Project

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The people's constituent power: referendums on sovereignty issues

Applicant Mendez Fernando
Number 135127
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Zentrum für Demokratie Aarau ZDA Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Legal sciences
Start/End 01.09.2011 - 31.07.2015
Approved amount 309'793.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Legal sciences
Political science

Keywords (4)

soverreignty; referendums; secession; constituent power

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
Referendums on sovereignty issues have been a relatively prominent feature of the international political and legal landscape since the late 18th century. In some cases comparatively peaceful reconfigurations of sovereignty among and within states have been achieved. In others the referendum device may have accompanied (or even caused) an escalation of conflict. Whilst at other times the people's constituent power has been deliberately avoided. This project seeks to investigate the role of the referendum where contested sovereignty is at stake. It focuses on two dimensions of contested sovereignty: Firstly, issues related to territorial concerns, such as secession; and secondly, functional issues, such as delegation to international/supranational organisations. The aim is to map dynamics across distinct geographical regions and over time to better understand the intersection between direct democracy and contested sovereignty in an age of increasing globalisation and territorial reconfiguration.   
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Dilemmas of European integration: Beyond the Lisbon constitutional settlement
Mendez Fernando (2014), Dilemmas of European integration: Beyond the Lisbon constitutional settlement, in Kübler Daniel (ed.), Schultess Verlag, Zurich, 102.
Patterns of constitutional design
Wheatley Jonathan, Mendez Fernando (ed.) (2013), Patterns of constitutional design, Ashgate, Farnham.
Popular input, territoriality, and the constitution making process
Mendez Fernando (2013), Popular input, territoriality, and the constitution making process, in Mendez Fernando, Wheatley Jonathan (ed.), Ashgate, Farnham: UK, 145-159.
To hold or not to hold a referendum? Auerian insights on popular sovereignty beyond the Helvetic model
Mendez Fernando (2013), To hold or not to hold a referendum? Auerian insights on popular sovereignty beyond the Helvetic model, in Good Andrea, Platipodis Bettina (ed.), 150.
Contested Sovereignty: Mapping Referendums on Sovereignty over Time and Space
Mendez Fernando, Germann Micha, Contested Sovereignty: Mapping Referendums on Sovereignty over Time and Space, in British Journal of Political Science.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
American Political Science Association (APSA) Annual conference Talk given at a conference Self-Determination Referendums and Ethnic Conflict 03.09.2015 San Francisco, United States of America Germann Micha;
The EU's Participatory Contradictions: How to Accommodate Models of Direct Democracy within a Multi-Level Polity Talk given at a conference Council for European Studies, 22nd International Conference of Europeanists 08.07.2015 Paris, France Mendez Fernando;
65th Political Studies Association (PSA) Annual International Conference Talk given at a conference A question of sovereignty: Mapping referendums on sovereignty issues across time and space 30.03.2015 Sheffield, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Mendez Fernando; Germann Micha;
International conference on Self-Determination in Europe Talk given at a conference Self determination over time and space: Europe in context. 09.10.2014 Berne, Switzerland Mendez Fernando;
Europe in Flux: Secessionism, Ideological Polarisation, And the Emerging Institutional Design of the EU”. 3rd Annual Greek Public Policy Forum Talk given at a conference The EU’s direct democratic dilemma: Causes and Consequences. 26.09.2014 Chania, Crete, Greece Mendez Fernando;
XXth Annual Forum of Young Legal Historians Talk given at a conference Early practice and changing nature of the referendum on territorial-related sovereignty issues, 1776-1914 02.04.2014 University of Cambridge, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Aubert Nicolas;
Colloque sur La practique referendaire et l'ideal democratique européen Talk given at a conference A question of sovereignty: Referendums on the reallocation of territorial authority over time and space 06.06.2013 Clermont-Ferrand, France Aubert Nicolas; Mendez Fernando;
Aarauer Demokratietage Demokratie und Europäische Union Individual talk On the EU‘s “Direct Democratic Dilemma” and How to Overcome it 23.03.2013 Aarau, Switzerland Mendez Fernando;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Direct Democracy in the EU: A People's Europe? 04.07.2014 Queen Mary University London, Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
Public Roundtable discussion organised by the NCCR on "Autonomy and Sovereignty Referendums: The Catalan Case from a Swiss Perspective" 05.03.2015 Zurich, Switzerland Aubert Nicolas;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media Jura, Esocia, Cataluña - ¿ Vox populi, vox Dei ? Swissinfo International 2015
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) The Greek Referendum from Comparative Perspective: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Euro crisis law International 2015
Media relations: print media, online media La voie référendaire, une solution pour l’Ukraine, mais sous conditions Le Temps Rhaeto-Romanic Switzerland 2014

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
162220 The Pitfalls of Direct Democracy: Self-Determination Referendums and Separatist Armed Conflict 01.01.2016 Doc.Mobility

Abstract

This is a resubmission of proposal 100015_129634 (with the same title), whose positive evaluation by five reviewers was received on 22 March 2010. The resubmission takes account of the methodological suggestions made by the reviewers (see detailed research plan). The other change is that the previous co-applicant is now the main applicant.The research proposal is animated by the following puzzle: Referendums on sovereignty issues have been a relatively prominent feature of the international political and legal landscape since the late 18th century. During this time at least five historical waves of sovereignty referendums can be identified which, on the whole, were accompanied by comparatively peaceful reconfigurations of sovereignty among states. This occurred when Norway seceded from Sweden, for example, or, perhaps most spectacular of all, the dissolution of the ex-Soviet Union. On the other hand, there have been recent instances where referendums have had detrimental effects which have aggravated a political situation (e.g. Abkhazia 1999, South Ossetia 2007) or even acted as a trigger for outright civil war such as was the case in former Yugoslavia. Furthermore, there have also been recent instances where the people's constituent power has been deliberately avoided altogether, most notably during German reunification or the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. This suggests a research puzzle at the very core of legal and political theory. Under what conditions is the expression of the people's will likely to lead to one particular outcome (successful resolution of sovereignty dispute) as opposed to another (escalation of violent conflict) and when is the referendum device likely to be specifically avoided. A critical reassessment of the role of the people in solving or not solving sovereignty questions -the goal of this project- could also shed analytical light on a number of salient contemporary cases where direct democracy increasingly intersects with secessionist claims. This would include cases such as Spain (the Basque Country and increasingly Catalonia), the UK (where a sovereignty referendum in Scotland is on the political agenda) as well as the Americas (including the classic case of Quebec as well as less known examples such as Bolivia). Evidently, a global perspective would reveal countless other cases. Thus, the project involves an extensive mapping exercise of possibly over 300 cases across all continents and over time. Many of these cases are already identified on the existing international database of the Centre for Research on Direct Democracy (c2d). However, they will require much further in-depth legal and political analyses -the most demanding task of this project. In addition, new cases, especially at the sub-national level, will need to be identified. The 'extensive' mapping exercise will be supplemented by an 'intensive' case study approach focusing on a number of themes in which secession (e.g. former Yugoslavia), the dissolution of Empires (e.g. the ex-Soviet Union); decolonisation (especially in Africa and South East Asia), territorial modification in federal systems (e.g. US and Switzerland); and contested international delegation (e.g. NATO and EU) will feature prominently. The research project will lead to a number of scholarly publications (with at least one research monograph) and 2 related doctoral dissertations by two Law PhD students supervised by the co-applicant. The 2 PhD students will collaborate with a 100 per cent post-doc research team internally financed by the c2d.
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