Christine Lagarde: Change and continuity in law

Keynote speech by Ms Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, at the ECB Legal Conference 2021, Frankfurt am Main, 26 November 2021.

The views expressed in this speech are those of the speaker and not the view of the BIS.

Central bank speech  | 
30 November 2021

Ladies and gentlemen,

The first President of the European Commission, Walter Hallstein, famously said that the European Union is a "community of law" – an expression which was then picked up by the European Court of Justice in its judgments. The rule of law is one of the basic principles of our Union, and one we have to defend – especially at times when it is put at risk of being attacked.

This principle means that EU law is the cement that keeps the European construction together. It is the precondition for the very existence of the EU institutions, including the ECB, and for the policies that they are mandated to carry out. But there is an ever-present tension between the role of law as an immutable anchor of society and its need to adapt as the world changes.

Europe's reaction to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has led to a number of institutional innovations, leading some to deem it a "Hamiltonian moment for Europe". This epithet primarily reflects Alexander Hamilton's guiding role in creating the US fiscal and monetary institutional set-up. But there is also a second reason why the description fits. Hamilton – a lawyer – was one of the first to introduce the question of the relationship between change and law, and of the role that interpretation – in particular the authoritative interpretation by judges – can have in this context.