Research on constitutional law has come in different waves mirroring the development of states in recent decades. While the decolonization period of the 1960s still kept the old ties of constitutional “families,” comparison based on such ties has become ever less persuasive since the 1980s wave of constitution making following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Research about de facto and de jure constitutional law now tends to embrace institutional details like judicial review powers and procedures of direct democracy. The field of comparative constitutional law is controversial both in methods and substance. It still lacks a consistent framework of comparative tools and is criticized as illegitimate by scholars who insist on the interpretive autonomy within each constitutional system.
Research in the area of fundamental rights has to deal with long-lasting controversies like the constitutionality of the death penalty. Bioethical regulation is another new field where constitutional positions tend to diverge rather than converge. Embryonic stem cell research, therapeutic cloning, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, and surrogate motherhood are examples from biotechnology and reproductive medicine where constitutional scholars disagree about what, if anything, constitutional law can contribute to provide a basis or limit for regulation. With the worldwide rise of constitutional courts and judicial review, the standards for the interpretation of fundamental rights become more important. Legal scholarship has worked out the differences between the rule-oriented approach associated with Anglo-American legal systems versus the principle-based approach common to continental Europe.
In the aftermath of the third wave of democratization, Latin American courts left behind decades of subservience, conservatism, and irrelevance to become central political players. They now serve as arbiters in struggles between the elected branches, and increasingly affirm fundamental rights. Indeed, some rulings champion highly controversial rights and have huge budgetary implications, sending shock waves across these new democracies. What explains this unprecedented expansion of judicial power? In trying to answer this fundamental question about the functioning of contemporary democracies, scholars of Latin America have developed a truly vibrant and theoretically dynamic body of work, one that makes essential contributions to our knowledge of judicial politics more generally. Some scholars emphasize the importance of formal judicial reforms initiated by politicians, which resulted in more autonomous and politically insulated courts. In so doing, they address a central puzzle in political science: under what conditions are politicians willing to accept limits to their power? Inspired by rational choice theory, other authors zoom in on the dynamics of inter-branch interactions, to arrive at a series of propositions about the type of political environment in which courts are more capable to assert their power. Whereas this approach focuses on the ability of judges to exercise power, a third line of scholarship looks at how ideas about the law and judicial role conceptions affect judges’ willingness to intervene in high-stakes political struggles, championing some values and interests at the expense of others. Finally, more recent work asks whether assertions of judicial power make a difference in terms of rights effectiveness. Understanding the consequences of judicial decisions is essential to establishing the extent to which more assertive courts are actually capable of transforming the world around them.
Nick Sitter and Elisabeth Bakke
Democratic backsliding in European Union (EU) member states is not only a policy challenge for the EU, but also a potential existential crisis. If the EU does too little to deal with member state regimes that go back on their commitments to democracy and the rule of law, this risks undermining the EU from within. On the other hand, if the EU takes drastic action, this might split the EU. This article explores the nature and dynamics of democratic backsliding in EU member states, and analyses the EU’s capacity, policy tools and political will to address the challenge. Empirically it draws on the cases that have promoted serious criticism from the Commission and the European Parliament: Hungary, Poland, and to a lesser extent, Romania. After reviewing the literature and defining backsliding as a gradual, deliberate, but open-ended process of de-democratization, the article analyzes the dynamics of backsliding and the EU’s difficulties in dealing with this challenge to liberal democracy and the rule of law. The Hungarian and Polish populist right’s “illiberal” projects involve centralization of power in the hands of the executive and the party, and limiting the independence of the judiciary, the media and civil society. This has brought both governments into direct confrontation with the European Commission. However, the EU’s track record in managing backsliding crises is at best mixed. This comes down to a combination of limited tools and lack of political will. Ordinary infringement procedures offer a limited toolbox, and the Commission has proven reluctant to use even these tools fully. At the same time, party groups in the European Parliament and many member state governments have been reluctant to criticize one of their own, let alone go down the path of suspending aspect of a states’ EU membership. Hence the EU’s dilemma: it is caught between undermining its own values and cohesion through inaction on one hand, and relegating one or more member states it to a second tier—or even pushing them out altogether—on the other.
