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Global Constitutionalism and Global Governance

Head of Section:

Anne Peters

About the Project:

Research Objectives

Research in the field of global constitutionalism undertakes both positive and normative analysis. It, first, asks whether some features of the status quo of global law and governance can be plausibly reconstructed as “constitutional” and even “constitutionalist” (positive analysis), and seeks to identify, describe and explain such elements and trends. Second, the research assesses the quality of specific international legal phenomena from the viewpoint of their ability to respect and protect constitutionalist principles, and it sketches out and justifies new institutions, mechanisms, and principles which might contribute to realizing better the objectives of constitutionalism (normative analysis).

Key concepts

Global constitutionalism is a scholarly discourse which diagnoses and/or reclaims that the norms and institutions of global governance follow and respect principles of constitutionalism. These comprise the rule of law, separation of powers/checks and balances, protection of human rights, democracy, and solidarity. But when transposed to the international level, both the constitutionalist principles and their modes of implementation have been and must to some extent be modified.
“Constitutionalization” of (or rather: within) international law is the label for the evolution of an international order based on some organizing principles such as state sovereignty and consensualism to an international legal order which acknowledges and has creatively appropriated principles and values of constitutionalism as mentioned above. The agents of the (putative) process of constitutionalization are the international law-makers as political actors, courts, and also academics.
“Global” in this context is a signifier for three aspects: First, it denotes the geographical spread of the political-legal institution called constitution and of the agenda of constitutionalism. Second, it marks the resonance of this institution and agenda in international law. Third, constitutionalism may be duly called “global” only when it asks law-makers and governance-designers to take into account interests and needs of humans in different cultural and economic contexts all over the globe.
Global constitutionalism as a discourse necessarily refers to multiple levels of governance; it relates both to state constitutions and to international constitutional law. In the course of constitutionalization, processes of norm migration, cross-fertilization, harmonization, and hybridization occur in many directions, both “vertically” (among the levels of national law and international law) and “horizontally” (among national constitutions).

Within international law, the scattered legal texts together with the case-law might form a body of international constitutional law which is a specific subset of the international legal order, and which has a particular normative status. This body is not united in one single document called world constitution. International constitutional law refers to international norms with a constitutional function. Thus understood, international constitutional law can be divided into three broad sub-categories: (1) fundamental norms which serve as a constitutional function for the international legal system at large, (2) norms which serve as constitutions of international organizations or regimes (sectorial constitutions), and (3) norms which have taken over or reinforce constitutional functions of domestic law. International (or global) constitutional law might be said to complement global administrative law.


Three methodological maxims are especially important for any research on global constitutionalism. First, in order to identify elements of a constitutionalization within international law, our gaze must wander between two poles: On the one hand, the international legal material must be analysed “bottom-up” with the traditional doctrinal methods. On the other hand, this examination must be conducted through the novel lens or prism of constitutionalism which allows us to describe, interpret, and re-structure the legal phenomena in a novel way and therefore to understand and explain them better (without falsifying them).
Second, scholars of global constitutionalism should mark where they make an evaluation (by relying on constitutionalist principles), and signal what is, according to their analysis, the lex lata, and what they request de lege ferenda.
Third, while the normative analysis can be distinguished from a positive analysis in an ideal-typical fashion, there is a blurry intermediate zone in reality. One reason is that “description” is, in itself, already a constructive and systematic performance, which is based on numerous distinctions and choices. Another reason for the blurriness between positive and normative analysis are specific features of international law, namely its typical indeterminacy resulting from the relative vagueness of many treaty provisions and the high amount of unwritten norms.
For these reasons, neither the canons of construction for treaty interpretation nor empirical research on the formation of customary law will in themselves yield clear results, for example on the degree of the constitutionalization of international adjudication or any other putative constitutional element within international law. The findings must be complemented by normative considerations in form of an evaluative systematization and evaluating closure of legal gaps.

Current Cooperation Partners

Takao Suami (Waseda University Law School), Dimitri Vanoverbeke (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), and Mattias Kumm (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin/WZB) in the context of the project “The EU-Japan Relationship in the Context of an On-going Power-shift in the Global Society”.


    New Publications

  • Takao Suami, Mattias Kumm, Anne Peters, Dimitri Vanoverbeke: Global Constitutionalism from European and East Asian Perspectives. CUP, Cambridge, 2018..
  • Thomas Kleinlein, Anne Peters: International Constitutional Law. In: Oxford Bibliographies in International Law. OUP, Oxford 2018.
  • Anne Peters: Proportionality as a Global Constitutional Principle. In: Handbook on Global Constitutionalism, Anthony F. Lang Jr., Antje Wiener (eds.). Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham und Northampton, Massachusetts 2017, 248-264.
  • Three versions of the principle of proportionality exist in international law, with different constitutional functions. The horizontal version 1 applies, inter alia, in the field of countermeasures. The principle here refers to the relation between action (breach of international law) of the state and the admissible reaction of another state. The diagonal version 2 concerns the relation between and national public interest and particular interests, of individuals (e.g. in international humanitarian law), or of investors. The vertical version 3 refers to the relation between a global public interest, e.g. in free trade, and particular interests of states.

