Schlagwort: Europarecht

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.

Grundrechtsschutz in den Gemeinschaften

Protection of Fundamental Rights in the European Communities


Wie das MPIL in den 1970er Jahren mit seinem „Heidelberg Approach“ half, eine Krise zu lösen

Im Mai 1974 veröffentlichte das Bundesverfassungsgericht seinen berühmten Solange-I-Beschluss. Der Zweite Senat hatte den fehlenden Grundrechtsschutz in den Europäischen Gemeinschaften zum Anlass genommen, europäisches Sekundärrecht weiterhin an deutschen Grundrechten zu prüfen, bis es einen vom Europäischen Parlament beschlossenen Grundrechtskatalog geben würde.[1] Die Entscheidung löste eine juristisch-diplomatische Krise aus – die den Ereignissen sehr ähnelte, die sich nach dem PSPP-Urteil vom Mai 2020 abspielten.[2]

Es ist bislang wenig bekannt, dass das Max-Planck-Institut aktiv daran beteiligt war, diese Krise zu lösen – um diese Episode soll es in der folgenden Miniatur gehen. Sie gibt am Ende Gelegenheit zu einer These über die Rolle des Europarechts in Arbeit und Selbstverständnis des Instituts zum Ende der 1990er Jahre.

Grundrechte sind „herausragende Errungenschaften des modernen Verfassungsstaates.“[3] Stets schützen sie das Individuum, indem sie die Staatsgewalt begrenzen und politische Beteiligung ermöglichen; in manchen Rechtsordnungen versprechen Grundrechte zudem soziale Teilhabe. Wenn der Europäische Gerichtshof die Gemeinschaftsgewalt aus einer autonomen Rechtsordnung heraus begründete, um das Handeln der Europäische Union von den Mitgliedstaaten möglichst unabhängig zu machen, dann benötigte diese auch eine akzeptable Form des Grundrechtsschutzes.

Rudolf Bernhardt anlässlich seiner Einführung als Institutsdirektor, 1970[4]

So argumentierte im Kern eine Studie, die Rudolf Bernhardt, seinerzeit Direktor des Instituts, über „Probleme eines Grundrechtskatalogs für die Europäischen Gemeinschaften“ im Bulletin der Gemeinschaften 1976 veröffentlichte. Die Studie wurde zusammen mit einem Bericht der Europäischen Kommission über den „Schutz der Grundrechte bei der Schaffung und Fortentwicklung des Gemeinschaftsrechts“ publiziert.[5] Diese Kopplung war kein Zufall. Die Kommission hatte die Studie bei Bernhardt in Auftrag gegeben. Sie sollte ihre Strategie für eine Grundrechtsbindung der Europäischen Gemeinschaften unterfüttern.

Die Studie ist rechtsvergleichend angelegt, wofür Bernhardt die Expertise der Referenten anzapfte. An der Studie, die die Grundrechtsbindung in den weiteren Mitgliedstaaten der Gemeinschaften untersuchte, wirkten unter anderem Karin Oellers, Eckart Klein und Christian Tomuschat mit. Die im Ton nüchterne, gediegene Studie kam zu dem Ergebnis, dass die Gemeinschaft sehr wohl an Grundrechte in Form allgemeiner Rechtsgrundsätze gebunden sei, die – der Natur des Verfahrens geschuldet – nur schrittweise entwickelt werden könnten. Gleichwohl bestünden Rechtsunsicherheit und die Bindung der Gemeinschaftsorgane, namentlich die des Europäischen Parlaments, des Rates und der Kommission, sei nicht immer eindeutig.

Die Studie endete mit der überraschenden Empfehlung, die drei Organe eine Erklärung abgeben zu lassen, an die vom Gerichtshof entwickelten Grundrechte gebunden zu sein. So ist es gekommen: Am 5. April 1977 unterzeichneten die Präsidenten der drei Organe, Kommissionspräsident Roy Jenkins, Parlamentspräsident Emilio Colombo und Ratspräsident David Owen, in Luxemburg die Gemeinsame Erklärung,[6] mit der sie die Organe an den prätorischen Grundrechtschutz banden.[7] Der Gerichtshof selbst blieb außen vor, was methodisch‑praktisch verständlich war, denn schließlich erkannte –das heißt erfand und konkretisierte – er ebenjene Gemeinschaftsgrundrechte. Dennoch entstand ein Muster, wie der zurückhaltende Umgang des Gerichtshofs mit der proklamierten, juristisch noch nicht in Kraft getretenen Charta der Grundrechte gut 20 Jahre später zeigte.

Dass die Zweifel an einer Grundrechtsbindung der Gemeinschaftsorgane durch eine Erklärung beseitigt werden sollten, knüpfte an eine kurz zuvor erprobte Innovation an. Rat und Parlament hatten sich 1975 auf eine inhaltliche Beteiligung des Parlaments an der Gesetzgebung, das Konzertierungsverfahren, geeinigt, was eine Folge des Brüsseler und des Luxemburger Vertrages war. Beide Verträge hatten das Haushaltsverfahren für das Parlament geöffnet – nun stand die aus dem Konstitutionalismus des 19. Jahrhunderts bekannte, parlamentarische Mitwirkung über das Budgetrecht im Raum. Die Spin‑Doktoren in den Juristischen Diensten der Organe hatten sich überlegt, das Verfahren in einer Erklärung zu regeln, denn die Verträge konnten und sollten dafür nicht geändert werden; zugleich war aber eine zumindest „weiche Normativität“ erwünscht.[8]

Meinhard Hilf, 1970er[9]

Auch wenn es keine greifbaren Erinnerungsspuren am Institut zu dem Dossier gibt, war es kein Zufall, dass die Europäische Kommission gerade das Max‑Planck‑Institut mit der Studie beauftragt hatte. Zwischen beiden Institutionen bestand nämlich über Meinhard Hilf eine persönliche Verbindung. Hilf, der 1972 in Heidelberg bei Herrmann Mosler promoviert worden war, arbeitete von 1974 bis 1976 im Juristischen Dienst der Kommission. Im Jahr 1977 kehrte er als Referent an das Institut zurück, um sich bei Bernhardt zu habilitieren. Ob der Autor der Studie seine Empfehlung, eine Organerklärung abgeben zu lassen, aus eigenem Antrieb formulierte oder ob die Studie wissenschaftliche Legitimation für einen bereits zuvor gefassten Plan geben sollte, muss an dieser Stelle offenbleiben.

Die Episode zeigt die Funktion und das Selbstverständnis des Max‑Planck‑Instituts, den Heidelberg Approach, exemplarisch auf: Als regierungsnahes Forschungsinstitut stellte es kurzfristig seine vergleichende und rechtsdogmatische Expertise, seine sprachlichen, personellen und bibliothekarischen Ressourcen in den Dienst eines übergeordneten politischen Ziels der Bundesrepublik – der europäische Integration. Zugleich leistete es einen originären Beitrag zum europäischen Grundrechtsschutz, es blieb nicht bei der Studie; Der Studienauftrag beschäftigte das Institut und die Genannten darüber hinaus, wie die große Tagung zeigt, die 1976 in Heidelberg zum europäischen Grundrechtsschutz stattfand und ein Jahr später in der Schwarzen Reihe veröffentlicht wurde.[10] Mit seinen persönlichen Verbindungen in das Auswärtige Amt,  die Europäische Kommission und das Bundesverfassungsgericht, dessen Präsident dem wissenschaftlichen Beirat des Instituts vorsitzt,[11] war es der Knotenpunkt eines Netzwerks juristischer Kommunikation.

Die Direktoren des Instituts waren auch vor und nach dieser Episode an wichtigen Ereignissen und Entwicklungen der europäischen Integration beteiligt. Hermann Mosler wirkte bekanntermaßen beratend an den Verhandlungen zur Montanunion mit und hat Schlüsselaufsätze in der ZaöRV dazu veröffentlicht.[12] Jochen Frowein, der 1981 an das Institut berufen wurde, hatte bereits 1972 am Vedel‑Bericht mitgeschrieben. Der Bericht war eine scharfsichtige, analytische Bilanz des institutionellen Rahmens der Gemeinschaften kurz nach Ende der zwölfjährigen Übergangszeit, der umfassende Vorschläge für eine Parlamentarisierung enthielt.[13] Gegen Ende seiner Amtszeit war er einer der „drei Weisen“, deren Bericht im September 2000 die „Causa Austria“, die diplomatische Sanktionierung Österreichs wegen der Regierungsbeteiligung der FPÖ, beendete.[14]

Gleichwohl will ich folgende These formulieren: „Europarecht“ war das mit leichtem Argwohn betrachtete neue Rechtsgebiet, das die Aufmerksamkeit von dem eigentlichem Erkenntnisgegenstand, dem Völkerrecht, abzuziehen drohte. Das galt jedenfalls für europarechtlich-operative Themen jenseits der Vertragsgrundlagen.[15] Der „Europarechtler“ war bis in die 1990er Jahre nicht der Typus von Nachwuchswissenschaftler oder Referent, den das Institut bevorzugte. Als Zusatzqualifikation und als pragmatische Notwendigkeit, berufungsfähig zu werden, war es geduldet. Als eigenständiges Gebiet, das als im Grunde Verwaltungsrecht und damit außerhalb der Institutszuständigkeit liegend betrachtet wurde, war es jedenfalls bis Anfang der 2000er Jahre beargwöhnt. Noch als ein sehr bekannter, neuer Direktor mit, unter anderem, starkem europarechtlichen Profil berufen wurde, hieß es intern, man hoffe, er mache Wirtschaftsvölkerrecht und nicht zu viel Europarecht.


[1] BVerfGE 37, 271-305 – Solange I; zu den nationalen und europäischen Folgen des Beschlusses: Bill Davies, Pushing Back: What Happens When Member States Resist the European Court of Justice?, Contemporary European History 21 (2012), 417-435.

[2] BVerfGE 154, 17-152 – PSPP.

[3] Rudolf Bernhardt, Probleme eines Grundrechtskatalogs für die Europäischen Gemeinschaften: Studie, Bulletin der Europäischen Gemeinschaften 1976, Beilage 5/76, 25.

[4] Foto: MPIL.

[5] Bernhardt (Fn. 3).

[6] Europäische Kommission, Audiovisual Service, Signature of a joint declaration on the respect of fundamental rights by the EP, the Council and the CEC, ID: P-015852/00-01.

[7] Gemeinsame Erklärung des Europäischen Parlaments, des Rates und der Kommission, Amtsblatt der Europäischen Gemeinschaften, 27. April 1977, ABl. 1977, C 103/1.

[8] Näher: Frank Schorkopf, Die unentschiedene Macht, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2023, 158 ff., 170.

[9] Foto: MPIL.

[10] Herrmann Mosler/Rudolf Bernhardt/Meinhard Hilf (Hrsg.), Grundrechtsschutz in Europa. Europäische Menschenrechts-Konvention und Europäische Gemeinschaften. Internationales Kolloquium veranstaltet vom Max-Planck-Institut für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht Heidelberg, Berlin: Springer 1977.

[11] Vgl. in diesem Kontext: Ernst Benda/Eckart Klein, Das Spannungsverhältnis von Grundrechten und übernationalem Recht, Deutsches Verwaltungsblatt 89 (1974), 389 ff.

[12] Hermann Mosler, Der Vertrag über die Europäische Gemeinschaft für Kohle und Stahl – Entstehung und Qualifizierung, ZaöRV 14 (1951/52), 1- 45; Hermann Mosler, Zur Anwendung der Grundsatzartikel des Vertrages über die Europäische Gemeinschaft für Kohle und Stahl, ZaöRV 17 (1956), 407-427; Hermann Mosler, Begriff und Gegenstand des Europarechts, ZaöRV 28 (1968), 481-502.

[13] Bericht der ad hoc-Gruppe für die Prüfung der Frage einer Erweiterung der Befugnisse des Europäischen Parlaments („Bericht Vedel“),25.3.1972, Bulletin der Europäischen Gemeinschaften 1972,  Beilage 4/72, 7-85, 83 ff., auszugsweise zugänglich unter

[14] Siehe: Constanze Jeitler, An “Almost Impossible Mission”: MPIL Director Jochen Abr. Frowein and the “EU Sanctions Against Austria” in 2000,

[15] Der vom Institut, besonders von Jochen Frowein, bearbeitete europäische Menschenrechtsschutz durch die EMRK ist davon ausgenommen, allerdings ist dieser als völkervertragliches Instrument des Menschenrechtsschutzes dem Völkerrecht zuzuordnen.


How the MPIL’s “Heidelberg Approach” Helped Resolve a Crisis in the 1970s

In May 1974, the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) published its famous Solange I decision. The Second Senate had found that the lack of fundamental rights protection in the European Communities necessitated the application of German fundamental rights law to European secondary law as long as (“solange”) there was no catalogue of fundamental rights adopted by the European Parliament.[1]  The decision triggered a legal and diplomatic crisis – very similar to the events that unfolded after the PSPP judgement in May 2020.[2]

Until now, little attention has been drawn to the fact that the Max Planck Institute was actively involved in resolving this crisis – this episode will be the subject of the following miniature. At the end, it provides an opportunity to formulate a thesis on the role of EU law in the institute’s work and self-image at the end of the 1990s.

Fundamental rights are an “outstanding achievement of the modern constitutional state.”[3]  Their general purpose lies in protecting the individual by limiting state power and enabling political participation; in some legal systems, fundamental rights also promise social emancipation. With the European Court of Justice substantiating the political power of the European Communities on the basis of an autonomous legal order in order to make the European Union’s actions as independent as possible from the member states, it now also required an acceptable form of fundamental rights protection.

Rudolf Berhardt at his inauguration as director of the institute, 1970[4]

This was the essence of a study published by Rudolf Bernhardt, the institute’s director at the time, on “Problems of a Catalogue of Fundamental Rights for the European Communities” („Probleme eines Grundrechtskatalogs für die Europäischen Gemeinschaften“) in the Bulletin of the Communities in 1976. The study was published together with a report by the European Commission on the “Protection of Fundamental Rights in the Creation and Development of Community Law”.[5]  This link was no coincidence. The Commission had commissioned the study from Bernhardt. It was intended to underpin its strategy for binding the European Communities to fundamental rights.

The study follows a comparative law approach, for which Bernhardt tapped into the expertise of the research fellows. Karin Oellers, Eckart Klein and Christian Tomuschat, among others, contributed to the study, which analysed the commitment to fundamental rights in the other member states of the Communities. The study, sound and sober in tone, concluded that the Community is indeed bound by fundamental rights in the form of general legal principles, which – due to the nature of the process – can only be developed incrementally. Nevertheless, it found, there was legal uncertainty and the binding nature of those principles for the European institutions, namely the European Parliament, the Council, and the Commission, was sometimes ambiguous.

The study ended with the surprising recommendation to have the three institutions make a declaration on their commitment to the fundamental rights developed by the European Court of Justice. That was what ensued: On 5 April 1977, the presidents of the three institutions, president of the Commission Roy Jenkins, president of the parliament Emilio Colombo, and president of the Council David Owen, signed a Joint Declaration in Luxembourg,[6] binding the institutions to the praetorian protection of fundamental rights.[7]  The Court of Justice itself was left out, which was understandable from a methodological and practical point of view, as it recognised – i.e. invented and concretised – precisely those Community fundamental rights. Nevertheless, a pattern emerged, as the Court’s cautious approach to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which has been proclaimed but did not enter into force legally yet, showed a good 20 years later.

Dispelling the doubts about the Community institutions’ commitment to fundamental rights by means of a declaration was a course of action based on an innovation that had been tried out shortly before. In 1975, the Council and Parliament had agreed on a substantive involvement of the Parliament in the legislative process, the conciliation procedure, which was a consequence of the Brussels and Luxembourg Treaties. Both treaties had opened up the budgetary procedure to the European Parliament – now parliamentary involvement via budgetary power, familiar from 19th century constitutionalism, was on the cards. The spin doctors in the legal services of the institutions had considered laying out the procedure in a declaration, as the treaties could not and were not supposed to be amended for this purpose, while at the same time, however, at least “soft normativity” was desired. [8]

Meinhard Hilf, 1970s[9]

Even if there are no tangible traces of the dossier at the Institute, it was no coincidence that the European Commission had explicitly commissioned the Max Planck Institute with the study. There was a personal connection between the two institutions through Meinhard Hilf. Hilf, who had obtained his doctorate in Heidelberg in 1972 under Herrmann Mosler, worked in the Commission’s legal service from 1974 to 1976. In 1977, he returned to the Institute as a research fellow to complete his habilitation under Bernhardt. Whether the author of the study formulated his recommendation to have the European institutions make a declaration on his own initiative or whether the study was intended to provide scientific support for a plan that had already been drawn up must be left open at this point.

In any case, the episode exemplifies the Heidelberg Approach, the function and self-image of the Max Planck Institute: As a government-related research institute, it placed its comparative and dogmatic expertise, its linguistic, human, and library resources at the service of an overarching political goal of the Federal Republic of Germany, namely European integration. At the same time, it made a singular contribution to the protection of European fundamental rights – also beyond the study itself. The topic was dealt with extensively by the institute and its researchers, as shown by the major conference held in Heidelberg in 1976 on the protection of European fundamental rights, which was published a year later in the Black Series (“Schwarze Reihe”).[10]  With its personal connections to the Foreign Office, the European Commission and the Federal Constitutional Court, whose President chairs the Institute’s Scientific Advisory Board,[11] it was the hub of a network of legal communication.

The directors of the Institute were also involved in important events and developments in European integration before and after this episode. Hermann Mosler is known to have been involved in an advisory capacity in the negotiations on the European Coal and Steel Community and published key articles on the subject in the institute’s journal Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht (ZaöRV; English title: Heidelberg Journal of International Law, HJIL).[12]  Jochen Frowein, who was appointed to the Institute in 1981, had already contributed to the “Vedel Report” in 1972. The report was a perceptive, analytical assessment of the institutional framework of the Communities shortly after the end of the twelve‑year transition period, which contained comprehensive proposals for parliamentarisation.[13]  Towards the end of his directorship, he was one of the “three wise men” whose report in September 2000 put an end to the “Causa Austria”, the diplomatic sanctions imposed on Austria because of the FPÖ’s participation in government.[14]

Nevertheless, I would like to conclude with the following thesis: “EU law” was a new field of law viewed with slight suspicion as it threatened to draw attention away from the core object of interest, international law. This was certainly the case for issues relating to operative EU law beyond the foundations of the treaties.[15]  Until the 1990s, the “European law scholar” was not the type of junior academic or research fellow favoured by the Institute. EU law was tolerated as an additional qualification and as a pragmatic necessity to become eligible for appointment. As an independent field, which was regarded essentially administrative law and therefore outside the Institute’s remit, it was frowned upon until the early 2000s. Even when a very well-known new director with, among other things, a strong European law profile, was appointed, word was one hoped that he would focus on international trade law and not EU law.

Translation from the German original: Sarah Gebel

[1] BVerfGE 37, 271-305 – Solange I; On the national and international aftermath of the decision: Bill Davies, Pushing Back: What Happens When Member States Resist the European Court of Justice?, Contemporary European History 21 (2012), 417-435.

[2] BVerfGE 154, 17-152 – PSPP.

[3] Rudolf Bernhardt, Probleme eines Grundrechtskatalogs für die Europäischen Gemeinschaften: Studie, Bulletin of the European Communities 1976, supplement 5/76, 25.

[4] Photo: MPIL.

[5] Rudolf Bernhardt (fn. 3).

[6] European Commission, Audiovisual Service, Signature of a joint declaration on the respect of fundamental rights by the EP, the Council and the CEC, ID: P-015852/00-01.

[7] Joint Declaration by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, Official Journal of the European Communities, 27 April 1977, C 103/1.

[8] For further reference: Frank Schorkopf, Die unentschiedene Macht, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2023, 158 ff., 170.

[9] Photo: MPIL.

[10] Herrmann Mosler/ Rudolf Bernhardt/ Meinhard Hilf (eds.), Grundrechtsschutz in Europa. Europäische Menschenrechts-Konvention und Europäische Gemeinschaften. Internationales Kolloquium veranstaltet vom Max-Planck-Institut für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht Heidelberg, Berlin: Springer 1977.

[11] In this context, cf: Ernst Benda/Eckart Klein, Das Spannungsverhältnis von Grundrechten und übernationalem Recht, Deutsches Verwaltungsblatt 89 (1974), 389 ff.

[12] Hermann Mosler, Der Vertrag über die Europäische Gemeinschaft für Kohle und Stahl – Entstehung und Qualifizierung, HJIL 14 (1951/52), 1- 45; Hermann Mosler, Zur Anwendung der Grundsatzartikel des Vertrages über die Europäische Gemeinschaft für Kohle und Stahl, HJIL 17 (1956), 407-427; Hermann Mosler, Begriff und Gegenstand des Europarechts, HJIL 28 (1968), 481-502.

[13] Report of the Working Party examining the problem of the extension of the powers of the European Parliament (“Vedel Report”), 25 March 1972, Bulletin of the European Communities 1972, supplement 4/72, 7-85, 83ff, available at: Archive of European Integration (

[14] See: Constanze Jeitler, An “Almost Impossible Mission”: MPIL Director Jochen Abr. Frowein and the “EU Sanctions Against Austria” in 2000,

[15] This excludes human rights protection under the European Convention of Human Rights, which has been researched at the institute, especially by Jochen Frowein. It is, as an international treaty on human rights, however, part of international law.

