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Multilevel Constitutionalism and the Crisis of Democracy in Europe

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 December 2015


Misconception of the EU is the reason for increasing scepticism – multilevel constitutionalism: conceptualising the EU as a matter of the citizens – critiques and the defence of multilevel constitutionalism – European treaties as a form of a new supranational social contract – embedded autonomy in a system of divided sovereignty – explaining and enhancing democratic legitimacy of the EU – the legitimising principles of additionality, of voluntariness and of open democracy – taking ownership of the EU and taking subsidiarity seriously – backing the European monetary policy by new competences for a common economic and fiscal policies – engaging in European policies as a way out of the crisis.

Copyright © The Authors 2015 

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Professor Dr. jur., Dr. h.c. Chair for public, international and European law, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Direktor of the Walter Hallstein Institute for European Constitutional Law (WHI) of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin ( and co-Director of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society ( This contribution arises from a lecture given at the Aristoteles University of Saloniki on 4 December 2014. The author is grateful to his assistants Mattias Wendel and Laura Wolfstädter for their valuable contribution to finalising this paper.


1 Jellinek, G., Die Lehre von den Staatenverbindungen (1882) in particular p. 172-197Google Scholar and p. 253-314.

2 BVerfGE 89, 155, Maastricht. See Kirchhof, P., ‘Deutsches Verfassungsrecht und Europäisches Gemeinschaftsrecht’, 1 Europarecht Beiheft (1991) p. 11Google Scholar at p. 18 ff.

3 On the question of the last word see F.C. Mayer, Kompetenzüberschreitung und Letztentscheidung. Das Maastricht-Urteil des Bundesverfassungsgerichts und die Letztentscheidung über Ultra vires-Akte in Mehrebenensystemen. Eine rechtsvergleichende Betrachtung von Konflikten zwischen Gerichten am Beispiel der EU und der USA (2000), <>, visited 17 October 2015.

4 See Wendel, M., Permeabilität im Europäischen Verfassungsrecht (Mohr-Siebeck 2011)Google Scholar.

5 See, for the underlying idea, Madison, J., ‘The Influence of the State and Federal Governments Compared’, in A. Hamilton et al., 46 The Federalist Papers (1787/88)Google Scholar: ‘The federal and state governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, instituted with different powers, and designated for different purposes’.

6 On this line of thought see also von Bogdandy, A., ‘Grundprinzipien’, in A. von Bogdandy and J. Bast (eds.), Europäisches Verfassungsrecht. Theoretische und dogmatische Grundzüge (Springer 2009) p. 13CrossRefGoogle Scholar at p. 64; see also Habermas, J., The Crisis of the European Union. A Response (Polity 2012) p. 36-37Google Scholar.

7 ECJ 5 February 1963, Case C-26/62, NV Algemene Transport- en Expeditie Ondermening van Gend & Loos v Netherlands Inland Revenue Administration.

8 See Calliess, C. and Hartmann, M., Zur Demokratie in Europa: Unionsbürgerschaft und europäische Öffentlichkeit (Mohr Siebeck 2014) p. 33 ff. and p. 47Google Scholar.

9 A similar line of thought seems to be seen in the proposal of J. Hoeksma, ‘The Identity of the European Union,’ Peace Palace Library Blog, 24 October 2014, <>, visited 16 October 2015, describing the EU as a ‘union of citizens and member states which functions as a common democracy’.

10 On these constitutional shifts brought about by the Treaty of Lisbon see in more detail: Pernice, I., ‘The Treaty of Lisbon. Multilevel Constitutionalism in Action’, 15 Columbia Journal of European Law (2009) p. 349Google Scholar at p.354-359, available also as WHI-Paper 02/09, <>, visited 17 October 2015.

11 For an overview on the reception of the concept see Pernice, supra n. 10, p. 352-353.

12 Jestaedt, M., ‘Der Europäische Verfassungsverbund – Verfassungstheoretischer Charme und rechtstheoretische Insuffizienz einer Unschärferelation’, in R. Krause et al. (eds.), Recht der Wirtschaft und der Arbeit in Europa. Gedächtnisschrift für W. Blomeyer (Duncker & Humblot 2004) p. 638Google Scholar; also in Calliess, C. (ed.), Verfassungswandel im europäischen Staaten- und Verfassungsverbund. Göttinger Gespräche zum deutschen und europäischen Verfassungsrecht (Mohr Siebeck 2007) p. 93-127Google Scholar.

13 Barents, R., ‘The Fallacy of European Multilevel Constitutionalism’, in M. Avbelj and J. Komárek, (eds.), Constitutional Pluralism in the European Union and Beyond (Hart 2012) p. 153Google Scholar.