  • Anne Peters: Fragmentation and Constitutionalization. In: The Oxford Handbook of the Theory of International Law, Anne Orford, Florian Hoffmann (eds.). OUP, Oxford 2016.
  • Fragmentation and constitutionalization, understood as processes, seem to be two trends in the evolution of international law. Because both are a matter of degree and are not linear developments, the empirical claim that one or both phenomena are legally relevant beyond minimal or anecdotal episodes is contested. Moroever, each phenomenon is evaluated differently (e.g., as constituting a risk or opportunity for international law as a whole) by different observers. Both fragmentation and constitutionalization are loaded terms, and both describe not only legal processes in the real world of law but are also labels for the accompanying discourses (mostly among academics, less so among judges, and even less so among political law-making actors). The state of the law resulting from these putative processes is in itself a matter of contestable conceptualization.

    All Related Books

  • Anne Peters, Evelyn Lagrange, Stefan Oeter, Christian Tomuschat (eds.): Immunities in the Age of Global Constitutionalism. Brill Nijhoff, Leiden, 2015..
  • The law of immunity of states, of international organisations, and of public officials is one of the most important and most controversial topics of international law. The book consists of five parts: ‘State Immunity – National Practice’; State Immunity before the ICJ – The case Germany v Italy; ‘Commercial Activities and State Immunity’; ‘Immunity and Impunity’; and ‘Immunities of International Organisations’.
    Although immunities are in principle firmly anchored in international law, their precise legal implications are often unclear. The book takes up a number of new trends and challenges in this field and assesses them within the framework of global constitutionalism and multilevel governance.

  • Anne Peters, Manuel Devers, Anne-Marie Thévenot-Werner, Patrizia Zbinden (eds.): Les Acteurs à l’Ère du Constitutionnalisme Global/ Actors in the Age of Global Constitutionalism. Société de législation comparée, Paris, 2014..
  • The question of this study is how and through which legal schemes the various actors in the globalization process (states, citizens, transnational companies, courts, and so on) contribute to global constitutionalism (understood both as an emerging normative framework and as reform agenda). The authors are young legal researchers from France and Germany, with a background in international law and/or public law. The book is in French and English and is divided into four main parts (I. Paradigms; II. States et Individuals; III. International Organisations; IV. Multinational Corporations).

  • Isabelle Ley: Opposition im Völkerrecht. Springer, Heidelberg, 2014..
  • Andrea Bianchi, Anne Peters (eds.): Transparency in International Law. CUP, Cambridge, 2013..
  • While its importance in domestic law has long been acknowledged, transparency has remained largely unexplored in international law. This study on transparency issues in the key areas of international law, such as international economic law, environmental law, human rights law, and humanitarian law, brings together novel insights on this pressing issue. Contributors explore the framing and content of transparency in their respective fields with regard to proceedings, institutions, law-making processes and legal culture. A selection of cross-cutting essays completes the study, examining transparency in international law-making and adjudication. The book is an indispensable read for scholars and practitioners who believe transparency can enhance the legitimacy of international legal processes.

    Reviewed by:

  • Anne Peters, Lukas Handschin (eds.): Conflict of Interest in Global, Public and Corporate Governance. CUP, Cambridge, 2012..
  • Conflict of interest occurs at all levels of governance, ranging from local to global both in the public and the corporate and financial spheres. There is increasing awareness that conflicts of interest may distort decision-making processes and generate inappropriate outcomes, thereby undermining the functioning of public institutions and markets. However, the current worldwide trend towards regulation, which seeks to forestall, prevent and manage conflicts of interest, has its price. Drawbacks may include the stifling of decision-making processes, the loss of expertise among decision-makers and a vicious circle of distrust. This interdisciplinary and international book addresses specific situations of conflict of interest in different spheres of governance, particularly in global, public and corporate governance.

  • Jan Klabbers, Anne Peters, Geir Ulfstein (eds.): The Constitutionalization of International Law. (expanded edition 2011). (expanded edition 2011). OUP, Oxford, 2009..
  • The book examines one of the most debated issues in current international law: to what extent the international legal system has constitutional features comparable to what we find in national law. This question has become increasingly relevant in a time of globalization, where new international institutions and courts are established to address international issues. Constitutionalization beyond the nation states has for many years been discussed in relation to the European Union. This book asks whether we now see constitutionalization taking place also at the global level and sketches the outlines of what a constitutionalized world order could and should imply.

    Further Selected Publications

  • Peters, Anne: Constitutionalisation. In: Concepts for International Law - Contributions to Disciplinary Thought, Jean d'Aspremont. Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham 2018 (forthcoming). SSRN Version
  • This paper shows that the constitutionalisation of and within international law is a fragmented process which moreover engages domestic constitutional law. It is not bringing about a ‘super-constitution’ over and above domestic law and all international subfields. After clarifying the key terms, notably constitutionalisation, constitutionalism, and constitutional law, it explains the sectoral constitutionalisation of various international organisations and the constitutionalisation of the private (economic) realm. It concludes that we find (only) constitutional fragments.