An “Almost Impossible Mission”: MPIL Director Jochen Abr. Frowein and the “EU Sanctions Against Austria” in 2000

In the summer of 2000, the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (MPIL) was at the centre of European legal debates and Austrian media attention: The institute’s director Jochen Abr. Frowein had been nominated alongside Martti Ahtisaari and Marcelino Oreja as one of the so-called three Wise Men to evaluate the fourteen EU member states “measures against the Austrian government”. The question at the heart of this European affair – how should the union monitor and sanction a member state in violation of shared European values? – was posed at a critical moment in the EU history and concerns us until today.


In late August 2000, journalists outnumbered researchers and students at 535 Neuenheimer Feld in Heidelberg. On this cool summer day, director Jochen Abr. Frowein was not amused about the media frenzy at the MPIL as he made his way through a jungle of cameras for a meeting with former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari and former European Commissioner Marcelino Oreja.[1] These three “Wise Men” had been nominated earlier in the summer by Luzius Wildhaber, the president of the European Court of Human Rights to investigate “the Austrian Government’s obligations to the European values, in particular in regard to the rights of minorities, refugees and immigrants,” and “the development of the political nature of the FPÖ.”[2]

This mission was the final chapter in the struggle over the so-called “EU sanctions against Austria” between the Vienna government and the fourteen member states of the EU (EU‑14). These diplomatic and bilateral measures had been imposed after the far‑right Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs (Freedom Party of Austria, FPÖ) had entered a government coalition with the conservative Österreichische Volkspartei (Austrian People’s Party, ÖVP) in February 2000. The sanctions reduced diplomatic relations to a technical level and at EU summits, ministers refused to shake hands or pose for photos with their Austrian counterparts. Some statements related to the sanctions bordered on the bizarre: For example, Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel called on Belgians to cancel their winter vacation Austrian as he considered skiing in Austria “immoral” in the current situation (he later apologized for this statement).[3] Thus, the measures were neither actual political or economic sanctions nor had they been imposed by the European Union. As symbolic gestures, they expressed the concerns of the EU‑14 over a far‑right party joining a national government as a result of the surge of xenophobia, racism, and right-wing populism across Europe after the end of the Cold War. The Austrian government rejected the “sanctions”, arguing that they represented a violation of the “fundamental legal principles and the spirit of the European treaties”.[4]

The “sanctions” coincided with a critical moment in the history of European integration: Since the late 1980s, the EU had assumed a role as protector and promoter of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. These common European values played a crucial role in transforming the union from an economic into a political one. Simultaneously, institutional reform was underway to enable the accession of new member states from Central and Eastern Europe. At this watershed and for the first time in EU history, the “sanctions” called into question the formation of a national government by citing potential violations of common European values. This conflict between the EU‑14 and the Austrian government has become ingrained in institutional memory as it accelerated the introduction of a specific mechanism for sanctioning. At the same time, this historical episode continues to paralyze the EU when it comes to handling violations of its fundamental values in a member state.[5] As such, the “sanctions” have served as a cautionary tale for the EU for two reasons: First, they created an opportunity for the controversial Austrian government to increase its popularity by claiming that foreign powers were trying to undermine the outcome of a democratic election. While only 53,82 percent of the electorate had voted for ÖVP and FPÖ in the previous election, polls showed that a vast majority of voters opposed the “sanctions” – which were perceived as an unjust stigmatization of the country’s population as “Nazis” – and supported the resistance of the new government.[6] Second, the “sanctions” were imposed without any conditions for their abolition and it had thus to be assumed that only the collapse of the government would end them.[7] After months of deadlock, the Austrian government threatened to block further institutional reform in the EU, legitimized by a popular referendum (Volksbefragung) in Austria on “the further development of EU law”.[8] Simultaneously, the European Commission and the European Parliament had urged the EU‑14 to re‑evaluate the measures and find a solution acceptable to all sides.[9]

Finally, the Portuguese Council Presidency asked the president of the European Court on Human Rights, Luzius Wildhaber, to appoint “three personalities” to deliver a report on the Austrian government’s “commitment to the European values” and the “political nature of the FPÖ” at the end of June.[10] The social democrat Ahtisaari and the conservative Oreja were appointed due to their long careers in politics and diplomacy, in particular concerning international law and human rights. Meanwhile, Frowein was chosen based on his excellent reputation for his work at the intersection of theory and practice of international law and human rights, especially through his long‑standing membership of the European Commission for Human Rights from 1973 to 1993.[11] During his academic career, Frowein made significant contributions to the study of the prohibition of the use of force under international law, the right to self‑defense, and the protection of human rights at the local and universal level, e.g.  on the freedoms of expression, assembly, and religion, as well as the prohibition of discrimination and asylum law.[12]

The Wise Men in Vienna

Following a preliminary meeting in Helsinki on 20 July, Frowein, Ahtisaari, and Oreja re-convened in Vienna for their “almost impossible mission” of putting “an entire country under scrutiny.[13] Frowein was the first to arrive in Vienna on a rainy 27 July. A small crowd of journalists and protesters welcomed the MPIL director on Vienna’s Ringstraße in front of the noble Hotel Imperial.[14] The next day, the Wise Men began their “intensive program” of meetings with Austrian officials to discuss the commitment of the Austrian government to common European values.[15] No minor detail about the delicate mission – e.g. the traditional Austrian dishes served at the lunch with chancellor Schüssel (Rindssuppe, Tafelspitz, Topfennockerl) – went unnoticed by the Austrian media, as Frowein, Ahtisaari, and Oreja gave journalists very little to report as they “appeared unnoticed” on the scene, “remained eloquently silent” in front of the journalists” and “disappeared again quickly”.[16] While the media soon grew frustrated with the trio, the interlocutors were “extremely impressed” by their “meticulous preparation”.[17]

The MPIL’s very own “Jörgi-Bär” [19]

While the Wise Men met with the FPÖ leadership at the time to assess the “political nature” of their party, they did not meet with the man often considered solely responsible for the party’s success: Jörg Haider was a controversial and charismatic figure in Austrian politics whose recipe for success consisted of combining far-right poliicy with populist rhetoric. However, by the summer of 2000, Haider was, according to his own description, only a “simple party member” as he had stepped down as party leader to appease domestic and international criticism of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition. Nevertheless, the FPÖ made sure that the Wise Men received a symbolic effigy of their figurehead: A  so-called “Jörgi-Bär”, a small stuffed teddy bear the FPÖ had handed out as a giveaway in the previous election campaign, was sent to Heidelberg by the party as part of an information package. Until today, this small teddy bear can be found in the MPIL’s archive. The Austrian daily Der Standard cynically remarked that this was nothing but a “cuddle attack” on the Wise Men by the FPÖ to trivialize their extreme agenda.[18]

The Wise Men in Heidelberg and the Final Report

One month later, the trio reconvened at the seat of Frowein’s Institute to hold additional meetings and to finalize their report. More than twenty representatives of Austrian civil society flocked to the MPIL in Heidelberg. Opposition parties and NGOs criticized that the trio had only met with government officials during their visit to Vienna. The human rights organization SOS Mitmensch had asked for a meeting with Frowein specifically as they considered him to be “especially sensitive” to their concerns about the recent surge of racism and xenophobia in Austria.[20] Frowein, Ahtisaari, and Oreja “pricked up their ears” as the civil society representatives reported on the radicalization of the political climate since the FPÖ had joined the coalition.[21] After their final meeting with vice‑chancellor and FPÖ leader Susanne Riess‑Passer, the trio had “enough material to fill a library”. [22] Martti Ahtisaari mused that he would not mind if finishing the report would take a little longer and his stay at the MPIL would be extended as he had not been to Heidelberg since 1985.[23]

On 8 September 2000,  Frowein, Ahtisaari, and Oreja traveled to Paris to meet with President Jacques Chirac who was heading the French Council Presidency. Unlike their biblical eponyms, these Wise Men did not bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh but their Report on the Austrian Government’s Commitment to the Common European Values, in Particular concerning the Rights of Minorities, Refugees and Immigrants, and the Evolution of the Political Nature of the FPÖ[24]. The ceremonial handover in the Élysée Palace was disturbed by a “diplomatic scandal” characteristic of the early internet age: The Spanish daily El País leaked the report before Chirac received it.[25] After Chirac had received the report, it was made available to the general public on the MPIL’s website, which had been introduced in 1996 (for more on the digital transformation at the institute see the contribution by Annika Knauer on this blog).[26]

The beginnings of the Internet: Jochen Frowein on the news portal “Paperball” (Photo: MPIL)

The report found that the new Austrian government was committed to common European values. Its “respect in particular for the rights of minorities, refugees and immigrants is not inferior” and could even be considered higher than in other EU member states.[27] Furthermore, the report assessed that the Austrian government had taken steps to combat historical revisionism, discrimination, and prejudice. Regarding the “political nature of the FPÖ”, the trio voiced stronger concerns as they characterized it as a “right‑wing populist party with radical elements”, pointing out that the party “enforced xenophobic sentiments in campaigns”.[28] In addition, the report condemned the FPÖ’s practice of “suppress[ing] criticism by the continuous use of libel procedures” against journalists and researchers.[29] While the report stated that the measures “heightened awareness of the importance of the common European values” and “energized civil society” to defend them, Frowein, Ahtisaari, and Oreja also stressed that they “have in some cases been wrongly understood as sanctions directed against Austrian citizens” and were therefore simultaneously “counterproductive”.[30] A few days later, the EU‑14 followed the recommendations of the Wise Men and lifted the measures against the Austrian government.[31] Finally, Frowein, Ahtisaari, and Oreja urged the EU to develop a mechanism for evaluating member states’ commitment to common European values. They recommended the “introduction of preventive and monitoring procedures into Article 7 of the EU Treaty [EUT] so that a situation similar to the current situation in Austria would be dealt with within the EU from the very start.”[32]


Less than a year later, at the Summit in Nice in February 2001, the EU introduced a mechanism for sanctioning member states’ violations of European values, with the suspension of voting rights of the accused member state as a last resort. In a crucial moment of  EU history and as European values were put to the test, MPIL director Jochen Abr. Frowein alongside Maarti Ahtisaari and Marcelino Oreja was sent to Vienna on a delicate mission. The contributed to reforming how the EU protects and promotes its common values – at least on paper.

The question of how the EU should promote its common values and sanction those who violate them concerns the union to this day and perhaps now more than ever. The lesson of the measures taken by the EU‑14 against the Austrian government is twofold: On the one hand, they accelerated the introduction of a clear procedure in the TEU. On the other hand, the EU has been notoriously cautious to trigger this mechanism against members such as Hungary and Poland. Beyond the internal workings of the union, increasingly the question arises how the EU wants to promote its values beyond its member states and how far it is willing to go, as the debates about military assistance for Ukraine and the introduction of the EU Supply Chain Directive have shown. There is still plenty to discuss in Europe and at the MPIL about common European values, their promotion, and enforcement. It remains an “almost impossible mission.”

[1] Eva Linsinger, ‘Da haben sie die Ohren gespitzt‘: Menschenrechtsgruppen und Riess-Passer bei den drei Weisen in Heidelberg,“ Der Standard, 31 August 2000.

[2] Waldemar Hummer, The End of EU Sanctions against Austria – A Precedent for New Sanctions Procedures?, The European Legal Forum 2 (2000), 77-83, 79.

[3] Belgiens Außenminister Michel nennt eigene Äußerungen ’dumm‘, Tagesspiegel, 27 February 2000.

[4] Bundesministerium für auswärtige Angelegenheiten, Außenpolitischer Bericht 2000: Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Außenpolitik, Wien: Bundesministerium für auswärtige Angelegenheiten 2000, 30.

[5] Kim Lane Scheppele/Laurent Pech, Didn’t the EU Learn That These Rule-of-Law Interventions Don’t Work?, Verfassungsblog, 9 March 2018.

[6] Andreas Middel, Wien zeigt sich gegenüber der EU stur, Die Welt, 3 June 2000.

[7] Frank Schorkopf, Die Maßnahmen der XIV EU-Mitgliedstaaten gegen Österreich: Möglichkeiten und Grenzen einer “streitbaren Demokratie” auf europäischer Ebene, Berlin: Springer 2002, 145.

[8] Bericht des Hauptausschusses über den Antrag 211/A, Nr. 268 der Beilagen zu den Stenographischen Protokollen des Nationalrates, XXI. GP, Wien: Österreichisches Parlament, 11 July 2000.

[9] Hummer (fn. 2), 78.

[10] Schorkopf (fn. 7), 161.

[11] Porträts, Die Presse, 9 September 2000.

[12] Rüdiger Wolfrum, Jochen Abr. Frowein Zum 70. Geburtstag, Archiv des Öffentlichen Rechts 129 (2004), 330–332.

[13] Eine fast unmögliche Mission, Der Standard, 28 July 2000.

[14] Susanna Heubusch, Privatbutler und Topfennockerl – erlesener Service für den ‚Weisenrat‘, Kurier, 30 July 2000.

[15] Karl Ettinger/Friederike Leibl, Drei Weise, zehn Sessel 100 Journalisten, Die Presse, 29/30 July 2000; for a complete list of the meetings held in Vienna, see: Schorkopf (fn. 7), 195–97.

[16] Ettinger/Leibl (fn. 16).

[17] Heubusch (fn. 15); Drei Weise prüfen Österreich: ‘Sie meinen es sehr ernst‘, Die Presse, 29/30 July 2000.

[18] Eva Linsinger, FPÖ-Kuscheloffensive, Der Standard, 25 July 2000.

[19] Photo: MPIL.

[20] Fakten statt Diffamierung, News, 33/2000.

[21] Linsinger, Ohren (fn.1).

[22] Eva Linsinger, Das Ende einer Dienstfahrt, Der Standard, 31 August 2000.

[23] Linsinger, Ende (fn. 23).

[24] Martti Ahtisaari/Abraham Frowein/Marcelino Oreja, Report on the Austrian Government’s Commitment to the Common European Values, in Particular Concerning the Rights of Minorities, Refugees and Immigrants, and the Evolution of the Political Nature of the FPÖ (the Wise Men Report), International Legal Materials 40 (2001), 102–123.

[25] Nikolaus Nowak, Diplomatischer Skandal: ‚El Pais‘ bekam Bericht zu Österreich vor Chirac, Die Presse, 9 September 2000.

[26] Under Frowein’s leadership, the MPIL had become a trailblazer for digitization in the MPG, see: Rudolf Bernhardt/Karin Oellers-Frahm, Das Max-Planck-Institut für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht, Contributions on Comparative Public Law and International Law, Vol. 270, Heidelberg: Springer 2018, 23.

[27] Ahtisaari/Frowein/Oreja (fn. 25), 119.

[28] Ahtisaari/Frowein/Oreja (fn. 25), 120.

[29] Ahtisaari/Frowein/Oreja (fn. 25), 120.

[30] Ahtisaari/Frowein/Oreja (fn. 25), 121.

[31] Schorkopf (fn. 7), 201-202.

[32] Ahtisaari/Frowein/Oreja (fn. 25), 120.

Ma patrie, c’est le multilinguisme

Multilingualism as a Homeland


Une réflexion sur l’utilisation du français dans l’étude et la pratique du droit (à l’institut Max Planck de droit international public de Heidelberg et au-delà)

La langue est la clef de voûte de toute pensée et pratique juridique.[1] En effet, elle constitue l’outil de travail central de tout·e juriste, car elle lui permet de forger des idées, de présenter des arguments et, plus largement, de (re-) calibrer le cadre juridique. En d’autres termes, l’expertise d’un·e juriste se mesure aussi à son aisance linguistique. L’importance de cette aisance linguistique s’explique par l’ambiguïté des règles juridiques (internationales), comme nous le rappelle Guy de Lacharrière, ancien juge français à la CIJ, dans son ouvrage classique « La politique juridique extérieure » paru en 1983.

La langue – plus qu’un (simple) outil de travail

Il serait toutefois réducteur de penser la langue uniquement comme un outil. Elle est bien plus que cela. La langue imprègne profondément notre identité et offre un référentiel socio-culturel qui dépasse son caractère nominatif. Comme disait Albert Camus : « Oui, j’ai une patrie : la langue française. » Ainsi, la langue représente également un important vecteur d’identité et de culture, y compris dans le domaine juridique. Compte tenu de cette caractéristique identitaire et culturelle, le choix d’une langue plutôt que d’une autre a un impact significatif sur la pensée et la pratique juridiques.

Lorsque vous lisez le même arrêt en français et en anglais, par exemple, vous constaterez assez vite que les textes respectifs ne divergent pas seulement sur le plan linguistique, mais qu’ils véhiculent également une culture juridique différente, parfois même une conception différente du droit. Prenons par exemple l’arrêt Les Verts de la Cour de justice des Communautés européennes (CJCE) de 1986. Le texte français de l’arrêt fait référence à une « communauté de droit » (transformée plus tard en « Union de droit »), tandis que la version anglaise se réfère à une « Community [Union] based on the rule of law ». Nous savons tous que la notion d’Etat de droit, adaptée par la Cour à la construction européenne (c’est-à-dire à la communauté puis l’Union) et qui est chère aux systèmes de droit civil, d’une part, et le concept de rule of law émanant des systèmes juridiques de la common law, d’autre part, diffèrent à bien des égards. Penser que les langues (du droit) sont tout simplement interchangeables relève du mythe de l’équivalence linguistique, comme le démontre habilement Jacqueline Mowbray. En conséquence, l’utilisation d’une langue peut ouvrir à son utilisateur non seulement un champ lexical, mais aussi et surtout un champ conceptuel et intellectuel, qui peut même revêtir d’une dimension juridico-politique.

Pour des raisons historiques, le français occupe une place particulière dans le droit international et dans le droit de l’Union européenne (UE). Jusqu’à nos jours, cela se traduit par le fait que le français est l’une ou, dans certains cas, la seule langue de travail au sein d’importantes institutions juridiques internationales (en ordre alphabétique : CEDH, CIJ, CJUE, CPI, TPIR, TPIY). La dimension linguistique du procès judiciaire soulève, par ailleurs, aussi des questions de justice linguistique. Le français est également la langue de travail d’un bon nombre d’institutions internationales, y compris le Secrétariat des Nations unies, ainsi que d’enceintes académiques, telles que l’Institut de Droit International. Bien que certains puissent considérer ce privilège linguistique comme désuet, il n’en demeure pas moins qu’il perdure et qu’il imprègne le droit international et le droit de l’UE. En effet, la langue de travail est étroitement liée à la langue de raisonnement, ce qui signifie que le raisonnement se déroule dans un cadre juridique donné (le cas échéant francophone, voire très souvent français). Et sans faire l’éloge du droit français, il est indéniable qu’il a laissé, notamment à travers le Code napoléonien, des traces significatives dans nombre d’autres systèmes juridiques en Europe et au-delà. Ainsi, savoir parler, lire et écrire le français reste pour plusieurs raisons un atout pour tout « internationaliste », « européaniste » ou « (publiciste) comparatiste ».

Le déclin du (droit) français à l’institut de Heidelberg

Dans les années 1950 et 1960, le français était encore l’une des principales langues étrangères parlées à l’institut. Deux brochures en témoignent, présentant l’institut et son travail

Malgré cette importance (relative) de la langue française pour la pratique du droit international et européen, le français tout comme le droit francophone sont rares à l’institut Max Planck de droit international public (MPIL) à Heidelberg. Pour arriver à cette conclusion, j’ai plongé – avec l’aide de ma courageuse assistante (étudiante) – dans les très riches archives de l’institut qui couvrent les 100 dernières années. Nous avons notamment étudié les protocoles de la réunion du lundi (Referentenbesprechung), cherché dans les registres des revues et des bibliothèques les publications des chercheurs de l’institut parues en français ou sur le droit francophone, déchiffré l’écriture de Victor Bruns dans sa correspondance francophone avec ses pairs, décortiqué les agrafes des papiers d’avis juridiques, recueilli les témoignages des (anciens) chercheuses et chercheurs de l’institut, et tourné de nombreuses pages de divers rapports d’activité. Cette exploration des archives n’est pas exhaustive (et sans doute pas exempte d’erreurs statistiques), mais elle apporte des éclairages tout à fait intéressants.

Bon vieux temps ? Hermann Mosler et Suzanne Bastid, première femme professeure de droit en France, lors de la conférence « Judicial Settlement » à Heidelberg en 1972 [2]

Hormis quelques conférences liant des membres de l’institut à des collègues et institutions universitaires francophones, les points de contacts avec la communauté juridique francophone restent sporadiques, même si le cadre institutionnel y est, tel que le partenariat académique franco-allemand HeiParisMax, mis en place en 2015. Bien plus nombreux sont, en effet, les échanges et collaborations scientifiques avec des chercheurs et institutions hispanophones, italophones et bien sûr anglophones.

Il est également à noter que très peu de personnes francophones viennent poursuivre ou approfondir leurs recherches à l’institut, ce qui explique aussi la faible activité du Forum francophone avec en moyenne une à deux présentations par an : les statistiques officieuses de notre « international officer » Mme Stadler montrent qu’en moyenne annuelle, seul·e·s quatre scientifiques, dont la langue de travail est le français, fréquentent la salle de lecture de l’institut ou œuvrent au MPIL en tant que scientifique invité·e, ce qui est cinq fois moins que dans les années 1990s selon les Tätigkeitsberichte (rapports d’activité) de l’époque. Cela contraste aussi significativement avec plusieurs dizaines de chercheurs hispanophones et des centaines d’anglophones aujourd’hui. Il convient toutefois de noter que, par le passé, deux membres francophones ont fait partie du comité scientifique consultatif (Fachbeirat), à savoir Pierre Pescatore, juge à la CJCE, dans les années 1970, et Evelyne Lagrange, professeur à la Sorbonne, dans les années 2010. (Cette dernière est encore aujourd’hui un membre scientifique externe de l’institut.)

