Discovering Strasbourg in East-Central Europe: How the ECHR found its way in and out of constitutional courts

Constitutional courts in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) were seen as domestic ECHR champions until recently. Their initial living conditions, however, did not suggest so. Judges had difficulties accessing expert information on ECHR law: their foreign language skills were often insufficient, domestic literature on the ECHR virtually non-existent, material resources scarce and constitutional courts’ authority yet to be built. Based on a historical-institutional analysis and interviews with insiders, I trace how CEE constitutional courts overcame these obstacles and how it mattered for implementation of ECHR law. I argue that the phase of “discovering” the content of regional human rights law and gaining skills to apply it is a necessary but often ignored part of the domestic side of subsidiarity that cannot be taken for granted. Finally, I explain how these factors matter for the current phase of democratic decay and resistance against the ECtHR in some CEE countries.