Symposium: Guest Editors’ Introduction: IACL’s New Research Group on New Frontiers of Federalism

Erika Arban & Antonia Baraggia

University of Melbourne & University of Milan

This past July we had the pleasure of announcing on the IACL Blog the creation of a new IACL Research Group, “New Frontiers of Federalism”. In this symposium, we would like to share some of the members' current work. The group takes as its point of departure the fact that federalism has often been adopted to deal with the complexity of divided societies and to accommodate various forms of diversity (ethnic, religious, linguistic, etc.) existing within a constitutional legal order. But federal arrangements are not only extraordinary tools to deal with diversity: in fact, federalism can be very useful dealing with the challenges posed by the process of globalization and increasing inequality. To this end, the objective of this newly formed group is to create a research community focused on the new challenges and potentials of federalism in dealing with some of the most pressing issues of our time. The comparative perspective thus gained will help to understand best practices and suggest possible avenues of reform.

The first line of scholarly investigation of the IACL Research Group will be the study not only of the most traditional levels of government but also of the role of local government and cities as new key players in the management of public services and natural resources and in the protection of rights. By doing this, the group will fill a gap in legal/constitutional literature which, until now, has often overlooked the role of cities. Today, cities are key players in current globalization processes, and often they are at the forefront of rights protection, experimenting with new ways of governance. For instance, metropolitan areas have acquired a pivotal role in the economic and social life of our contemporary societies. Cities are also actors of constitutional relevance: in particular, the phenomenon of so called “big-cities” is worth studying from a constitutional and comparative perspective within federal theory.

The second line of investigation aims at theorizing – from a constitutional law standpoint – about socio-economic asymmetries. It is hoped that this exercise will help to identify ways in which federalism-based mechanisms can provide answers to the socio-economic pressures that have emerged, particularly in the Global South. This specific strand of research will explore how federal constitutions can balance their unifying role while fostering economic diversity. It will also explore whether federalism could be regarded as a proper institutional and constitutional mechanism to foster reconciliation between unity (or social cohesion) and economic diversity in territories marked by a sharp divide between richer, wealthier and more developed regions, and territories that are poorer and less advanced.  The “spatial” dimensions of economic inequality will be investigated, complementing the classical studies on fiscal federalism with new scientific approaches.

Finally, the third line of research will focus on the role of federalism as a tool to deal with the growing complexity of a multilevel constitutional space. The theory of federalism is key in understanding the future of constitutional democracies which are experiencing unprecedented challenges and tensions: from the economic and monetary crises to the refugee emergency, and including democratic and rule of law backsliding in several countries around the world. In particular this stream of research will complement the traditional research on federalism in national contexts, with a focus on the European Union as a composite constitutional space. Indeed, the EU constitutional order shows a level of interdependence similar to federal systems, but not with the same force and authority of a real federal configuration. In light of these features, key questions emerge: how is the EU managing the multiple tensions it is experiencing? How is the EU tackling “federal” issues that emerge from the multilevel EU construction? The Research Group aims to address these new “frontiers” of the federal theory and to discuss their potential in dealing with the multiple crises of our contemporary democracies.

This symposium will feature four contributions which highlight the main research interests of the group, whose ultimate aim is to promote the studies on federalism in new emerging fields of constitutional inquiry.

Besides this symposium, the group has already planned some activities that will be announced in due course. Furthermore, the group is open to creating synergies and fruitful collaborations with other IACL research groups whose intellectual activities intersect with those of this group.

We hope you enjoy this symposium, and very much hope you will consider joining the research group. The group intends to gather both senior and junior members coming from different regions of the world to ensure diversity and to foster dialogue among different constitutional experiences.

Dr. Erika Arban is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the ARC Laureate Program in Comparative Constitutional Law at Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne.

Dr. Antonia Baraggia is Assistant Professor of Comparative Law at the University of Milan, Department of National and Supranational Public Law.

For more information or to join the Research Group’s email newsletter, contact the authors at:;

Suggested citation: Erika Arban & Antonia Baraggia, “Guest Editors’ Introduction: IACL’s New Research Group on New Frontiers of Federalism” IACL-AIDC Blog (22 October 2019)

Publication Schedule

Tuesday 22 October

Erika ARBAN and Antonia BARAGGIA, ‘Guest Editors’ Introduction: IACL’s New Research Group on New Frontiers of Federalism’

Thursday 24 October

John STANTON, ‘Quasi-Federalism and Localism: The Constitutional Position of Local Government in the UK’

Tuesday 29 October

Roberto NIEMBRO, ‘Using Constitutional Controversies to Protect Human Rights’

Thursday 31 October

Matteo BONELLI, ‘Federalism and the European Union: Understanding Current Challenges through Federal Lenses’

Tuesday 5 November

Erin DELANEY – ‘Institutional Design and the New Frontiers of Federalism’

Thursday 7 November

Rebecca NELSON – ‘Federalism and environmental frontiers’