De même, la France et son ordre juridique tout comme les ordres juridiques francophones sont (devenus) plutôt rares en tant qu’objets d’études à l’institut de Heidelberg. En témoigne la faible fréquence des présentations sur l’actualité juridique francophone dans le cadre de la Montagsrunde (autrefois appelée Referentenbesprechung), qui se limitent actuellement à une ou deux interventions annuelles au maximum (voir table 1 ci-dessous). Cela signifie que l’actualité juridique dans des ordres juridiques francophones, y compris la France, la Belgique, une partie la Suisse ainsi que toute l’Afrique francophone (couvrant le Maghreb et une bonne partie de l’Afrique subsaharienne), ne trouvent pratiquement aucun écho dans l’institut – alors qu’il y aurait suffisamment de sujets à traiter. Mais les coups d’Etats qui s’enchainent dans la région du Sahel restent, par exemple, relativement inaperçus (ou en tout cas sans suivi académique) à l’institut.

Année Nombre de présentation concernant des questions de droit français
2023 2 (portant sur des affaires devant la CEDH contre la France)
2022 0
2021 1 (portant sur une affaire devant la CIJ impliquant la France)
2020 2
2019 2 (dont 1 portant sur une affaire devant la CJUE contre la France)
2018 2 (dont 1 portant sur une affaire devant la CIJ impliquant la France)
2017 1
2016 2
2015 1
2014 1 (portant sur une affaire devant la CEDH contre la France)
2013 2
2012 1
2011 0
2010 2
2009 1 (portant sur une affaire devant la CEDH contre la France)
2008 5 (dont 1 portant sur une affaire devant la CIJ contre la France et 1 portant sur une affaire devant la CEDH contre la France)
2007 6 (dont 1 portant sur une affaire devant la CEDH contre la France)
2006 7
2005 5 (dont 1 portant sur une affaire devant la CEDH contre la France et 1 portant sur une affaire devant la CJUE contre la France)
2004 2
2003 3 (dont 1 portant sur une affaire devant la CIJ contre la France)

Table 1. Présentations délivrées durant la Referentenbesprechung sur des sujets de droit français (au sens large)

Une exception à l’invisibilité du droit français et de l’actualité juridique francophones réside dans les contributions de collègues francophones à des ouvrages collectifs à vocation comparative, notamment dans le cadre du projet Ius Publicum Europeum. Cependant, ces publications sont rédigées en allemand ou en anglais. En revanche, les publications en langue française sont (désormais) également très rares. Si l’on consulte la liste des publications d’il y a vingt ou trente ans, la situation était encore différente. L’institut publia, par exemple, à des intervalles réguliers des recueils trilingues (allemand, français, anglais) dans la Schwarze Reihe jusqu’à la fin des années 1980. En effet, entre 2002 et 2021, la Schwarze Reihe ne comptait aucune publication en langue française. Aujourd’hui, en moyenne une publication et demie en langue française (tous types de publications – article, chapitre, blog – confondus) par an est publiée par l’un·e des 50 scientifiques de l’institut. Depuis 2000, un seul article en langue française a été publié dans la Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht (ZaöRV) sur une question de droit mauritanien. La situation est plus favorable pour la Revue d’histoire du droit international/ Journal of the History of International Law, dont les dernières contributions en français datent de 2020. Des articles en langue allemande (ou anglaise) traitant du droit français, voire francophone parus dans ces deux revues se comptent sur les doigts de deux mains. Il y a toutefois eu quelques recensions de monographies et d’ouvrages collectifs publiés en langue française. Tout bien considéré, le français est donc aujourd’hui loin d’être une langue de recherche, et encore moins une langue de travail (même tertiaire, après l’allemand et l’anglais) à l’institut heidelbergeois.

Analyse des pratiques et compétences linguistiques

Télégramme du président de la Cour d’arbitrage germano-polonaise Paul Lachenal à l’arbitre allemand Viktor Bruns. La correspondance et le travail de la cour se faisaient exclusivement en français

Cette réalité linguistique contraste sensiblement avec la situation antérieure. Dans l’entre-deux-guerres, par exemple, le directeur Viktor Bruns traitait exclusivement en français les cas liés au Tribunal arbitral mixte germano-polonais résultant des dispositions du Traité de paix de Versailles, dont il faisait partie. Puis, directeurs Hermann Mosler – en tant que juge à la CEDH (1959-80) et à la CIJ (1976-85) – et Jochen Frowein – en tant que membre de la Commission européenne des droits de l’Homme à Strasbourg (1973-93) – ont mené une grande partie de leurs activités (para-) judiciaires en français.

Il faut également mentionner que les chercheurs de l’institut ont habituellement rédigé des rapports et avis ayant un lien avec le droit français. En exceptant tous les avis sur la Communauté européenne du charbon de de l’acier (CECA) et sur la poursuite de l’intégration européenne, sur des sujets concernant le droit de la guerre, sur le Conseil de l’Europe qui avaient (également) un lien avec la France ainsi que tous les avis de droit comparatif, on peut trouver, de 1949 à 1998, 13 avis portant exclusivement sur des questions de droit français, dont les deux tiers ayant été rédigés dans les années 1950 (voir table 2 ci-dessous). Mais ces activités d’expertise semblent avoir pris fin depuis 1998, date à laquelle le dernier avis, rédigé par Jochen Frowein et Matthias Hartwig sur la situation juridique des biens culturels saisis ou expropriés par la France, fut produit.

Année Intitulé [avec traduction en français] Auteur·e·s
1998 Rechtslage der von Frankreich beschlagnahmten bzw. enteigneten Kulturgüter [Situation juridique des biens culturels saisis ou expropriés par la France] Jochen A. Frowein and Matthias Hartwig
1997 Vereinbarkeit des Gesetzes über die Rechtsstellung der Banque de France mit dem EG-Vertrag [Compatibilité de la loi sur le statut de la Banque de France avec le traité CE] Jochen A. Frowein, Peter Rädler, Georg Ress and Rüdiger Wolfrum
1981 Rücknahme und Widerruf von begünstigenden Verwaltungsakten in Frankreich, Großbritannien, Italien und den Niederlanden [Retrait et révocation d’actes administratifs favorables en France, au Royaume-Uni, en Italie et aux Pays-Bas] Karin Oellers-Frahm, Rudolf Dolzer, Rolf Kühner, Hans-Heinrich Lindemann and Werner Meng
1962 Entschädigungssache des Herrn Jaques Sztern, Paris/ Land Nordrhein-Westfalen [Affaire d’indemnisation de M. Jaques Sztern, Paris/ Land de Rhénanie du Nord-Westphalie] Fritz Münch
1957 Communauté de Navigation Française Rhénane – Land Rheinland-Pfalz betr. Staatshaftung [Communauté de Navigation Française Rhénane – Land de Rhénanie-Palatinat concernant la responsabilité de l’Etat] Günther Jaenicke
1956 Welches Erbrecht ist beim Tode eines aus rassischen Gründen emigrierten früheren deutschen Staatsangehörigen, der in Frankreich lebte und in Auschwitz ums Leben kam, von dem deutschen Nachlaßgericht für die Erteilung eines gegenständlich beschränkten Erbscheines anzuwenden? [En cas de décès d’un ancien ressortissant allemand émigré pour des raisons raciales, qui vivait en France et qui est mort à Auschwitz, quel droit successoral doit être appliqué par le tribunal successoral allemand pour la délivrance d’un certificat d’héritier limité à l’objet de la succession ?] Günther Jaenicke
1956 Der Rentenanspruch des unehelichen Kindes eines in französischen Diensten gefallenen deutschen Fremdenlegionärs gegen den französischen Staat [Le droit à pension de l’enfant illégitime d’un légionnaire allemand mort au service de la France contre l’Etat français] Günther Jaenicke
1955 Zulässigkeit des Elsässischen Rheinseitenkanals [Licéité du Canal latéral du Rhin en Alsace] Günther Jaenicke
1954 Die völkerrechtliche und staatsrechtliche Stellung des Saargebietes [Le statut de la Sarre en droit international et en droit public] Carl Bilfinger, Günther Jaenicke and Karl Doehring
1953 Die völkerrechtliche und staatsrechtliche Lage des Saargebietes [Le statut de la Sarre en droit international et en droit public] Günther Jaenicke and Karl Doehring
1952 Die Stellung des Saargebietes als assoziiertes Mitglied des Europarates [La position de la Sarre en tant que membre associé du Conseil de l’Europe] Günther Jaenicke
1951 Bürger und Wehrmacht in Frankreich [Les citoyens et la Wehrmacht en France] Hans Ballreich
1951 Die rechtliche Stellung der politischen Parteien in Frankreich [Le statut juridique des partis politiques en France] Günther Jaenicke

Table 2. Avis portant sur des questions de droit français rédigés par des chercheurs et chercheuses du MPIL

Comment expliquer alors cette faible intensité, voire ce manque d’intérêt pour la langue française à l’institut de Heidelberg ou même pour le droit francophone de nos jours ? La raison pour cette évolution est sans aucun doute multifactorielle. Une première explication, qui semble la plus logique, pourrait résider dans la baisse des compétences linguistiques parmi les chercheurs et chercheuses de l’institut. En fait, de nombreux membres de l’institut étaient francophones (et souvent aussi francophiles) dans l’entre-deux-guerres tout comme après la seconde guerre mondiale. Ceci est vrai pour les scientifiques, mais également pour leurs secrétaires polyglottes. Quelle est la situation aujourd’hui ? L’hypothèse d’une diminution des compétences linguistiques ne tient pas la route : si l’on fait l’inventaire linguistique du personnel scientifique de l’institut, on s’aperçoit que plus de la majorité des chercheurs employés par l’institut ont effectué une période de leurs études en France (ou dans la partie francophone de la Suisse ou du Canada) et ont parfois même obtenu un diplôme d’une université francophone. Ils sont donc tout à fait disposés à suivre les évolutions juridiques dans l’espace francophone. Le recul de l’utilisation du français à l’institut ne peut donc guère s’expliquer par une moindre compétence linguistique. Par ailleurs, les directeurs actuels – Anne Peters et Armin von Bogdandy – ont, eux aussi, une maitrise distinguée de la langue française dont ils font preuve régulièrement lors d’événements francophones.

L’hégémonie anglophone

La langue française perdure dans le système de classement de la bibliothèque, introduit en 1924. Les cotes des pays pour les revues spécialisées sont toujours françaises : les revues américaines se trouvent sous EU (États Unis)

Une autre hypothèse pourrait être que l’usage modéré du français et l’étude limitée du droit francophone à l’institut ne font que refléter le contexte politico-juridique plus large, et donc l’importance décroissante du français dans la pratique juridique internationale. Le français joue un rôle particulier en droit international parce que – pour simplifier – la France était une grande puissance (coloniale) lors de la création de l’ordre juridique international. Par conséquent, une grande partie de la diplomatie internationale se déroulait autrefois en français et les instruments juridiques internationaux étaient également rédigés en français. En témoigne, par ailleurs, les recueils de traités et de jurisprudence publiés, voire édités par des membres de l’institut. On peut citer ici le Nouveau recueil général de traités et autres actes relatifs aux rapports de droit international (Recueil Martens) (publié par l’institut de 1925 à 1969) ou encore le Fontes iuris gentium (publié par l’institut de 1931 à 1990), ce dernier étant passé entièrement en anglais en 1986 (sous le nom de World Court Digest).

Bien que la France conserve un siège permanent au Conseil de sécurité des Nations unies et qu’elle reste un pilier du projet européen, elle n’occupe plus depuis quelque temps le rang de grande puissance. Cela se répercute évidemment sur l’usage de la langue française, en recul, pour ne pas dire en chute libre, au profit de l’anglais, devenu depuis la seconde guerre mondiale la lingua franca des relations internationales. Pour l’anecdote, le traité d’Aix-la-Chapelle – signé par la France et l’Allemagne en 2019 – a d’abord été élaboré et négocié en anglais par les diplomates des deux pays, avant d’être traduit en français et en allemand. Le monde diplomatique évolue et, avec lui, les habitudes linguistiques.

Cela nous amène à un troisième facteur qui peut nous aider à comprendre le recul de la langue française à l’institut de Heidelberg : l’anglophonisation du monde de la recherche, y compris dans le domaine du droit. Pour les internationalistes, européanistes ou encore les publicistes comparatistes, l’anglais est aujourd’hui la première langue d’interaction et surtout la langue de publication dominante, voire écrasante. Il suffit de regarder la liste de revues académiques les plus citées en droit international qui sont toutes, sans exception, anglophones. Malgré le fait que nous puissions aujourd’hui, grâce aux outils numériques, consulter beaucoup plus facilement des sources en plusieurs langues et traduire les écrits de nos collègues, nous constatons depuis une vingtaine d’années que les universitaires se réfèrent principalement et de plus en plus à des sources anglophones. Cela vaut en droit international, comme l’avait déjà en 1988 déploré Allain Pellet dans une lettre aux éditeurs de l’American Journal of International Law (AJIL), ou en droit européen comme le montre l’analyse éclairante de Daniel Thym de 2016. Ce biais linguistique pour l’anglais est, par ailleurs, tout particulièrement prononcé chez les auteurs américains qui, dans les mots de Christian Tomuschat (reproduits ici en français), « restent délibérément dans la cage de la littérature anglophone sans jamais regarder au-delà de leurs propres sources ». Même si les outils tels que DeepL ou ChatGTP nous permettraient d’aborder plus facilement des sources en langue étrangère, leur utilisation peut compléter une expertise linguistique de base, mais ne la remplace pas. En outre, les outils numériques favorisent souvent l’anglais en raison des algorithmes qui les alimentent – mais c’est encore un autre débat.

Le français a donc été remplacé non seulement comme langue de la diplomatie internationale et donc de la pratique du droit international, mais aussi comme langue de la recherche en droit international (et européen). Un changement particulièrement radical et significatif à cet égard fut l’abolition du français comme langue de publication du European Journal of International Law en 1998, lorsque la revue est passée sous la gestion de la maison d’édition britannique Oxford University Press, seulement dix ans après son lancement comme journal bilingue (français/ anglais) par des académiques polyglottes.

En tout état de cause, la situation à l’institut Max Planck heidelbergeois n’est donc pas une exception, mais s’inscrit dans une certaine évolution linguistique. Autrement dit, nous pouvons constater que la mondialisation et la diversification du monde de la recherche affaiblit le français. Suivant cette logique, la question est plutôt de savoir si les derniers bastions de la langue françaises – notamment l’Institut de Droit International – vont pouvoir imposer leur politique linguistique francophone dans la durée, surtout si l’on tient compte du fait que certaines discussions s’y tiennent déjà en langue anglaise, comme me l’a confié Anne Peters, membre de cette institution depuis 2021.

Facteurs aggravants : obstacles académiques et politiques

Chercheurs allemands et français côte à côte. Karl-Josef Partsch (à gauche) et Jean-Maurice Verdier (à droite) en 1978 lors du colloque “Koalitionsfreiheit des Arbeitnehmers”[3]

Les caractéristiques particulières du milieu universitaire français du droit (international), marqué par un formalisme très prononcé et une méthode bien distincte (mentionnons ici seulement le plan en deux parties/ deux sous-parties), ne rendent pas nécessairement la recherche juridique émanent de la tradition française facilement accessible. Pourtant, comme l’a démontré avec grande finesse analytique Andrea Hamann, la tradition française du droit international (et, dans une certaine mesure aussi du droit européen) fait preuve d’un pragmatisme. Ce pragmatisme inspirant, voire rafraîchissant pour certains, pourrait s’avérer bénéfique à notre époque, marquée par un sens croissant de la realpolitik et la nécessite de trouver des solutions aux nombreux problèmes qui se posent.

Enfin, on peut y ajouter que le déclin du français à l’institut de Heidelberg suit une tendance politique plus large. Les relations franco-allemandes traversent une période difficile (prolongée). Comme l’ont relaté plusieurs médias français, le vice-chancelier Robert Habeck a déclaré en Septembre 2023 lors de la conférence annuelle des ambassadeurs allemands : « Nous [les Allemands et les Français] ne sommes d’accord sur rien. » Sauf, semble-t-il, en ce qui concerne une certaine distance linguistique. Le gouvernement allemand a décidé de fermer plusieurs instituts Goethe en France, malgré les dispositions du traité d’Aix-la-Chapelle de 2019, dans lesquelles les deux pays s’engagent à entretenir et renforcer l’apprentissage de la langue de l’autre. Malgré le nombre impressionnant d’étudiants ayant suivis un cursus académique binational proposé par l’Université franco-allemande (UFA) – pour la seule année 2022, plus de 1400 étudiants ont suivi les cursus franco-allemands de l’UFA dans le domaine du droit – , grâce à des programmes d’échanges comme Erasmus ou des arrangements de cotutelle, il semble y avoir (à haut niveau politique) un repli (linguistique) qui n’est pas sans conséquence pour le monde de la recherche.

Défense du français dans un contexte (académique) multilingue

Pour conclure, il ne s’agit nullement dans cette contribution de faire preuve de nostalgie, c’est-à-dire de défendre un retour à l’époque où le français était la langue de la diplomatie internationale et du droit international, ni de militer pour un duopole franco-anglais dans les relations internationales démodé. Par ces quelques lignes, je souhaite attirer l’attention des lecteurs sur la question de la diversité linguistique dans le travail universitaire, qui permet également une certaine diversité intellectuelle et conceptuelle. La prédominance de l’anglais dans les études et la pratique du droit international et européen a certes des avantages, car elle facilite (a priori) les échanges et l’accès au savoir. Mais elle a aussi des inconvénients : elle donne l’illusion d’un monde beaucoup plus unifié et inclusif qu’il ne l’est en réalité.

La dominance de l’anglais comme langue scientifique vient, en effet, avec d’importants biais analytiques, conceptuels et autres, comme l’explique Odile Ammann si aisément (dans un texte rédigé en anglais). Si nous voulons éviter un appauvrissement du débat juridique (académique) et, en revanche, maintenir une certaine richesse dans la pensée et la pratique juridiques, il est important de cultiver également une certaine diversité linguistique – sur un plan individuel et institutionnel. Compte tenu de son importance historique et actuelle – le français est la cinquième langue la plus parlée au monde après l’anglais, le mandarin, l’hindi et l’espagnol – il semble opportun que le français fasse partie de cette diversité. Pour moi en tout cas, ma patrie est le multilinguisme et le français en est incontestablement un élément important.


A comprehensive version of this article will be published in RuZ – Recht und Zugang

[1] L’auteure remercie chaleureusement Rocío Bargon Sánchez et surtout Chiara Miskowiec pour l’excellent soutien de recherche qu’elles lui ont apporté lors de la rédaction de cet article. Un grand merci également à Anne-Marie Thévenot-Werner pour ses commentaires très constructifs sur une version antérieure de ce texte.

[2] Photo : MPIL.

[3] Photo : MPIL.

Suggested Citation:

Carolyn Moser, Ma patrie, c’est le multilinguisme. Une réflexion sur l’utilisation du français dans l’étude et la pratique du droit (à l’institut Max Planck de droit international public de Heidelberg et au-delà),, DOI: 10.17176/20240405-094941-0

Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED

A Reflection on the Use of French in the Study and Practice of Law at the Max Planck Institute for International Law in Heidelberg and Beyond

Language is the cornerstone of all legal thought and practice.[1] In fact, it is the most important tool of lawyers, enabling them to develop ideas, present arguments and, more generally, to (re-) shape the legal framework. In other words, a lawyer’s competence is also measured by his or her command of the language. The importance of this linguistic proficiency lies in the ambiguity of (international) legal rules, as Guy de Lacharrière, former French judge at the ICJ, reminds us in his classic work “La politique juridique extérieure”, published in 1983.

Language – (far) more than another tool in the box

However, it would be simplistic to think of language as a mere tool. It is much more than that. Language impregnates our identity and provides a socio-cultural frame of reference that goes beyond its nominative nature. As Albert Camus said: “I have a homeland: the French language.”[2] Language is therefore an important vector of identity and culture, including in the legal context. Given this characteristic of identity and culture, the choice of one language over another has a significant impact on legal thought and practice.

When reading the same judgment in French and English, for instance, one quickly realises that the respective texts not only diverge linguistically, but also convey a different legal culture, sometimes even a different conception of law. Consider, for example, the Les Verts judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Communities (ECJ) of 1986. The French version of the decision refers to a “communauté de droit” (lit. legal community) (later transformed into a “Union de droit” (lit. legal union)), while the English version refers to a “Community [Union] based on the rule of law. We all know that the Etat de droit concept (adapted by the Court to suit the European polity, i.e. the community and then the Union), which is dear to civil law systems, on the one hand, and the concept of the rule of law used by common law systems, on the other hand, differ in many respects. To think that languages (of law) are simply interchangeable means to fall back on the myth of linguistic equivalence, as Jacqueline Mowbray skilfully demonstrates. Consequently, the use of a particular language can open up to its user not only a lexical field, but also and above all a conceptual and intellectual dimension, which may even have a legal-political dimension.

For historical reasons, French enjoys a privileged status in international and European Union (EU) law. Today, this is reflected in the use of the French language as one or, in some cases, the only working language in major international judicial institutions (in alphabetical order: CJEU, ECHR, ICC, ICJ, ICTR, ICTY). The linguistic dimension of legal proceedings also raises questions of linguistic justice. What is more, French is the working language of many international institutions, including the United Nations Secretariat, as well as academic entities such as the Institut de droit international (Institute of International Law). While some may consider this linguistic privilege to be obsolete, the fact remains that it persists and permeates international and EU law. Indeed, the working language is closely linked to the language of reasoning, which means that reasoning takes place within a given legal framework (in this case, French). And without any aspiration to glorify French law, it is undeniable that it has left significant traces in many other legal systems in Europe and beyond, notably through the Napoleonic Code. It is therefore an asset for any “internationalist”, “Europeanist” or “comparatist” to be able to speak, read and write French for many reasons.

