Author Interview: The Nordic Constitutions

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The Nordic Constitutions

Helle Krunke

Professor Helle Krunke tells us about her recently published book The Nordic Constitutions, co-edited with Björg Thorarensen.

Tell us a little bit about the book

The book analyses the Nordic constitutional systems of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden in a comparative context. It has two main aims: first to fill a gap in the literature by providing an accessible English language account of the Nordic constitutions, and second to provide a comparative analysis of them, revealing their similarities and differences within their political, historical and cultural contexts. In this respect, the book challenges the assumption that the Nordic countries form a homogeneous constitutional system due to their cultural and historical affinities, a view not necessarily supported by a close comparative examination. A key issue is EU membership –where the Nordic countries have made different choices at different times – and the book will show how this has affected the individual countries and whether a divide between EU member states (Denmark, Finland and Sweden) and non-members (Iceland and Norway) has appeared. Another key issue is how the ECHR has impacted the Nordic constitutional systems and whether the convention draws the Nordic systems closer to each other. The book represents a first of its kind in the English language, and will provide constitutional scholars with a valuable comparative resource on the Nordic region.

What inspired you to take up this project?

Several things actually. First, I was often asked for literature on the Danish and the Nordic constitutional systems written in English. However, there existed very little literature in English on the subject. Second, I have worked with the impact of the EU legal system on the member state legal systems for a long time. However, since only three Nordic countries are members of the EU, while two countries are only EEA members, I was curious to find out how this impacts the Nordic constitutional systems viewed together – especially in light of the traditional East/West divide among the Nordic Constitutions (Sweden+Finland and Denmark+Norway+Iceland), which does not follow the EU-EEA divide. Third, the Danish constitution is very difficult to amend and it has not been amended since 1953, while the other Nordic constitutions have been amended more and recently. This means that they have a more updated human rights catalogue, refer to membership of the EU etc. The international influence from among others the ECHR is clear and not just as regards formal substance but in some cases also as regards legal culture by emphasising general legal principles and values more than traditional Nordic constitutions. Forth, I really wanted to write a book together with my Icelandic colleague, Björg Thorarensen, and other Nordic colleagues (Eivind Smith, Thomas Bull and Tuomas Ojanen). I had been very out-looking in my research for many years and suddenly I felt a need to combine my interest in the EU and international human rights conventions with a Nordic perspective.     

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

Vicki Jackson’s contextualised functionalism approach was a great inspiration and all the excellent constitutional law literature written in the Nordic languages, which the international audience unfortunately cannot access directly. Language also played an important role in writing the book. Danish, Norwegian and Swedish is so close to each other that we can understand each other. Some Icelanders can read Danish and some Fins can read Swedish. This way we could cover all the sources, however we were to some extent dependant on each other! Finally, a conference at the University of Turku, Finland, on Nordic Constitutional Identity, was inspiring including a presentation by Markku Suksi on the difference between the insider perspective and the outsider perspective when comparing the Nordic constitutions. This point became an important feature of the book.  

What challenges did you face in writing the book?

The first challenge we faced was whether the book should be structured according to countries or themes. All the chapter authors met in Copenhagen to start up the book project and everyone agreed that it would be a much more interesting book if we structured it according to topics and performed comparative analyses under each of these themes and of course in the concluding chapter. This methodological choice impacted the whole writing process since we had to cooperate very closely with each other on all the chapters. It probably meant that the process lasted at least one more year than expected. However, I believe that the final book is much richer than it would have been if we had structured it after countries. Contrary to many other comparative law books, the contextual functional analyses takes place throughout the book hopefully, enabling us to take the comparative study even further in the concluding chapter. However, topic-based and country-based comparative studies of course both have strengths and weaknesses. Another challenge was the complexity of the comparative study. This became especially clear in the concluding chapter, where we provide the reader 1) with an overview of the main features of the Nordic constitutions, areas where the East/West divide still exists and areas where we find differences across the Nordic countries and the East/West divide, and 2) with an overview of the impact of EU/EEA law and international human rights conventions. Finally, we combine everything and analyse how all these processes play out viewed at the same time. Do the Nordic constitutional systems countries move closer or further apart? The answer you will find in the book…   

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

Seen in an international perspective, I hope that the book will provide the international reader with an overview of and an understanding of the Nordic constitutional systems and challenge the general perception that the Nordic constitutional systems are very similar. Furthermore, the book is a contribution to the on-going research on how the EU impacts the national legal systems of the Member States. The book can also be viewed as a contribution to comparative constitutional literature in general. Seen in a Nordic perspective, I hope that the book will provide the reader with a nuanced up-to-date view of how current trends of EU/EEA law and international conventions impact the Nordic constitutional systems and their relationship plus provide a deeper understanding of our Nordic constitutional systems and identity. Björg Thorarensen and I will be very pleased if the book makes the reader reflect on general concepts such as constitutional design, constitutional identity, constitutional culture and constitutional change.      

What’s next?

I am currently working on several projects. One of them is an interdisciplinary book with the title ‘Transnational Solidarity. Concept, Challenges and Opportunities’, which I am editing with two colleagues. The book will be published at Cambridge University Press next year. Other topics, which I am currently working on, are constitutional change and constitutional identity.

Helle Krunke is Professor of Constitutional Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen, and First Vice-President of the International Association of Constitutional Law (IACL). Björg Thorarensen is Professor of Constitutional Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Iceland.

Order this book online at and use the code CV7 at the checkout to get 20% off your order, for a discounted price of £48!