The European Court of Justice’s approach to equality reevaluated, with reference to the work of Michael Walzer.

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This dissertation examines, by means of a critical case-study, how the notion of equality is currently interpreted by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and how it might be interpreted in the future.
It is well-known that the ECJ takes an Aristotelian, comparator-based approach to equality, seeking to ensure that “likes” are treated in like fashion, and “unlikes” in unlike fashion. That this approach has produced inconsistent and unpredictable decisions has been discussed at length in the existing academic literature. However, there have been few proposals for an alternative approach. The dissertation will attempt to bridge this gap, by suggesting that Michael Walzer’s theory of “complex equality” might be employed by the Court to achieve better, clearer, or more predictable outcomes.
The first part of the dissertation consists of a short introduction and then a brief review of the theoretical underpinnings of the concept of equality in abstracto. These are followed by a more detailed description of Walzer’s theory. It is explained how the theory divides social goods into a series of distributive spheres, and how, by ensuring the autonomy of each of these spheres, Walzer attempts to make certain that no member of a society can unduly monopolize that society’s commodities.
The second part of the dissertation is the critical case-study, which consists of four chapters. The first three of these consider the major “suspect” grounds, discrimination upon which is prohibited by EU law; these are gender, nationality and the so-called “Article 13 grounds” (race, religion, age, disability and sexual orientation). The fourth chapter looks at semi-suspect and non-suspect grounds. In each section, a sample of the ECJ’s case-law is analysed in the light of, firstly, Aristotelian equality, and secondly, complex equality.
The third part of the dissertation provides an opportunity to reflect upon some of the common themes emerging from the case-law, and to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of complex equality as a possible complement to Aristotle.
Date of Award2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAlexander Turk (Supervisor), Timothy Macklem (Supervisor) & Aileen Mccolgan (Supervisor)

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