen Behörden das strittige Grundrechtsproblem in einem überzeugenden Verfahren zu lösen versucht haben?
Das vorliegende Projekt steht in engem Zusammenhang mit der Selbstbestimmungsinitiative (SBI). Wie die SBI beschäftigt es sich mit der Frage, wie internationales (Menschen-)Recht und nationale Demokratie miteinander zu vereinbaren sind.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 17.07.2018

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Masterclass series Recht, Politik und Macht Talk given at a conference Subsidiarity in the ECHR System: Between Law and Politics 22.11.2019 Zürich, Switzerland Walther Reto;
PluriCourts Centre for the Study of the Legitimate Roles of the Judiciary in the Global Order, Annual Conference Talk given at a conference Subsidiarity in the ECHR: Some Preliminaries on its Justification 27.06.2019 Oslo, Norway Walther Reto;
Political and Legal Theory Seminar Talk given at a conference Comment on (‘Critical approaches to the discourses on the legitimacy of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ by Natalia Torres Zuniga 25.06.2019 Oslo, Norway Walther Reto;
iCourts Summer School Talk given at a conference Subsidiarity in the ECHR 17.06.2019 Kopenhagen, Denmark Walther Reto;
Weeky lunch seminar of the PluriCourts Center Individual talk Towards the Age of Subsidiarity 05.06.2019 Oslo, Norway Walther Reto;
Monthly reading group of the PluriCourts Center Individual talk Introducint 'Backlash against international courts: explaining the forms and patterns of resistance to international courts' by Mikael R Madsen and others 11.03.2019 Oslo, Norway Walther Reto;
Weekly lunch seminar of the PluriCourts Center Individual talk Subsidiarity in the ECHR: Concept, Practice, and Legitimation Potential 06.03.2019 Oslo, Norway Walther Reto;

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Procedural Deference at Strasbourg: A Trend Calling for a New Admissibility Criterion? EJIL Talk! International 2020
Talks/events/exhibitions Die Bedeutung der EMRK für Schweizerinnen und Schweizer German-speaking Switzerland 2018


For a couple of years, the European Court of Human Rights (‘the Court’) has been facing a political backlash. Its member states (‘the States’), due to their perception that the Court’s protection of human rights intrudes far too much into their domestic political orders, clearly expressed their demand that the Court only take a markedly subsidiary role in the system set up under the European Convention on Human Rights (‘the Convention’). However, it has remained largely unclear what this subsidiarity actually means for the allocation of authority between the Court and the States. The Court itself began to review the States’ political and judicial processes in order to take a more restrained (subsidiary) role if it finds that the domestic human rights scrutiny was adequate. Yet, this practice of ‘shaping’ the Court’s subsidiary role by means of procedural review (‘subsidiarity shaping’ procedural review) is severely understudied, both in doctrinal and theoretical terms. It is therefore also unknown what the Court’s subsidiarity and its implementation through procedural review mean for the challenged legitimacy of the Convention system.With the ultimate goal of exploring the extent to which subsidiarity can contribute to reconciling the Court’s human rights protection with respect for the States’ domestic political orders, I aim to clarify these questions by drawing on the profound knowledge of the Convention system that I have gained as an assistant to Professor Helen Keller, Judge at the Court. I conceptualise the Court’s subsidiarity, examine its implementation through procedural review, develop a ‘subsidiarity shaping’ procedural review model and study the resulting legitimation potential. Methodologically, my project is based on literature research and a case law analysis. My findings improve our understanding of the Court’s legitimate review of national policy choices, revealing insights that are valuable far beyond the Convention system. The relationship between international regulatory frameworks and national self-governance poses a global challenge. I study one relevant case of this challenge and offer a valuable contribution to the debate by exploring a novel approach to subsidiarity and its implementation. This enables me to develop robust views on this question and to participate in a debate of great importance.