14 Jestaedt, supra n. 12, p. 111-127.

15 Barents, supra n. 13, p. 178-179.

16 Pernice, I., ‘Theorie und Praxis des Europäischen Verfassungsverbundes’, in C. Calliess (ed.), Verfassungswandel im europäischen Staaten- und Verfassungsverbund. Göttinger Gespräche zum deutschen und europäischen Verfassungsrecht (Mohr Siebeck 2007) p. 61-92Google Scholar, also available as WHI-Paper 08/08, <>, visited 17 October 2015.

17 See, as a first step, Pernice, I., ‘La Liga Constitucional Europea puesta a prueby’, in J. Alguacil González-Aurioles and I. Gutiérrez Gutiérres (eds.), Constitución: Norma Y Realidad. Teoría constitucianal para Antonio López Pina (Marcial Pons 2014) p. 209Google Scholar at p. 223-235.

18 For the case of Greece see Papadopoulou, L., ‘Die implizite Änderung der griechischen Verfassung durch das EU-Recht’, 74 Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht (2014) p. 141Google Scholar in particular at p. 143-144. For Germany see the decision of the German Constitutional Court BVerfG, 19.7.2011, 1 BvR 1916/09, <>, visited 17 October 2015, giving Article 19(3) of the Basic Law a reading that allows, contra legem, in order to comply with EU law of non-discrimination, legal persons of other member states to be treated as national legal persons with a view to the protection of fundamental rights.

19 Barents, supra n. 13, p. 158.

20 See Pernice, I., ‘Constitutional Law Implications for a State Participating in a Process of Regional Integration. German Constitution and “Multilevel Constitutionalism”’, in E. Riedel (ed.), German Reports on Public Law Presented to the XV. International Congress on Comparative Law, Bristol, 26 July to 1 August 1998 (Nomos 1998) p. 40Google Scholar, reprinted in Walter Hallstein-Institut für Europäisches Verfassungsrecht (ed.), 1 Grundfragen der europäischen Verfassungsentwicklung, Forum Constitutionis Europae (Nomos 2000) p. 11.

21 For a deeper development of the impact of the signature and failure of the Constitutional Treaty and the salvage of its substance by the Treaty of Lisbon see Pernice, supra n.10, p. 349.

22 Barents, supra n. 13, p. 160.

23 This also covers the point made by Barents, supra n. 13, p. 162, that not all member states take part in all domains, e.g. not in the EMU. The proposition made at this place, that by virtue of Protocol no. 30, the Charter of Fundamental Rights is exempted from the jurisdiction of from the jurisdiction of the ECJ and national courts in the UK and Poland is questionable (see Pernice, I., ‘The Treaty of Lisbon and Fundamental Rights’, in S. Griller and J. Ziller (eds.), The Lisbon Treaty. EU Constitutionalism without a Constitutional Treaty? (Springer 2008) p. 235Google Scholar at p. 244-249) and in any event not relevant here for the same reasons.

24 See the critique of Barents, supra n. 13, p. 161, with reference made to my piece, ‘Multilevel Constitutionalism and the Treaty of Amsterdam: European Constitution-Making Revisited’, 36 Common Market Law Review (1999) p. 703 at p. 712; when I wrote ‘the result seems to be a monist approach’ this was not meant, as shown by the explanations given, to adopt all implications that the traditional distinction between monism and dualism would imply.

25 See Ingold, A., ‘Die verfassungsrechtliche Identität der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Karriere – Konzept – Kritik’, 140 Archiv des öffentlichen Rechts (2015) p. 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar at p. 27; see also Pernice, I., ‘Der Schutz nationaler Identität in der Europäischen Union’, 136 Archiv des öffentlichen Rechts (2011) p. 185CrossRefGoogle Scholar at p. 210-211.

26 See J. Knörr, 62 Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, (11-12/2012) p. 16 at p. 17.

27 Pernice, I., ‘Bestandssicherung der Verfassungen: Verfassungsrechtliche Mechanismen zur Wahrung der Verfassungsordnung’, in R. Bieber and P. Widmer (eds.), L’espace constitutionnel européen. Der Europäische Verfassungsraum. The European Constitutional Area (Schulthess 1995) p. 225Google Scholar at p. 262-263; see also Pernice, I., ‘Europäisches und nationales Verfassungsrecht’, 60 Veröffentlichungen der Vereinigung der Deutsche Staatsrechtslehrer (2001) p. 149Google Scholar at p. 186: ‘System wechselseitiger Verfassungsstabilisierung’, which contains more references.

28 See Voßkuhle, A., ‘Multilevel cooperation of the European Constitutional Courts: Der Europäische Verfassungsgerichtsverbund’, 6 EuConst (2010) p. 175Google Scholar. For the horizontal implications of each judgment of national constitutional and other courts see Pernice, I., ‘La Rete Europea di Costituzionalità, Der Europäische Verfassungsverbund und die Netzwerktheorie’, 70 Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht (2010) p. 51Google Scholar, also available as WHI-Paper 01/2010, <>, visited 17 October 2015.

