Schlagwort: Armin von Bogdandy

Which Federalism for Europe? A Moslerian Path

Because of its historical novelty, even before the problems of the constitutional structure of the Communities and then of the Union, the process of European integration poses the task of determining the categories that are appropriate for conceiving the political reality to which it gives rise and for understanding its ‘constitution’ in the broad and etymological sense of the term.

What seems difficult to imagine is a political and legal reality able to meet two conditions: on the one hand, that Europe should be an entity capable of confronting the great world powers for the sake of world balance and peace; on the other hand, that its members should retain their autonomy and be political actors in their diversity, so that the citizens of the various member states do not perceive Europe as an entity that is alien or even hostile to them. Looking at the current situation, we can see how difficult it is to reconcile these two conditions.

Another Meaning of Federalism. Approaches to Hermann Moslers Legal Thinking

In this context, the recurring reference to ‘federalism’ seems to depend on the fact that it provides an inescapable interpretative framework for understanding the integration process, both for grasping its development and articulation, and for reflecting on the current state of the Union. Specifically, it is useful because of the need both to preserve the dynamic and open character of integration and to grasp the inherently plural configuration of the supranational reality in political and legal terms. This idea of a structurally plural unity cannot but have repercussions on how representation and the ‘democratic’ form of political participation can and should be understood, and on the sense of political obligation capable of preserving plurality.

However, the use of the term ‘federalism’ is subject to a number of constraints that derive from the tradition of thought that the term is used to denote (from the ways in which this tradition is taken up, reproduced, and, ultimately, projected into new contexts). One entrenched bias that inevitably affects the perception of the ‘federalist’ character of Europe is that its meaning can be exhausted by the dichotomy of federal state – confederation of states[1]. In this regard, it seems useful to recall and follow up a subterranean hint that can be found in the writings of Hermann Mosler, a hint which points toward another meaning of federalism, of which the ‘classical’ dichotomy retains only vague remnants. This is not to turn Mosler into a federalist thinker; nor is it to raise the question of the international legal effects of the constitutions of federal states, to which Mosler had already made an important contribution in 1949[2] and which has been the subject of numerous and quite relevant contributions by the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law. The question, then, is what we can and should understand by federalism in relation to Europe on the basis of Mosler’s thinking.

Une communauté plus large et plus profonde’. The Foundation of the ECSC in 1951

Hermann Mosler speaks at the Institute. At the table: Gebhard Müller, President of the Federal Constitutional Court, Walter Hallstein, President of the EEC Commission and Hans Dölle, Director of the MPI for Comparative and International Private Law (from left to right).[3]

A first insight can be found in the commentary published in 1951 by the Institute’s Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht on the origin and qualification of the ECSC Treaty, which was to be the first step towards a political federation of the members of the nascent Community. Mosler, who, as is well known, took part in the negotiations as an adviser to Adenauer[4], begins by pointing out that, although the parties did not have in mind the creation of a mega-state, they did want to go a step beyond the realm of intergovernmental relations and create a closer community capable of overcoming the usual forms of international treaties and institutions of the international legal order.

One difficulty, therefore, was to understand exactly what the ‘European federation’ mentioned in the Schuman Declaration could be (which, among other things, was not transposed into the text of the Treaties, where it was referred to as ‘une communauté plus large et plus profonde’). If it meant nothing more than the establishment of a federal state, Mosler argued, “this idea may be politically revolutionary, but it is not a creative legal construction”[5]. What emerges in the first instance is the kind of unconditional reflex mentioned above: when it comes to creating a strong political unity beyond the nation-states, the term ‘federation’ automatically refers to a federal state (especially for those who come from the German historical experience). But it is worth noting that Mosler is no less clear that ‘federalism’ has a much broader meaning. In this sense, he emphasises that “despite all the similarities at the conference, however, it became clear that the methods familiar to the Germans for the co-operation of member associations in a higher unit, which itself has the character of a state, are alien to the other members of the Community”[6], France and Italy in primis. This clarification provides a valuable insight into Mosler’s thinking. Not only does he criticise the shadow of the federal form of (state‑)government, but he also stresses that the creation of a federal bond (“lien fédérale[7]) is a completely new challenge, because “it is not theoretical concepts a priori, but practical necessities arising from the limited purpose of the union that must determine the construction of institutions”[8].

Federalism Beyond the Federal State

Animated debates. Joseph Kaiser, Hans Kutscher, Ulrich Scheuner and Fritz Münch (from left to right).[9]

Here it is difficult not to recognise what will become a salient feature of Mosler’s approach:  its “praxis-oriented” character (which is mentioned here, albeit in a cursory, almost programmatic manner)[10]. Secondly, however, it is clear that the concept of federalism is by no means exhausted in the state-federal form of organisation. Similarly, the emphasis on the absence of a priori theoretical concepts again signals the inadequacy of the Community as a confederation[11].

The idea of federalism beyond the federal state does not appear only occasionally in this paper. Another relevant reference can be found in Mosler’s brief contribution to the conference of the Vereinigung der Deutschen Staatsrechtslehrer held in Münster in 1962. The topic of the conference was “Federalism as a national and international principle of organisation”. Here Mosler points out that, from a historical perspective, federalism in international society does not exist per se as an attempt to create sovereign state units, but that it is characterised by the aspect of cooperation from below: “Such cooperation, if it leads to regional groupings, can give rise to a federal structure in the international sphere”[12]. In this sense, Mosler rejected the view of those interpreters who argued that federalism would come about by crossing the threshold of the federal state, remarking: “If the federal idea is to be brought to the international stage, the state element in the concept of federalism must be abandoned (…). We must take a more sober view of the process and say: cooperation and collaboration in the international sphere become what one might call ‘federal’ at a certain quantitative level. This happens when a stage is reached where it is permissible to say: here an essential area of public life is so firmly united in the long term that the bond – in sociological terms – is no longer likely to break”[13]. In the context of this quote, it is important not to confuse the call for sobriety with a ‘weak’ conception of federalism.

To complete this excursus, a final insight can be gained from The International Society as Legal Community, first published in 1974. Here, the subject of federalism converges in a discussion of “types of organised co-operation”[14]. There is an immediate warning: “It is necessary to beware of thinking too much on predetermined lines or in well-defined categories”[15]. The direction indicated by Mosler also this time relates to the aspect that “federalism is not confined to States composed of member countries, for it can also form part of the structure of international co-operation”[16]. In this sense, and especially with regard to the possible future of international society, it is stressed that federalism is “a very flexible form of organisation”[17]; the point to be made then relates to the possibility that there may be “other forms of federal cooperation […], which allow more freedom for the particular features of groups of States, for minorities, for different stages of economic and cultural development and so on. […] Co-operation through a federal structure is an appropriate legal arrangement, capable of guaranteeing the freedom of weak parties and providing for effective organisation”[18].

