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Law, Market Building and Public Health in the European Union

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JournalGlobal Social Policy
DateAccepted/In press - 9 Nov 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 17 Dec 2017
DatePublished (current) - 1 Apr 2018
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)45-61
Early online date17/12/17
Original languageEnglish


European Union (EU) law is based upon a liberalising imperative, the goal of which is to construct a single market between member states. Yet the EU is no ordinary trade pact, incorporating as it does a range of supranational political institutions and common policies in a range of areas beyond simple market building. Scholars have nevertheless noted a distinction between ‘positive’ integration (the formulation of common policies applying to all member states) and ‘negative’ integration (the removal of national-level regulations acting as barriers to market integration). In the context of debates about the implications of trade law and corporate activity for health, this article poses three related questions. First, to what extent does EU law afford corporations opportunities to challenge national-level health regulations? Second, to what extent do EU legal and political processes provide opportunities for positive pro-health supranational regulation, including that which might offset the effects of negative liberalising integration? Third, how do EU market-building processes differ from those of more narrowly-drawn trade agreements and organisations in their implications for health? We analyse and compare two recent sets of health-related legal proceedings under EU law, the first of which challenges legislation passed by the Scottish Government to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol, and the second of which addresses the legality of specific aspects of the EU’s 2014 Tobacco Products Directive. We find, first, that EU law offers ample opportunities for corporations to challenge national health regulations; second, that there is significant scope for pro-health supranational regulations, but that these must be couched in the language of facilitating the single market, and are dependent on the political commitment of key policy actors; and, third, that this (limited) scope for pro-health supranational regulation distinguishes EU legal and political processes from those of other trade agreements and organisations.

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    Research areas

  • European Court of Justice; Court of Justice of the European Union; constitutionalisation; judicialisation; liberalisation; negative/positive integration

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