This Article develops an explanation for the emergence of individual rights before the European Commission, one of the oldest and most powerful international organizations in existence today. I argue that, in the early days of the European Community, rights before the Commission were patterned on the laws and legal traditions of the dominant Member States. Changing political circumstances largely outside the control of the Commission and other European institutions gave rise to a number of discrete, historical challenges to their authority. Most of these challenges came from citizens with allegiances to minority, national constitutional symbols and practices who were determined to retain them in the face of European integration. To preserve and extend their authority, European institutions adopted these constitutional ideals and hence altered the nature of European rights.
In developing this explanation, I draw upon a number of theories in political science. One of the longest-running debates over European integration is the balance between sovereign states and supranational institutions in setting the pace of European integration. While some scholars argue that traditional state interests and the balance of power among states are critical, others take supranational institutions - and their interest in expanding their powers and pushing forward integration - as the decisive force behind integration. My review of the origins of rights before the Commission shows that both sets of actors, at different points in time, were agents of rights. More importantly, the empirical analysis brings to light two important constraints on the ability of states and supranational institutions to design European rights to their advantage, often overlooked in the political science literature. The first is history writ large: understandings of fair and democratic government developed within the nation-state and representing the accumulation of experiences, beliefs, and norms over generations. The second is history writ small: episodic, external challenges to the authority of European institutions that serve as the context in which such institutions further their interests. These factors should be taken into account in explaining the rights that define what it is to be a European citizen today.
Francesca Bignami, Creating European Rights: National Values and Supranational Interests, 11 Colum. J. Eur. L. 241 (2011)