Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law Logo Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law

You are here: Research Research Areas Public International Law International Public Authority International Health Governance

International Health Governance


Pedro Villarreal

Katarina Weilert (FEST Institute)

About the Project:

The Forschungstätte der Evangelischen Studiengemeinschaft e.V. / Institute for Interdisciplinary Research (FEST) and the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law collaborate on International Health Governance (IHG). Its goal is to apply the International Public Authority (IPA) approach in order to explain IHG in the face of structural changes in public international law.

This IHG perspective recognizes that many actors are involved in providing an health for persons. While the international human right to health still focuses on state obligations for guaranteeing minimum standards, IHG takes a broader picture that includes also international organizations, NGOs, private actors and public-private partnerships (PPP's), acting under legal norms, but also ethical standards. This research deals with the following questions: What are the responsibilities of IHG actors? How does law coordinate their actions? How does the human right to health interact with other fields such as environmental law? As delivering timely and effective responses to health hazards requires international coordination, the interplay between the regulatory frameworks and their shortcomings merit scrutiny. 

The COVID-19 pandemic represented a global challenge to the underlying governance structures. The role of public international law was the subject of critical assesments. Current negotiation processes in Geneva may lead to a new pandemic accord and amendments to the International Health Regulations. The IHG project has featured academic contributions, media engagement and engagement with policymaking.  



31.12.2023: Oxford Compendium of National Legal Responses to COVID-19: Available Open Access

More than 60 country reports have been submitted to the Oxford Compendium of National Legal Responses to COVID-19, available Open Access here. The manager of the International Health Governance project, Pedro A. Villarreal, is a member of the editorial team. These reports have shed light on important questions concerning the intersection between public international law and comparative public law in the responses to COVID-19, a matter falling squarely within the mandate of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law. The outcome of this publication will include an edited volume with Oxford University Press, having contributions from the core team. The Compendium will enter its final phase in 2024.    

01.03.2023: International Workshop and Special Issue in Journal

The Contested Authority of International Institutions in Global Health: National Decouplings, Regional Stumbling Blocks and International Collisions

On 13-14 November, 2019, an international workshop took place in Heidelberg, Germany. Professor Till Bärnighausen (Heidelberg Institute of Global Health) provided a keynote speech. 

The event provided a forum for discussing how the role of international institutions in the promotion of health can be appraised in multiple levels:

1) At the general international, i.e. multilateral level, interinstitutional links can be identified. Whereas such links can lead to synergies, they may also give way to tensions between institutions, as well as with non-state actors.

2) In turn, at the regional level, governance structures related to health may also be identified. This raises the question of whether and how the formation of regional blocs or groupings of countries may lead to a "health regionalism". Moreover, the discussions may also hinge upon issues of how the relationship between the multilateral and the regional levels is to be understood. Are they "stepping stones" or "stumbling blocks"?

3) Lastly, the development of health-related structures at the national level is closely linked to the international promotion of health. On one hand, limited resources may lead to undermining the goals set out by international institutions in the field of health. On the other hand, national political processes in highly-developed economies may undermine the work of international institutions.

The results of the workshop were published as a special issue in the journal Health Policy in March, 2023 (free access).


01.12.2022: International Workshop: The European Health Union. Set up, challenges and global outlook

The international workshop, The European Health Union. Set up, challenges and global outlook, took place at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law on 1 and 2 December, 2022. More than 20 participants joined, including academics and officials from both the European Commission and the German Ministry of Health. 

The workshop addressed the following questions:   

1) How can the work and influence of the different EU institutions coping with the COVID-19 pandemic be evaluated? What was the particular legal role played by different institutions, organs and agencies?

2) Does the proposal to build a “European Health Union” constitute a break from the status quo in EU law or is it rather a constrained adjustment?

3) Is Treaty change necessary to build a European Health Union? 

4) Which role will different EU institutions, both current and new ones, play? And what will be the overlaps with organizations beyond the EU, such as the WHO?

5) What efforts could the declaration of an emergency situation in the EU have? What is its relationship to the WHO´s own international emergency declarations?