The decline of French (law) at the Heidelberg Institute

In the 1950s and 1960s, French was still one of the main foreign languages spoken at the institute. Two brochures presenting the institute and its work bear witness to this.

Despite this (relative) importance of the French language for the practice of international and European law, French and the study of francophone legal systems are scarce at the Max Planck Institute for International Law (MPIL) in Heidelberg.

To arrive at this conclusion, I plunged – with the support of my brave (student) assistant – into the Institute’s very extensive archives covering the last 100 years. We studied inter alia the protocols of the Monday Meeting (Referentenbesprechung), searched journal and library registers for publications by Institute researchers in French or on French-speaking law, deciphered the handwriting of Victor Bruns in his French-language correspondence with his peers, unpacked staples of legal opinions, collected testimonials from (former) Institute researchers, and turned over numerous pages of various activity reports. This exploration of the archives is by no means exhaustive (and doubtless not free from statistical error), but it does provide some interesting insights.

Good old days? Hermann Mosler and Suzanne Bastid, the first female law professor in France, at the “Judicial Settlement” conference in Heidelberg in 1972.[3]

Apart from a few conferences linking members of the Institute to francophone scholars, the points of contact with the francophone legal community remain sporadic, even if the institutional framework is there, such as the Franco-German academic partnership HeiParisMax, set up in 2015. Much more frequent are, indeed, scholarly exchanges and collaborations with Spanish-, Italian- and of course English-speaking researchers and institutions.

It should also be noted that very few French-speaking scholars come to pursue or deepen their research at the Institute, which also explains the low activity of the Francophone Forum with an average of one or two presentations per year: the unofficial statistics of the Institute’s international officer Mrs Stadler show that, on an annual average, only four researchers, whose working language is French, use the reading room of the Institute or work at the MPIL as guests, which is five times fewer than in the 1990s, according to the activity reports (Tätigkeitsberichte) of that time. This also contrasts significantly with the dozens of Spanish-speaking and hundreds of English-speaking scholars pursuing their research at the Institute these days. It should be borne in mind, however, that in the past, two French-speaking members have been part of the Scientific Advisory Board (Fachbeirat): Pierre Pescatore, Judge at the CJEC, in the 1970s, and Evelyne Lagrange, Professor at the Sorbonne university, in the 2010s. (The latter is still an external scientific member of the Institute today.)

Likewise, France and its legal order, as well as francophone legal systems, have (become) rather rare as objects of study at the Heidelberg Institute. This is evidenced by the low frequency of presentations on French legal news within the framework of the Monday Meeting (Montagsrunde, formerly called Referentenbesprechung), which are currently limited to a maximum of one or two annual presentations (see table 1 below). This means that the legal developments in francophone legal systems, including France, Belgium, parts of Switzerland and Canada as well as importantly French-speaking Africa (covering the Maghreb and big parts of sub-Saharan Africa), have virtually no resonance in the Institute, even though there are enough topics to cover. Hence, the successive coups d’Etat in the Sahel region, for example, go largely unnoticed (or at least without academic follow-up) at the Institute.

Year Number of presentations on matters of French law
2023 2 (cases before the ECHR against France)
2022 0
2021 1 (case before the ICJ involving France)
2020 2
2019 2 (including 1 case before the CJEU against France)
2018 2 (including 1 case before the ICJ involving France)
2017 1
2016 2
2015 1
2014 1 (case before the CJEU against France)
2013 2
2012 1
2011 0
2010 2
2009 1 (case before the CJEU against France)
2008 5 (including 1 case before the ICJ against France and 1 case before the ECHR against France)
2007 6 (including 1 case before the CJEU against France)
2006 7
2005 5 (including 1 case before the ECHR against France and 1 case before the CJEU against France)
2004 2
2003 3 (including 1 case before the CJEU against France)

Table 1. Presentations delivered during the Monday Meeting on subjects of French law (in the broadest sense)

An exception to the invisibility of French and francophone law and current legal events is the contribution of French-speaking colleagues to comparative collective works, particularly in the context of the Ius Publicum Europeum project. However, these publications are written in either English or German. On the other hand, it has become very rare for MPIL researchers to publish in French (nowadays). The situation was different twenty or thirty years ago. Until the late 1980s, for example, the Institute regularly published trilingual collections (German, French, English) in the Schwarze Reihe. In fact, between 2002 and 2021, the Schwarze Reihe had no publications in French. Today, on average, 1.5 publications (all types of output – article, chapter, blog – taken together) is published in French per year by one of the Institute’s roughly 50 researchers. Since 2000, only one French-language article has been published in the Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht (ZaöRV) on a question of Mauritanian law. The picture is brighter for the Journal of the History of International Law/ Revue d’histoire du droit international, where the latest contributions in French date back to 2020. Articles in German (or English) on French or francophone law published in these two journals can be counted on the fingers of two (small) hands. There have been a few reviews of monographs and collective works published in French, though. All things considered, French is far from being a research language at the Institute, let alone a working language (even at the tertiary level, after German and English).

Analysis of language practices and skills

Telegram from Paul Lachenal, President of the German-Polish Court of Arbitration, to German arbitrator Viktor Bruns. The court’s correspondence and work were conducted exclusively in French.

This linguistic reality contrasts sharply with the situation in the past. In the inter-war period, for example, Director Viktor Bruns dealt exclusively in French with cases related to the German-Polish Mixed Arbitral Tribunal, which was established under the provisions of the Versailles Peace Treaty and of which he was a member. What is more, Directors Hermann Mosler – as a judge at the ECHR (1959-80) and the ICJ (1976-85) – and Jochen Frowein – as a member of the European Commission of Human Rights in Strasbourg (1973-93) – carried out a large part of their (para-) judicial work in French.

It should also be noted that the Institute’s researchers have generally written reports and opinions on French law. Leaving aside all the opinions on the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and on the pursuit of European integration, on matters concerning the law of war, on the Council of Europe which (also) had a link with France, and all opinions of comparative law, there are 13 opinions from 1949 to 1998 which deal exclusively with questions of French law, two thirds of which were drafted in the 1950s (see table 2 below). However, those expert reports seem to have been discontinued since 1998, when Jochen Frowein and Matthias Hartwig produced their report on the legal situation of the cultural goods seized or expropriated by France.

Year Title [with English translation] Authors
1998 Rechtslage der von Frankreich beschlagnahmten bzw. enteigneten Kulturgüter [Legal situation of cultural goods seized or expropriated by France] Jochen A. Frowein and Matthias Hartwig
1997 Vereinbarkeit des Gesetzes über die Rechtsstellung der Banque de France mit dem EG-Vertrag [Compatibility of the Law on the Statute of the Banque de France with the EC Treaty] Jochen A. Frowein, Peter Rädler, Georg Ress and Rüdiger Wolfrum
1981 Rücknahme und Widerruf von begünstigenden Verwaltungsakten in Frankreich, Großbritannien, Italien und den Niederlanden [Withdrawal and revocation of favourable administrative acts in France, Great Britain, Italy and the Netherlands] Karin Oellers-Frahm, Rudolf Dolzer, Rolf Kühner, Hans-Heinrich Lindemann and Werner Meng
1962 Entschädigungssache des Herrn Jaques Sztern, Paris / Land Nordrhein-Westfalen [Claim for compensation from Mr Jaques Sztern, Paris / Land of North Rhine-Westphalia] Fritz Münch
1957 Communauté de Navigation Française Rhénane – Land Rheinland-Pfalz betr. Staatshaftung [Communauté de Navigation Française Rhénane Land of Rhineland-Palatinate with regard to State liability]. Günther Jaenicke
1956 Welches Erbrecht ist beim Tode eines aus rassischen Gründen emigrierten früheren deutschen Staatsangehörigen, der in Frankreich lebte und in Auschwitz ums Leben kam, von dem deutschen Nachlaßgericht für die Erteilung eines gegenständlich beschränkten Erbscheines anzuwenden? [What law of succession applies to the death of a former German national who emigrated for racial reasons, who lived in France and died in Auschwitz, for the purpose of issuing a certificate of inheritance?] Günther Jaenicke
1956 Der Rentenanspruch des unehelichen Kindes eines in französischen Diensten gefallenen deutschen Fremdenlegionärs gegen den französischen Staat [The pension entitlement of the illegitimate child of a German legionnaire who died in the service of France against the French state] Günther Jaenicke
1955 Zulässigkeit des Elsässischen Rheinseitenkanals [Lawfulness of the Lateral Rhine Canal in Alsace] Günther Jaenicke
1954 Die völkerrechtliche und staatsrechtliche Stellung des Saargebietes [Saarland’s status in international and public law] Carl Bilfinger, Günther Jaenicke and Karl Doehring
1953 Die völkerrechtliche und staatsrechtliche Stellung des Saargebietes [Saarland’s status in international and public law] Günther Jaenicke and Karl Doehring
1952 Die Stellung des Saargebietes als assoziiertes Mitglied des Europarates [Saarland’s position as an associate member of the Council of Europe] Günther Jaenicke
1951 Bürger und Wehrmacht in Frankreich [Citizens and the Wehrmacht in France] Hans Ballreich
1951 Die rechtliche Stellung der politischen Parteien in Frankreich [The legal status of political parties in France] Günther Jaenicke

Table 2. Opinions on questions of French law drafted by researchers of the institute

How then can we explain this lack of interest in the French language at the Heidelberg Institute, or even in francophone law today? The reason for this development is undoubtedly multifactorial. The most logical explanation would be the decline in the language skills of the Institute’s researchers. As a matter of fact, many staff members of the Institute were francophone (or even francophile) in its founding period and after the Second World War. This applied to the researchers, but also to their multilingual secretaries. So, where do we stand today? The hypothesis of a decline in language skills does not hold water: a linguistic inventory of the Institute’s scientific staff shows that the vast majority of researchers employed by the Institute have completed a period of their studies in France (or the francophone part of Switzerland or Canada), and sometimes even hold a degree from a French-speaking university. They are therefore perfectly qualified to follow legal developments in the French-speaking world. The decline in the use of French at the Institute can thus hardly be explained by a lack of language skills. Moreover, the current directors – Anne Peters and Armin von Bogdandy – also have an excellent command of French, which they regularly use at French-speaking events.

The Anglophone hegemony

The French language is still used in the library’s classification system, introduced in 1924. The country codes for journals are still French: American journals are listed under EU (États Unis).

Another hypothesis might be that the moderate use of French and the limited study of francophone law at the Institute simply reflect the broader political and legal context and, therefore, the declining importance of French in international legal practice. French plays a prominent role in international law because, to put it simply, France was a major (colonial) power at the time when the current international legal system took shape. As a result, until the 20th century, international diplomacy used to be conducted in French, and many international legal instruments were drafted in French. This is evidenced by the collections of treaties and jurisprudence published or edited by staff members of the Institute. Among these are the Nouveau recueil général de traités et autres actes relatifs aux rapports de droit international (Recueil Martens) (published by the Institute between 1925 and 1969) and the Fontes iuris gentium (published by the Institute between 1931 and 1990), which switched entirely into English in 1986 (under the name World Court Digest).

Although France retains a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and remains a pillar of the European project, it has for quite some time now ceased to be a great power. This has had an undeniable impact on the use of the French language, which is in decline, not to say collapse, in favour of English, which has become the lingua franca of international relations since the Second World War. For instance, the Treaty of Aachen – signed by France and Germany in 2019 – was first written and negotiated in English by diplomats of both countries, and then translated into French and German. The world of diplomacy is changing, and so are language habits and preferences.

This brings us to a third factor that may help to explain the decline of French at the MPIL in Heidelberg: the Anglophonisation of the research world, including in the field of law. For internationalists, Europeanists or comparative public/ constitutional lawyers, English is now the first language of interaction and, above all, the prevailing, if not predominant, language of publication. Just take a look at the list of the most cited academic journals in the field of international law, all of which are published in English. Despite the fact that, thanks to digital tools, we can now much more easily consult sources in several languages and translate the writings of our colleagues, we have noticed over the last twenty years that academics are mainly and increasingly referring to English-language sources. This applies to international law, as Allain Pellet had already deplored in 1988 in a letter to the editors of the American Journal of International Law (AJIL), as well as to European law as Daniel Thym’s insightful analysis of 2016 shows. This linguistic bias towards English is, moreover, particularly pronounced among American authors who, in the words of Christian Tomuschat, “remain deliberately within the cage of the Anglophone literature without ever looking beyond their own home-grown source.” Although tools such as DeepL or ChatGTP allow us to approach foreign-language sources more easily, their use can complement basic linguistic expertise, but it cannot replace it. Moreover, digital tools often favour English because of the algorithms they employ – but that’s yet another debate.

French has thus been replaced not only as the language of international diplomacy and therefore of the practice of international law, but also as a research language in international (and European) law. A particularly radical and significant change in this respect was the disappearance of French as the language of publication of the European Journal of International Law in 1998, when the journal came under the management of the British publisher Oxford University Press, only ten years after its launch as a bilingual (French/ English) journal by polyglot academics.

In any case, the situation at the Heidelberg Institute is not an exception, but part of a general linguistic trend. In other words, we are witnessing the decline of French as a result of the globalisation and diversification of the research world. Following this logic, the question is whether the last bastions of French – in particular the Institut de droit international – will be able to impose its francophone language policy over time, especially given that some discussions at said Institut are already held in English, as Anne Peters, a member of this institution since 2021, told me.

Aggravating factors: academic and political barriers

German and French researchers side by side. Karl-Josef Partsch (left) and Jean-Maurice Verdier (right) in 1978 at the colloquium “Koalitionsfreiheit des Arbeitnehmers”[4]

The peculiarities of the French academic landscape in (international) law, characterised by a pronounced formalism and very specific methods (just to mention the “deux parties / deux sous-parties” outline), do not necessarily make legal research emanating from the French tradition easily accessible. Yet, as Andrea Hamann has shown with great analytical finesse, the French tradition of international law (and to some extent European law) is pragmatic. This pragmatism is inspiring, even refreshing for some, and could prove advantageous in our time, marked by a growing sense of realpolitik and the need to find solutions to the many emerging problems.

Finally, we can also observe that the decline of French at the Heidelberg Institute follows a broader political trend. The Franco-German relationship is going through a (prolonged) difficult period. As reported by several French media, Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck remarked in September 2023 at the annual conference of German ambassadors: “We [the Germans and the French] do not agree on anything.” Except, it seems, on a certain linguistic distance. The German government has decided to close several Goethe Institutes in France, despite the provisions of the 2019 Treaty of Aachen, which stipulates that the two countries are committed to maintaining and strengthening the learning of each other’s languages. Despite the impressive number of students who have completed a binational academic programme offered by the French-German University (UFA) – in 2022 alone, more than 1,400 students followed Franco-German law courses at the UFA – thanks to exchange programmes such as Erasmus or cotutelle agreements, there seems to be a (linguistic) regression (at a high political level), which is not without consequences for the research world.

Advocating French in a multilingual (academic) context

In conclusion, this contribution is by no means intended to be nostalgic, i.e. to urge a return to the days when French was the language of international diplomacy and international law, or to advocate an outdated Franco-English duopoly in international relations. With these few lines, I would like to draw the readers’ attention to the need for linguistic diversity in academic work, which also allows for a certain intellectual and conceptual diversity. The predominance of English in the research and practice of international and European law certainly has its advantages, making (a priori) exchange and access to knowledge easier. But it also has its downsides: it gives the illusion of a world that is much more unified and inclusive than it actually is.

Indeed, as Odile Ammann explains so delicately, the dominance of English as the language of academia is accompanied by significant analytical, conceptual and other biases. If we want to avoid an impoverishment of the (academic) legal debate and, on the other hand, maintain a certain richness in legal thought and practice, it is important to cultivate linguistic diversity – at both the individual and the institutional level. It seems appropriate that French should be part of this diversity, given its historical and contemporary importance – it is the fifth most spoken language in the world after English, Mandarin, Hindi and Spanish. For me in any case, my homeland is multilingualism, and French is undoubtedly an important part of that.


A comprehensive version of this article will be published in RuZ – Recht und Zugang

[1] The author would like to warmly thank Rocío Bargon Sánchez and especially Chiara Miskowiec for their excellent research assistance during the drafting of this article. The original French text was translated into English with the help of Rocío Bargon Sánchez. Many thanks also to Anne-Marie Thévenot-Werner for her highly constructive comments on an earlier version of this text.

[2] In French, Camus’ statement reads as follows: “J’ai une partie: la langue française.”

[3] Photo: MPIL.

[4] Photo: MPIL.

Suggested Citation:

Carolyn Moser, Multilingualism as a Homeland. A Reflection on the Use of French in the Study and Practice of Law at the Max Planck Institute for International Law in Heidelberg and Beyond,, DOI: 10.17176/20240405-095049-0

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


“Asylum Compromise” Revisited

In the early 1990s, Andreas Zimmermann – then a PhD candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (MPIL) in Heidelberg – comprehensively addressed the question of the conformity of so-called “safe third country” (STC) practices in the field of refugee protection with international law. In 1992, in the run-up to the reform of the German asylum system, he wrote an expert opinion together with the institute’s director at the time, Jochen A. Frowein, for the German Federal Ministry of Justice titled “Der völkerrechtliche Rahmen für die Reform des deutschen Asylrechts” (“The International LawFramework for the Reform of German Asylum Law”)[1]. Following the adoption of Article 16a of the Basic Law – the German constitution –  in 1993, he wrote his PhD thesis titled “Das neue Grundrecht auf Asyl – Verfassungs- und völkerrechtliche Grenzen und Voraussetzungen” (“The New Fundamental Right to Asylum – Constitutional and International Law Limits and Requirements”).[2] The work was published in 1994 as part of the Heidelberg Max Planck Law book series “Contributions on Comparative Public Law and International Law”. It analyses in detail the legality of Article 16a of the Basic Law at the constitutional, European, and international level. Furthermore, in 1993, he also wrote an article on “Asylum Law in the Federal Republic of Germany in the Context of International Law”, which was published in the Heidelberg Journal on Comparative Public Law and International Law (HJIL).[3] In light of the current discourse surrounding the proposals for a reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), it is worthwhile revisiting these works.

The “Asylum Compromise” of 1993

In 1993, the concept of STC was introduced to the German constitution in an effort to deal with the high influx of war refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Germany thereby followed an emerging practice that originated in Switzerland to ensure a sharing of responsibility for asylum seekers  among members of the international community. States most impacted by refugee influx could reject an application for asylum as inadmissible and could subsequently send asylum seekers to another state on the condition that the receiving state could offer them adequate protection in accordance with accepted international standards.

Through the so-called “asylum compromise”, the right to asylum was severely restricted by means of changing Article 16 of the Basic Law. The previous version, formerly enshrined in Article 16(2) of the Basic Law read:

“Persons persecuted on political grounds shall have the right of asylum.”

Paragraph (2) of Article 16a of the Basic Law (introduced in 1993) stipulates:

“Paragraph (1) [the right to asylum] of this Article may not be invoked by a person who enters the federal territory from a member state of the European Communities or from another third state in which application of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is assured. […]”[4]

Safe Third Country Practices and International Law

Regarding the compliance of the STC concept enshrined in Paragraph (2) of Article 16a of the Basic Law with international law, Zimmermann’s main conclusions,[5] in 1993, are as follows:

Under customary international law, states are not subject to a duty to readmit persons other than their own nationals. Hence, sending an asylum seeker to a third state is only possible if that state has declared its willingness to readmit asylum seekers and provide them with the option to request refugee status in a legally binding agreement with the sending state.

Under the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention (thereinafter: Refugee Convention), states are generally not precluded from returning asylum seekers to third states. In any given case, however, it must be assured that the principle of non-refoulement, enshrined in Article 33 of the Refugee Convention, is abided by. This means that asylum seekers must be protected from persecution in the third state as well as from deportation by the third state to the presumed country of persecution (protection from chain deportations).

While STC can be determined in a generalized manner, it is necessary that the states in question are themselves bound by the Refugee Convention without geographical reservations and that their procedure of asylum application is in line with the procedural minimum standard under international law. However, even if the procedural guarantees of the Refugee Convention are generally complied with, the returning state is obliged to examine whether the receiving state fulfils its obligations under Article 33 of the Refugee Convention bona fide. In case of concrete indications that the respective third country is, in practice, not complying with the prohibition of refoulement stipulated in Article 33 of the Refugee Convention despite its formal commitment to the Convention, the returning state is obliged to review whether a country may remain on the list of STC.

Furthermore, before being sent back to a STC, a refugee must be granted an opportunity to claim that, in his or her individual case, the third state in question would not be safe.

Under the Refugee Convention, an asylum-seeker needs to be sufficiently connected to the third country in question for his or her transfer there to be legal. For example, a state has no right to return a person to a country through the airport of which he or she has passed for purposes of transit only.

Whereas the returning state must ensure that the third state abides by Article 33 of the Refugee Convention, it is not responsible for ensuring that allprovisions of the Refugee Convention are complied with in the third country.[6] Nevertheless, the third state must guarantee the refugee some kind of minimum living standard.

Under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), there are further special restrictions, e.g., with regard to the protection of family life (Article 8 ECHR) and the prohibition (under Article 3 ECHR) to create a situation where a person is permanently sent from one state to another and thus becomes a “refugee in orbit”.