29 So suggests Barents, supra n. 13, p. 159. Barents mistakenly suggests (at n. 40) that the pluralist approach is ‘explicitely denied’ in I. Pernice, Das Verhältnis europäischer Gerichte zu nationalen Gerichten im Europäischen Verfassungsverbund, (De Gruyter 2006) p. 54. The text clearly accepts a pluralist approach in a formal sense, while in substance a number of provisions in the treaties set limits and ensure homogeneity, coherence and interaction. For a more elaborated analysis see Mayer, F.C. and Wendel, M., ‘Multilevel Constitutionalism and Constitutional Pluralism. Querelle Allemande or Querelle d’Allemand?’, in M. Avbelj and J. Komárek (eds.), Constitutional Pluralism in the European Union and Beyond (Hart 2012) p. 127Google Scholar at p. 132-140.

30 See Pernice 2001, supra n. 27, p. 171; for more detail see Pernice, I. et al., ‘Renewing the European Social Contract. The Challenge of Institutional Reform and Enlargement in the Light of Multilevel Constitutionalism’, 12 King’s Law Journal (2001), p. 60Google Scholar at p. 68-69, also available as WHI-Paper 11/2001, <>, visited 17 October 2015.

31 Barents, supra n. 13, p. 166-169 and p. 174.

32 Interestingly, Barents, supra n. 13, p. 173, accepts that ‘all Treaties concluded by democratic states represent the will of the citizens’.

33 This question was put by Barents, supra n. 13, p. 168.

34 Barents, supra n. 13, p. 169.

35 Möllers, C., Staat als Argument, (C.H. Beck 2011) p. XLVIIIGoogle Scholar. See also Barents, supra n. 13, p. 172: ‘outright distortion of Rousseau’s philosophy’.

36 This is what Dieter Grimm suggests, with a view to distinguish the European Treaties, concluded by states, from national constitutions made by the people (see for this Grimm, D., ‘Does Europe need a Constitution?’, 1 ELJ (1995) p. 282CrossRefGoogle Scholar at p. 290). In my view, this distinction cannot be made in substance, for the people are what the state represents.

37 See also Pernice et al., supra n. 30, p. 68 ff.

38 For this argument see Barents, supra n. 13, p. 173-174.

39 Annex I to the Presidency Conclusions of the European Council 11177/1/07 REV 1 of 20 July 2007, <>, visited 17 October 2015.

40 Barents, supra n. 13, p. 175-176.

41 Barents, supra n. 13, p. 177.

42 See most clearly ECJ 22 October 1998, Case C-10/97, Ministero delle Finanze v IN.CO.GE.’90 Srl et al., para. 21.

43 Barents, supra n. 13, p. 178.

44 See more in detail Pernice, supra n. 29, p. 54.

45 The Court has recently affirmed the principle of autonomy in ECJ 18 December 2014, in Opinion 2/13 – ECHR, though it seems to be necessary to understand the principle as ‘embedded autonomy’ so to take account of the responsibility of the national constitutional courts to cooperate in ensuring the respect of the rule of law and the limits of EU powers, see I. Pernice, Autonomy of the European Legal Order – Fifty Years after Van Gend & Loos, in: Antonio Tizzano, Juliane Kokott und Sacha Prechal (eds.), 50ème Anniversaire de l’arrêt 50th anniversary of the judgment in Van Gend en Loos, 1963-2013, Actes du Colloque Luxembourg, 13 mai 2013 – conference proceedings Luxembourg, 13 May 2013 (2014) p. 55.

46 Generally questioning the usefulness of the concept of sovereignty, however, see Sir Schiemann, K., ‘Sovereignty: an unhelpful shibboleth’, in U. Becker et al. (eds.) Verfassung und Verwaltung in Europa, Festschrift für Jürgen Schwarze zum 70. geburtstag (Nomos 2014), p. 234-243Google Scholar; N. Walker (ed.) Sovereignty in Transition (Hart 2003).

47 BVerfGE 123, 267, Lissabon, also available at: <>, visited 17 October 2015.

48 Waitz, G., Grundzüge der Politik (Homann 1862) p. 153 ff.Google Scholar; von Mohl, R., Encyclopädie der Staatswissenschaften (Laupp 1872) p. 367Google Scholar. For an overview see Wiederin, E., Bundesrecht und Landesrecht (Springer 1995) p. 3 ffCrossRefGoogle Scholar.; in more modern times the theory was re-animated by Fleiner, T., Allgemeine Staatslehre (Springer 1980) p. 324 ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar, p. 417.

