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Judicial independence in the EU: a puzzle

Abstract

Based on data from the EU Justice Scoreboard, we identify a puzzle: National levels of judicial independence (as perceived by the citizens of EU member states) are negatively associated with the presence of formal legislation usually considered as conducive to judicial independence. We try to resolve this puzzle based on political economy explanations and specificities of legal systems, but to no avail. We then ask whether cultural traits can help to put together the puzzle. And indeed, countries with high levels of generalized trust (and to a lesser extent individualistic countries) exhibit increased levels of de facto judicial independence and, at the same time, reduced levels of de jure judicial independence. The combination of these two effects can explain why judicial reforms that should be conducive to an independent judiciary may seem to have adverse consequences. We conclude that cultural traits are of fundamental importance for the quality of formal institutions, even in societies as highly developed as the EU member states.

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Data by Feld and Voigt (2003)

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Data by Feld and Voigt (2003)

Notes

  1. 1.

    This would be in line with Bjørnskov’s (2015) observation that constitutional property rights protection in these formerly communist countries was, at best, ineffective.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank Giovanni Ramello for inviting them to participate in the panel in honor of Ted Eisenberg at the 2016 Italian Society of Law and Economics Conference in Turin and participants of the 2017 Danish Public Choice Workshop in Aarhus as well as two anonymous reviewers of this journal for helpful comments.

Author information

Correspondence to Jerg Gutmann.

Appendices

Appendix 1

See Table 4.

Table 4 Description of variables

Appendix 2

See Table 5.

Table 5 Descriptive statistics

Appendix 3

See Table 6.

Table 6 Seemingly unrelated regressions—culture and de jure judicial independence

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Gutmann, J., Voigt, S. Judicial independence in the EU: a puzzle. Eur J Law Econ 49, 83–100 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10657-018-9577-8

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Keywords

  • Judicial independence
  • EU justice scoreboard
  • Informal institutions
  • Culture

JEL Classification

  • H11
  • K40
  • O40
  • P51