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Armin Cuyvers appointed full professor of EU law at Leiden Law School

The Board of Leiden University has appointed Armin Cuyvers as a full professor of European Law, specifically EU Constitutional Law and Comparative Regional Integration, effective per 1 September 2021.

Armin Cuyvers

Armin Cuyvers graduated cum laude from Leiden University in Civil Law (burgerlijk recht) and Legal Philosophy, where he also received his certificates, cum laude, in Public International Law and European Law. After receiving his Magister Juris degree from Oxford, Exeter College with distinction, he defended his PhD in 2013, jointly in European Law and in Legal Philosophy with his thesis on ‘The EU as a Confederal Union of Sovereign Member Peoples’, which explores a confederal structure for the EU in a comparative perspective with the US. As of 2011, Cuyvers was respectively an assistant and associate professor of EU Law at Leiden Law School, and previously was a visiting researcher at Berkeley, Stanford, Hastings Law School and Sydney Law School, as well as a visiting fellow at the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC) the in-house think tank of the Commission President.   

Cuyvers specialises in EU constitutional and institutional law. ‘Briefly put, what is the EU for a creature? How is power divided, and what is the relationship between the EU and its Member States?’, he explains. ‘For the EU is not a state, like the Netherlands, but it also goes much deeper than a ‘normal’ international organisation, such as the UN. This raises the question what the EU is and how we should understand it. It also raises the question what the EU can become or should become, especially if you want to make sure the EU functions effectively but at the same time respects the sovereignty and democracy of Member States to a sufficient degree. After all, the EU remains open ended and under construction.’

'We should urgently draw lessons from Brexit, but they must be the right ones.'

To address these challenges, Cuyvers compares the EU to other constitutional structures, including confederations and federations. Can you, for example, use traditional constitutional doctrines and concepts such as the trias politica, democracy or sovereignty, which were developed in the context of nation-states,  to design the EU constitution? Or can you translate them to make them fit for supranational purpose? ‘Crucial in this context is the relationship between the EU and its Member States and Member Peoples. How, for example, do you build a vibrant, functioning EU democracy without undermining national democracy? How do you ensure that EU law is applied effectively and uniformly throughout the EU, but also leave sufficient space for national choices and identities? Or how do you stabilise the Euro without violating national constitutions or limiting the ‘power of the purse’ of national parliaments? Clearly, Brexit has been a vital test case for me over the past years to critically study these challenges. The withdrawal of the UK is a pivotal moment for the EU, and we should urgently draw lessons from Brexit, but they must be the right ones.’

To help meet these challenges, Cuyvers combines traditional legal-constitutional methods with two innovative approaches. ‘First, I compare the EU with other regional organisations in the world such as ASEAN, MERCOSUR, CARICOM and the EAC. Contrary to the standard approach, I also look at what the EU can learn from these other organisations, instead of always assuming the EU is the gold standard. Second, I collaborate with social psychologists Naomi Ellemers, Daan Scheepers and Eva Grosfeld to integrate empirical insights into EU constitutionalism. For the EU as well, feelings are facts. European integration must therefore adapt to human nature, as the opposite will not happen. So how can states and peoples collaborate effectively without sacrificing their own identity and democracy? That is the core question that really drives me.’ 

Through his teaching, research and collaboration with the EU and other regional organisations, Cuyvers wants to use his chair to improve the understanding and practice of regional organisations: How can law support effective and legitimate integration? ‘In Leiden, and globally, I want to train people who can design and manage regional integration effectively. In addition to fundamental research, I also want to contribute to the public debate on the future of the EU and other regional organisations. Recently, for instance, I have been asked to collaborate on the new constitution for the East-African Community. To be able to work on such projects, and to do so from Leiden and with our fantastic Europa Instituut, really is a tremendous privilege.’

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