49 Barents, supra n. 13, p. 180-181.

50 Fleiner, T. and Fleiner, L.R. Basta, Allgemeine Staatslehre, Über die konstitutionelle Demokratie in einer multikulturellen globalisierten Welt (Springer 2004) p. 451 ffGoogle Scholar, p. 562 ff.

51 Grimm, D., Souveränität. Herkunft und Zukunft eines Schlüsselbegriffs (Berlin University Press 2009) p. 16-20Google Scholar, p. 25.

52 Barents, supra n. 13, p. 179.

53 See also Schiemann, supra n. 46.

54 BVerfGE 123, 267, Lissabon, para. 224; on this see also Mayer and Wendel, supra n. 29, p. 144.

55 See Maduro, M. Poires, ‘Three Claims of Constitutional Pluralism’, in M. Avbelj and J. Komárek, Constitutional Pluralism in the European Union and Beyond (Hart 2012) p. 76Google Scholar ff., p. 79. For further developments see Pernice, I., ‘Solidarität in Europa. Eine Ortsbestimmung im Verhältnis zwischen Bürger, Staat und Europäischer Union’, in C. Calliess (ed.), Europäische Solidarität und nationale Identität - Überlegungen im Kontext der Krise im Euroraum (Mohr Siebeck 2013)Google Scholar.

56 See Joerges, C., ‘Integration durch Entrechtlichung?’, in G.F. Schuppert and M. Zürn (eds.), Governance in einer sich wandelnden Welt (Springer 2008) p. 213CrossRefGoogle Scholar at p. 224 ff.

57 Barents, supra n. 13, p. 181.

58 Pernice, I., ‘The EU as a citizens’ joint venture. Multilevel constitutionalism and open democracy in Europe’, in J. M. Magone (ed.), Routledge Handbook of European Politics (Routledge 2014) p. 184Google Scholar at p. 187-195.

59 In this sense see also Habermas, supra n. 6, p. 35-37. See also Pernice, supra n. 58, p. 194.

60 See on European Union citizenship as a precondition for European publicity, Calliess and Hartmann, supra n. 8, p. 132-145, 151; for the provisions and internet-related new conditions of ‘open democracy’, enhancing citizens ownership and participation in the EU see also Pernice, supra n. 58, p. 192-195.

61 See also Calliess and Hartmann supra n. 8, p. 85. This is the very basis of my concept of ‘Verfassungsverbund’ (see Pernice 1995, supra n. 27, p. 261-262, and in more detail see Pernice 2001, supra n. 27, p. 166-167) or ‘multilevel constitutionalism’ (see above).

62 Specifically on this see Hatje, A., ‘Auf dem Weg zu einer Europäischen Wirtschaftsregierung: Das Europäische Semester als Instrument wirtschaftspolitischer Koordination in der EU’, in U. Becker et al. (eds.), Verfassung und Verwaltung in Europa. Festschrift für Jürgen Schwarze zum 70. Geburtstag (Nomos 2014) p. 594Google Scholar, expressing specific concerns with regard to democratic legitimacy (at. p. 614-615).

63 For the term ‘Exekutivföderalismus’ as a characteristic of the EU all together see Dann, P., Parlamente im Exekutiv-Föderalismus (Springer 2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. With regard to the crisis management since 2009 see Habermas, supra n. 6, p. 52-53; with proposals to enhance democratic control see Franzius, C., ‘Demokratisierung der Europäischen Union’, Europarecht (2013) p. 655CrossRefGoogle Scholar at p. 660-668.

64 See for more details: I. Pernice et al., A Democratic Solution to the Crisis. Reform Steps towards a Democratically Based Economic and Financial Constitution for Europe (Nomos 2012).

65 See also Pernice, supra n. 58, p. 194-197.

66 The question may be raised, however, whether it is ‘democratic’ if two or three million protesters out of 500 million people in the EU produce such an effect.

67 See K. De Gucht, Democracy, Equality, and Investment Protection In European Trade Policy (Lecture in the Forum Constitutionis Europae (FCE) 2014) at the Humboldt University of Berlin, <>, visited 17 October 2015, p. 7.

68 See e.g. Attac’s call for a self-organised initiative after the application for a formal one was rejected by the Commission, <>, visited 17 October 2015. It has been decided, by a consortium of initiatives ‘Stop TTIP’, to bring the case to the ECJ under Art. 263 TFEU, see <>, visited 17 October 2015.

69 See Pernice, I., ‘Domestic courts, constitutional constraints and European democracy: What solution for the crisis?’, in M. Adams et al. (eds.), The Constitutionalization of European Budgetary Constraints (Hart 2014) p. 297Google Scholar at p. 303; for the background of the argument: Neyer, J., The Justification of Europe. A Political Theory of Supranational Integration (Oxford University Press 2012) p. 4CrossRefGoogle Scholar.