The Emergence of a Democratic Right to Self-Determination in Europe

Feb 16 2017

We are pleased to present this multi-authored book, which endeavors to study the right to self-determination of 22 peoples and nations – a fundamental collective right. More than ever before, it is the subject of heated debate.

These case studies show a clear evolution towards a democratic right to self-determination, but they also reveal a resistance in some countries to the idea that peoples should be able to determine their path towards autonomy or greater autonomy, or to independence and with ties to the European Union. Its content is diverse – it looks into the struggles of the peoples of Europe from many different perspectives, be they cultural, economic, historical, legal, political or sociological.

From the 20th to the 21st century, one could observe that (I) there has been a significant shift towards the right of self-determination, that
(II) a democratic right of peoples to self-determination has emerged, accompanied by an obligation of States to negotiate and that (III) the exercise of constituent power could open a new way for achieving such democratic right of self-determination.

To determine their political status, peoples have chosen to involve their populations in a democratic process culminating in a referendum relating to such status, and notably that of a sovereign and independent State. Quebec has twice chosen to take this route. Scotland followed a similar path, which led to the organisation of the referendum of 18 September 2014.

While this approach has been the preferred option in recent exercises of the right to self-determination, a new approach of a democratic nature is also emerging as an alternative.

To implement the right of self-determination, and achieve national independence or greater autonomy, a people can rely on its constituent power and initiate a process aiming to give the people their own fundamental law. This is the avenue that the Catalan government and parliament appear to have chosen, adopting a roadmap that focuses around a constituent process.

There are many reasons that might favor an initiative to draft a basic law in the exercise of the right of self-determination. They relate to the necessity of defining one people’s own constitutional identity, but also of resolving the constitutional stalemate that often follows demands for independence and autonomy.

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