6) How can the European Health Emergency Response Authority (HERA) and its mandate be described from a legal and a political perspective? How does HERA interact with the new setup of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control?

7) To what extent would an enlargement of EU activities in health emergencies be capable of improving the EU’s overall performance during a pandemic? Under what conditions?

8.) How will European and national law react to the regulatory requirements of a European Health Union? How will the EU’s role in health emergencies relate to multilevel infection control regarding national systems, like Germany, with a high degree of decentralization of infection control?

The outcome of the workshop will be published in a special issue of a scientific journal in 2024. 

04.03.2022: Inter-Institutional Project and Special Issue at the European Journal of Health Law: The Fragmented Nature of Pandemic Decision-Making: Comparative and Multilevel Legal Analysis

On Friday, 11 December 2020, the project "The Fragmented Nature of Pandemic Decision-Making: Comparative and Multi-Level Legal Analysis" sponsored by Max Planck Law was launched under the auspices of the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy (Munich) and of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law (Heidelberg), both from the Max Planck Society in Germany. An online event brought together the work of multiple research institutes in areas where there is a natural thematic overlap.

After introductory words by the Directors, Professors Ulrich Becker and Armin von Bogdandy respectively, researchers from both institutes exchanged perspectives related to their ongoing work focused on the COVID-19 crisis. Seven presentations were held, each followed by immediate feedback from the Directors and the participating researchers, all of whom gave insightful ideas on how to further develop each topic.

As a result of the workshop, and thanks to the support of Max Planck Law, Irene Domenici and Pedro A. Villarreal jointly edited a special issue at the European Journal of Health Law, entitled: "The Fragmented Nature of Pandemic Decision-making: A Comparative and Multilevel Legal Analysis" and published in March, 2022.

IHG - Academic Outreach and Engagement with Policymakers and the Public

Activities from the IHG project include presentations in high profile academic events, as well as media and public engagement. The project manager, Pedro A. Villarreal, has participated in the following events:

Plenary Speaker, “International Law, Health Security and Fairness: Balancing States’ Obligations under the International Health Regulations (2005)”, European Society of International Law Annual Conference, Aix-en-Provence, France, 1 September 2023. 

Panelist, “Averting a Collision Course? Beyond the Pandemic Instrument and the International Health Regulations”, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva (available online) 26 April 2023.

Panelist, “Exchange with Non-State Actors on an International Pandemic Convention”, World Health Organization Pandemic Hub, Berlin, 29 March 2023. 

Expert Panelist, Informal Focused Consultation on Legal Aspects of a New Pandemic Treaty, World Health Organization (available online), 16 September 2022. 

Plenary Speaker, International Society of Public Law, Session: “Global Health in Crisis”, Wroclaw, Poland, 5 July 2022. 

Panelist, Association of American Law Schools Annual Meeting 2022, “Did Democracy Stumble? Pandemic Lessons from Around the Globe” (online), 5 January 2022. 

Panelist, Institut Pasteur, France, “The Law and Governance of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions in Pandemics”, Symposium: "Social Sciences and Biology for Understanding Emerging Disease", 25 November 2021.

Institute of International Relations Prague, Czech Republic, “Reshaping the Role of International Organizations in the (Post-)Pandemic Era?”, 13th International Symposium, Czech Foreign Policy: "Post-Pandemic Foreign Policy: Strengthening Resilience, Prospects and Pitfalls" (online), 5 October 2021. 

Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, United Kingdom, “Expert Briefing on COVAX”, Masters in Public Policy(online), 26 May 2021.



Lex-Atlas: Covid-19, April, 2021: Launch of the Oxford Compendium of National Legal Responses to Covid-19.