  • Peters, Anne: Foreign Relations Law and Global Constitutionalism, Symposium on Comparative Foreign Relations Law. AJIL Unbound, 30 October 2017.
  • Anne Peters: Verhältnismäßigkeit als globales Verfassungsprinzip. In: Verhältnismäßigkeit im Völkerrecht, Björnstjern Baade, Sebastian Ehricht, Matthäus Fink, Robert Frau, Mirka Möldner, Isabella Risini, Torsten Stirner (eds.). Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2016, 1-18. SSRN Version
  • This paper shows that three versions of the principle of proportionality exist in international law, and that these three have different constitutional functions. The horizontal version 1 applies, inter alia, in the field of countermeasures including self defence. The principle here refers to the relation between action (breach of international law) of the state and the admissible reaction of another state. The diagonal version 2 concerns the relation between and national public interest and particular interests, of individuals (in human rights law and international humanitarian law) or of investors. The vertical version 3 refers to the relation between a global public interest, for example in free trade, and particular interests of states.

  • Anne Peters: The New Arbitrariness and Competing Constitutionalisms: Remarks on ECtHR Grand Chamber Al-Dulimi. EJIL Talk! Blog of the European Journal of International Law, 30 June 2016.
  • Anne Peters: On the Interaction of Constitutionalization and Fragmentation in International Law. In: Centre for Global Constitutionalism St Andrews Working Paper 2, 1-42 (2015).
  • Anne Peters: Global Constitutionalism. In: The Encyclopedia of Political Thought, Michael T. Gibbons (ed.). Wiley-Blackwell, London 2015, 1484-1487. Global Constitutionalism (PDF, 57.8 KB)
  • Global constitutionalism comprises different strands of thought most of which read (or reconstruct) some features of the status quo of global law and governance as “constitutional” and even “constitutionalist” (positive analysis), and which also seek to provide arguments for their further development in a specific direction (normative analysis). Constitutionalism claims that the principles of the rule of law, a separation of powers, fundamental rights protection, democracy, and solidarity, together with institutions and mechanisms securing and implementing these principles, are (comparatively) well suited to safeguard and promote as much as possible the well-being of natural persons not only as atomized individuals but also in their group relationships. The claim of probably all types of global constitutionalism is that the respective principles, institutions, and mechanisms can and should be used as parameters to inspire strategies for the improvement of the legitimacy of an international legal order and institutions without asking for a world state.

  • Anne Peters: La transparence comme principe du droit international public. In: Le cosmopolitisme juridique, Olivier de Frouville (ed.). Pedone, Paris 2015, 171-185. La transparence comme principe du droit international public (PDF, 6970.4 KB)
  • Anne Peters: Die "konstitutionalistische" Frage. In: Recht und Politik. Zum Staatsverständnis von Ulrich K. Preuß, Claudio Franzius, Tine Stein (eds.). Nomos, Baden-Baden 2015, 109-122.
  • Anne Peters: Immune against Constitutionalisation?. In: Immunities in the Age of Global Constitutionalism, Anne Peters, Evelyne Lagrange, Stefan Oeter, Christian Tomuschat (eds.). Brill Nijhoff, Leiden 2015, 1-19.
  • Anne Peters: Los méritos del constitucionalismo global. In: Filosofía del Derecho constitucional: Cuestiones Fundamentales, Jorge Luis Fabra Zamora, Leonardo Garcia Jaramillo (eds.). UNAM, Mexiko 2015, 115-131.
    Transl. of: The Merits of Global Constitutionalism, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 16 (2009), S. 397-411.
  • El constitucionalismo global es una agenda que identifica y defiende la aplicación de principios constitucionalistas en la esfera jurídica internacional. La constitucionalización global supone la aparición gradual de unas características constitucionalistas en el derecho internacional. Las críticas del constitucionalismo global tienden a dudar de la realidad empírica de la constitucionalización, lo que lleva a preguntarse por el valor analítico del constitucionalismo como aproximación académica y a preocuparse por que el discurso pueda ser normativamente peligroso al ser anti pluralista, por crear artificialmente una falsa legitimidad y por prometer unos fines políticos surreales. El presente artículo aborda estas objeciones. Se argumenta que la constitucionalización global podría compensar los déficits constitucionalistas a nivel nacional por la globalización inducida; que una lectura constitucionalista del derecho internacional podría servir como una herramienta hermenéutica, y que el vocabulario constitucionalista destapa los déficits de legitimidad del derecho internacional ofreciendo soluciones. El constitucionalismo global tiene entonces un verdadero y necesario potencial crítico y responsabilizador.

  • Anne Peters: Are we Moving towards Constitutionalization of the World Community?. In: Realizing Utopia: The Future of International Law, Antonio Cassese (ed.). OUP, Oxford 2012, 118-135.
  • Anne Peters: Rechtsordnungen und Konstitutionalisierung: Zur Neubestimmung der Verhältnisse. In: Zeitschrift für öffentliches Recht 65, 3-63 (2010).
  • Peters, Anne: Compensatory Constitutionalism: The Function and Potential of Fundamental International Norms and Structures. In: Leiden Journal of International Law 19, 579-610 (2006).