Most of these findings about the legal safeguards still apply to today’s changed legal environment and have been further developed by scholarship and jurisprudence over the years. Some questions, however, remain disputed to this day: this includes whether the third state needs to be a party to the Refugee Convention and to what extent the sending state must ensure that provisions of the Refugee Convention are complied with in the third country.[7]

The Safe Third Country Concept in EU Asylum Law

In 2005, the concept of STC was incorporated at the EU-level in the 2005 Asylum Procedures Directive, which was later replaced by the 2013 Asylum Procedures Directive (rAPD). Article 38(1) rAPD stipulates that a member state may apply the STC concept only when the competent authorities are satisfied that a person seeking international protection will be treated in accordance with the following principles in the third country:

„(a) life and liberty are not threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion;

(b) there is no risk of serious harm as defined in Directive 2011/95/EU;

(c) the principle of non-refoulement in accordance with the Geneva Convention is respected;

(d) the prohibition of removal, in violation of the right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as laid down in international law, is respected; and

(e) the possibility exists to request refugee status and, if found to be a refugee, to receive protection in accordance with the Geneva Convention.”

Furthermore, according to Article 38(2)(a) rAPD, the applicant needs to be sufficiently connected to the STC, so that his or her return and seeking refuge there may be considered reasonable. If the conditions of Article 38 rAPD are met, a member state may consider an application for international protection to be inadmissible (Article 33(2)(c) rAPD).

Increasingly, restrictive immigration policies are aimed at deterring irregular arrivals and responsibility-shifting rather than responsibility-sharing. States are seeking to outsource migration management and international protection responsibility to third countries – mostly transit countries – already impacted by large refugee flows. These policies come with diminished safeguards, as demonstrated by the 2016 EU‑Turkey statement or the 2022 UK‑Rwanda agreement, the latter of which was recently declared unlawful by the UK Supreme Court on the basis that Rwanda was not a STC as asylum seekers would be at risk of refoulement.

While Article 16a of the Basic Law has lost its significance in German asylum law practice since the main regulations are now contained in international treaty law and EU law, the underlying question of the conformity of STC practices with international law remains a topical one. In June 2023, the European Council agreed on a negotiation position on the new Asylum Procedures Regulation. Under the latest[8] amended proposal for an Asylum Procedure Regulation (draft APR), the use of STC procedures shall be expanded by watering down and settling the legal safeguards of the concept on a low standard:

Article 43a(2) of the draft APR states that STC  need only provide “effective protection” to refugees but they are not obligated to grant them legal status, ensure full access to healthcare, or guarantee family unity. Furthermore, the concept of “de facto-protection”, on which Article 43a(2) draft APR is based, does not comply with international refugee law. However, whether the STC must be a party to the Refugee Convention (without geographical limitation) remains, as mentioned, controversial.[9] For instance, a STC could refer to a definition of refugee different than the one laid down in the Refugee Convention, as Zimmermann argues in his dissertation. Furthermore, as a non‐contracting state, a STC could claim to not be legally bound by the principle of non‐refoulement. Lastly, there would be no possibility for the UNHCR to intervene in cases of obvious breaches of the principle of non‑refoulement. Accordingly, at least in Zimmermann’s opinion, the STC must be a party to the Refugee Convention (as well as to other human rights treaties relevant to asylum).[10] With the concept of non-refoulement becoming customary in international law and, arguably, jus cogens, the argument Zimmermann makes may have lost some of its traction. However, an expansion of the circle of STC in the sense that it is no longer required for a third country to respect the principle of non-refoulement “in accordance with the Geneva Convention”[11] would be contradictory to Article 78(1) TFEU and Article 18 of the EU-Charter which require, respectively, that the EU’s asylum policy be “in accordance” with the Refugee Convention and that “the right to asylum shall be guaranteed with due respect for the rules of the Geneva Convention”.

According to Article 45(1)(a) of the draft APR, the safety of a country is to be assessed with reference to “non-nationals”. STC could therefore include countries persecuting their own citizens and producing refugees themselves. Additionally, a third country may be categorized as a STC “with the exception of certain parts of its territory or clearly identifiable groups of persons”, Article 45(1a) draft APR. This could lead to the relocation of asylum seekers to an unstable third state, where a protection zone equivalent to the size of a refugee camp is effectively managed and asylum seekers are held there with their subsistence ensured. This raises unresolved questions regarding the EU’s responsibility for ensuring adequate living standards in third countries as well as the inclusion of asylum seekers in line with the Refugee Convention (cf. Zimmermann’s findings above).

Fortunately, the “reasonable connection requirement” is to be upheld and its definition is subject to rules under national law. This prevents EU member states from concluding a UK‑Rwanda‑like agreement and sending refugees to faraway countries with which they lack any connection. Under Article 45(2b)(b), Recital 37 of the draft APR, a reasonable connection may be established when the applicant has settled or stayed in the third country. Proposals that included references to “transit” as conclusive evidence of a connection were unsuccessful. This is in line with the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).[12] The examples provided of “settlement” and “stay” nonetheless give member states some room for interpretation in this direction. Having said that, the “reasonable connection requirement” as laid out by Zimmermann in 1994 should inform these interpretations.

Member states may presume the safety of a third country on the mere basis of an agreement between the EU and said third country as well as general assurances by that country that readmitted migrants will be “protected in accordance with the relevant international standards”, Article 45(3) draft APR. The EU-Turkey deal, however, is living proof that the mere existence of an agreement does not guarantee its safety in practice. This is why the 2007 Michigan Guidelines on Protection Elsewhere require, for permitting the referral of an asylum seeker to “protection elsewhere”, a “good faith empirical assessment”[13] by the sending state that refugees will enjoy Refugee Convention rights in the receiving state.[14] The burden of proof in this respect therefore does not lie with the asylum seeker but with the country where the asylum application was lodged, as it retains the responsibility for any action in violation of its obligations under international law, particularly the principle of non-refoulement (cf. Zimmermann’s findings above).

Conclusion and Outlook

After three years of negotiations, the European Parliament and the Council reached a political agreement on the key proposals of the Pact on 20 December 2023, including the Asylum Procedures Directive. This opened the door for further negotiations regarding technical details with a formal adoption expected before the European Parliament elections in June 2024.

The latest proposal for the APR is an example of an attempt at lowering standards with regard to the concept of STC and contradicts the EU’s endorsement of a positive contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights.[15] Once it is formally adopted (changes by means of the political agreement reached in December 2023 and further political discussions notwithstanding), refugee protection in the EU will largely depend on how member states interpret and enforce the regulation. It will be important for member states to consider the real circumstances in the third countries in question. Furthermore, due consideration should be taken of the principles of international cooperation and responsibility-sharing as expressions of international solidarity, a concept which is enshrined in the preamble of the Refugee Convention. Member states should conduct negotiations with all third countries along the migration routes and the EU should make more attractive offers of cooperation with regard to migration policy towards the relevant third countries. To this end, it should also utilize development policy instruments, for example supporting these countries in strengthening their asylum and migration policy capacities.

30 years after the German “asylum compromise”, migration remains at the forefront of the political debate. Concomitant with this is the desire of states to send asylum seekers and, by extension, responsibility to third countries. The debate about international human rights and refugee protection standards in this regard must likewise continue and it is worth bringing to attention some “old” arguments such as those put forward by Andreas Zimmermann and Jochen Frowein at the MPIL.

[1] Jochen A. Frowein, Andreas Zimmermann, Der völkerrechtliche Rahmen für die Reform des deutschen Asylrechts: Gutachten im Auftrag des Bundesministeriums der Justiz erstattet vom Max-Planck-Institut für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht, Heidelberg, Bundesanzeiger 45 (1993).

[2] Andreas Zimmermann, Das neue Grundrecht auf Asyl – Verfassungs- und völkerrechtliche Grenzen und Voraussetzungen, Contributions on Comparative Public Law and International Law vol. 115, Heidelberg: Springer 1994.

[3] Andreas Zimmermann, ‘Asylum Law in the Federal Republic of Germany in the Context of International Law’, HJIL 53 (1993), 49-87.

[4] Translation: Christian Tomuschat et al., in cooperation with the Language Service of the German Bundestag, Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany in the revised version published in the Federal Law Gazette Part III, classification number 100-1, as last amended by the Act of 19 December 2022 (Federal Law Gazette I p. 2478).

[5] Compare: Zimmermann (fn. 2), 400-401.

[6] This is to be read against the background that, in Andreas Zimmermann’s opinion, it is required under international law that a STC is a party to the Refugee Convention.

[7] Rainer Hofmann and Tillmann Löhr, ‘Introduction to Chapter V: Requirements for Refugee Determination Procedures’ in: Andreas Zimmermann, Felix Machts and Jonas Dörschner (eds), The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol: A Commentary, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2011, 1112-1113.

[8] Any changes that were agreed upon as part of the political agreement reached in December 2023 are not expected to be available on paper until February 2014.

[9] Hofmann and Löhr (fn. 7), 1112, para 79.

[10] Compare: Zimmermann (fn. 2), 174f.

[11] Article 38(1)(c) rAPD.

[12] See CJEU, LH v. Bevándorlási és Menekültügyi Hivatal, judgement of 19 March 2020, case no. C-564/18, ECLI:EU:C:2020:218; CJEU, FMS, FNZ, SA, SA junior v. Országos Idegenrendészeti Főigazgatóság Dél-alföldi Regionális Igazgatóság, Országos Idegenrendészeti Főigazgatóság, judgement of 14 May 2020 in joint cases no. C-924/19 PPU and C-925/19 PPU, ECLI:EU:C:2020:367; CJEU, European Commission v. Hungary, judgement of 16 November 2021, case no. C-821/19, ECLI:EU:C:2021:930.

[13] Emphasis added.

[14] See also: UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Guidance Note on bilateral and/or multilateral transfer arrangements of asylum-seekers, May 2013, available at: <>  (last accessed: 18 January 2024), para 3(iii).

Suggested Citation:

Laura Kraft: “Asylum Compromise” Revisited,, DOI: 10.17176/20240219-184505-0

Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED


100 Jahre Öffentliches Recht. Die Entwicklung der Disziplin und das MPI

100 Years of Public Law. The Development of the Discipline and of the MPI


Vor 100 Jahren, als das Institut für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht gegründet wurde, verlief zwischen dem Völkerrecht und dem Staatsrecht noch eine scharfe Grenze. Das Völkerrecht regelte die Außenbeziehungen von Staaten, das Verfassungsrecht das Innenverhältnis in Staaten. Überwölbt wurden beide von der Souveränität, die Staaten zugeschrieben wurde und im Kern das Selbstbestimmungsrecht nach außen wie im Inneren meinte. Die äußere Souveränität gab den Staaten einerseits das Recht, ihre Beziehung untereinander frei zu regeln. Andererseits schützte sie die Staaten vor der Einmischung fremder Staaten in ihre inneren Angelegenheiten. Die innere Souveränität bezog sich auf das Recht der Staaten, ihre Herrschafts- und Gesellschaftsordnung frei zu bestimmen, und fand ihren höchsten Ausdruck in der Verfassungsgebung. Beide Seiten der Souveränität hingen insofern zusammen, als die äußere Voraussetzung der inneren ist.

Dementsprechend konnten die Disziplinen des Völkerrechts und des Staatsrechts ein Eigenleben führen. Wo die eine endete, begann die andere. Es war möglich, Völkerrecht zu erforschen und zu lehren, ohne dass man sich im Staatsrecht auskannte, und umgekehrt. Beide waren juristische Disziplinen, aber sie hatten es mit verschiedenen Arten von Recht zu tun. Das Völkerrecht war vertraglich begründetes Recht und ermangelte einer überstaatlichen öffentlichen Gewalt, die es hätte durchsetzen können. Das öffentliche Recht ging aus Gesetzgebung hervor und war mit Sanktionsmöglichkeiten versehen. So verhielt es sich auch noch, als ich 1957 das Jurastudium aufnahm, obwohl damals mit der Gründung der Vereinten Nationen bereits eine grundlegende Änderung der Verhältnisse eingetreten war, die sich aber nicht sofort in einer geänderten Wahrnehmung niederschlug. Ich möchte sogar sagen, dass es sich auch noch so verhielt, als ich 1979 Professor für Öffentliches Recht in Bielefeld wurde. Mein Büro befand sich neben dem von Jochen Frowein, der den Lehrstuhl für Völkerrecht innehatte, bevor er Direktor des Heidelberger Max-Planck-Instituts wurde. Wir pflegten ein gut nachbarliches Verhältnis, aber mit seiner Disziplin hatte ich nichts zu tun.

Die Veränderung, die mit der Gründung der UN einherging, war fundamental, wenngleich sie wegen des bald einsetzenden Ost-West-Gegensatzes, der den Weltsicherheitsrat lähmte, lange Zeit latent blieb. Fundamental war sie gleichwohl, weil die UN sich von älteren internationalen Bündnissen und Allianzen dadurch unterschied, dass ihr von den Staaten Hoheitsrechte abgetreten worden waren, welche sie nun ihnen gegenüber ausüben durfte, notfalls mit militärischer Gewalt, ohne dass die Staaten sich dagegen unter Berufung auf ihre Souveränität wehren konnten. Oberhalb der Staaten gab es nun eine internationale öffentliche Gewalt mit Rechtsetzungsbefugnissen und Durchsetzungsmechanismen, die das nationale Recht auf Dauer nicht unberührt ließ. Die dreihundert Jahre währende Identität von öffentlicher Gewalt und Staatsgewalt war damit zu Ende. Die Grenze zwischen den beiden Rechtsmassen und damit auch zwischen den Disziplinen wurde porös. An Bedeutung steht diese Veränderung der Entstehung des Staates im 16. Jahrhundert und seiner Konstitutionalisierung im 18. Jahrhundert nicht nach.


Infolge dieser Entwicklung nahm das Völkerrecht an Bedeutung erheblich zu. Der Bedeutungsgewinn äußerte sich gerade in der Grenzüberschreitung zum nationalen Recht. Die staatliche Souveränität ist seitdem keine absolute mehr, und zwar weder nach außen noch nach innen. Das Mittel des Krieges, ehedem mangels anderer Durchsetzungsmechanismen zur Rechtsverwirklichung statthaft, wurde illegitim. Nur der Verteidigungskrieg ist noch zulässig. Ferner hat sich ein ius cogens ausgebildet, das die Staaten beim Vertragsschluss bindet. Der Einzelne hat eine Rechtsstellung im Völkerrecht gewonnen. Die Staaten sind in der Regelung ihrer inneren Verhältnisse nicht mehr völlig frei. Das humanitäre Völkerrecht zieht ihnen Grenzen. Grundrechte – ihrer Genese in der amerikanischen und der französischen Revolution nach schon immer Menschenrechte – sind es nun auch ihrer Wirkung nach, wenngleich an Effektivität immer noch weit hinter dem staatlichen Grundrechtsschutz zurückbleibend. Humanitäre Interventionen sind im Prinzip anerkannt. Die internationale Gerichtsbarkeit hat einen erheblichen Aufschwung genommen. Weitere supranationale Institutionen sind unter oder neben den UN zustande gekommen. Die wissenschaftliche Disziplin, die diese Entwicklung zum Teil vorgedacht hat, sah sich dadurch wiederum in ihrer Bedeutung beträchtlich gesteigert.

Europäisches Recht

In Europa hat sich diese Entwicklung noch einmal beschleunigt und intensiviert. Sie begann bald nach der Entstehung der UN mit der Gründung des Europarats 1949. In Gestalt der Europäischen Menschenrechtskonvention steht ihm ein rechtliches Instrument zur Verfügung, das einen Mindeststandard an Menschenrechtsschutz in den Mitgliedstaaten garantieren soll und vom Europäischen Gerichtshof für Menschenrechte durchgesetzt werden kann. Die EMRK hält sich im Rahmen des traditionellen Völkerrechts insofern, als sie Entscheidungen des EGMR keine unmittelbare innerstaatliche Wirkung entfalten, also den für konventionswidrig befundenen staatlichen Akt nicht annullieren. Sie überschreiten die Grenzen des traditionellen Völkerrechts aber dadurch, dass Einzelne die Mitgliedstaaten wegen Verletzung von Konventionsrechten verklagen können. Zwar hat der Europarat nicht die Möglichkeit, Urteile zwangsweise durchzusetzen. Er kann aber immerhin den Staaten Geldstrafen auferlegen, wenn sie sich nicht an die Urteile des EGMR halten.

Eine weitere Steigerung entfaltete die Europäische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft, die in demselben Jahr gegründet wurde, als ich mit dem Jurastudium begann, ohne sich aber im Jurastudium schon auszuwirken. Die EWG, heute EU, übertrifft alle anderen supranationalen Organisationen an Kompetenzfülle und Organisationsdichte und übt die ihr von den Mitgliedstaaten übertragenen öffentlichen Gewalt nicht nur anlassbezogen und punktuell aus wie die UN, sondern permanent und flächendeckend. Seit den grundstürzenden Entscheidungen des Europäischen Gerichtshofs in den Fällen van Gend & Loos und Costa v. ENEL von 1963 und 1964 beansprucht das europäische Recht Vorrang vor dem nationalen Recht. Erst durch die Rechtsprechung des Gerichts ist die EU zu dem geworden, was sie heute ist: ein präzedenzloses Gebilde zwischen einer supranationalen Organisation und einem Bundesstaat, aber näher an diesem als an jener. Der EuGH setzt den Vorrang nicht nur beharrlich durch, sondern erweitert den Anwendungsbereich des Europarechts noch durch eine außerordentlich extensive Interpretation, der nur einige nationale Verfassungsgerichte äußerste Grenzen zu ziehen versuchen.

Nachhaltiger als das Völkerrecht änderte das Europarecht den Gegenstand des öffentlichen Rechts, den Staat und die staatliche Rechtsordnung. Gleichwohl wurde es noch lange ohne Bezug zum Verfassungsrecht, ja zum nationalen Recht überhaupt, behandelt. Anfangs kümmerten sich teils Völkerrechtler, teils Verfassungsrechtler um das neue Rechtsgebiet. Bald schon trat aber eine Spezialisierung des Europarechts ein. Europarechtliche Lehrstühle, Lehrveranstaltungen, Vereinigungen, Zeitschriften und Kongresse entstanden. Eine Eigenart der neuen Disziplin war, dass sich ihre Vertreter überwiegend mit dem politischen Projekt der europäischen Integration identifizierten und daher eine kritische Distanz zum Gegenstand vermissen ließen. Die Europarechtswissenschaft war lange Zeit apologetisch und wurde damit der Funktion von Wissenschaft nicht völlig gerecht.


Dieter Grimm als Richter am Bundesverfassungsgericht 1987 [1]

Im Staatsrecht vollzog sich unterdessen eine ambivalente Entwicklung. Der Bedeutungsgewinn des internationalen Rechts macht sich innerstaatlich primär als Bedeutungsverlust der nationalen Verfassungen bemerkbar. Jede Kompetenzabtretung an supranationale Organisationen verkürzt den Anwendungsbereich der nationalen Verfassungen. Sie können ihren Anspruch, die auf dem Territorium des Staates ausgeübte öffentliche Gewalt umfassend zu regeln, nicht mehr einlösen. Der Rechtszustand eines Staates ergibt sich nur noch aus einer Zusammenschau von nationalem und internationalem Recht. Es muss aber betont werden, dass das nicht notwendig gegen die Verfassung gerichtet ist. Das Grundgesetz zum Beispiel war von Anfang an offen für die Anwendung überstaatlichen Rechts in seinem Geltungsbereich. Die Entwicklung darf auch nicht nur unter Verlustgesichtspunkten gesehen werden. Gerade beim Menschenrechtsschutz ist in vielen Staaten, in denen die Grundrechte bis dahin rechtlich keine Rolle spielten, durch den internationalen Menschenrechtsschutz eine erhebliche Verbesserung eingetreten.

Andererseits ist es durch die Ausbreitung der Verfassungsgerichtsbarkeit in der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts zu einer ganz neuen Relevanz der Verfassung für politisches Handeln und gesellschaftliche Verhältnisse gekommen. Ausgangspunkt für Deutschland (und im Gefolge für zahlreiche weitere Staaten) war das Lüth-Urteil des Bundesverfassungsgerichts, erlassen im selben Jahr, in dem die EWG ins Leben trat. Von ihm ist über die Zeit eine Entwicklung ausgegangen, die zu einer Konstitutionalisierung der gesamten nationalen Rechtsordnung geführt hat. Die Disziplin des Staatsrechts, infolge dieser Bedeutungssteigerung der Verfassung fast nur noch als Verfassungsrecht bezeichnet, hatte daran erheblichen Anteil. Entgegen der bekannten These hat das Bundesverfassungsgericht die Staatsrechtslehre nicht „entthront“. Vielmehr konnte das Gericht für bedeutende Urteile auf neue Erkenntnisse der Staatsrechtslehre zurückgreifen.

Die Existenz der Verfassungsgerichtsbarkeit hat die Staatsrechtslehre dann aber auch wieder zu immer neuen dogmatischen Verfeinerungen angespornt, so dass heute bereits vor einer Überdogmatisierung gewarnt wird. Allemal ist aber die öffentliche Bedeutung der Staatsrechtslehre durch die überragende Wichtigkeit des Verfassungsgerichts erheblich gestiegen. War die Weimarer Republik mit ihrer ständig gefährdeten Verfassung eine Blütezeit der Verfassungstheorie, so ist die Bundesrepublik mit ihrer fest verwurzelten Verfassung eine Blütezeit der Verfassungsdogmatik. Obwohl die Fortschritte des Völkerrechts und noch weit mehr die Auswirkungen des europäischen Rechts – EMRK wie Unionsrecht – den Gegenstand der Wissenschaft vom öffentlichen Recht, den Staat und das Staatsrecht, nachhaltig verändert haben, hat es lange gedauert, bis die Disziplin die Veränderungen wahrnahm und als relevant für die Behandlung des eigenen Fachs anerkannte.