Pedro A. Villarreal joined the editorial team of Lex-Atlas: Covid-19. A global academic project mapping legal responses to Covid-19. It was launched in the fall 2020 and will provide a scholarly analysis of national legal responses to Covid-19 around the world. Updated across 2021, the editors are working with Oxford University Press to publish the first set of Country Reports in February 2021. It is the product of a vast collaboration of legal experts from across the world, led by University College London, King’s College London, the Max Planck Institute of Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, Germany. It is generously supported by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The project is motivated by the need for a comprehensive overview of national legal responses to Covid-19. The pandemic has many facets, and national responses have varied considerably. Quite apart from epidemiological performance, countries have employed emergency powers differently, have had different kinds of institutional disruption, diverged in public health measures, and have had variable social policy coverage and responses to the human rights needs of vulnerable groups. A scholarly overview of these legal responses is required both to assess past political choices and to prepare for future pandemics. Cataloguing them in detail will also be an important contribution to the history of the pandemic. However, the complexity and fluid nature of the subject-matter essentially requires an unconventional scholarly approach. To make the international comparisons valuable, it requires a high degree of coordination between distinguished national legal experts, a large editorial team applying a consistent methodology, and the capacity to change national portraits as the law and policy shifts in line with the evolution of the pandemic.

The project seeks to meet this need through a world-wide collaboration between legal scholars. The project’s core deliverable is the Oxford Compendium of National Legal Responses to Covid-19, available open access and published in April, 2021. Besides the Compendium, a Database and a Final Report covering best and worst practices in the views of the project’s Editorial Committee will be prepared. All of the project´s output will be open-access and data will be held open-source. The project portal and further details are available on  


Previous Events


Under the aegis of the International Health Governance (IHG) project, the workshop entitled Health and the Environment in International Law - Actors, Norms and Responsibilities, took place on 17-18 October, 2018, at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law. The programme is available here.

This workshop explored the contribution of international law, in both fields of health law and environmental law, to the prevention of known and emerging environmental risks to public health. In line with the objectives of the IHG project, the debate will also focus on the identification of major actors and relevant responsibilities within the framework of global health and environmental governance.

The workshop addressed the legal aspects of the intersections between health and the environment with regards to climate change, biodiversity, pollution of air and water, food regulation and intersections with human rights law. A total of sixteen presenters took part in the event. 

Daniel Klein (United Nations Climate Change Secretariat) provided a keynote speech with regards to the emerging regime under the Paris Agreement and its architecture. He also gave an overview of some of the emerging linkages between the climate change regime and international health governance, particularly in light of the Conference of the Parties in Katowice, Poland, in December, 2018.

Edited Book: The Governance of Disease Outbreaks - International Health Law: Lessons from the Ebola Crisis and Beyond

As a result of a Workshop, which took place at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in March, 2016, the book The Governance of Disease Outbreaks - International Health Law: Lessons from the Ebola Crisis and Beyond (edited by Leonie Vierck, Pedro Villarreal and Katarina Weilert), has been published with Nomos (2017). The publication has been possible thanks to a collaboration between the Forschungstätte der Evangelischen Studiengemeinschaft e.V. / Institute for Interdisciplinary Research (FEST) and the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, also with support from the Frankfurt Normative Orders Cluster and the Bundesministerium für Gesundheit/Federal Ministry of Health of Germany (BMG).  

This edited volume is directed at experts in international law, practitioners in international institutions, and other experts who would like to familiarize themselves with the legal framework of infectious disease governance. Using the West African Ebola crisis of 2014 as a case study, this book is part of a larger collaborative project on international health governance.

As there is a persistent risk of the occurrence of infectious disease epidemics and pandemics, it is all the more important to frame the underlying mechanisms, legal and otherwise, to deal with such problems. The aim of the book is thus to critically contribute to the ongoing debates related to instruments such as the International Health Regulations, as well as the role of international organizations such as the World Health Organization. ​​​​​​​

Against this backdrop, the authors explain the context and substantive legal framework of the Ebola crisis, while also highlighting its human rights aspects, institutional law (such as the debate on the securitization of health) and the limits to a purely legal approach to the subject. Thus, the authors herein come from various backgrounds such as law, public health, political science and anthropology. 

The book is available open access here.