Conclusion. How to Think About Federalism?

On the basis of this cursory survey, it is now possible to draw some final schematic conclusions with regard to our European dimension. First, overcoming the bias towards state-centred federalism, the question of ‘which federalism for Europe?’ can be specified in ‘how to think about federalism?’. In relation to this question, it is the element of cooperation that becomes central, because it reopens the question of the foedus. If one sticks to the dichotomy of federal state – confederation of states, the foedus remains at most a nominal link through the term. On the contrary, in a conception of federalism emphasising the dimension of cooperation among a determined plurality that requires the participation of its members, the specific element of the foedus lies precisely in a kind of (political) unity produced by the legal agreement of different parts – and precisely for this reason it is not of state order. This federalist idea, therefore, stands or falls on its ability to guarantee plurality in the structure of representation.

However, one aspect must be clarified: to say that federal cooperation must not lead to a state-like unity does not mean that it cannot lead to any kind of unity tout court. A federation is a political unity that is constructed differently from the model of sovereign states, which can only mean a rethinking of what political obligation is and, above all, that it must tend to overcome its possible ‘otherness’ in relation to the members of the federation – insofar as this otherness risks undermining the active role of the members.

In other words, the crucial point is to reconcile the presence of the members, with their autonomy and diversity, and the unity of European ‘power’, without which the governance of global processes can only appear as a pious illusion. Of course, this has repercussions on the whole institutional configuration, the meaning and the relationship between powers. If we now recognise that in democratic states the (democratic) legitimation of power is one with the organisation of the powers of the constitution, then the problem does not seem to be the so-called democratic deficit of the European institutions but rather that democracy as a whole has to be conceived differently at the supranational level[19].

An attempt in this direction can be seen in the recent work of one of Mosler’s heirs as director of the MPIL, Armin von Bogdandy. He proposed to elaborate the concept of ‘European society’ mentioned in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (a society, it should be noted, understood as structurally plural: neither a monolith nor an undifferentiated mass of individuals)[20]. It is this society that is the singular ‘subject’ of a European constitutionalism (beyond the state and without the state) which, apart from the idea of collective self-determination, goes hand in hand with the need for a democracy of multiple mediations.

Again, federalism in the sense indicated seems to be the most appropriate interpretative scheme to frame this form of democracy. From this point of view, recalling once again Mosler’s insights, it would be worth asking, especially from a practical point of view, how many and which federal thresholds have already been reached with the current institutional organisation of the European Union.

[1] For a different direction, see, inter alia: Armin von Bogdandy, Supranationaler Föderalismus als Wirklichkeit und Idee einer neuen Herrschaftsform. Zur Gestalt der Europäischen Union nach Amsterdam, Baden-Baden: Nomos 1999; Stefan Oeter, »Föderation« oder »Bund« als Oberbegriff: Erscheinungsformen des Föderalen jenseits von Bundesstaat und Staatenbund, in Eva Marlene Hausteiner (ed.), Föderalismen. Modelle jenseits des Staates, Baden-Baden: Nomos 2016, 235-266.

[2] See: Hermann Mosler, Die völkerrechtliche Wirkung bundesstaatlicher Verfassungen. Eine Untersuchung zum Völkerrecht und zum vergleichenden Verfassungsrecht, Tübingen: Mohr 1949.

[3]  Photo: MPIL.

[4] Rudolf Bernhardt/Karin Oellers-Frahm, Das Max-Planck-Institut für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht. Geschichte und Entwicklung von 1949 bis 2013, Contributions on Comparative Public Law and International Law, , vol. 270, Berlin: Springer 2018, 8-9.

[5] Hermann Mosler, Der Vertrag über die Europäische Gemeinschaft für Kohle und Stahl. Entstehung und Qualifizierung, HJIL 14 (1951), 1-45, 33, translated by the author.

[6] Mosler, Vertrag (Fn. 5), 33-34.

[7] Mosler, Vertrag (Fn. 5), 34.

[8] Mosler, Vertrag (Fn. 5), 34.

[9]  Photo: MPIL.

[10] See: Felix Lange, Praxisorientierung und Gemeinschaftskonzeption. Hermann Mosler als Wegbereiter der westdeutschen Völkerrechtswissenschaft nach 1945, Contributions on Comparative Public Law and International Law, vol. 262, Berlin: Springer 2017.

[11] For a comparison with Walter Hallstein’s state-federal proposals, see Lange (Fn. 10), 171-174, 318-323.

[12] Föderalismus als nationales und internationales Ordnungsprinzip. Die öffentliche Sache: Aussprache zu den Berichten in den Verhandlungen der Tagung der Deutschen Staatsrechtslehrer zu Münster (Westfalen) vom 3. bis 6. Oktober 1962, Berlin: De Gruyter 1964 (VVDStRL), 139, translated by the author.

[13] Föderalismus (Fn, 12), 139.

[14] Hermann Mosler, The International Society as Legal Community, Collected Courses of The Hague Academy of International Law, Vol. 140, Leiden: Brill Nijhoff 1974, 1-320, 197.

[15] Mosler, International Society (Fn. 14), 203.

[16] Mosler, International Society (Fn. 14), 204.

[17]Mosler, International Society (Fn. 14), 204.

[18] Mosler, International Society (Fn. 14), 204.

[19] On this crucial aspect, see Giuseppe Duso, Reinventare la democrazia. Dal popolo sovrano all’agire politico dei cittadini, Milano: FrancoAngeli 2022.

[20] Armin von Bogdandy, The emergence of European society through public law: a Hegelian and anti-Schmittian approach, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2024.

