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dr. R.G.P. (Rik) Peters

Universitair Hoofddocent
Profielfoto van dr. R.G.P. (Rik) Peters

NWO Research Project Contested Democracy


Contested Constitutions, exploring the foundations of modern democracies

In the beginning of the 21st century, the notion of constitutions as the foundation of

democracy has become essentially contested. The growing importance of regional and global

networks and the fragmentation of societies increasingly challenge the ideal of an allembracing

set of foundational norms for the democratic nation state. Recently, the crisis of

constitutionalism has come most clearly to the fore in the European Union. The French and

Dutch 'no' to the draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe put an end to the

ratification process. Moreover, the very notion of a European Constitution has become highly

contested: no longer is the question what constitution Europe should adopt, but whether it

needs a constitution at all.

In reaction to these events, a fierce debate on the future of Europe has been reopened.

Opponents of constitutionalization emphasize that the Union cannot adopt a constitution

because there is no European polity. Supporters of the European constitution reject this

argument as old-fashioned nationalist thinking. This confusion has serious consequences for

the relationship between Member States and the Union leading to mind boggling situations at

all levels, with serious implications for day-to-day policy making.

We aim at overcoming the present deadlock by adopting a completely different

approach with regard to the function of constitutions in democracies. The main thesis of this

project is that political language is constitutive for the identity of the polity as it chrystalizes

out in the polity's constitution. On this basis, we carry out a multidisciplinary comparative

historical research on the constitutionalization processes in the United States of America,

France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and the European Union, focusing on the rhetoric of

constitutional discourse. In a learning history, carried out in major Dutch institutions involved

in the constitutionalization of Europe, the results of this research will be made available to

Dutch policy makers. By using the lessons of the past for analyzing contemporary political

problems, we explicitly seek to meet the demands of the programme ‘Contested Democracy’

to provide usable knowledge.

Laatst gewijzigd:25 juni 2022 12:30