  • Villarreal, Pedro A., Lauren Tonti: Infectious Disease: Preventing, Detecting, and Responding to Pandemic Threats under International Law. In: Global Health Law and Policy: Ensuring Justice for a Healthier World, Lawrence Gostin, Benjamin Mason Meier (eds.). Oxford University Press, New York 2023, 147-173.
  • Villarreal, Pedro A.: L'obligation vaccinale dans le monde. In: Titre VII - Les Cahiers du Conseil constitutionnel 11, 1-10 (2023).
  • Villarreal, Pedro A., Claudia Nannini: International Law and Global Health. In: Global Health Essentials, Mario Raviglione, Fabrizio Tediosi, Simone Villa, Núria Casamitjana, Antoni Plasència (eds.). Springer Nature, Cham 2023, 451-455.
  • Villarreal, Pedro A.: International Law and Digital Disease Surveillance in Pandemics: On the Margins of Regulation. In: German Law Journal 24, 603-617 (2023). doi: 10.1017/glj.2023.26.
  • Villarreal, Pedro A., Thomas Lange, Till Bärnighausen: Counter-contestation in global health governance. In: Health Policy 131, 1-7 (2023). doi:
  • Villarreal, Pedro A., Roojin Habibi, Allyn Taylor: Strengthening the Monitoring of States’ Compliance with the International Health Regulations. In: International Organizations Law Review 19/1, 215-240 (2022). doi: 10.1163/15723747-19010007.
  • Villarreal, Pedro A., Irene Domenici: The Fragmented Nature of Pandemic Decision-making: A Comparative and Multilevel Legal Analysis. In: European Journal of Health Law 29, 1-5 (2022). doi:
  • Villarreal, Pedro A.: Pandemic: Building a Legal Concept for the Future. In: Washington University Global Studies Law Review 20/3, 611-626 (2021).
  • Villarreal, Pedro A.: The Law of the WHO and COVID-19 Pandemic Reformism. In: German Yearbook of International Law 64, 11-40 (2021). doi:
  • Villarreal, Pedro A., Armin von Bogdandy: The Role of International Law in Vaccinating against COVID-19: Appraising the COVAX Initiative. In: Heidelberg Journal of International Law (ZaöRV) 81/1, 89-116 (2021). doi: 10.17104/0044-2348-2021-1-89.
  • Villarreal, Pedro A., Leonie Vierck, Katarina Weilert: The governance of disease outbreaks in international health law: From Ebola to COVID-19. Völkerrechtsblog, 13 July 2020.
  • Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis: The Exposed Limitations of the International Health Regulations. Global Health Law Groningen, 25 February 2020.
  • Villarreal, Pedro A.: The 2019-2020 novel coronavirus outbreak and the importance of good faith for international law. Völkerrechtsblog, 28 January 2020.
  • Villarreal, Pedro A.: Pandemias y derecho: una perspectiva de gobernanza global. Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas/UNAM, Mexico, 2019, 285 p., Dissertation
  • Villarreal, Pedro A.: Public International Law and Human Health: Bridging Conceptual Gaps Through Governance. In: German Yearbook of International Law 61, 45-72 (2018).
  • Corti Varela, Justo: What’s Beyond Energy? How to Integrate Environmental and Health Challenges in Climate Change Agreements: The Case of Livestock Production and the Feedstuffs Trade. MPIL Research Paper Series, 2019.
  • Varvastian, Sam: The Human Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment in Climate Litigation. MPIL Research Paper Series, 2019.
  • Vierck, Leonie, Pedro Villarreal, Katarina Weilert (eds.): The Governance of Disease Outbreaks - International Health Law: Lessons from the Ebola Crisis and Beyond. Nomos, Baden-Baden, Germany, 2017, 393 p.


Please find a long concept paper for our IHG project here as well as the documents of our initial workshop in March 2016.

Long Concept Paper (PDF, 683.4 KB)

Further Links
Please find our cooperation partner's website on the IHG project here.
Please find the link to our project announcement within the Frankfurt Cluster of Excellence "Normative Orders" here.