Als „deutsche Ausländerin“ am MPIL

« Allemande étrangère » à l’Institut Max-Planck

Das Institutsgebäude um 2010 (Foto: MPIL)


Constance Grewe über ein ungewöhnliches Jahr in Heidelberg (2010-2011)

Im Gegensatz zu vielen Gästen kam ich nicht als junge Forscherin, sondern am Ende meiner Universitätslaufbahn in Frankreich (Chambéry, Caen, Straßburg) nach Heidelberg zum Max-Planck-Institut für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht (MPIL). 2007 war mir der Forschungspreis der Humboldt Stiftung verliehen worden, mit dem ein längerer Forschungsaufenthalt in Deutschland verbunden war. Das kam mir sehr gelegen, denn für meine verfassungsvergleichenden Forschungen waren deutsche Bibliotheken besonders gut ausgestattet.  So war ich zunächst einen Monat in Bielefeld und habe mich dann 2010 bei der Universität Straßburg, wo ich Professorin für öffentliches Recht war, für eine sogenannte „Forschungsdelegation“ beworben. Eine Forschungsdelegation bietet die Möglichkeit, seine Forschung für eine begrenzte Zeit in einer anderen Institution zu betreiben und während dieser Periode (hier ein Jahr) von den Lehrverpflichtungen freigestellt zu werden. Ich hatte meinen Antrag damit begründet, dass ich den von dem Humboldt Preis vorgesehenen Forschungsaufenthalt in Deutschland noch nicht vollendet hatte und dass der für meine Forschungsprojekte geeignetste Platz das MPIL zu sein schien. Diese Delegation konkretisierte sich dann in einem Vertrag zwischen der Universität Straßburg und dem Institut und so kam ich im September 2010 nach Heidelberg, wo ich bis zum Ende des Jahres 2011 blieb.

Von Frankreich zurück nach Deutschland. Erste Schritte in der alten Heimat

Der Eingangsbereich um 2010 (Foto: MPIL)

Es war eine etwas merkwürdige Situation, denn ich kam als Ausländerin. Nachdem ich meine ganze Karriere in Frankreich absolviert und auch die französische Staatsangehörigkeit erhalten hatte, kehrte ich nun für eine gewisse Zeit in mein Heimatland zurück, denn meine Kindheit habe ich bis zum Beginn meines juristischen Studiums in Deutschland verbracht und auch meine Eltern waren deutsch. Diese besondere Konstellation mag Ursache dafür sein, dass das Buddy-System, das damals noch neu im Institut war und ausländischen Gästen die ersten praktischen Schritte erleichtern sollte, für mich wenig funktionierte. Ich musste also allein die diversen praktischen Probleme lösen, so zum Beispiel ein Konto öffnen, was normalerweise ein in Deutschland bezogenes Gehalt erforderte, und eine Wohnung finden, was ohne deutsches Konto unmöglich erschien. Zum Glück habe ich andere in Heidelberg lebende Ausländer kennengelernt, die mir dabei weiterhalfen. Auch das hat die Eigentümlichkeit der Situation als Ausländerin im Heimatland unterstrichen.

Im Institut wurde ich mit einem schönen Arbeitszimmer mit Blick auf die Berge verwöhnt. Es lag direkt neben demjenigen von Herrn Frowein, mit dem ich auf diese Weise das Vergnügen mancher Begegnungen hatte. Auch von der Bibliothek fühlte ich mich verwöhnt: Die Ausleihe war höchst effizient, vor allem aber habe ich den freundlichen, ja herzlichen Umgang mit Sandra Berg und Ali Zakouri geschätzt. Insgesamt waren die Beziehungen mit den Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeitern des Instituts sehr angenehm. Die Montagsrunde, zu der Zeit noch Referentenbesprechung genannt, besuchte ich mit Interesse und Neugier, sowohl was die Themen anlangte als auch die Person der Vortragenden. So habe ich spannende Diskussionen mit anderen Gästen aus vielen Ländern und Mitarbeitern des Instituts führen können, die sich teilweise beim Mittwochstee der Gäste oder im benachbarten Restaurant „Olive“ fortsetzten. Zu dieser Zeit waren kaum französische Gäste am MPIL und ich suchte auch vor allem den Kontakt zu mittel- und osteuropäischen Gästen oder auf diesem Gebiet spezialisierten Mitarbeitern, da ich vor allem meine Kenntnisse im Verfassungsrecht von Mittel-, Ost- und Südosteuropa erweitern und vertiefen wollte. Ein wichtiger Anlass dafür war mein Richteramt am Verfassungsgericht in Bosnien‑Herzegowina, in dem bis heute gemäß dem Abkommen von Dayton drei ausländische Richter sitzen.

Einen tieferen Einblick in das Leben des Instituts gewann ich durch meine Mitgliedschaft im Fachbeirat, in den ich 2003 berufen wurde. Als besonders anregend empfand ich dabei vor allem die Berichte der verschiedenen Forschungsgruppen und Stipendiaten. Sie vermittelten ein anschauliches Bild der Vielfalt und Intensität der Forschung am Institut. Was die Evaluierung der diversen Aktivitäten anlangte, so hatte ich auf diesem Gebiet bereits eine gewisse Erfahrung, da ich schon früher an französischen Universitäten und in Österreich an Evaluierungen beteiligt gewesen war und solche auch selbst als Direktorin einer Forschungsgruppe in Straßburg erlebt hatte. Dennoch erschien mir dieser Vorgang am Institut besonders kompliziert wegen der so zahlreichen und sehr unterschiedlichen Akteure. Es ist also nicht verwunderlich, dass die Evaluierung jeweils intensive Diskussionen und Besprechungen der Fachbeiratsmitglieder auslöste.

Ein undurchführbares Forschungsprojekt und seine positive Wendung

Die Rotunde im 1. Stock um 2010 (Foto: MPIL)

Für meine eigene Forschung war die Zeit in Heidelberg natürlich ebenfalls wichtig. Im Zusammenhang mit meiner Funktion als internationale Richterin am Verfassungsgericht von Bosnien‑Herzegowina kam ich zunächst ins Gespräch mit Michael Riegner, der sich im Kosovo aufgehalten und mit dem dortigen Verfassungsgericht Kontakt aufgenommen hatte. Daraus hat sich ein gemeinsames Projekt ergeben, nämlich ein Vergleich beider Länder unter dem Aspekt der Internationalisierung von Verfassungen in gespaltenen Gesellschaften und der Frage, inwieweit die durch die Internationalisierung bedingten Abweichungen vom klassischen nationalen Konstitutionalismus einer Demokratisierung entgegenstehen. Unser Aufenthalt im Institut hat uns die Chance gegeben, diesen Artikel im Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law veröffentlichen zu können.

Sodann hat mich Anne Peters gebeten, ein Referat im Rahmen des Gesprächskreises Europäisches Verfassungsrecht vor der Staatsrechtslehrertagung 2011 zu halten. Es ging um den Beitritt der EU zur EMRK mit der Frage, inwieweit dies eine wirksame Durchsetzung einer gesamteuropäischen Grundrechteverfassung bedeuten könne. Zur Vorbereitung des Referats hat mir Armin von Bogdandy freundlicherweise angeboten, in seinem Forschungsseminar darüber zu referieren und zu diskutieren. Der Beitrag wurde in der Zeitschrift Europarecht publiziert.

