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Durham University

Global Policy Institute


“How should political power be divided within and among national peoples? Can the nineteenth-century theory of the sovereign and unitary State be applied to the social reality of the twenty-first century? If not, what constitutional and philosophical theories can make sense of the empirical and normative world of our times? There are no convincing answers to these questions today, as contemporary constitutional and legal theory “come to terms” with two new international and national phenomena. First: the rise of international organizations, like the United Nations, and, within Europe: the emergence of the European Union, have severely challenged the idea of the sovereign state from outside. And, second: at the same time, the myth of monolithic state power has also come under attack from within

This ERC project seeks to make legal and philosophical sense of these developments through the lens of federal theory. The ‘federal principle’, which provides a legal structure that attempts to find ‘unity in diversity’, offers a key to analysing the changing loci of political power; yet international and constitutional federalism continues to be – largely – misunderstood by mainstream legal scholarship. Despite some excellent expositions of federalism in the political science literature, little research has focused on the constitutional structures and philosophical problems underlying these structures. The project hopes to fill this theoretical gap by providing a comparative constitutional analysis of the federal principle. In the first part, it will analyse the historical evolution of the principle from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. The second part concentrates on three contemporary experiences of “dividing” or “sharing” sovereignty between and within people(s). The three case studies of this “(neo)federalism” in the twenty-first century correspond to three legal spheres: the international sphere (United Nations & World Trade Organisation), the supranational sphere (European Union & NAFTA), and the regional sphere (Spain & United Kingdom). The central questions underlying the analysis for all three spheres are: First, how is or should political power be divided among peoples? And, second : is the federal principle capable of providing a new philosophical rationale that could make sense of the legal developments of our times?”