Die zunehmende Verflechtung der Rechtsordnungen, vertikal wie horizontal, hat der Verfassungsvergleichung, ja, dem Vergleich im öffentlichen Recht überhaupt, erheblichen Auftrieb gegeben. Lange Zeit war Rechtsvergleichung keine eigenständige Disziplin. Das heißt nicht, dass es sie nicht gab, sondern nur, dass sie sich noch nicht zu einer Disziplin verdichtet hatten. Rechtsvergleichende Forschungen entsprangen weitgehend der Neigung Einzelner und bezogen sich meist auf wenige favorisierte Länder, oft nur das eigene und ein weiteres. Seit dem neuen Jahrtausend ist die Rechtsvergleichung, gerade im Verfassungsrecht, ein boomendes Feld. Die Gründe liegen zum einen in der Intensivierung der Staatenbeziehungen, zum anderen in der Internationalisierung, die das Bedürfnis nach Kenntnis fremder Rechte erheblich erhöht hat. Hinzu kommt die große Zahl neuer Verfassungen und neuer Verfassungsgerichte gegen Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts, die den Vergleich beflügelt hat.

Mittlerweile kann man an den Universitäten und Forschungseinrichtungen bereits eine Verselbständigung der Rechtsvergleichung beobachten. Vergleichende Lehrveranstaltungen werden heute routinemäßig abgehalten, die Zahl komparatistischer Publikationen, Periodika, Vereinigungen und Kongresse wächst kontinuierlich. Der Verfassungsvergleich wird mit anderen Erkenntnisinteressen und anderen Methoden betrieben als die wissenschaftliche Bearbeitung des positiven Rechts. Beide widmen sich einem normativen Gegenstand. Aber einmal steht die Geltung und richtige Deutung und Anwendung des geltenden Rechts im Vordergrund, das andere Mal die Rechtswirkung und die tatsächliche Praxis. Hier wird die Forschung in normativer, dort in empirischer Absicht betrieben. Dementsprechend dominiert hier die juristische Interpretation, dort die rechtssoziologische Erhebung.

Der Vergleich findet häufig noch verhältnismäßig unambitioniert statt. Es gibt Textvergleiche, Institutionenvergleiche, Rechtsprechungsvergleiche, bisweilen auch Methodenvergleiche, jedoch oft ohne Berücksichtigung des Kontextes, in dem das Recht seine Wirkung entfaltet und von dem die Wirkung abhängt. Diese Art der Rechtsvergleichung ist nicht nutzlos, aber von begrenztem Nutzen. Erst die Einbeziehung der Rechtsverwirklichung vermittelt vertiefte und realitätsnahe Kenntnisse des fremden Rechts und erlaubt Rückschlüsse auf das eigene. Für das eigene Recht kann man bis zu einem gewissen Grad ohne Kontext auskommen, weil das Kontextwissen immer schon mitläuft, oft unausgesprochen oder sogar unbewusst. Für ausländisches Recht muss der Kontext explizit gemacht werden. Das macht die Rechtsvergleichung schwierig, aber auch erst ertragreich.

Ähnlich verhält es sich mit der Theoriegeleitetheit der vergleichenden Forschung. Sie präjudiziert den Blick auf den Gegenstand. Im Rahmen dieses kurzen Vortrags ist nur Zeit, auf zwei Großtheorien einzugehen. Es gibt Rechtsvergleichung auf der Grundlage der Annahme, dass das öffentliche Recht (wie Recht überhaupt) eine relative Autonomie genießt und rechtliche Operationen einer spezifisch juristischen Logik folgen. Für andere ist das ein realitätsblinder Idealismus. Verfassungen sind dann nicht zur Legitimation und Limitation von Herrschaft da, sondern erweisen sich als hegemoniale Projekte zur Machtsicherung über die Zeit. Rechtsprechung ist für diese sich als realistisch verstehende Forschungsrichtung ein Vorgang, der anderen als juristischen Kriterien folgt, weil Richter wie politische oder wirtschaftliche Akteure Nutzenmaximierer sind und anderweitig gefundene Ergebnisse nur nachträglich als rechtlich zwingend ausgeben. Dogmatik und Methode erscheinen dann als Berufsideologie. Sie verdienen keine wissenschaftliche Beachtung. Das erklärt das Desinteresse vieler Rechtsvergleicher am Vorgang der Auslegung und Anwendung des Rechts. In den USA ist diese Sicht weit verbreitet, in Europa hat sie bisher nicht die Oberhand gewonnen.


Wenn ich mich zum Schluss der Frage zuwende, wie sich diese Entwicklung in dem Max-Planck-Institut widerspiegelt, so handelt es sich zum einen um Eindrücke, die keiner eigenen Forschung entspringen, zum anderen um Informationen, die ich den Forschungen von Felix Lange entnehme. Danach dominierte in der Zeit von der Gründung des Instituts bis zum Kriegsende das Völkerrecht. Das entsprach den Gründungsmotiven des Instituts, den völkerrechtlichen Standpunkt des Deutschen Reichs in der vom Versailler Vertrag geprägten Nachkriegszeit zu stärken. Auch nach der Wiedergründung im Jahr der Entstehung der Bundesrepublik blieb es trotz der veränderten Bedingungen zunächst bei der Priorisierung des Völkerrechts. Offenkundig war der Praxisbezug der Forschung. Dem entsprach die Methode. Im Unterschied zu einer eher philosophisch-historischen Annäherung an den Gegenstand, der anderwärts vorherrschte, war sie juristisch. Neuere Fragestellungen und Theorieansätze hatten lange keine Chance.

Die Wirkung des Instituts war freilich groß. Allenthalben traf man auf den völkerrechtlichen Lehrstühlen in Deutschland Habilitanden aus dem MPI an. Für den europäischen Menschenrechtsschutz war das MPI besonders wichtig, weil zwei seiner Direktoren Richter am EGMR waren, Hermann Mosler von 1959 bis 1981, Rudolf Bernhardt von 1981 bis 1998, zuletzt sogar Präsident. Ein weiterer Direktor, Jochen A. Frowein, gehörte von 1973 bis 1993 der Europäischen Kommission für Menschenrechte an, die dem Gerichtshof bis zu der Reform von 1999 vorgeschaltet war. Georg Ress, der von 1998 bis 2004 als EGMR-Richter amtierte und zuvor schon Mitglied der Kommission gewesen war, war aus dem MPI hervorgegangen.

Für das deutsche Staatsrecht war das Institut nicht zuständig, wohl aber von Beginn an für das ausländische öffentliche Recht. Gleichwohl trat der Vergleich erst seit Ende der fünfziger Jahre stärker in Erscheinung, insbesondere durch breit angelegte vergleichende Kolloquien, die ihren bleibenden Niederschlag in zum Teil umfangreichen Publikationen fanden. Viele machen aber den Eindruck einer eher additiven als integrativen Vergleichung. Stark war das Institut jedoch, was die Vorhaltung von Expertise über das öffentliche Recht fremder Staaten betraf. Diese Expertise war aber nicht in sich rechtsvergleichend. Insofern bildete das Jahr 2002 eine Zäsur in der Institutsgeschichte. Erstmals wurde ein Direktor berufen, dessen Interessenschwerpunkt nicht das Völkerrecht war, sondern das Europarecht und die Rechtsvergleichung im öffentlichen Recht, und zwar mit erkennbar theoretischen Ambitionen, die vor allem der Erklärung des öffentlichen Rechts unter Bedingungen der Internationalisierung und Globalisierung galten. Der internationale Einfluss des MPI ist damit abermals gestiegen.

[1] Foto: Dieter Grimm.

Suggested Citation:

Dieter Grimm, 100 Jahre Öffentliches Recht. Die Entwicklung der Disziplin und das MPI,, DOI: 10.17176/20240403-102642-0

Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED



100 years ago, when the Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law was founded, a sharp boundary divided international law and constitutional law. International law regulated the external relations among states, constitutional law the internal relations within states. However, both shared the notion of sovereignty, which was ascribed to states and in essence referred to the right to self-determination both externally and internally. External sovereignty gave states the right to freely regulate their relations with each other, on the one hand. On the other hand, it  protected them from interference in their internal affairs by foreign states. Internal sovereignty referred to the right of states to freely determine their system of governance and social order and found its highest manifestation in the act of constitution-making. Both sides of sovereignty were related insofar as external sovereignty is a prerequisite for internal sovereignty.

Consequently, the disciplines of international law and constitutional law could exist independently of each other. Where one ended, the other began. It was possible to research and teach international law without being familiar with constitutional law, and vice versa. Both were legal disciplines, but they dealt with different types of law. International law was based on treaties and lacked a supranational public authority that could have enforced it. Public law emerged from legislation and was characterised by the possibility of sanctions. This was still the case when I started studying law in 1957, even though a fundamental change in circumstances had already occurred with the founding of the United Nations, which, however, was not immediately reflected in a changed perception. I might even go so far as to say that this was still the case when I became Professor of Public Law in Bielefeld in 1979. My office neighboured that of Jochen Frowein, who held the Chair of Public International Law before becoming Director of the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg. We had a good neighbourly relationship, but I had nothing to do with his field.

The transformation that was brought forth by the founding of the UN was fundamental, even if it remained latent for a prolonged period of time due to the onset of the East-West conflict, which paralysed the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, it was a fundamental change because the UN differed from older international associations and alliances in that states had transferred sovereign rights to it, which it was now authorised to exert on them, if necessary by using military force, without the states being able to defend themselves by invoking their sovereignty. Above the states, there existed now an international public authority with legislative powers and enforcement mechanisms that in the long term would not leave national law untouched. The three-hundred-year-old identity of public authority and state authority had thus come to an end. The boundary between the two bodies of law and consequently between the disciplines became porous. In terms of significance, this change equals the emergence of the state in the 16th century and its constitutionalisation in the 18th century.

International Law

As a result of this development, the importance of international law increased considerably. The increase manifested itself particularly in the transgression of the border with national law. Since then, state sovereignty is no longer absolute, both internally and externally. War, formerly permissible due to the lack of other enforcement mechanisms for the realisation of law, became illegitimate. It remains permissible only for purposes of self-defense. Furthermore, a jus cogens has developed, which binds states when concluding treaties. The individual has gained a legal status in international law. States are no longer completely free to regulate their internal relations. International humanitarian law imposes limits on them. Fundamental rights – in the American and French revolutions already perceived as human rights – are now human rights also in terms of their impact, even if their effectiveness still lags far behind the protection of fundamental rights by the state. Humanitarian interventions are in principle recognised. International jurisdiction has seen a considerable upswing. Other supranational institutions have come into being under or alongside the UN. The academic discipline, which in part anticipated this development, has in turn seen its importance increased considerably.

European Law

In Europe, this development has once again accelerated and intensified. It began soon after the emergence of the UN with the founding of the Council of Europe in 1949. In the form of the European Convention on Human Rights, it has a legal instrument at its disposal that is intended to guarantee a minimum standard of human rights protection in the member states and can be enforced by the European Court of Human Rights. The ECHR remains within the framework of traditional international law insofar as decisions of the ECtHR do not have direct domestic effect, i.e. they do not annul state acts found to be contrary to the Convention. However, they exceed the limits of traditional international law in that individuals can sue member states for violations of convention rights. The Council of Europe does not have the power to enforce judgements. However, it can impose fines on states if they do not comply with the judgements of the ECtHR.

The European Economic Community, which was founded in the same year that I started studying law, was another step forward, although it had no impact on my law studies. The EEC, now the EU, surpasses all other supranational organisations in terms of powers and organisational density, and exercises the public authority delegated to it by the member states not only on an ad hoc and selective basis like the UN, but permanently and comprehensively. Since the landmark decisions of the European Court of Justice in the van Gend & Loos and Costa v. ENEL cases of 1963 and 1964, European law claims precedence over national law. It is only through the jurisprudence of the Court that the EU has become what it is today: an unprecedented entity between a supranational organisation and a federal state, but closer to the latter than to the former. The ECJ not only persistently enforces primacy, but also extends the scope of application of European law by means of an extraordinarily extensive interpretation, which only some national constitutional courts attempt to draw ultimate limits to.

European law changed the object of public law, the state, and the national legal order, more permanently than international law. Nevertheless, for a long time it was treated without reference to constitutional law, or indeed to national law in general. Initially, the new area of law was dealt with partly by international law experts and partly by constitutional law experts. Soon, however, the treatment of European law became a matter for specialists. Chairs, courses, associations, journals, and congresses on European law were established. One peculiarity of the new discipline was that its members predominantly identified with the political project of European integration and therefore lacked a critical distance to the subject matter. For a long time, the discipline of European law was apologetic and thus did not fully fulfil its scholarly function.

Constitutional Law

Dieter Grimm as Federal Constitutional Court judge, 1987 [1]

Meanwhile, an ambivalent development has taken place in constitutional law. The growing importance of international law entails a loss of importance of national constitutions. Every transfer of competences to supranational organisations reduces the scope of application of national constitutions. They can no longer fulfil their claim to comprehensively regulate the public authority exercised on the territory of the state. The law of the land can only be ascertained by way of a synopsis of national and international law. However, it must be emphasised that this is not necessarily directed against the constitution. German Basic Law, for example, has always been open to the application of supranational law within its area of application. The development should not only be seen from a perspective of loss. International human rights protection, for instance, has led to a considerable improvement in the protection of human rights in many states where fundamental rights had previously played no legal role.

On the other hand, the spread of constitutional jurisdiction in the second half of the 20th century led to a completely new relevance of the constitution for political action and social relations. The starting point for Germany (and subsequently for numerous other countries) was the Lüth judgement of the Federal Constitutional Court, issued in the same year in which the EEC came into being. Over the course of time, it has resulted in the constitutionalisation of the entire national legal system. The discipline of “Staatsrecht”, almost exclusively referred to as constitutional law as a consequence of this increase in the importance of the constitution, played a significant role in this. Contrary to a well-known thesis, the Federal Constitutional Court has not “dethroned” the discipline of “Staatsrecht”. On the contrary, the Court was able to draw on new insights from constitutional law theory for important judgements.

The existence of constitutional jurisdiction has, however, spurred constitutional law doctrine on to ever new dogmatic refinements, so that today there are already warnings of an over-dogmatisation. Nevertheless, the public significance of the discipline has increased considerably due to the paramount importance of the Constitutional Court. While the Weimar Republic, with its constantly jeopardised constitution, was a high point of constitutional theory, the Federal Republic, with its firmly rooted constitution, is a high point of constitutional dogmatics. Although the progress of international law and even more so the effects of European law – the ECHR and Union law – have permanently changed the subject of the study of public law, the state and its law, it took a long time for the discipline to recognise the changes and acknowledge them as relevant for the study of its own subject.

Comparative Law

The increasing interdependence of legal systems, both vertically and horizontally, has given comparative constitutional law, and indeed comparative public law in general, a considerable impetus. For a long time, comparative law was not an independent discipline. This does not mean that it did not exist, but merely that it had not yet crystallised into a discipline. Comparative legal research was largely the result of the inclination of individuals and usually related to a few favoured countries, often just one’s own and one further country. Since the new millennium, comparative law has been a booming field, especially in constitutional law. The reasons for this lie on the one hand in the intensification of state relations and on the other in internationalisation, which has considerably increased the need for an understanding of foreign law. Added to this is the large number of new constitutions and new constitutional courts towards the end of the 20th century, which has fuelled comparative law.

Nowadays, one can observe a growing independence of comparative law at universities and research institutions. Comparative courses are now routinely taught, and the number of comparative publications, periodicals, associations, and conferences continues to grow. Constitutional comparison is pursued with different epistemological interests and methods than the academic study of positive law. Both are dedicated to a normative subject. Yet on the one hand, the focus is on the validity and correct interpretation and application of the law in force, and on the other hand on the legal effect and actual practice. In the former, research is conducted with normative intent, in the latter with empirical intent. Accordingly, the legal interpretation dominates in one case, and the legal-sociological analysis in the other.

Comparisons are often still relatively unambitious. There are text comparisons, comparisons of institutions, comparisons of case law, sometimes even comparisons of methods, but often without taking into account the context in which the law unfolds its effect and on what the effect depends. This type of legal comparison is not useless, but it is of limited use. Only the inclusion of the actual application of the law provides in-depth and realistic insights into foreign law and allows conclusions to be drawn about one’s own law. For one’s own law, one may get along to a certain extent without regard to the context, because the contextual knowledge always runs in parallel, often unspoken or even unconsciously. For foreign law, the context must be made explicit. This makes comparative law difficult, but it also makes it rewarding.

A similar situation applies to the theory-led nature of comparative research. It prejudices the view of the object. In the context of this short presentation, there is only time to discuss two major theories. There is comparative law based on the assumption that public law (like law in general) enjoys relative autonomy and that legal operations follow a specific legal logic. For others, this is reality-blind idealism. Constitutions are not there for the legitimisation and limitation of rule, but rather serve as hegemonic projects for securing power over time. For this research direction, which sees itself as realistic, jurisprudence is a process that follows criteria deviating from legal standards, because judges, like political or economic actors, are utility maximisers and only retrospectively present their results  as if derived with necessity from the law. Doctrine and method therefore appear as professional ideology. They do not deserve academic attention. This explains the lack of interest shown by many comparative lawyers in the process of interpreting and applying the law. Although this perspective is widespread in the USA, it has not yet gained prevalence in Europe.


When I finally turn to the question of how this development is reflected in the Max Planck Institute, I rely on the one hand on impressions that are not based on my own research, and on the other hand on information that I have gathered from Felix Lange’s research. According to this, international law dominated the period between the founding of the Institute and the end of the war. This was in line with the Institute’s founding motives of strengthening the German Reich’s position on international law in the post-war period, which was characterised by the Treaty of Versailles. Even after its re-establishment in the year the Federal Republic of Germany was founded, international law was initially prioritised despite the changed conditions. The practical relevance of the research was obvious. The methods corresponded with this. In contrast to a more philosophical-historical approach to the subject matter, which prevailed elsewhere, the approach was of a legal nature. For a long time, newer questions and theoretical approaches had no real prospect.

The impact of the Institute was, however, considerable. You could find habilitation graduates from the MPI in international law departments all over Germany. The MPI was particularly important for the protection of European human rights because two of its directors were judges at the ECHR, Hermann Mosler from 1959 to 1981 and Rudolf Bernhardt from 1981 to 1998, who eventually became its president. Another director, Jochen A. Frowein, was a member of the European Commission of Human Rights from 1973 to 1993, which operated as first instance until the reform of 1999. Georg Ress, who served as an ECtHR judge from 1998 to 2004 and had previously been a member of the Commission, had also emerged from the MPI.

The Institute did not cover German constitutional law, but it did cover foreign public law from the very beginning. Nevertheless, it was only from the end of the 1950s onwards that comparative law became more prominent, particularly through broad-based comparative colloquia, some of which were documented in extensive publications. Many, however, give the impression of an additive rather than integrative comparison. Nevertheless, the Institute was particularly influential when it came to providing expertise on the public law of foreign states. However, this expertise was not inherently comparative. In this respect, 2002 marked a turning point in the Institute’s history. For the first time, a director was appointed whose focus of interest was not international law, but rather European law and comparative public law, with recognisable theoretical ambitions that were primarily aimed at explaining public law under conditions of internationalisation and globalisation. As a result, the international influence of the MPI increased once again.

Translation from the German original: Áine Fellenz

[1] Photo: Dieter Grimm.

Suggested Citation:

Dieter Grimm, 100 Years of Public Law. The Development of the Discipline and of the MPI,, DOI: 10.17176/20240403-102716-0

Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED

On the Very Idea of Transnational Constitutional Law

Both an international human rights regime, such as the European Convention system, and supranational Union law have given rise to what I would like to characterize as transnational constitutional law, narrowly and properly understood. In contrast to the more sweeping use of this concept that refers to all legal phenomena having some cross-border dimension, transnational constitutional law, narrowly and properly understood, denotes law that originates from convergence that is neither truly customary nor conventional in nature. It is constitutional law as to its substantive impact, for it amends, or at least claims to amend, existing constitutional law in either the domestic or the supranational sphere.

Following Cassese’s apt characterization of common constitutional traditions, transnational constitutional law represents “higher law made of lower law”. In the case of human rights law, we encounter this in various assertions on the part of the ECtHRs that there exists or has emerged “consensus” among the participating states. This consensus affects the unyielding scope of fundamental rights and therefore alters, restricts, or even eradicates the “margin of appreciation”. In the context of EU law, by contrast, transnational constitutional law speaks to us mostly in the form of “common constitutional traditions”. The scope of these traditions is, of course, an open question. Given that an appeal to them has played an important role in fundamental rights law, it may make sense to restrict them to this field. At the same time, at least the wording of Article 6(3) TEU suggests that fundamental rights may merely be one manifestation of this source and that they may well be of relevance to other general principles of EU law, too. It is a different matter, which I nonetheless would still like to address briefly, whether Article 2 TEU is also a manifestation of transnational constitutional law, for it can be read in at least two different ways. The first suggests that the values expressed in Article 2 are the Union’s values regardless of whether they are in fact shared by the Member States. Article 2 demands, however, that they be common to all Member States. Alternatively, according to a second reading, the values are contributions made by the liberal democracies constituting the Union and can thus be regarded as a commitment that they also have in common outside of it. This path-dependence would imply that their meaning and significance has to be determined with an eye to what the Member States endorse in their constitutional traditions. The values of Article 2 would thus also represent “higher law, made of lower law”, whereas “higher” in this case means supranational law. But even if one followed the first reading, according to which the values in Article 2 are “autonomous” Union law, the fact that Article 2 states that they are also shared suggests that their substance is best fleshed out, as a matter of interpretation, with an eye to what Member States practice in the name of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. It must therefore remain essential, from the Union’s perspective, that the Member States converge on a certain minimum level. Otherwise, the common values would be cast asunder or diluted to a level at which they became entirely hollow. Even Ziobro’s system would then pass muster as a system of judical independence.

