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Public Interests and Private Relationships

Public interests and private relationships are closely intertwined. On the one hand, public interests are not only regulated by public powers but also by private actors. On the other hand, private regulations bear numerous limitations for the sake of public interests. Thus one might say that private relationships contribute to the governance of public interests, and are at the same time governed by them.

Good governance and social sustainability

The public interests affecting a certain type of private relationship are numerous and often conflicting with each other. The essence of good governance is finding the best balance of the public and private interests involved in a certain social situation.

The vast majority of social relationships are private relationships. Therefore, the way in which these relationships are governed is decisive for the sustainability of a society. Sustainability is a long-term public interest, which often clashes with other, mostly short-term, private or collective interests (for example, the interest in gaining the highest possible sum of money within the shortest possible time). Appropriate governance mechanisms are required in order to let the public interest in sustainability prevail over other, shorter-sighted, interests.

Supranational level

Public interests and private relationships interact in many ways, at both the national and supranational level. One of these interactions touches upon the very foundation of conflict of laws. Under certain circumstances, a national regulation of private relationships finds application also in other countries. Thus indirectly, the public/private governance aspects of a national regulation affect also other countries, what could raise justification problems.

Private actors, e.g. multinational corporations or NGO’s, play an important role also in the field of public international law and global governance. One of the issues arising in this regard is to what extent human rights pose obligations upon private actors.


The core research question addressed by this programme is how good governance and social sustainability could be best realised in regulating the public interest aspects of private relationships. This implies a number of sub-questions, including:

  1. How could the public and private interests involved in the regulation of private relationships be best balanced against each other, so as to realise good governance?
  2. How could the relationships between private actors be regulated and governed in order to make a society (more) sustainable?
  3. Which regulatory tasks should be left to classic law, and which regulatory tasks should be delegated to other modes of governance, in order to better realise the public interest in social sustainability while governing private relationships?
  4. How could democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental/human rights be best safeguarded in non-state law, private self-regulation, privatised public services, and other private governance phenomena?
  5. How could the appropriateness and effectiveness of a certain public-interest based limitation to private autonomy be best assessed, by taking into account both economic and non-economic interests?
  6. What justifies the application in a certain country of private (or semi-public) laws and governance arrangements of other countries?

This programme focuses on the national, supranational, international and comparative law and governance of private relationships in nine main areas: property, tort, contract, corporation, labour, family, religion and the Internet.

Full text version of the Public Interests and Private Relationships (PIPR) research programme

Last modified:18 November 2015 12.44 p.m.