Es wurde mir jedoch zunehmend klar, dass ich mein eigentliches Forschungsprojekt – eine neue Auflage des Buchs über vergleichendes Verfassungsrecht in Europa – nicht verwirklichen könne. In der Zwischenzeit – die erste Auflage stammte aus dem Jahr 1995 – waren nämlich einerseits zehn hauptsächlich mittel- und osteuropäische Länder in die EU aufgenommen worden, was die Zahl der zu vergleichenden Rechtsordnungen erheblich erhöhte. Andererseits hatten sich die rechtlichen Beziehungen zwischen der EU und den Mitgliedstaaten im Wege der Vertragsänderungen und der wachsenden Rechtsprechung so geändert, dass es unmöglich oder jedenfalls unrealistisch erschien, das Verfassungsrecht isoliert zu betrachten. Daher konzentrierte sich mein Interesse immer mehr auf das Konzept eines europäischen Rechtsraums, was jedoch gleichzeitig zu der Einsicht führte, dass mein Projekt nur durch ein Team, welches mir nicht zur Verfügung stand, zu bewerkstelligen war.

Doch wie die meisten negativ anmutenden Erlebnisse hatte auch dieses seine positiven Seiten: die Gespräche mit Armin von Bogdandy über Komplexität von Begriff und Inhalt eines europäischen Verfassungsrechts führten zu dem Angebot, für den Band VII des Handbuchs Jus Publicum Europaeum einen Beitrag über die Verfassungsgerichtsbarkeit in den post-jugoslawischen Ländern zu schreiben, und zwar in der Perspektive des europäischen Rechtsraums. Es handelte sich also zunächst darum, meine Erfahrungen am bosnischen Gericht für die Erforschung der Rechtsordnungen und insbesondere der Verfassungsgerichtsbarkeit in den anderen postjugoslawischen Ländern (Slowenien, Kroatien, Serbien, Nordmazedonien, Montenegro und Kosovo) fruchtbar zu machen. Dabei war es interessant, sowohl die Vielfältigkeit der Unterschiede als auch das gemeinsame geschichtliche Erbe zu verdeutlichen. Sodann verfolgte die Studie das Ziel, anhand einer Umschreibung des europäischen Rechtsraums die mehr oder weniger große Annäherung der postjugoslawischen Rechtskulturen zu diesem europäischen Rechtsraum zu erfassen. Dabei ist mir oft der Kontrast zwischen recht progressiven Texten und deren mangelnder Durchsetzung aufgefallen.

Hat diese Arbeit auch viel Zeit und Mühe gekostet, nicht zuletzt, weil meine Deutschsprachigkeit etwas „eingerostet“ war, so habe ich doch viel dabei gelernt und auch viel Freude, vor allem in dem Austausch mit Christoph Krenn und der so konstruktiven und animierten Revision mit Karin Oellers‑Frahm gehabt. Schließlich war es auch dieser Artikel, der Armin von Bogdandy veranlasste, mich einer Abgeordneten im europäischen Parlament zu empfehlen, die sich wegen eines verfassungsrechtlichen Gutachtens über den Kosovo an ihn gewendet hatte. Dies fiel genau in die Zeit der Corona-Pandemie und den Lockdown in Frankreich, so dass ich äußerst dankbar war, an etwas anderes denken zu müssen.

Bei meinem Abschied aus Heidelberg hat mich Armin von Bogdandy gefragt, wie mir der Aufenthalt in Deutschland gefallen habe und was mir dabei besonders aufgefallen sei. In meiner Antwort betonte ich ganz besonders die Qualität der öffentlichen Debatten in Rundfunk und Fernsehen geschätzt zu haben, insbesondere die Fähigkeit, auf die Argumente anderer einzugehen. Dies fehlt meiner Ansicht nach in Frankreich, wo die meisten „Debatten“ in gekreuzte Monologe ausarten. Der Minuspunkt – das überrascht natürlich nicht von einem Frankreichbewohner – war das Einkaufen und Essen, was ich im Ganzen als monoton empfand.

Nach diesem längeren Forschungsaufenthalt im Institut kam ich zurück nach Straßburg und wurde dort pensioniert, während meine richterliche Tätigkeit noch bis Ende 2016 dauerte. Danach folgte dann die englische Version des Handbuchs, wobei mir die Hilfe von Laura Hering und Naomi Shulman sehr kostbar war. Schließlich bleibt der Kontakt mit dem Institut aufrecht erhalten durch die Alumni-Treffen, die mich jedes Mal mit ihren Vorträgen und den vielfältigen Gesprächen erfreuen.

Suggested Citation:

Constance Grewe, Als „deutsche Ausländerin“ am MPIL. Constance Grewe über ein ungewöhnliches Jahr in Heidelberg (2010-2011),, DOI: 10.17176/20240404-213408-0

Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED



Récit d’une année hors du commun à Heidelberg (2010-2011) de Constance Grewe

Contrairement à bien des invités, je ne suis pas venue à l’Institut Max-Planck de Heidelberg en tant que jeune chercheuse mais à la fin de ma carrière universitaire en France (Chambéry, Caen, Strasbourg). En 2007, j’avais obtenu le prix Humboldt-Gay Lussac auquel est associé un séjour de recherche en Allemagne. Cela me convenait d’autant plus que certaines bibliothèques allemandes étaient particulièrement bien fournies pour mes recherches de droit constitutionnel comparé. Ainsi, ayant passé d’abord un mois à Bielefeld, j’ai sollicité ensuite auprès de l’Université de Strasbourg où j’occupais un poste de professeur de droit public une délégation de recherche. Une telle délégation permet d’effectuer sa recherche pendant un certain temps dans une autre institution tout en étant libéré des charges d’enseignement. J’avais motivé ma demande par le fait que je n’avais pas encore accompli l’intégralité de mon séjour de recherche en Allemagne et que l’endroit le plus propice pour mes recherches était sans doute l’Institut Max-Planck de droit public et international comparé (MPIL) à Heidelberg. Un contrat conclu entre l’Université de Strasbourg et l’Institut Max-Planck en 2010 est venu concrétiser cette délégation. C’est ainsi que je suis arrivée en septembre 2010 à Heidelberg où j’ai séjourné jusqu’à la fin de l’année 2011.

