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Over the last decade, missions of the UN have assisted with constitutional reforms including issues of federalism. The hopes for peace with regard to federal structures have often failed. This paper elaborates possible reasons why these hopes were disappointed. It will show that one should understand the differences between Common Law and continental systems with regard to federalism. Some experts from Common Law countries fail to appreciate the substantial difference between federal Constitutions embedded in a Civil Law culture and those embedded in a Common Law culture. The reasons for the success or failure of past, present and future federal reforms may help to improve UN activities in this field.

States of the Common Law tradition are not collective units, which have to steer their society. The Jacobins of the French Revolution, considered the State as their instrument to transform feudal society into a society of equal individuals. The Civil Law tradition has its roots in the French Revolution and in the sovereignty of the national legislative assembly as the only legitimate lawmaker of the State. The unity of the law does not depend on decisions of courts but only on the legislature. Constitutions of Civil Law federations need to enable the specified governmental branches of the federation to impose sanctions against federal units that fail to comply with federal laws.

According to the perspective of the Civil Law one has to deal with two ‘States’ claiming sovereignty in a hierarchy, while from the perspective of the Common Law one has to deal with mere ‘governments.’ Constitutions of multicultural federations embedded within the Civil Law culture will have to empower not just the federation but also the federal units to develop the different cultural identities. To foster different cultures is however, not a major function of the State of the Common Law tradition. Federalism of the Civil Law tradition is more complex than according to the Common Law tradition. Important differences between federations of a Common Law and Civil Law tradition lies in the lawmaking power of the courts. In Common Law, courts and legislature share the task of lawmaking; in Civil Law countries, the legislature regulates all issues of civil and criminal law. In a Civil Law country, legislatures, executives and courts cannot function if there is no valid local Constitution empowering those branches of the federal units. Thus, the federal Constitution of a civil law country has to establish the powers of the governmental branches of the federal units. Within federal system of the Civil Law, the federal units administer, implement and execute the laws of the federation. Constitutions of Civil Law federations need special provisions for the power of the federation to control and implement federal laws in the federal units. The civil law judiciary has no contempt of court against the administration and against authorities of federal units.

Discrepancies between Civil Law and Common Law Federations

in Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law Online


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