Federalism, Rights and Backlash: Toward a New Research Agenda

Bilyana Petkova, Thomas Kleinlein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


his article introduces the symposium “Federalism and Rights: Europe and the United States Compared”, which comprises five articles on the judicial development of fundamental rights in the (quasi-)federal structures in the European Union and the United States, ranging from fair trial rights over data privacy and gay rights to human dignity. In light of recent developments in both the EU and the U.S., the struggle for rights and the resilience of (quasi-) federal structures is, once again, a burning issue. In Europe, also the overall trajectory of the EU as a common project is contested. Like in the U.S., struggles within the (quasi-)federal structure of the EU serve as the pursuit of political contestation through legal means. In federalism theory, neither the experimentation narrative nor the notion of ‘dissenting by deciding’ tell us where to draw the line between fruitful experimentation, contestation and struggle, on the one hand, and devastating backlash, on the other. With the looming rise of nationalist populist movements, Brexit, but also the faltering democracies of Central and Eastern Europe, today the question becomes to what extent states and localities can still channel some of this new wave of backlash and counter-backlash facing both the EU and the U.S. Comparative research that would help us to learn how to distinguish between productive and dangerous backlash is still at the very beginning. Yet, the case studies in this symposium lay the groundwork for comparative answers to this very question.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Constitutional Law
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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