Le retour de France en Allemagne : les premiers pas dans le pays d’origine

Le hall d’entrée vers 2010 (photo : MPIL)

Ce fut une situation un peu bizarre, car je venais en tant qu’étrangère. Alors que j’avais passé toute mon enfance jusqu’au début de mes études juridiques en Allemagne et que mes parents étaient allemands, j’ai parcouru toute ma carrière professionnelle en France et obtenu la nationalité française. Et soudain, je revins pour un certain temps dans mon pays d’origine. Cette constellation particulière explique peut-être que le système « Buddy », introduit depuis peu à l’Institut afin de faciliter leurs premières démarches aux invités étrangers, ne fonctionnait pas bien pour moi. J’étais donc obligée de résoudre toute seule les divers problèmes d’ordre matériel, comme ouvrir un compte ce qui supposait pourtant de recevoir un salaire en Allemagne et de trouver un logement ce qui apparaissait impossible sans un compte en Allemagne. Heureusement j’ai connu d’autres étrangers vivant à Heidelberg qui m’ont aidé à trouver des solutions. Mais cela aussi a mis en lumière la curiosité de cette situation d’étrangère dans son pays d’origine.

A l’Institut, on m’a gâtée d’un beau bureau avec vue sur la montagne, situé directement à côté de celui de M. Frowein que j’ai ainsi eu le plaisir de rencontrer de temps en temps. L’utilisation de la bibliothèque était un vrai bonheur : non seulement les prêts fonctionnaient de manière très efficace mais j’ai surtout apprécié le contact aimable et même cordial avec Sandra Berg et Ali Zakouri. D’ailleurs, les relations avec l’ensemble du personnel de l’Institut étaient très agréables. J’assistais aux réunions du lundi avec intérêt et curiosité tant en ce qui concernait les thèmes abordés que les personnes qui exposaient. J’ai ainsi pu mener des discussions intenses avec des invités de nombreux pays et avec des collaborateurs de l’Institut lesquelles se prolongeaient parfois au thé du mercredi ou au restaurant « Olive » situé à proximité de l’Institut. A cette époque, l’Institut ne comptait que peu d’invités français et d’ailleurs je recherchais le contact surtout avec des personnes issues de ou spécialisées dans l’étude des pays d’Europe centrale ou orientale puisque mon objectif était de développer et d’approfondir mes connaissances du droit constitutionnel d’Europe centrale, orientale et du sud-est. Cet intérêt s’expliquait notamment par ma fonction juridictionnelle à la Cour constitutionnelle de Bosnie-Herzégovine dans laquelle, en vertu des accords de Dayton, siègent jusqu’à aujourd’hui trois juges internationaux.

J’ai eu l’occasion d’observer de plus près la vie intérieure de l’Institut grâce à mon appartenance au Conseil scientifique (Fachbeirat) auquel j’avais été nommée dès 2003. Image vivante de la diversité et de l’intensité des recherches, les rapports des différentes équipes de recherche et des titulaires de bourses me paraissaient particulièrement stimulants. Dans le domaine de l’évaluation de la recherche, j’avais déjà une certaine expérience, ayant participé auparavant à l’évaluation de plusieurs universités françaises et d’une université autrichienne et l’ayant subie moi-même lorsque je dirigeais une équipe de recherche à Strasbourg. Appliqué à l’Institut, ce processus m’apparaissait néanmoins comme particulièrement complexe en raison du nombre et de la diversité des acteurs et des actions. Il n’est donc pas surprenant que l’évaluation ait suscité dans chaque cas des discussions intensives et des délibérations approfondies au sein du conseil.

L’infaisabilité du projet de recherche et sa transformation

La rotonde au premier étage vers 2010 (photo : MPIL)

Le séjour à Heidelberg fut évidemment important également pour ma propre recherche. Ma fonction de juge international à la Cour constitutionnelle de Bosnie-Herzégovine m’a d’abord permis d’entamer un dialogue avec Michael Riegner qui avait séjourné au Kosovo et qui avait pu, à cette occasion, établir un contact avec la Cour constitutionnelle de ce pays. Il en est résulté un projet commun, à savoir une comparaison des deux pays sous l’aspect de l’internationalisation des constitutions dans des sociétés divisées. L’une des questions essentielles était de savoir si et dans quelle mesure les dérogations au constitutionnalisme classique national impliquées par l’internationalisation s’opposaient à la démocratisation. Notre présence à l’Institut nous a offert la chance de pouvoir publier cet article au Max-Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law.

Par ailleurs, Anne Peters m’a demandé de présenter un exposé lors du cercle « Droit constitutionnel européen » se réunissant avant le colloque des publicistes allemands (Staatsrechtslehrertagung) de 2011. Il s’agissait de l’adhésion de l’UE à la CEDH et plus précisément de savoir dans quelle mesure cette adhésion pouvait s’analyser en une mise en œuvre effective d’une constitution pan-européenne des droits fondamentaux. Dans l’optique de la préparation de cet exposé, Armin von Bogdandy eut la gentillesse de me proposer d’en débattre au sein de son séminaire de recherche. La contribution a été publiée dans la revue Europarecht.

Cependant, il s’avérait de plus en plus clairement que je ne pourrai réaliser mon véritable projet de recherche, c’est-à-dire une nouvelle édition du livre sur le droit constitutionnel comparé en Europe. Depuis sa première édition en 1995, dix Etats, principalement d’Europe centrale et orientale, ont été admis dans l’UE, ce qui augmentait sensiblement le nombre d’ordres juridiques à comparer. En outre, du fait des modifications des traités et de l’accroissement considérable de la jurisprudence européenne, les rapports juridiques entre l’Union et ses Etats membres ont évolué au point qu’il paraissait impossible ou du moins irréaliste d’envisager le droit constitutionnel de manière isolée. C’est pourquoi mon intérêt s’est porté de plus en plus vers le concept d’un espace juridique européen. En même temps, je prenais conscience que mon projet ne pouvait être mis en œuvre que par une équipe de chercheurs dont je ne disposais pas.

Toutefois, comme la plupart des expériences apparemment négatives, celle-ci avait elle aussi ses côtés positifs : les conversations avec Armin von Bogdandy sur la complexité de la notion et le contenu d’un droit constitutionnel européen ont débouché sur la proposition de contribuer au volume VII du traité Jus Publicum Europaeum. Il s’agissait de traiter de la justice constitutionnelle dans les Etats post-yougoslaves dans la perspective d’un espace constitutionnel européen. Je devais donc d’abord, sur la base de mes expériences à la Cour bosnienne, appréhender les ordres juridiques – et la justice constitutionnelle en particulier – dans les autres pays post-yougoslaves (Slovénie, Croatie, Serbie, Macédoine du Nord, Monténégro et Kosovo). Il importait notamment de faire ressortir à la fois le nombre de différences et l’héritage historique commun. L’étude poursuivait ensuite l’objectif de caractériser davantage l’espace constitutionnel européen et d’évaluer le rapprochement plus ou moins important des cultures juridiques post-yougoslaves à cet espace. Ce qui m’a souvent frappé, à cet égard, était le contraste entre des textes assez progressifs et leur insuffisante mise en œuvre.

