The evolution of the European human rights regime is often described in constitutionalist terms: as the move towards an integrated order with the European Convention of Human Rights as its “constitutional instrument” at the top. In this article, I seek to show that this description is misguided and that the regime is better regarded as pluralist – as characterised by a heterarchical relationship between its constituent parts that is ultimately defined politically and not legally. The emergence and workings of this pluralist order are traced through the interaction of the European Court of Human Rights with domestic courts in Spain, France, the European Union and the United Kingdom. All these cases not only show conflicts over questions of ultimate supremacy but also significant convergence and harmony in day-to-day practice. I begin to identify factors that have led to this convergence and conclude that central characteristics of pluralism – incrementalism and the openness of ultimate authority – seem to have contributed to the generally smooth evolution of the European human rights regime in a significant way. This finding suggests a broader appeal of pluralist models as alternatives to constitutionalism in the construction of postnational authority and law
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