If transnational constitutional law in this narrow and proper understanding is higher law made of lower law, then what is puzzling about it is how lower law can attain such a jurigenerative power. Two conditions appear to be salient in this context. The first condition is convergence. In the case of “consensus”, what is of relevance is national legislation that is seen to lend expression to what the participating states regard as demanded by, or at least consistent with, convention rights. In the case of “common constitutional traditions” it is national constitutional law that gives rise—somehow—to supranational law. The “somehow” of its origin points to the second condition. Transnational constitutional law requires a court to recognize its existence. It would not be relevant without such recognition.

In both its international and supranational instantiations, transnational constitutional law is tarnished with a high degree of indeterminacy. It concerns the number of converging states required to give rise to constitutional amendments as well as the substance of the amended norms. For this reason, any assertion of transnational constitutional law by an adjudicating body must raise the specter of an encroachment from above. This explains why transnational constitutional law is surrounded by a ring of contestability.

The objections that can be relevantly made vis-à-vis assertions of its existence are different from the protests voiced by objectors who merely assert their persistent lack of consent to an alleged rule of customary law. The objections have to be grounded in more than mere freedom of choice, as it were, which means that withholding consent alone is not sufficient to undergird doubts concerning its existence.

More precisely, these grounds can be either internal or external.

They are internal when courts (or even scholars) located in national jurisdictions—usually constitutional courts—challenge the facts necessary for the existence of consensus or communality. They inveigh against the application of conditions that, at the end of the day, remain more or less indeterminate in any event. But they claim to apply the same murky assertability conditions, however, they claim to do so with greater accuracy than the international tribunal.

The contestation is external when it does not submit the finding of a consensus to an internal critique, but when it rejects a rule or a principle on the grounds of being incompatible with non-negotiable elements of the national constitutional system (its “essentials” or “identity”).

A classical instance of an internal contestation in the human rights context is the Hirst case, in which UK representatives objected to the assertion of consensus. In the same context, external challenges, subtly and suitably articulated by the Federal Constitutional Court, can range from the demand that compliance with international human rights jurisprudence may require careful adjustments all the way down to appeals to unyielding national constitutional identity. The Russian, when Russia was still a member of the Council of Europe, and Eastern European Courts have become champions of such “principled resistance”.

In the context of EU law, internal contestation concerns, again, alleged flaws in the assertion of a constitutional traditions. The Mangold case comes to mind. The anticipation or external contestation is epitomized possibly by the Omega Spielhallen case in which the European Court of Justice all of a sudden appropriated human dignity for Union law in order to avoid the impending collision with the German constitutional system.

Remarkably, however, the Union system repeats itself, in the case of common constitutional traditions, on its more general features, which is also relevant outside an assertion of transnational constitutional law. Namely, that it exists de facto under Solange or controlimiti conditions. The authority of the Union is, despite being founded on international agreements, subject to conditional yielding. This is true not only in the realm of fundamental rights, but also of supranational authority in general, not least with an eye to identity challenges. If I am not mistaken, the European Court of Justice has not yet been amenable to such challenges (we have Simmenthal, after all).

As a result, any assertion of transnational constitutional law has to face up to two countervailing principles. One is the principle of contestability. This principle is indispensable, for if not, the inter- or supranational court would be free to assert what it wants. It would otherwise by subterfuge acquire sovereign authority. The other principle is that of conditional yielding. If this latter principle becomes generalized—as was done over the last few years at this institute with the development of reverse and horizontal Solange—it gives effect to a mutual pledge to sustain liberal democracies in Europe. This, at any rate, is the new story that can be told about European integration in the wake of what von Bodgandy calls the “second saddle period” of European integration.

Transnational constitutional law is vertical. It is asserted from “above” and seeks to constrain those located below. Owing to contestability and its cognate principle of conditional yielding, however, the horizontal dimension is never fully absorbed. Rather, it can be activated in a pluralist context, that is, in a context where there is no final authority to assert what is right for all. All assertions of that kind remain system-relative. Collisions require dialogue and compromise for their resolution, and this may well involve a protracted process of adjudication in the spirit of comity. At the end of the day, Europe’s constitution is political, in the sense articulated by John Griffith. The constitution is “what happens”. Europe’s constitution is in and of itself historical.

Today, I have given you an introduction to the topic. I am confident, however, that exploring the form of this type of law would provide us with valuable insights into the pluralism of European Union law.

Suggested Citation:

Alexander Somek, On the Very Idea of Transnational Constitutional Law,, DOI: 10.17176/20240403-135705-0

Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED


Being a Trespasser

Disciplinary Entanglements, Collective Reflections

One of the major developments of public law scholarship in the last half century has been the enlargement of the study of public law, from studying the law to studying also the various approaches to the law and their changes over time.

This is a process of self-consciousness comparable to the revolution produced by the publication, in the second half of the Sixteenth century, of the “Essais” by Michel de Montaigne, because now lawyers study not only law, but also legal scholarship (that is how lawyers study law). This development has introduced a new canon in the legal culture.

For this reason, a collective reflection on the history of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law is particularly important and useful, if we succeed in situating this reflection in the larger  framework of the history of legal thought in the area of public law.

Disciplinary entanglements among public international law, European public law, and comparative public law (but also between public law and private law) progress in time as the product of a double development, one at the level of the legal change, the other in the scholarly dimension. The first is the erosion of state power, the second the crisis of the positivistic approach to science and to legal scholarship. Both phenomena have prompted a set of transformative developments in the field of public law.

Five new Developments

A first development is the blurring of the frontiers between the national dimension of the law and the foreign and supranational dimension. As in the XVI and XVII centuries national European courts, the “lex alius loci” (the law of another country) becomes relevant[1].

Article 6(3) TEU provides that: “[f]undamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as they result from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, shall constitute general principles of the Union’s law.”[2] A similar clause is found in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), Article 340. The reference to the legal orders of the Member States of the European Union as sources of Union law is reiterated in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, albeit with different wording (first “principles” and later “traditions”: Article 41(3) and Article 52(4)).

These provisions introduce an entirely new manner of lawmaking. The first is that the higher law is made up of the lower law, through a process of absorption. Therefore, in the area of fundamental rights, the “general principles” of European law are the result of a complex “two-way” process, because they first proceed from the bottom up, and then from the top down. The higher law can derive from lower law; the “general principles” do not drop down from the top. This process launches a “dialogue” between the two levels of government, and is proof of their reciprocal openness. “The inclusion of Member States’ law in the concept of European law” produces a “European conglomerate of legal norms of different legal orders”[3].

The second peculiarity is that this vertical two-way procedure also requires a horizontal, comparative process, because the commonalities must be discovered through a comparison of traditions. Comparison becomes a part of the norm-setting procedure. However, at the same time, this use of comparison has an impact on the identity of this branch of legal scholarship, which thus becomes an instrument to develop concepts and institutions that transcend individual national legal orders. Comparative law replaces legal comparison and to some extent can be considered as binding law[4].

A second development is the blurring of the borders between public and private law. To overcome the different national approaches to the public/private law divide, European law has introduced the notion of “body governed by public law” “established for the specific purpose of meeting needs in the general interest, not having any industrial or commercial character”[5]. This new notion crosses the public/private  law divide, is based on substantial and not formal elements, goes beyond the national dividing lines of private and public law.

A third development is the rediscovery of the role of legal scholarship as a major element of the legal order: culture and epistemic communities become a part of the study of law as they have an impact on the legal order through system building and interpretation. Therefore, it is vital to study the historical developments of legal scholarship as a part of the legal systems at the national and at the supranational level, taking into account the divergent legal approaches and crossing borders between States, disciplines and the public and private divide.

A fourth development is the overcoming of the traditional border between the legal space and the non legal (political, social) dimension. Thanks to this development, it becomes possible to study and understand the reciprocal influences of scientific management and Taylorism, on  one side, and the regulation of administrative procedure by judges and legislators, on another side. This convergence of learning overcomes fragmentation of science and encourages integration of points of view and cultures that were separated: the life of law is not only norms and judgments, not only legal orders and systems, not only legal concepts, but also history, culture, “mentalité”, and our task is to reassemble what has been divided in the last two centuries.

A fifth development is the recognition that foreign, transnational, supranational, and global law are not only an object of scientific analysis by national scholars belonging to a different legal system, but also “goods” or “merchandises” imported from the outside into a different legal order, that have effect due to their normative or quasi–normative role both in the original system and in the importing country. This is because legal systems are open or porous (treaties and agreements abolish barriers to money transfers and to trade; and money and trade are instrumental to the transplant of legal institutions); there are some characteristics, institutions, procedures, rules, practices, common to more than one national legal system; legislators get “inspiration” from comparison, and, therefore, they have to adjust national legal systems to the prevailing institutions in the most developed nations; national courts, for their part, establish links with foreign legal orders via comparison; legal scholarship is not bound to a nationalistic approach, and comparative law experts may not only study, but also suggest or advise, on the basis of comparison; comparison is not a pure intellectual effort to know each other; it assumes a practical function; as a consequence, legal scholarship can proceed from legal comparison (“Rechtsvergleichung”) to true comparative law; comparative lawyers establish a transnational legal discourse and act as “merchants of law”; finally, comparison becomes a “source of law”, with donor countries and receptor countries (that in some cases improve the model and become donors for other countries)[6].

Looking to the Future

Due to these developments, public law has changed and is changing. Three important aspects of this change are: the overcoming of the national limitation of law, the transdisciplinary opening of the splendid isolation of the legal method, and the modifications of the grammar of law (and its traditional conceptual grounding in Roman law).

Today’s imperative is to abandon exclusive legal nationalism. This does not mean not cultivating national law, but recognizing its necessary interdependence with other national laws, regional legal orders, and universal principles.

The second imperative is to build bridges between law, the “humanities” and the “social sciences”, because law is a social science. This does not mean to abandon the “legal method”, but to integrate it with other disciplines.

The third imperative is the construction of a more comprehensive language and grammar. The vehicular language is now English, spoken by a billion and a half inhabitants of the earth. The grammar is that developed by the various branches of the science of law almost everywhere in the world.

In its centennial history, the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law has become an innovative and attractive forum and center of the world’s epistemic community in public law. The combination of open-mindedness, richness of seminars and discussion, efficiency, and continuity attracts the best scholars in the field, junior and senior, a combination that has produced some of the best comparative pieces in the field of public and international law.

One can only hope that the Institute will continue along its well established traditions. One can expect and hope that in the future it will also combine researches on the State with the study of non-State actors and indirect rule, and match the study of legal doctrine and theory with a problem-oriented approach, open to non-legal methodologies.

As side by side to the State-pyramid have developed the State-network, and recently the State-archipelago, while the borders between internal and external public law become blurred, and the State is flanked by non-State supranational and global actors, attention must be given also to these new bodies.

Legal institutions and processes do not live in a vacuum, their study cannot proceed without taking into account political, sociological, cultural aspects. Therefore, while being using the tools of the trade, possessing full mastery of the legal techniques, perfect command of the principles, lawyers assembling at the Institute should also strive for a more open study of law.

 My final conclusion is an invitation: cross borders, be a trespasser, go “beyond the State, beyond the West, beyond the law”[7]!

A comprehensive version of this article will be published in the Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht.

[1] Gino Gorla, I tribunali supremi degli Stati italiani, fra i secoli XVI e XIX, quali fattori di unificazione del diritto nello Stato e della sua uniformazione fra Stati, in: Bruno Paradisi (ed.), La formazione storica del diritto moderno in Europa, Firenze: Olschki 1977, 447 ff.

[2] On the origins of the general principles of EC law, see Paul Craig, UK, EU and Global Administrative Law. Challenges and Foundations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2015, 323.

[3] Armin von Bogdandy, The Current Situation of European Jurisprudence in the light of Schmitt’s Homonymous Textunpublished paper, 15.

[4] I have developed these points in: Sabino Cassese, Ruling from below: common constitutional traditions and their role, N.Y.U. Environmental Law Journal 39 (2021), 591-618. On the methodologies of comparison, see Ran Hirschl, Comparative Methodologies, in: Roger Masterman/Robert Schütze (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Comparative Constitutional Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2019, 11 ff.

[5] Art. 1 directive 18 of 2004; see also CJEU, Gemeente Arnhem and Gemeente Rheden v BFI Holding BV, Judgement of 10 November 1998, case no. C-360/96, ECLI:EU:C:1998:525.

[6] I have made these points in: Sabino Cassese, Beyond Legal Comparison, in: Annuario di diritto comparato e di studi legislative, Napoli: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane 2012, 387-395.

[7] This is a synthesis made by Tommaso Amico di Meane, Sulle spalle dei giganti? La questione metodologica del diritto comparato e il suo racconto, Napoli: Editoriale scientifica 2022, 336.

Suggested Citation:

Sabino Cassese, Being a Trespasser,, DOI: 10.17176/20240219-171434-0
Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED


Der Weg in die Europäische Union

Accession to the European Union


Ein zeitloses Gutachten Hermann Moslers

Am 4. Oktober 1955 wandte sich Frits de Nerée tot Babberich an MPIL-Direktor Hermann Mosler mit einer Anfrage um ein Gutachten. Der Generalsekretär der Gemeinsamen Versammlung der Europäischen Gemeinschaft für Kohle und Stahl (EGKS), Vorgängerin des Europäischen Parlamentes, war von dessen Ausschuss für politische Angelegenheiten und Außenbeziehungen beauftragt worden, Materialien zu der Fragestellung des Beitritts dritter Staaten zur EGKS zu sammeln.

Die Montanunion steht für Deutschlands Reintegration in die europäische Ordnung nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg. Das Gutachten zum Beitritt dritter Staaten zur EGKS ist von ähnlicher Bedeutung für die europäische Integration des Max-Planck-Instituts für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht. Gutachten des Instituts waren seit dessen Neugründung 1949 vor allem durch deutsche Ministerien angefragt worden. 1955 aber gingen gleich zwei Anfragen von Seiten der Montanunion ein. Diese Gutachten sind Ausdruck der Öffnung des Instituts jenseits deutscher Grenzen.

Diese Öffnung ist eng verbunden mit der Person Hermann Moslers. Das ist kein Zufall. Der 1955 43 Jahre alte deutsche Völkerrechtler war in den Anfangsjahren des Auswärtigen Amtes zuständig für die Rechtsabteilung und in dieser Funktion eingebunden in die Ausarbeitung des Schuman-Plans.[1] Von 1954 an führte Hermann Mosler das Max-Planck-Institut 26 Jahre und war entscheidend für den neuen Fokus der Forschungseinrichtung.[2] Bis Kriegsende war im Institut das Völkerrecht vor allem zur Beantwortung von Fragen herangezogen worden, die Deutschland betrafen. Mit Mosler weitete sich der Blick auf internationale Organisationen, internationale Beziehungen und die sich entwickelnde europäische Integration.

Dass Mosler auf internationalem Parkett als unbelasteter Verhandlungspartner wahrgenommen wurde, kann auch durch die persönliche Geschichte de Nerées verdeutlicht werden. Zwischen 1942 und 1944 war der Politiker von den deutschen Besatzern als eine von 1400 niederländischen Geiseln im Lager St. Michielsgestel als Faustpfand zur Verhinderung von Attentaten durch Widerstandsbewegungen gefangen gehalten worden.[3] Trotz dieser einschneidenden Erfahrung wandte sich der Niederländer 1955 an den prominenten deutschen Völkerrechtler, nicht um den deutschen Standpunkt abzufragen, sondern um ein europäisches Gutachten zu erhalten zu einer zeitlos aktuellen Frage.

De Nerée 1950 in Amsterdam[4]

Denn Erweiterung ist fast 70 Jahre später weiterhin ein Thema. Immer noch wollen Staaten der Europäischen Union beitreten. Geändert hat sich allerdings die Haltung der Mitgliedstaaten. In den Anfängen wurde die Offenheit der Gemeinschaft unterstrichen, worauf sowohl Mosler im Gutachten als auch de Nerée im Schriftverkehr hinweisen, um die Angst vor der „Bildung eines wirtschaftlichen Machtblocks zu zerstreuen“ (S. 6 des Gutachten Moslers; alle weiteren Seitenangaben beziehen sich auf das Gutachten). Heute bestimmen die Grenzen der Erweiterung und neue Beitrittsbedingungen die Diskussion. So sieht Art 49 EUV, der den Beitritt zur EU regelt, mittlerweile auch politische Kriterien vor für einen Beitritt. Als de Nerée das Beitritts-Gutachten bei Mosler anfragte, waren die Fragen noch viel allgemeiner: Wie sollte die wirtschaftliche Eingliederung neuer Mitgliedstaaten in die Montanunion erfolgen? Wie ein Beitritt in eine so stark integrierte Gemeinschaft, wie es die Montanunion für damalige Verhältnisse bereits 1955 war? Ähnlich offen war auch die Frage, mit der sich der Gutachter konfrontiert sah: Muss, und wenn ja inwiefern, der EGKS-Vertrag abgeändert werden, um den Beitritt dritter Staaten zur Montanunion zu ermöglichen?

Der zu dem Gutachten überlieferte Schriftverkehr zeigt, dass Hermann Mosler sich zunächst darauf konzentrierte, die Frage zu präzisieren. Dafür nahm er Kontakt zu Marga Klompé auf. Die Niederländerin war eine wichtige Ansprechpartnerin, gehörte sie als als Berichterstatterin dem Ausschuss an, der Generalsekretär de Nerée gebeten hatte, Materialien zu der Beitrittsfrage zusammenzustellen. Marga Klompé, wie ihr Landsmann aus der Grenzregion zu Deutschland stammend, wurde später die erste Ministerin in den Niederlanden. Sie war zudem das erste weibliche Mitglied der Gemeinsamen Versammlung der EGKS.[5]

Marga Klompé (1956)[6]

Der Austausch zwischen Gutachter und Ausschussberichterstatterin führte zur Präzisierung der Frage, ob unterschieden werden müsse zwischen dem Beitritt eines Staates mit Kohle- und Stahlproduktion wie etwa Österreich, oder ohne, wie etwa Dänemark. Da diese Präzisierung noch einiges offenließ, nahm Mosler selbst eine Unterteilung seines Gutachtens in mehrere Unterfragen vor. In einem ersten Schritt erläutert er die Frage, wie ein Beitritt abläuft und damit die rechtliche Bedeutung der Vorgaben zum Beitritt in Art 98 EGKS und den dort vorgesehenen Zuständigkeiten der Organe (S. 5 ff.). In einem weiteren Schritt widmet er sich der Frage der Wirkung des Beitritts auf die Organe. Er prüft, ob im Vertrag Anpassungen vorgenommen werden müssen, da dieser die Besetzung der Organe auf die konkreten Mitglieder zuschneidet. Mosler diskutiert in diesem Zusammenhang die Fragen nach Gleichgewicht und Besetzung von Hoher Behörde, Beratendem Ausschuss (heute Europäischer Wirtschafts- und Sozialausschuss), Rat und Gemeinsamer Versammlung der Gemeinschaft (S. 35 ff.). Der letzte Teil seines Gutachtens beschäftigt sich mit Fragen der Übergangsfristen für den Beitritt, insbesondere mit Blick auf Marktbeitritt, der Anpassungszeiten erforderlich mache (S. 71 ff.).

Auf dem Weg in eine neue Rechtsordnung

Die Argumente, die Hermann Mosler im Gutachten heranzieht, beruhen hauptsächlich auf dem Völkerrecht. Er diskutiert eine analoge Anwendung von Verfahren aus völkerrechtlichen Verträgen. Die Übertragbarkeit von Mechanismen aus anderen Abkommen auf die EU wirkt heute befremdlich. Doch das Gutachten entsteht 1955, also noch vor dem großen nächsten Integrationsschritt, den Römischen Verträgen. Erst diese veranlassen den Europäischen Gerichtshof in seinem Van Gend en Loos-Urteil festzustellen, dass „die Gemeinschaft eine neue Rechtsordnung des Völkerrechts darstellt“.[7] Erst damit beginnt die sui generis-Debatte, der zufolge die Europäische(n) Gemeinschaft(en) etwas ganz Neues darstellen, das nicht nach völkerrechtlichen, sondern eigenen Maßstäben zu beurteilen ist. Heute ist es selbstverständlich, dass zur Auslegung der Verträge EU-Recht mit der entsprechenden vom EuGH entwickelten Methodologie angewandt wird. Dieses Gutachten erinnert daran, dass dies nicht immer so war und eine derartige Entwicklung für die Akteure damals nicht absehbar war. Nicht umsonst gilt das Van Gend en Loos-Urteil als revolutionär. Nichtsdestotrotz ergibt sich schon aus Moslers völkerrechtlich geprägten Überlegungen, dass die Gemeinschaft bereits 1955 so stark integriert war und viel stärker in die Souveränitätsrechte der Mitglieder eingriff als andere völkerrechtliche Verträge, dass Mosler oft keine Parallelen zu anderen Verträgen ziehen konnte und daher eher Abgrenzungen von bestehen Verträgen rechtfertigte. So stellt er im ersten Teil des Gutachtens klar, dass anders als bei UN-Konventionen ein Beitritt durch einfache Notifikation nicht möglich ist (S. 6) und erklärt an anderer Stelle, warum eine Anwendung der Mechanismen des GATT nicht auf die Gemeinschaft übertragbar sei.

