Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

Conference Report–“Constitutional Asymmetry in Multi-tiered Multinational Systems”–University of Antwerp

Maja Sahadžić, University of Antwerp

On April 23-24, 2018, the Faculty of Law of the University of Antwerp, supported by the Fundamental Research Foundation Flanders (Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek–FWO), hosted the expert seminar “Constitutional asymmetry in multi-tiered multinational systems”. The expert seminar was co-convened by Patricia Popelier (University of Antwerp) and Maja Sahadžić (University of Antwerp) with the purpose of exploring and discussing association between constitutional asymmetry, multi-tiered systems, and multinationalism. The objectives of the seminar were three folded: detecting constitutional asymmetry within the chosen systems; explaining the historical background behind constitutional asymmetries and the logic behind constitutional asymmetries; and linking constitutional asymmetry to multinationalism.

The expert seminar is conceived as a comparative study on constitutional asymmetry in multi-tiered multinational systems. To that end, and following a pre-defined methodology, 16 jurisdictions have been identified as multi-tiered multinational systems to be discussed in the light of the constitutional asymmetry, including Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, China, Ethiopia, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Russia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Accordingly, experts have been invited to present a country study for each jurisdiction.

In order to facilitate comparability among the jurisdictions, the experts were provided with the instructions of how to structure their presentations. Five parts have been identified as important: first, the explanation of the historical background of the system, in terms of territorial, national, economic, and social developments; second, detecting political asymmetries within jurisdictions; third, the elucidation about the logic behind constitutional asymmetries and legal basis for introducing them; fourth, the explication of where within the system constitutional asymmetries emerge and in which parts of the system are they mostly pronounced; and fifth, the identification and explanation of the link between constitutional asymmetry and multinationalism in the country of interest.

The expert seminar featured 16 paper presentations grouped into five sessions. This report provides a brief summary of the country reports, which will be published in an edited book.

The first session featured papers on Canada by Alain-G. Gagnon (University of Quebec in Montreal) and Jean-Denis Garon (University of Quebec in Montreal), Belgium by Patricia Popelier (University of Antwerp), Bosnia and Herzegovina by Zarije Seizović (University of Sarajevo) and Maja Sahadžić (University of Antwerp), and Spain by Marc Sanjaume (Pompeu Fabra University) and Pau Bossacoma (Pompeu Fabra University). Gagnon and Garon looked into constitutional and non-constitutional asymmetries in Canada by exploring the policy fields of immigration, health care, and manpower training. Popelier’s paper explored asymmetry and complexity as a device for conflict management in Belgium. While Seizović presented on the consequences of ethnic diversity and political disintegration in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sahadžić’s paper examined asymmetry and ethnoterritorial overlap linked to the consequences of multinationalism. Sanjaume and Bossacoma tackled asymmetry as a device for equal recognition and reasonable accommodation of majority and minority nations in Spain.

The second session featured papers on India by Rajendra Pandey (Jamia Hamdard University/Center for Federal Studies), Pakistan by Zubair Shahid and Melanie Gerster, and Myanmar by Michael Breen (University of Melbourne). Pandey’s paper focused on accommodating diversity and consolidating nationhood in India. Shahid and Gerster focused on democratic consolidation and decentralization in Pakistan while Breen’s paper assessed ethnic nationalities in a Bamar-dominated state featuring strong asymmetry towards equality, and then somewhere in between.

The third session featured papers on China by Jason Buhi (Peking University School of Transnational Law), Indonesia by Denny Indrayana (Universitas Gadjah Mada/University of Melbourne), and Malaysia by Asri Salleh (MARA University of Technology) and Arnold Puyok (University of Malaysia Sarawak). Buhi’s paper discussed struggles of autonomy under a Leninist-party state. Indrayana explored wide-ranging and special autonomy of several subnational entities in Indonesia. Salleh and Puyok explored constitutional asymmetry in Malaysia through a case study of the state of Sabah.

The fourth session featured papers on the European Union by Pieter Van Cleynenbreugel (University of Liege), Italy by Francesco Palermo (University of Verona/EURAC) and Alice Valdesalici (EURAC), and the United Kingdom by Brice Dickson (Queen’s University of Belfast). Cleynenbreugel looked into how constitutional asymmetries manifest in the European Union. Palermo and Valdesalici examined features and developments of constitutional asymmetries in Italy, while Dickson focused on differences in identity in the United Kingdom that are being largely congruent with varieties of political asymmetries, especially geography, and the party political landscape.

The final fifth session featured papers on Russia by Elena Kremyanskaya (MGIMO University), Iraq by Bawar Bammarny (University of Heidelberg) and Ethiopia by Yonathan Fessha (the University of the Western Cape). Kremyenskaya’s paper looked into challenges and developments linked to constitutional asymmetries in Russia. Bammarny focused on federalism and decentralization in Iraq. Finally, Fessha explained Ethiopia as a federation among unequals.

The collection of papers certainly explores the topic from different perspectives and they most certainly help us to understand the complexity behind constitutional asymmetries. However, the expert seminar has an additional dimension. It engaged the experts from around the world to discuss constitutional asymmetry, it enabled building an international network of scholars in constitutional asymmetries, and it opened the space for sharing best practices and learning from each other.


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