The main objective of the Neo-Federalism project is to transform the way in which contemporary legal scholarship analyses the upward transfer of powers to international organisations, and the downward devolution of powers to regional authorities. The key to that aim is the development of a new theory of the federal principle as “the” constitutional principle for understanding the division of powers between (national) people(s).
The Neo-Federalism Project falls into two parts. In the first part, a historical, contextual and comparative constitutional approach is chosen to look at federalism from the eighteenth to twentieth century. A combination of a historical analysis and a comparative constitutional analysis of the British, American and German cases looks out for continuities and discontinuities, throwing into sharp relief the differences between the various specific manifestations of federalism over time. The second part of the project, adopts a more philosophical and positivist methodology. Legal analysis is used to look at the formal “constitutional” structures and ideas that are used to create the three legal spheres in the case studies. Then a philosophical approach is used to emphasise broader conclusions and predictions for how to legally coordinate national peoples in the global – yet local – world of the 21st century. In essence, the second part asks what the law “is”, how to make sense of it in federal terms, and what the normative relationships ought to be.
The project then is both interdisciplinary and comparative. At its core is the ‘constitutional law in history’ approach, which looks deep into the historical context but nonetheless does not shy away from drawing broader “transferable” lessons that can be applied to different contexts. Unlike a purely historical approach, constitutional law does not aim solely to describe the meaning of a concept in the past. Unlike a purely philosophical approach, the constitutional scholar looks at the concrete social reality and compares it against a constitutional idea(l). Constitutional scholarship lies indeed somewhere in between “history” and “philosophy”. To this end, the project draws together the disciplines of law, history and philosophy.
Legal analysis alone is often too close to the text, and can be short-sighted. For by concentrating on the arguments in the text, it often does not subject them to a historical or philosophical analysis. However, a purely historical analysis might equally fall victim to a myopic understanding of an idea. By contrast, much of the political science or philosophical literature is sometimes too far removed from the texts, historical past or social present. The Neo-Federalism project overcomes these disciplinary shortcomings by adopting an interdisciplinary approach.