Sybe de Vries guest lecturer University of Ghent: Future of EU Internal market law

On digititalization, sustainability, and other challenges for the EU

At the invitation of Ghent University, Sybe de Vries is to deliver a series of lectures on EU internal market law and fundamental rights. How can EU internal market law contribute to the European Commission's goal of an inclusive, sustainable internal market? In what ways do societal challenges, such as digitalization and artificial intelligence, climate change or the Covid-19 pandemic, affect the functioning of the internal market and the protection of public interests and fundamental rights? And what impact does the changing geopolitical situation have on the future of the single market?

These are important questions and challenges to which the EU must find a good answer in the coming years, and which Sybe de Vries will address in his seven lectures. He is professor of Public Economic Law at Utrecht University and also Jean Monnet Chair holder and co-director of the Utrecht Centre for Regulation and Enforcement in Europe. His research interests include European internal market law, the impact of digitalization hereupon, and its significance for citizens in general and businesses and consumers in particular. He is also programme leader of the Law & Technology in Europe master's programme and involved in the European Law and Legal Research programmes.

We have moved from an economic alliance to a political alliance.

Earlier this year, De Vries spoke on Amsterdam local radio about the genesis – and achievements – of the EU. Speaking about citizens' fears that their identity in largescale 'Europe' will come increasingly under pressure, he said: “I think the opposite. It is precisely the EU that can enable us to maintain a certain idiosyncracy in the member states or in the regions – bearing in mind that the nation state is also a construct. European law leaves a lot of room for differentiation. You might say that is also the EU's motto: unity in diversity.”

He went on to describe the development of the Union, from purely economic cooperation in the predecessor ECSC to political integration today, and how this is reflected in the development of European law: “What is very appealing is that Article 2 of the EU treaty now also contains the important values of the European Union, such as rule of law, democracy, the principle of equality, human rights protection. So you see that we have moved from an economic partnership to a political partnership.”

And about the sometimes difficult balance between human rights on the one hand and economic freedoms (the basis of the EU) on the other, De Vries stated: “Fundamental rights protection within the EU – unlike within the ECHR context (the Council of Europe) – has developed from market integration, for example in response to the expropriation of farmers, where the fundamental right to property is at stake. Or take the right to privacy and data protection. Those rights are relatively strongly represented in Union law. Whereas something like freedom of expression is primarily a matter for member states. We now experience that in the digital society all those fundamental rights are coming together, and then you see that, all of a sudden, the European legislator is going to set rules for that too, but in a limited way, because you cannot touch too much on some fundamental rights like freedom of expression, because it doesn't really fall within the EU's competency.”

For more information about the guest lectureship visit the website of UGent.