Debate on the future of the European Union (EU) never abates because the Union is a polity characterized by considerable change in its internal and external environment. Scenarios are an important tool in mapping possible futures for the Union as they bring underlying trends into focus. Four scenarios on the future of the EU are presented: disintegration, piecemeal adjustment, functional federalism, and a United States of Europe. The political and policy battle concerning the future of the Union is between scenario piecemeal adjustment, the dominant response to the crisis and to events on Europe’s borders, and functional federalism, defined as more integration but in defined fields. Piecemeal adjustment represents a Union that muddles through, incremental reform, whereas functional federalism represents a Union that garners sufficient political capacity to be more strategic in particular functional areas. Systemic disintegration is regarded as unlikely, but partial disintegration may occur because of the exit of the United Kingdom, challenges to a number of EU regimes, and the threats to the Union’s normative order from some member states. A united states of Europe, is highly unlikely as the member states are not in favor of transforming the Union into a state-like federation. The degree of contestation about the future of the EU precludes a transformation of the system at this juncture. Three intervening factors will have a major impact on the future of the EU: the profound changes in the global environment, turbulent politics in the member states, and the Franco-German relationship as a source of leadership in the Union.
Land-related disputes and land conflicts are sometimes politicized in elections in African countries, but this is usually not the case. Usually, land-related conflict is highly localized, managed at the micro-political level by neo-customary authorities, and not connected to electoral competition. Why do land conflicts sometimes become entangled in electoral politics, and sometimes “scale up” to become divisive issues in regional and national elections? A key determinant of why and how land disputes become politicized is the nature of the underlying land tenure regime, which varies across space (often by subnational district) within African countries. Under the neo-customary land tenure regimes that prevail in most regions of smallholder agriculture in most African countries, land disputes tend to be “bottled up” in neo-customary land-management processes at the local level. Under the statist land tenure regimes that exist in some districts of many African countries, government agents and officials are directly involved in land allocation and directly implicated in dispute resolution. Under “statist” land tenure institutions, the politicization of land conflict, especially around elections, becomes more likely. Land tenure institutions in African countries define landholders’ relations to each other, the state, and markets. Understanding these institutions, including how they come under pressure and change, goes far in explaining how and where land rights become politicized.
The expression “the Lisbon Treaty” (LT) is a shortcut to the treaties upon which the European Union (EU) has been based since December 1, 2009. During the “reflection period” that lasted from June 2005 to December 2006 three options were available: remaining with the European treaties as amended by the Nice Treaty; starting new negotiations in order to adopt some changes deemed technically necessary; or trying to get “the substance” of the Constitutional Treaty (CT) of 2004 approved in the form a new treaty. Most member states and the EU institutions were in favor of the third option. The negotiations that led to the adoption of the LT in December 2007 departed from the usual treaty amendment scenarios. The content of the LT is to a large extent similar to that of the CT, as most of the novel provisions of that treaty have been taken over as they were written in the CT and introduced in the existing European Community (EC) and EU treaties. Apart from a few institutional innovations such as the Permanent President of the European Council and the new voting system in the Council, most innovations with regard to the European communities are to be found in the details. The ratification process of the LT was difficult, as it was slowed down by the necessity to hold two referenda in Ireland, and to overcome the resistance of the President of the Czech Republic, an overt Euroskeptic. The negotiations of 2007–2009 shed some light on the importance in EU policy-making and especially in treaty negotiations of the epistemic community of legal experts and, more precisely, of experts in EU law. Events in the years 2010 and 2011 led to minor treaty amendments, shaping the present content of what is usually referred to as the LT. Whether Brexit and the EP elections of 2019 will lead to important changes remains unknown.