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During the present crisis beginning in 2008, people worry about rising inequality, weaker social protection and the divergence of income levels between the core and the periphery of the European Union (EU). The financial crisis has been blamed on inequality (Rajan 2010; OECD 2015) as poor strata of the population (in the United States, but also in Europe’s periphery) borrowed funds to acquire housing or maintain consumption levels in spite of low and stagnating wages. On the side of lenders, high inequality contributed to an overhang of savings as the rich have a higher propensity to save, and investment in the real economy stagnates in the face of weak demand.
It is national parties which select the candidates who stand in European elections, and who run the campaigns designed to bring about their victory. They may increasingly use the literature of the transnational groupings, but they fight primarily on national rather than European issues and they interpret the outcome very much in terms of what it means for their standing in domestic politics. Party politicians attend EU gatherings as national figures, advancing their countries’ interests. They will be influenced by their position on the political spectrum, those who are left-inclined being more concerned with social justice, protecting employment and supporting stronger environmental action and those on the right is more concerned with deregulation of business, free markets and open trading policies. But these ideological leanings usually take second place to arguments based on national interest and the leaders’ perceptions of the demands of the political situation ‘back home’.
THE EU CHARTER AND ITS APPLICATION AND INTERPRETATION
The EU’s New Human Rights Dimension
Rights and Principles provided for by Title III of the EU Charter
Title III on Equality contains seven Articles, from 20 to 26: equality before the law (20); non-discrimination (21); cultural, religious and linguistic diversity (22); equality between women and men (23); the rights of the child (24); the rights of the elderly (25); and the integration of persons with disabilities (26). The obviously eclectic type and nature of the provisions (rights, principles, social goals) may, in their totality, target a certain level of social equality and cohesion, but concrete definition of such a level depends very much on the meaning given to them by the institutions, authorities, administrative and judicial bodies responsible for their application and implementation.
i. Article 20 CFREU: General Principle of Equal Treatment
The first defining feature of the medieval experience of the law, which we will now begin to examine in depth, is its profound discontinuity with the experience that precedes it. Medieval legal thought begins to define itself amongst the strategies and innovations with which the society of the fourth, and especially the fifth, centuries AD sought to reorient itself in the void generated by the collapse of the Roman political structure and of the culture that existed within that structure. Historically, the most salient point is the manner in which the society of the time dealt with that sudden absence of power. For now, we shall deal with the void as it affected the political sphere, which was the most consequential and the most problematic difficulty the new system of law had to face.