Si cette étude m’a demandé beaucoup de temps et d’efforts, ne serait-ce que parce que ma maîtrise de la langue allemande était un peu « rouillée », elle m’a néanmoins beaucoup appris. Ce sont cependant surtout les échanges avec Christoph Krenn ainsi que la révision si constructive et animée du texte avec Karin Oellers‑Frahm qui m’ont procuré un grand plaisir. C’est aussi cet article qui a conduit Armin von Bogdandy à me recommander auprès d’une députée du Parlement européen qui s’était adressée à lui pour un avis de droit constitutionnel sur le Kosovo. Cette demande tombait exactement au moment de la pandémie du Covid 19 et le confinement en France, si bien que j’ai été très reconnaissante de devoir penser à autre chose.

A mon départ de Heidelberg, Armin von Bogdandy m’a demandé ce que j’avais pensé de mon séjour et ce qui m’avait le plus frappée. Dans ma réponse, j’ai insisté sur la qualité du débat public à la radio et la télévision, en particulier sur l’effort généralement consenti pour comprendre et pour répondre aux arguments d’autrui. A mon avis, cela manque assez largement en France où les « débats » dérivent souvent en des monologues croisés. Le point négatif – cela ne surprendra pas d’un résident français – étaient les courses et la cuisine que j’ai ressenties comme essentiellement monotones.

Après ce séjour prolongé à l’Institut, j’ai pris ma retraite à Strasbourg. Mon activité juridictionnelle en revanche a duré jusqu’à la fin de l’année 2016. Lorsqu’il s’est agi par la suite de la version anglaise du traité, l’aide de Laura Hering et de Naomi Shulman m’a été très précieuse. Le contact avec l’Institut reste enfin maintenu par les rencontres des alumni qui me réjouissent chaque fois avec leurs conférences et les multiples conversations.

Suggested Citation:

Constance Grewe, « Allemande étrangère » à l’Institut Max-Planck. Récit d’une année hors du commun à Heidelberg (2010-2011) de Constance Grewe,, DOI: 10.17176/20240404-213309-0

Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED


Gazing at Europe: The Epistemic Authority of the MPIL

For the general international lawyer, neither specialized in EU law nor in European human rights law (never mind German public law), the assignment to discuss what the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (MPIL) has done for EU law, European human rights law and German public law assumes impossible dimensions: one might (almost) as well have asked me what the influence of NASA on the development of the US military has been. Plus, it is tempting to refer to the wise, if possibly apocryphal, words of Zhou En Lai when asked about the effects of the French revolution: it might be too early to tell… And yet, on closer scrutiny (and a different level of abstraction), it becomes plausible to sketch some contours, whether deriving from training, practical involvement, or theorizing.

It is generally acknowledged that the center of gravity of the MPIL has always rested with general international law; indeed, the appointment, in 2002, of Armin von Bogdandy as one of the directors, with a background more pronounced in both EU law and international trade law, may have raised a few eyebrows at the time. That is not to say no forays had been made into EU law and especially European human rights law: previous directors Rudolf Bernhardt and Jochen Frowein can justifiably claim to have been among the pioneers in that field. But even so, the MPIL was always more about international law than about EU law or even human rights law, all the more so once those disciplines started the slow separation process from international law. If in the 1960s it still made sense to view EU law as part of international law, by the late 1980s this had become considerably less plausible, and much the same applies, with a little time lag perhaps, to European human rights law. Others on this blog have indicated that, e.g., the ‘black series’ (Schwarze Reihe) of MPIL monographs and collective volumes, hugely impressive as it is, contains relatively little on both EU law and European human rights law, and much the same applies to the annals of the Heidelberg Journal of International Law (Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht).

Some Reproduction, Some Socialization

As far as training goes, large numbers of German public lawyers, EU lawyers and international lawyers must have passed through the MPIL at one stage of their career or another, either for a shorter stay or for a period of several years as research fellow. Having sometimes addressed some of them en groupe, it is reasonable to conclude that the best of them (in terms of professional skills) are very, very good indeed. There was a time – and perhaps there still is – when the external relations section of the EU’s legal service was staffed with many MPIL alumni; and personal experience suggests that rarely a group of lawyers can have had such a critical mass within an institution. By the same token, many German Foreign Office lawyers must have passed through MPIL, and many of the current generation of established German international law professors have spent considerable periods of time as well: think only of Jochen von Bernstorff, Isabel Feichtner, Matthias Goldmann, Nele Matz‑Lück, or Andreas Zimmermann – and I am probably omitting many more from the list than I should in polite company.

It is too easy to suggest that having passed through MPIL, these individuals transmit MPIL values and methods and ways of thinking on to the next generation (in the case of the professors) or to their colleagues (in the case of the civil servants – the distinction is blurry to begin with). On the other hand, it would also be far too easy to suggest that no transmission of values, methods and ways of thinking takes place; a strong case can made for legal education (and this includes doctoral and post‑doctoral training) as a process of socialization, where pupils first sit at their master’s feet and then become masters having their pupils themselves. Reproduction will rarely be total, but some reproduction, some socialization, will be present, all the more so when the training is high‑level.

And this is not limited to Germans working in Germany alone. MPIL alumni spend time in international organizations; those who come from abroad may end up working for their home governments, and some successful German international law academics based outside Germany have a strong background in the MPIL: think of Jutta Brunnée in Toronto, Nico Krisch in Geneva, or Ingo Venzke and Stephan Schill in Amsterdam – and again I am likely missing more than a few. In other words, in much the same way as the Chicago School of Economics has been (or still is) a training ground for economists worldwide, and Harvard Law School can credibly be seen as a global finishing school for legal practice (something the same school tries to emulate for a certain class of academics through its Institute for Global Law and Policy), so too has the MPIL delivered generations of international lawyers; therewith, it exercises considerable epistemic authority.

Rudolf Bernhardt as a Judge at the ECHR[1]

Such epistemic authority has also been exercised (and is still exercised) through involvement in practice. At least three of the German judges on the International Court of Justice over the last 60 years or so have spent a considerable period of time at the MPIL: Hermann Mosler (even as a director), Carl‑August Fleischhauer, and the current German judge, Georg Nolte. Hans‑Peter Kaul, another MPIL alumnus, was one of the judges at the International Criminal Court (which he helped create as well). Rüdiger Wolfrum, for two decades or so director of the MPIL, has spent many years at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and helped arbitrate a handful of disputes before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, while two other erstwhile directors (Bernhardt and Frowein) were members of the (now defunct) European Commission on Human Rights. More recently, Angelika Nussberger has been a judge at the European Court of Human Rights, while current director Anne Peters has been a member of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, tasked with promoting and evaluating the rule of law in the Council’s member states. Tongue‑in‑cheek it may be added that the other current director, Armin von Bogdandy, has served as the President of the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Tribunal, although this Tribunal, like some others in the international sphere, has yet to receive any cases.