Der EGKS-Vertrag vom 18. April 1951[8]

Insgesamt bietet das Gutachten einen guten Einblick in die Anfänge der Europäischen Union. Neben den völkerrechtlichen Grundlagen lässt sich aus dem Gutachten die erste Absicht des europäischen Projekts als deutsch-französisches Friedenprojekt erkennen, das auf der Zusammenlegung von Produktion beider Länder beruht. Die deutliche Privilegierung Deutschlands und Frankreichs im EGKS-Vertrag wirkt sich dementsprechend auf das Gutachten Moslers aus. Insbesondere die Besetzung der Hohen Behörde und die Abstimmungsmehrheiten im Ministerrat beschäftigen Mosler auch unter diesem Aspekt (S. 36 ff.). Interessant ist zum Beispiel, dass die Hohe Behörde aus jeweils einem Mitglied aus den Benelux-Ländern und Italiens, aber aus zweien aus Deutschland und Frankreich besteht. Das neunte Mitglied, der Präsident der Hohen Behörde, wird von den anderen acht bestimmt (Kooptationsverfahren). Diese spezielle Zusammensetzung und ihr Erhalt nehmen viel Raum im Gutachten ein – Überlegungen, die heute auf den ersten Blick keine Rolle mehr spielen. Tatsächlich dreht sich die seit langem diskutierte Verkleinerung der Kommission aber exakt um dieselben Fragen der „Repräsentation“ der Mitgliedstaaten in der Kommission – auch wenn die Kommission eigentlich von den Mitgliedstaaten unabhängig ist.[9]

Die generelle Problematik der Besetzung der Institutionen ist geblieben. Mosler stellte 1955 fest, dass „[k]ein allgemein anwendbares Prinzip festgelegt“ wurde für die Ernennung der Mitglieder der Hohen Behörde und die Zahl der Abgeordneten pro Mitgliedstaat, stattdessen wurden die Zahlen anhand der „Gründungssituation“ bestimmt (S. 53). Damit müssen diese Zahlen bei jedem Beitritt angepasst oder geändert werden. Dies war dann auch bei den ersten Beitritten 1973 der Fall (s. Art 10 ff. der Akte über die Beitrittsbedingungen und die Anpassungen der Verträge[10]) und hat sich bis heute nicht verändert. Die Zahlen werden jedes Mal neu ausgehandelt und für die bestehenden Mitglieder festgelegt. So wurden auch nach dem Austritt des Vereinigten Königreichs aus der EU die Sitze im Europäischen Parlament neu verteilt.[11] Auch die Debatte über die Bildung von Mehrheiten und Blockierungsminderheiten im Rat (im Gutachten auf S. 62 ff. diskutiert) führte noch in Nizza 2001 zu nächtelangen Diskussionen über Stimmgewichtungen.[12]

Sehr aktuell ist das Gutachten von 1955 auch im Hinblick auf die Kompetenzproblematik zwischen Union und Mitgliedstaaten. Mosler stellt in seinem Gutachten klar, dass der Rat (bzw. die von ihm beauftragte Hohe Behörde) bei Beitrittsverhandlungen in Vertretung der Mitgliedstaaten auftritt, und nicht in Vertretung der Gemeinschaft (S. 87). Im Rückblick bleiben viele Überlegungen Hermann Moslers relevant, auch wenn dies damals keineswegs sofort klar war. Denn die Anfrage an den Völkerrechtler fiel in eine Zeit des europäischen Umbruchs.

Moslers Gutachten in Zeiten des Europäischen Umbruchs

Den EGKS-Ausschuss hatte eine begrenzte, aktuelle Frage beschäftigt: Muss der Pariser Vertrag verändert werden? Doch während Hermann Mosler sich dieser Fragestellung widmete, entstand eine neue Dynamik im europäischen Reformprozess. Das im italienischen Messina gegründete intergouvernementale Spaak-Komitee arbeitete weitreichende Reformideen aus für einen ganz neuen Vertrag. Am 14. Mai 1955 forderte die Gemeinsame Versammlung in ihrer Resolution 35 die Außenminister auf, eine oder mehrere Regierungskonferenzen zu beauftragen mit der Ausarbeitung von Vertragsentwürfen, die für die weitere europäische Integration notwendig seien.[13] So wirkte Hermann Moslers Gutachten fast überholt, als kurz nach dessen Abgabe am 12. Januar 1956 im April des Jahres der Spaak-Bericht[14] veröffentlicht wurde – und in der Folge die Arbeiten an zwei neuen europäischen Verträgen, den Römischen Verträgen begannen.[15] Auch die Gemeinsame Versammlung, Moslers Auftraggeber, hatte nach dem Spaak-Bericht zur Ausarbeitung neuer Verträge aufgerufen.[16]

Doch die Römischen Verträge ersetzten den EGKS-Vertrag nicht, sie ergänzten ihn nur. Art. 232 (1) des EWG-Vertrags hält fest: „Dieser Vertrag ändert nicht die Bestimmungen des Vertrags über die Gründung der Europäischen Gemeinschaft für Kohle und Stahl, …“. Damit behielt auch das Gutachten seine Relevanz. 1967 folgte eine weitere, gewichtige europarechtliche Entwicklung: Die Römischen Verträge wurden mit dem Vertrag über die EGKS im Fusionsvertrag zusammengeführt, und die Europäische Gemeinschaft (EG) entstand. Deshalb waren die ersten Beitritte im Jahr 1973 Beitritte zur Europäischen Gemeinschaft. Doch der EGKS-Vertrag bestand bis zu seinem Auslaufen 2002 weiter. Damit blieben die Überlegungen Moslers in seinem Gutachten auch nach den Römischen Verträgen und der Fusion von Bedeutung, weil Beitritte zur EG immer auch einen Beitritt zum EGKS-Vertrag beinhalteten. Zudem entspricht die Beitrittsklausel in Art 237 des EWG-Vertrags weitestgehend der in Art 98 EGKS-Vertrag.

Aber der EWG-Vertrag beschreibt in Art. 237 ein konkreteres Beitrittsverfahren als bis dahin. Absatz 1 ist noch sinngemäß übernommen aus dem EGKS-Vertrag, doch in Absatz 2 formulieren die Mitgliedstaaten Vorgaben und Zuständigkeiten für den Beitritt: „Die Aufnahmebedingungen und die erforderlich werdenden Anpassungen dieses Vertrags werden durch ein Abkommen zwischen den Mitgliedstaaten und dem antragstellenden Staat geregelt. Das Abkommen bedarf der Ratifizierung durch alle Vertragsstaaten gemäß ihren verfassungsrechtlichen Vorschriften.“ Auffallend ist, dass dieser Absatz den Vorschlägen entspricht, die auch Hermann Mosler in seinem Gutachten gemacht hat. Es wird die Zuständigkeit des Rats geklärt, Vertragsanpassungen werden explizit genannt und das Ratifizierungsverfahren wird erläutert. Diese Formulierungen existieren weiter in art. 49 EUV, bis heute. Auch wenn nicht mehr feststellbar ist, wie sehr die Überlegungen des Institutsdirektors die Europäischen Verträge tatsächlich beeinflusst haben: Sicher ist, dass die Vorschriften für einen Beitritt viele andere Vorgaben überlebt haben. Sie werden angewandt, weiter ergänzt und sind damit immer noch in der Diskussion.


Die in diesem Artikel geäußerten Ansichten sind die der Autorin und spiegeln in keiner Weise die Ansichten des Rates der Europäischen Union oder des Europäischen Rates wider.

[1] Jochen Abr. Frowein, Hermann Mosler 70 Jahre, AöR 107 (1982), 630–632 (630).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Frits Groeneveld, Het dubbelgezicht van Michielsgestel, NRC Handelsblad (15.08.1992),   (letzter Aufruf 30.12.2022).


[5] Zu Marga Klompé, Angelika Fliegner in (letzter Aufruf 30.12.2022).


[7] C-26/62, Van Gend en Loos / Administratie der Belastingen, ECLI:EU:C:1963:1, S. 25.


[9] Zur Entwicklung der Anzahl von Kommissaren, s. Neill Nugent, Mark Rhinard (Hrsg.), The European Commission, London: Palgrave Macmillan 2015, S. 97 f.

[10] Akte über die Beitrittsbedingungen und die Anpassungen der Verträge, (letzter Aufruf 31.12.2022).

[11] Neuverteilung der Sitze im Europäischen Parlament nach dem Brexit, EP Pressemitteilung (31.01.2020), (letzter Aufruf 31.12.2022).

[12] Zu den Verhandlungen in Nizza siehe Pierre de Boissieu et al. (Hrsg.), National Leaders and the Making of Europe – Key Episodes in the Life of the European Council, London: John Harper Publishing 2015, Kap. 13.

[13] Résolution 35 de l’Assemblée commune de la CECA (Strasbourg, 14 mai 1955)            , (letzter Aufruf 31.12.2022).

[14] Zum Spaak Bericht: (letzter Aufruf 30.12.2022).

[15] Zur Chronologie der Entwicklungen hin zu den Römischen Verträgen: (letzter Aufruf 31.12.2022).

[16] Résolution 47 de l’Assemblée commune de la CECA (Strasbourg, 11 mai 1956),  (letzter Aufruf 31.12.2022).


A Timeless Legal Opinion by Hermann Mosler

On 4 October 1955, Frits de Nerée tot Babberich approached MPIL Director Hermann Mosler requesting an expert opinion. De Nerée, the Secretary-General of the Common Assembly of the Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Parliament’s predecessor, had been asked by the committee on Political Affairs and External Relations to assemble background information on questions surrounding the accession of third States to the ECSC.

The Coal and Steel Community is symbolic of Germany’s reintegration into the European order after the Second World War. It can be argued that the requested opinion on the accession of third States to the ECSC is of similar importance for the European integration of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law.

Since its re-foundation in 1949, expert opinions from the Institute had been commissioned primarily by German ministries. In 1955, however, the Institute received two requests from the ECSC – one of which this contribution aims to discuss. These requests reflect the opening of the Institute beyond Germany – and the welcoming of a German research organisation into a European context.

This opening is closely linked to the person of Hermann Mosler. This is no coincidence. The German international lawyer – 43 years old in 1955 – had been the head of the legal department of West Germany´s Foreign Office in its early years and in this capacity had been involved in the drafting of the Schuman plan.[1] From 1954 on, Mosler headed the Max Planck Institute for 26 years and was instrumental in its new outward focus.[2] Until the end of the war, the Institute had referred to international law primarily in order to answer questions concerning Germany. With Mosler, the focus broadened: the Institute now looked more closely at international organisations and examined international relations and the beginning of European integration.

Hermann Mosler was perceived as an unencumbered partner on the international stage and Frits De Nerée’s personal history can serve to illustrate this. Between 1942 and 1944, the Dutch politician had been held by the German occupiers as one of 1400 Dutch hostages in the St. Michielsgestel camp as a bargaining chip to prevent assassinations by the Dutch resistance.[3] Despite this drastic experience, the Dutchman turned to the prominent German international lawyer in 1955 – not to enquire about the German perspective, but to obtain a European expert opinion on a timeless issue.

De Nerée 1950 in Amsterdam[4]

The enlargement of the then ECSC and now the European Union is still a hotly debated issue almost 70 years later. Countries still want to join the European Union. However, the attitude of the EU Member States towards enlargement has changed since. In the early days, it was important to emphasise the Community’s openness in order to allay fears of “the formation of an economic bloc” (p. 6 of Mosler’s expert opinion, tr. LB; all further page references are to Mosler’s opinion). Mosler´s opinion and his correspondence with de Nerée are good examples for this approach.

Today, it is the EU’s enlargement capacity and new accession criteria that dominate the discussion. Article 49 TEU, which regulates accession, now also provides political criteria for accession. At the time when the Secretary General of the Common Assembly of the Coal and Steel Community requested the legal opinion on accession from the Head of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, the questions were much more general: how should new Member States be integrated economically? How would accession be possible to a community as strongly integrated as the ECSC already was by 1955 standards? Similarly open was the question of whether the ECSC Treaty needed to be amended to allow the accession of third States, and if so, to what extent.

Hermann Mosler concentrated his efforts on clarifying these questions, as the correspondence concerning the commissioned report shows. To do so, he contacted Marga Klompé, the rapporteur on the Common Assembly committee which had asked de Nerée to compile materials on the accession question. Marga Klompé, the first female member of the ECSC Common Assembly, came from the region on the Dutch-German border, like her compatriot de Nerée.[5]

Marga Klompé (1956)[6]

The exchange between Mosler and Klompé helped clarify that the expert opinion should also address the question whether it was necessary to distinguish the accession of third states with a coal and steel production (such as Austria) from that of states without such production (such as Denmark). Hermann Mosler further divided his report into several sub-sections discussing accession conditions and logistics. First, he examined the legal requirements for accession and the competences of the institutions as set out in Art. 98 of the Treaty of Paris establishing the ECSC (p. 5 ff.). Then he addressed the question of the effect of accession on the institutions. He assessed whether Treaty changes would be necessary since the Treaty tailored the institutions’ composition to the existing Member States. In this context Mosler discussed questions of balance and staffing of the High Authority (now the Commission), the Consultative Committee (now the European Economic and Social Committee), the Council, and the Common Assembly of the Community (p. 35 ff.). The last part of his report dealt with questions of transitional periods for accession, especially with regard to market entry (p. 71 ff.).

On the Way to a New Legal Order

In his expert opinion, Hermann Mosler relied on international law to support his arguments. He discussed an analogous application of procedures from other international treaties. Today, the transfer of mechanisms from international agreements to the EU seems odd. But the opinion dates from 1955, from before the next major step towards European integration which were the Rome Treaties in 1957. It was this next codification that prompted the European Court of Justice to declare in its Van Gend en Loos judgement that “the Community constitutes a new legal order of international law”[7]. Only then was the sui generis theory really launched, according to which the European Community(ies) represent an entirely new entity not to be appraised according to international law, but according to its own standards. Today, it is self-evident that the EU Treaties are to be interpreted using the methodology specific to EU law, as developed and monitored by the ECJ. Hermann Mosler’s legal opinion, however, reminds us that this has not always been a matter of course and that such a development was not necessarily foreseeable at the time. It is with good reason that the Van Gend en Loos judgement is considered revolutionary. Nevertheless, Mosler’s reflections indicate the high degree of integration of the ECSC at the time and the extent to which Member State sovereignty was affected. The German lawyer was often unable to draw parallels with other treaties under international law, he rather pointed out and justified distinctions from them in his opinion, as when he wrote that unlike for UN conventions, accession by simple notification is not possible (p. 6) and the mechanisms of the GATT are not transferable to the ECSC.

The Treaty of Paris establishing the ECSC, 18 April 1951[8]

Overall, Mosler’s report offers a good insight into the beginnings of what is today the European Union. In addition to the EU’s international law foundation, the legal opinion reveals the initial intention of the European project as a Franco-German peace project based on the pooling of production necessary for war. The fact that the ECSC Treaty clearly privileges France and Germany over the other Member States is also reflected in the report and informs Mosler’s examination of the composition of the High Authority and the voting majorities in the Council (p. 36 ff.). At the time, the High Authority consisted of one member each from the Benelux and Italy and two each from France and Germany. The President of the High Authority was appointed by the other eight members (co-optation procedure). The discussion of this specific composition and its preservation after the accession of new members takes up quite some space in the report – considerations which at first glance seem irrelevant today. However, in reality the issue of the size of the Commission is still very much alive today and revolves around the very same question of Member State representation – despite the fact that the Commission is actually independent of the Member States.[9]

In general, it can be said that the issue of appointments to the institutions remains to this day. Hermann Mosler noted in 1955 that “no generally applicable principle has been laid down” for the appointment of High Authority members and the members of deputies to the Assembly – instead the numbers were determined based on the situation at the founding of the ECSC (p. 53; tr. LB) meaning they would need to be adjusted with each accession. This was then the case for the first accessions in 1973 (see Art. 10 of the Act concerning the Conditions of Accession[10]) and it is still the case today when new members join. The same applied when the United Kingdom left the EU: the seats in the European Parliament were scraped or redistributed; [11] and the Commission was reduced to 27 Commissioners. The discussion of the formation of majorities and blocking minorities in the Council which occupied Mosler (p. 62 ff.) were also the object of night-long discussions as late as 2001 in Nice.[12]

Another issue where the 1955 report is still very topical is that of competence division between the EU and the Member States. For example, Mosler emphasises that the Council acts in representation of the Member States, and not the Community, during accession negotiations (p. 87).

In retrospect, many of Hermann Mosler’s considerations remain relevant, even if this was by no means immediately obvious as the request came at a time of European upheaval.

Mosler‘s legal opinion in times of European upheaval

The ECSC Assembly Committee had been preoccupied with a limited question: does the Paris Treaty need to be changed to allow for accession of third States? But as the German international law scholar Mosler started addressing this question, a new dynamic in the European integration process emerged. The intergovernmental Spaak Committee, founded in Messina, Italy, was working out far-reaching reform ideas for a completely new treaty. On 14 May 1955, the Common Assembly in its Resolution 35 called on the Member States’ foreign ministers in the Council to commission one or multiple intergovernmental conferences to draw up draft treaties necessary to allow for further European integration.[13] After the publication of the Spaak Report in April 1956, work started almost immediately on two new European treaties: the Treaties of Rome.[14] The Joint Assembly, which commissioned Mosler’s report, had also called for the drafting of new treaties after the publication of the Spaak Report.[15] Hermann Mosler’s report to Frits de Nerée had been submitted only three months earlier, on 12 January 1956. With the Spaak report out, it suddenly seemed almost outdated.

In the end, the Rome Treaties did not replace the ECSC Treaty, but rather supplemented it. Art. 232 (1) of the EEC Treaty states: “The provisions of this Treaty shall not affect the provisions of the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community, …”. They were finally brought together when the Rome Treaties were merged with the ECSC Treaty in the Merger Treaty, and the European Community (EC) was born. The first accessions in 1973 were therefore accessions to the EC. But as the ECSC Treaty continued to exist until 2002 within the Merger Treaty, Hermann Mosler’s 1955 legal opinion on accessions under the ECSC Treaty remained relevant: accessions to the EC always included accession to the ECSC. Moreover, the accession clause in Art. 237 EEC Treaty largely corresponded to that in Art. 98 of the ECSC Treaty.

Since Mosler’s opinion, however, the actual accession of new Member States has made it necessary to clarify the original provision. Art. 237 of the EEC Treaty therefore describes a more concrete accession procedure. Its first paragraph corresponds to the provision in the ECSC Treaty, but its second paragraph formulates requirements for accession and clarifies competences: “The conditions of admission and the amendments to this Treaty necessitated thereby shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State. Such agreement shall be submitted to all the contracting States for ratification in accordance with their respective constitutional rules.” It is striking that this paragraph also corresponds to the proposals made by Hermann Mosler. The competence of the Council is settled, Treaty adaptations are explicitly mentioned, and the ratification procedure is explained. These formulations continue to exist in Art. 49 TEU. Even though it is no longer possible to determine how much Mosler’s legal opinion truly influenced the European Treaties, it is certain that the provisions the German legal scholar suggested in 1955 for accession have outlived many other provisions. They are being applied, specified, and supplemented – and continue to be discussed today.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s and in no way reflect the views of the Council of the European Union or the European Council.

[1] Jochen Abr. Frowein, ‘Hermann Mosler 70 Jahre‘, AöR 107 (1982), 630–32 (630).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Frits Groeneveld, ‘Het dubbelgezicht van Michielsgestel’, NRC Handelsblad (15.08.1992), (last consulted on 19.10.2023).

[4] (last consulted 19.10.2023).

[5] On Marga Klompé, cf. Angelika Fliegner in (last consulted 19.10.2023).

[6],_dr._Marga_A._M._-_SFA002001927.jpg (last consulted 19.10.2023).

[7] C-26/62, Van Gend en Loos / Administratie der Belastingen, ECLI:EU:C:1963:1, 12.

[8] (last consulted 19.10.2023).

[9] On the development of the number of Commissioners, cf. Neill Nugent and Mark Rhinard (eds), The European Commission (London: Palgrave Macmillan 2015), 97 f.

[10] Act concerning the Conditions of Accession and the Adjustments to the Treaties, (last consulted 19.10.2023).

[11] Redistribution of seats in the European Parliament after Brexit, EP Press release (31.01.2020), (last consulted 19.10.2023).

[12] On the negotiations in Nice, cf. Pierre de Boissieu et al. (eds), National Leaders and the Making of Europe – Key Episodes in the Life of the European Council (London: John Harper Publishing 2015), Ch. 13.

[13] Résolution 35 de l’Assemblée commune de la CECA (Strasbourg, 14 mai 1955)            , (last consulted 19.10.2023).

[14] For the chronology of developments towards the Rome Treaties, see (last consulted 19.10.2023).

[15] Résolution 47 de l’Assemblée commune de la CECA (Strasbourg, 11 mai 1956),  (last consulted 19.10.2023).

Suggested Citation:

Lea Berger, Accession to the European Union,, DOI: 10.17176/20231109-163501-0
Lizenz: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 DEED