Patterns of Constitutional Reform

Patterns of constitutional reform concerning federal structures

Federal systems need constitutional norms in order to regulate the vertical division of power and the relationships among levels of government. In a compounded governmental system, where the distribution of power, rights and resources is under constant threat because national as well as sub-national actors struggle to extend their competences, thus creating centripetal or centrifugal dynamics, a widely accepted and stable constitution is a necessary safeguard for federal stability. Federal constitutions find themselves, however, in a dilemma of stability and flexibility: On the one hand, constitutional norms are under a constant need for adaption, for multi-level structures are complex and need to be able to react instantly to territorial shifts of power, as well as to economic, social or cultural changes. On the other hand, constitutional norms need to be protected from too easy change, for otherwise their function to secure stability and legitimacy of the existing system would be damaged. Therefore, constitutions are usually protected by rules of amendment defining special amendment procedures, veto players and qualified majorities. In the light of these obstacles, the chances for formal constitutional reforms in federal systems are bad, even when constitutional change may be necessary.

The aim of the research project is to derive empirically how federal systems do in fact cope with this dilemma. How do they overcome risks of stalemate which would in the long run undermine the constitutional legitimacy and how do they succeed in adapting their constitutions to changing exigencies? In nine case studies, selected processes of federal constitutional reform are investigated and analysed comparatively in order to find answers to these questions. By varying the set of independent variables – types of constitutional problems, institutional structures – the medium size comparison is meant to enable the discovery of mechanisms of successful change. I.e. patterns of interaction are to be found between situational and institutional conditions for constitutional reform, the organization of the process, the strategies of the involved actors and dynamics of negotiation which influence the success or failure of substantial constitutional change.


German Research Foundation (DFG), 04/2008 – 08/2011


FernUniversität in Hagen
Institut für Europäische Verfassungswissenschaften (IEV)
DFG-Projekt “Muster der Verfassungsreform von föderalen Strukturen”
58084 Hagen

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