Thinking and Re-Thinking International Law – and Europe’s Public Order

But perhaps the most obvious form epistemic authority can take, with academic institutions, is the thinking and re‑thinking of what goes on in the world. German legal scholarship is traditionally very good at this, but within the German tradition, the MPIL still stands out. Anne Peters has done much (in particular before her tenure at the MPIL commenced) to re‑think the global order as a constitutional legal order, more or less continuing the tradition going back at least to Hermann Mosler. Mosler famously imagined international society as a legal society, rather than, as was common when he wrote, as a fairly random collection of billiard balls, bound together by not much more than self‑interest and balances of power or, at best, by a shared sense of anarchy. And it is hardly an exaggeration to claim that Peters during her tenure has done much to re‑position the individual in the international legal order and has almost single‑handedly created a novel sub‑discipline within international law, in the form of animal law.

For his part, Armin von Bogdandy is responsible not only for guiding a re‑conceptualization of the field of international organizations law concentrating on the exercise of public authority on the international level, but also, more appropriate to the current assignment, for systematizing ideas about Europe’s public order and for identifying principles of European constitutional law.

Perhaps the main work to be referred to here is the monumental Principles of European Constitutional Law (co-edited with Jürgen Bast), conceived when the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was on the agenda but outliving that particular event: the principles identified – and more broadly the field of European constitutional law – do not require a particular constitutional document to retain their validity. One point to note though is that, being principles of constitutional law, they pertain more to the relationship between the EU and both its citizens and its member states, than to other matters. These constitutional principles include equal liberty, the rule of law, democracy, and solidarity, as well as principles of Union unity, respect for diversity among the member states, and the wonderful (and wonderfully intriguing) principle of Gemeinschaftstreue. The list is persusasive, and derives from a number of sources, including the case‑law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

Arguably though, not unlike a Rubik’s cube, a constitutional order has other sides as well. This has become considerably clearer after the book first saw the light, with the CJEU making much of a principle of autonomy in a case such as Achmea. And as autonomy is always a relational notion, the autonomy here is not so much autonomy vis‑à‑vis the member states, but rather the autonomy of EU law (its legal order) vis‑à‑vis competing legal orders.

Be that as it may, and despite the circumstance that such exercises always have a relatively high von‑Münchausen‑quality (a system pulling itself up by its own hair, so to speak), thinking of the EU in terms of constitutional principles was rather novel at the time, and has stood the test of time, at least thus far: the principles identified seem to have become generally accepted as such in the intervening two decades – and that marks quite an achievement.

Great Epistemic Power, Great Epistemic Responsibility

Armin von Bogdandy at the Max-Planck-Tag 2018[2]

So, it seems clear that MPIL exercises considerable epistemic authority: through training, through legal practice, through its research work. There is (ironically perhaps) always a price to pay: epistemic authority is rarely legitimated by considerations of democracy or the Rule of Law; instead, it takes place when democracy proves inert, or paralyzed, or disinterested. And of course some things cannot be democratically decided on to begin with: one cannot meaningfully legislate a ‘principle of solidarity’, e.g., or perhaps even ‘legislate’ principles to begin with. It may be possible to enact rules embodying solidarity, but principles are generally too evasive to be legislated. And this, in turn, suggests that much comes to depend on the individuals exercising epistemic authority: with great epistemic power comes great epistemic responsibility, to paraphrase an old maxim.

Even so, things could hardly be otherwise. An institution such as the MPIL is bound to exercise epistemic authority, whether it wants to or not. Bringing excellent scholars together, training them, sending them out in the world, participating in governance, and re‑thinking the law and legal orders: how could this, if done properly (or even improperly) not be authoritative? It may well be that the contribution of MPIL to international law has been more obvious than its contribution to EU law or European human rights law, but gazing at Europe nonetheless reveals something to reflect upon.

[1] Photo: ECHR.

[2] Photo: MPIL.

Suggested Citation:

Jan Klabbers, Gazing at Europe. The Epistemic Authority of the MPI,, DOI: 10.17176/20240318-143111-0

Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED


Comparative Law for a Post-Hegemonic World

The Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (MPIL) is celebrating its centenary. I have many fond memories of my short 8‑month stay there a decade ago: memories of warm‑hearted colleagues, interesting conversations, and of an impressively large resident rabbit whose appearances on the lawn stole the audience from more than one speaker.

But back then, I did not find it an ideal academic home, at least for me. Sometimes that is just how things happen, but I do not think it was only that. It also had something to do with the fact that I was becoming a comparative lawyer, and the ‘comparative public law’ part of its mission seemed more marginal at the institute than public international or European law.

Reading up on the history of the MPIL has reinforced this impression. For one thing, it was always, foremost, dedicated to the study of public international law proper. This is most obviously apparent from the choice of directors of the institute. They have almost always been international lawyers first and domestic constitutional lawyers second, and not primarily comparativists. This naturally shaped the research agenda and staff profiles of the MPIL. The partial exception to this is, of course, Armin von Bogdandy, who became a director with a strong profile in European law in particular, and who has since pushed comparative perspectives. But this is a fairly recent development.

This is not to say that comparative law was absent from the institute. There have long been colloquia on select themes of foreign law (such as on the rights of minorities, standards of judicial scrutiny of administrative decisions, and so on). There have been visitors from abroad whose work opened up windows into their own jurisdictions. The institute has also advised German institutions on foreign law for a long time. These formats fit into the broader tendency to pursue a practice-oriented approach to law and legal scholarship in the postwar years, which Felix Lange has detailed in his work.

This practice-oriented approach, however, did not create a very receptive environment for comparative research. If comparative work is measured based on its ability to assist in the interpretation of legal texts and thus for doctrine, it will seem both subsidiary and usually of rather limited worth. It is not surprising, against this backdrop, to see the institute’s former director, Rudolf Bernhard, adopt a somewhat skeptical view of comparative law and its value in a speech published in the ZaöRV in 1964.

The rotunda in 2010[1]

This focus on practice also drove a particular approach to comparative law, insofar as it was present at the MPIL. The picture that emerges from the roundtables and the resulting publications is one of comparative law as a mainly encyclopedic and/or functionalist project. The early colloquia seem to have mostly assembled one‑country studies on particular themes. The current Max Planck Encyclopedia of Comparative Constitutional Law, which complements the more well-known Max Planck Encyclopedia of International Law, takes an explicitly comparative approach, but it is, well, an encyclopedia. There is nothing wrong with collecting information as a resource of course, but as a scholarly activity, it is not the place where new and original ideas are developed. Encyclopedias do not lie on the cutting edge.

