Author Interview: Constitutional Principles of Local Self-Government in Europe

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Giovanni Boggero

Constitutional Principles of Self-Government in Europe

Dr Giovanni Boggero talks to us about his recently published book: Constitutional Principles of Local Self-Government (Brill-Nijhoff, 2017). Dr Giovanni Boggero is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Turin.

Tell us a little bit about the book

The book tries to offer a detailed account of the defining features of a very specific and at the same time quite neglected field of European law, that is to say constitutional local government law, using both an international and comparative perspective. Notably, it argues that the differences between local government systems in Europe, typical examples of internal affairs of a State, can be smoothed away by construing a consistent “system” of constitutional principles to be coherently applied at domestic level across the whole European legal space. This “system” can be best grasped by looking at the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which embodies a concept of self-government rooted in common legal traditions of a number of countries of the Old Continent, and at its subsequent practice within the Council of Europe. This is the reason why the monograph dwells upon each principle of the Charter and attempts to make clear to what extent it applies equally in the member States and in which areas its application varies according to a State’s “margin of appreciation”, i.e. considering the different characteristics and traditions from country to country or depending on financial, political and social circumstances.

What inspired you to take up this project?

The idea to write this book took its very first steps when I entered the Doctoral Law School at the University of Eastern Piedmont. The Doctoral School used to focus on local government law, whilst I had just graduated from the University of Turin with a dissertation on international law: there seemed to be no suitable research project combining the two fields…! Yet, together with my academic supervisor, Professor Jörg Luther, we ultimately found a way to reconcile “the global” with “the local”: he sent me for a traineeship at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where I started to inquire into the monitoring practice on the European Charter of Local Self-Government. At the time, the topic of my PhD was definitely less ambitious, since I was expected to bring about a comparative study between the practice of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe and that of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union. Over the years, the research project has progressively been adjusted, ultimately resulting in the actual structure of the book.

Whose work was influential on you throughout the course of the project?

I am very much indebted to two persons, one which I am already in contact with and one which I hope to get to know very soon. The former is Professor Chris Himsworth, who is one of the keenest scholars on local government all over Europe, whose several works on the Charter were really inspiring since they enabled me to overcome many inconsistencies related to the interpretation and application of the Charter. The latter is Dr. Bert Schaffarzik, a German judge and currently President of the Administrative Court of Chemnitz, who wrote one of the most thought-provoking books on the Charter. His analytical approach made me understand that the Charter required a deeper attention than just a brief glance. The interesting thing is that both Himsworth and Schaffarzik are administrative lawyers. And this is probably not by chance: local government is not really popular among constitutional lawyers all over Europe. This book is also aimed at trying to reverse this trend.. In this respect, I shall be very grateful to Professor Peter Häberle, who has been one of the few constitutional legal scholars in Europe who dedicated part of his research studies to subnational constitutionalism.

What challenges did you face in writing the book?

Given the purpose of the book to normatively describe a European system of constitutional principles of local self-government, I first faced challenges of method, most notably: where to start? From an inquiry into an international treaty or from an analysis of domestic constitutional guarantees and, if so, of which member States? And then: how to continue? By mechanically assessing compliance by the member States with the Charter principles or by also exploring into how the member States interpreted and applied their own constitutional guarantees? In other words, the very first challenge I have been confronted with was to explain why I used the Charter as the most prominent yardstick to construe my system. Secondly, I dealt with a number of linguistic problems, not only because I wrote the book in English, which is not my mother tongue, but also because it is a matter of the utmost difficulty to find the right legal terms to identify all of the different institutions existing in as much as 47 domestic jurisdictions and spell out how they really work or have changed over time. Using English as a lingua franca risks of oversimplyfing difficult legal concepts. Furthermore, it was pretty tiresome to investigate on the functioning of local government systems in legal orders in which one can hardly find literature in either English, German, French, Spanish or Italian (the languages which I am more familiar with). Reports by the Council of Europe certainly helped me in drawing the best picture possible. In any case, my work certainly pays the price of being a book written from the specific point of view of an Italian legal scholar.

What do you hope to see as the book’s contribution to academic discourse and to constitutional or public law more broadly?

In the last chapter, I tried to make clear to what extent this book could contribute to the academic discourse and more in general to public law. First of all, I think it contributes to the advancement of public international law, since it attempts to point out that local government no longer corresponds to a domestic affairs of a sovereign State. In fact, the point is not how public administration ought to be organised but what degree of autonomy should be granted at the grassroots level. Autonomy needs to be preserved as one of the fundamental principles on which a democratic regime is based. On the compliance with this standard not only domestic Courts, but also international organizations can nowadays be endowed with powers of scrutiny. Second, the book filled a gap in the studies on the so-called Ius Publicum Europaeum, since it featured a fairly complete and consistent set of principles and rights of constitutional nature which should not be encroached upon by member States or even by the EU. Third, the book attempts to clarify how a given international treaty promotes both the circulation and the integration of local government models between States. The system of the Charter, in fact, fosters a phenomenon of cross-fertilization of legal models and constitutes an excellent reference framework for measuring the degree of local autonomy under domestic law even beyond Europe borders.

What’s next?

Well, my dream would be to publish an updated edition of the book within a couple of years! I enjoy it so much that  it would be a pleasure to dedicate further time to this field of research. However, such an undertaking mostly depends on how the book will be received in Europe in the upcoming months.