This also seems to me the tradition continued today by the Max Planck Foundation. It continues the longstanding role of the institute in providing “technical” advice “as a politically neutral and unbiased actor” to organizations and governments abroad, typically through projects funded by the German government. This is not the place to engage in a wholesale review of such advisory work, which is, in any event, today not part of the MPIL itself. Nor should it be read as an argument against the value of comparative work in informing institutional design. But it is hard to view this advisory work, and the tradition on which it builds, without at least some Frankenbergian skepticism, given just how many projects in so wide a range of jurisdictions are undertaken.

Going forward

There is the question of whether it is even possible, or wise, to have one institute tackling public international law, European Union law, and comparative public law. To me, these three topics are connected in many ways and it does make sense to have them under one roof – but I would want to insist on an equal role for comparative law in the trio. I would also advocate for a somewhat different approach to it than the one that has prevailed in the past and continues to be felt today, albeit certainly to a lesser extent. I am of course first and foremost a comparativist, and an international and European lawyer only second, so it is no surprise that I take this position – but I am also far from the only one who does so.

The case for taking comparative public law academically seriously is a strong one today – and I believe it requires transcending the encyclopedic approach to foreign law. There is ample support for this claim, both in German and English scholarship. Comparative constitutional law has grown into a global subdiscipline of its own in in the last 20 years, with several dedicated journals, conferences and edited series. This new discipline of comparative constitutionalism is heavily influenced by the US law school tradition and by the early work on these developments by political scientists such as Martin Shapiro, Tom Ginsburg or Ran Hirschl, to name just a few. The German legal tradition – and indeed the MPIL’s tradition here – is a different and more positivist one including in international law, as Felix Lange so convincingly demonstrates. Perhaps this is why Germany still often remains at some distance from these global developments. But German lawyers have much to contribute to them, including from a theoretical perspective.

Impressions from the institute in 2010[2]

This work has clearly begun in a series of the institute’s contemporary projects, which go beyond the encyclopedic approach of the past. The change has been led by Armin von Bogdandy, who initiated a number of large‑scale comparative legal projects, first on Europe (Ius Commune) and then on Latin America (Transformative Constitutionalism). In both, the search for common legal ideas and concepts is in the foreground.

There is much to like and admire about these projects, and the change they signal. However, there is also something of a universalizing or “regionalizing” approach to them, which still leaves out a lot of the world, and typically comes with a unifying normative agenda of its own. Whether this is a remnant of the encyclopedic tradition, or due to something else, is a good question – but the result remains a set approach to comparative law that will not fit, or admit, everyone.

My second argument for strengthening the comparative law angle is more substantive, but at the same time more provocative. The thesis is that we are entering a post‑hegemonic world order –and this should prompt globally‑minded public lawyers to adopt a comparativist’s rather than a universalist’s mindset. By this I mainly mean two things, which are connected, at least in my own head.

First, comparative law will become relatively more important as compared to the universalizing discipline of human rights. Secondly, and consequently, those who study human rights law should be engaging with comparative law, and its local varieties, much more than is currently the case. The reasons for this have much to do with the current crisis of human rights, and not just that part of it that is about right‑wing political backlash. There is also a sense of academic disillusionment with human rights, as apparent in many critical scholarly writings on the subject, from varying ideological angles (e.g. in the work of John Tasioulas, Samuel Moyn or Stephen Hopgood). It seems to me that the solution to this crisis cannot be to come up with ever more encompassing theories of universal rights. Instead, we need to rethink our approach, in a way that takes difference and variety, and the need for it, more seriously, both analytically and normatively.

Without offering a comprehensive blueprint for action here, it seems to me that comparative law offers some tools that will assist us here. Published in the institute’s own “Schwarze Reihe”, Jens Theilen’s excellent recent critique of the European Court of Human Right’s concept of the European consensus as a tool for assessing the margin of appreciation in concrete cases points us into the right direction. Rather than counting existing rules to determine the existence of a consensus or the lack of it, Theilen argues, the court should adopt a more contextualist comparative approach. We might also say that what we want here is simply serious comparative analysis, instead of just measuring the extent to which a putative universalizing project has or has not yet manifested and entrenched itself.

This might sound like something confined to the European Convention system, given that the Inter‑American Court for example has not adopted the concept of a margin of appreciation. But for me it illustrates a broader point. If we think about what human rights are and should become, and how we may try to interpret them, I think there is no way around this kind of analysis. In particular, if we are going to treat human rights documents as ‘living instruments’, then supranational human rights analysis needs to engage with the local discourses and practices where most of that living is actually done. Or, in other words, it needs to involve contextualized comparative analysis. Too often, however, human rights analysis either floats in a fairly abstract theoretical sphere or turns into just another language for good governance advice. Human rights, and perhaps public international law more broadly, need to turn comparative if they are to survive and thrive in an era in which the postwar Atlantic system no longer suffices either to explain the world or stabilize it.

The kind of comparative work we need in order to grapple with this reality is above all interested in understanding. It is only secondarily interested in advising or unifying: in making normative arguments, advancing overarching theories, or making recommendations. Indeed, it is often not much interested in any of these things at all.

This kind of work requires time and space to think and reflect. It also requires – not benefits from, but requires – exchange with others, outside of one’s own system, domestic networks, or familiar conceptual lenses. Most of these are things the MPIL could offer and offers to some already. It can provide a place to think and to study foreign jurisdictions without being subject to constant teaching obligations or funding pressures. It already offers access to resources not always part of a standard German law library. And it affords ample opportunity to talk with colleagues and visitors from other systems, and to connect to transnational networks.

And if we think in more radical terms still – I am truly pushing the boundaries now – the Max Planck Society might even consider offering a few more permanent positions, including for foreigners. The lack of realistic opportunities for long‑term employment is one of the major disadvantages of German academia in the eyes of foreign researchers, as a recent study has shown. This is particularly true for law, where the need to train students to pass the Staatsexamen (state examination) often serves as a wholesale argument against hiring foreigners. I believe this is a mistake. But while we can hope that German universities will do more to open up their feudal structures, including to the rest of the world, it would be encouraging to see the Max Planck Society taking a lead in this regard. It would be so well placed to do so.

[1] Photo: Miriam Aziz.

[2] Photo: Miriam Aziz.

Suggested Citation:

Michaela Hailbronner, Comparative Law for a Post-Hegemonic World,, DOI: 10.17176/20240327-095445-0

Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED