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Sovereignty and Direct Democracy: Lessons from Constant and the Belgian Constitution

  • Raf Geenens and Stefan Sottiaux

Abstract

Interpretations of sovereignty in the Belgian Constitution – The ‘national sovereignty’ interpretation – Dismantling the myth of the consensual understanding of sovereignty in the Belgian Constitution – Benjamin Constant’s understanding of sovereignty – Influence of the paradigm of French post-Revolutionary political liberalism -- Implications of the ‘Constantian’ interpretation with regard to more direct modes of citizen participation – Arguments for reconsidering the settled case-law of the Council of State regarding the unconstitutionality of referendums

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Raf Geenens is assistant professor at KU Leuven’s Institute of Philosophy. Stefan Sottiaux is associate professor at KU Leuven’s Faculty of Law. We would like to thank a number of colleagues who provided helpful suggestions: Bram Delbecke, Stef Feyen, Dimitrios Kyritsis, Stefaan Marteel, Helena Rosenblatt, Jo Tollebeek, and Jan Velaers. Drafts of this paper have been presented in Leuven at the Institute for Constitutional Law and at RIPPLE; we have profited from the comments made in these sessions. The authors are also grateful to two anonymous reviewers and to the editors of the European Constitutional Law Review, who helped to fine-tune the argument.

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1 In 1815 William I, a prince of Orange, became king of the newly-united Kingdom of the Netherlands (including the contemporary Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg). His autocratic style of rule, combined with a perceived preference for the north and with religious differences, led to fierce resistance in the southern territories (the former Austrian Netherlands and the Prince-Bishopric of Liège), where the mood was dominated by the Catholic church on the one hand and by a liberal minded, mostly francophone bourgeoisie on the other. An unexpected rapprochement between Catholics and liberals enabled the 1830 revolution and the proclamation of an independent Belgian state.

2 For a number of activist calls in favour of referendums and participatory democracy in Belgium, see Van Reybrouck, D., Tegen verkiezingen [Against Elections] (De Bezige Bij 2013); D. Reybrouck, Van et al., ‘Manifest van de G1000’ [The G1000 Manifesto], De Morgen, 11 June 2011; Verhulst, J. and Nijeboer, A., Directe democratie. Feiten, argumenten en ervaringen omtrent het referendum [Direct democracy. Facts, arguments and experiences concerning the referendum] (Democracy International 2007). In the recent past, legislative proposals for the introduction of referendums at the federal level have been formulated by leading politicians from various parties, in particular from the Francophone and Flemish liberal parties (MR, Open VLD), the Flemish green party (Groen) and the Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang.

3 Loughlin, M., ‘Why Sovereignty?’, in R. Rawlings et al. (eds), Sovereignty and the Law. Domestic, European, and International Perspectives (Sovereignty and the Law. Domestic, European, and International Perspectives Oxford University Press) p. 34; Kalyvas, A., ‘Popular Sovereignty, Democracy and Constituent Power’, 12 Constellations (2005) p. 223-244.

4 For further discussion, see Gauchet, M., La Révolution des pouvoirs. La souveraineté, le peuple et la représentation. 1789-1799 (Gallimard 1995) p. 42-51.

5 See for instance Thompson, D., ‘Democracy in Time: Popular Sovereignty and Temporal Representation’, 12 Constellations (2005) p. 245-261; Thompson, D., ‘Representing Future Generations: Political Presentism and Democratic Trusteeship’, 13 Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (2010) p. 17-37.

6 Cf. Prutsch, M.J., Making Sense of Constitutional Monarchism in Post-Napoleonic France and Germany (Palgrave Macmillan 2012); Müßig, U., ‘L’ouverture du mouvement constitutionnel après 1830: à la recherche d’un équilibre entre la souveraineté monarchique et la souveraineté populaire’, 79 The Legal History Review (2011) p. 489-519; Müßig, U., ‘Montesquieu’s mixed monarchy model and the indecisiveness of 19th century European Constitutionalism between monarchical and popular sovereignty’, 3 Historia et ius (2013), paper 5 (<www.historiaetius.eu> visited 23 July 2015).

7 Dippel, H., ‘Modern Constitutionalism, an Introduction to a History in Need of Writing’, 73 The Legal History Review (2005) p. 165.

8 The full text of this article reads: ‘Tous les pouvoirs émanent de la Nation. Ils sont exercés de la manière établie par la Constitution.’ (‘All powers emanate from the Nation. They are to be exercised as prescribed by the Constitution.’) As André Alen rightly notes, this article implied a clear break with the theological foundation of sovereignty as it was maintained in the Netherlands, see Alen, A., Rechter en bestuur in het Belgische publiekrecht: de grondslagen van de rechterlijke wettigheidskontrole. Vol. II [Judge and government in Belgian public law: the foundations of judicial review. Vol. II] (Kluwer 1984) p. 789.

9 Below, we will distinguish several groups of interpreters: those who adhere to an account of ‘popular sovereignty’ (see n. 12), those who hold that the drafters of the Belgian Constitution had no genuine conception of sovereignty (see n. 13), those who offer a more or less ‘Constantian’ interpretation (see n. 91) and, since 1950, those who adhere to the theory of ‘national sovereignty’ (see n. 10 and 11).

10 Mast, A., Overzicht van het grondwettelijk recht. Deel I [Overview of Constitutional Law. Part I] (Standaard Boekhandel 1950) p. 66-68. André Mast was professor of public law at Ghent University and is probably the most influential Dutch-language interpreter of the Constitution in postwar Belgium. It is noteworthy that his (hand-typed) textbook was first published in June 1950, months after Belgium’s first and only state-wide referendum (12 March 1950). This non-binding referendum concerned the return of the exiled King Leopold III and brought the country to the brink of dissolution. In the francophone literature, the ‘national sovereignty’ interpretation can first be found in P. Wigny, Droit constitutionnel (Bruylant 1952) p. 224-225.

11 Alen, A. and Muylle, K., Handboek van het Belgisch staatsrecht [Handbook on Belgian Constitutional Law] (Kluwer 2011) p. 120-130; Tilleman, B. and Alen, A., ‘General Introduction’ in Treatise on Belgian Constitutional Law (Kluwer 1992) p. 11; Gilissen, J., Le régime représentatif en Belgique depuis 1790 (La Renaissance du livre 1958) p. 11-12; Mast, A., Overzicht van het Belgisch grondwettelijk recht, Zesde geheel opnieuw bewerkte en aangevulde uitgave [Overview of Belgian Constitutional Law, Sixth Edition] (Story-Scientia 1981) p. 27-30; Rimanque, K., De grondwet toegelicht, gewikt en gewogen [The Constitution: An Explanation and Evaluation] (Intersentia 2005) p. 100-101; Senelle, R., Commentaar op de Belgische grondwet [Commentary on the Belgian Constitution] (Ministerie van Buitenlandse zaken 1974) p. 66-68; Uyttendaele, M., Précis de droit constitutionnel belge. Regards sur un système institutionnel paradoxa (Bruylant 2001) p. 25-31; Lanotte, J. Vande and Goedertier, G., Handboek Belgisch publiekrecht [Handbook on Belgian Constitutional Law] (Die Keure 2013) p. 203-2018; Velaers, J., De grondwet en de Raad van State, Afdeling Wetgeving [The Constitution and the Council of State, Legislative Section] (Maklu 1999) p. 228-233; Wigny, , supra n. 10, p. 224-225.

12 De Meyer, J., Staatsrecht [Constitutional Law] (KUL 1985) p. 134; De Witte, B., ‘Do not Mention the Word: Sovereignty in two Europhile Countries, Belgium and the Netherlands’, in N. Walker (ed.), Sovereignty in Transition (Hart Publishing 2003) p. 353. The claim that the Belgian drafters sought to express a republican or Rousseauist conception of sovereignty is not only made by contemporary scholars but can also be found in Pirenne’s seminal history of Belgium, and some older public law textbooks seem to read the Constitution in a similar tone. See e.g. Pirenne, H., Histoire de la Belgique. Tome VI. La conquête française, le consulat et l’Empire, le Royaume des Pays-Bas, la Révolution belge (Lamertin 1926); Giron, A., Le droit public de la Belgique (Manceaux 1884); Errera, P., Traité de droit public belge (V. Giard & É. Brière 1909).

13 Delpérée, F., Droit constitutionnel. Tome I. Les données constitutionnelles (Larcier 1987) p. 301; Velu, J., Droit public. Tome premier: le statut des gouvernants (Bruylant 1986) p. 78. Although Alen sometimes puts forward the ‘national sovereignty’ interpretation (supra n. 11), he also writes that, all in all, the Belgian drafters were not really occupied with the abstract juridical or philosophical aspects of sovereignty. See Alen, A., Rechter en bestuur in het Belgische publiekrecht: de grondslagen van de rechterlijke wettigheidskontrole. Vol. I [Judge and government in Belgian public law: the foundations of judicial review. Vol. I] (Kluwer 1984) p. 207.

14 See Opinion of 15 May 1985, Part. Doc. Chamber 1983-84, nr. 783/2, 8. The Council of State confirmed this view in its subsequent opinions. See e.g. Opinion of 30 October 2002, Parl. Doc. Flemish Parliament 2002-2003, nr. 1176/2, 7; Opinion of 29 November 2004, Parl. Doc. Chamber 2003-2004, nr. 0281/004, 4.

15 Opinion of 15 May 1985, Part. Doc. Chamber 1983-84, nr. 783/2, 8.

16 Opinion of 15 May 1985, Part. Doc. Chamber 1983-84, nr. 783/2, 8 (authors’ translation).

17 Opinion of 15 May 1985, Part. Doc. Chamber 1983-84, nr. 783/2, 8 (authors’ translation).

18 Opinion of 15 May 1985, Part. Doc. Chamber 1983-84, nr. 783/2, 18 (authors’ translation).

19 Opinion of 29 November 2004, Parl. Doc. Chamber 2003-2004, nr. 0281/004, 4-5 (authors’ translation).

20 See e.g. Alen and Muylle, supra n. 11, p. 121-126; Rimanque, supra n. 11, p. 101; Velaers, supra n. 11, p. 149-166.

21 See Opinion of 15 May 1985, Part. Doc. Chamber 1983-84, nr. 783/2, 5-8 (including references to legal doctrine); Opinion of 30 October 2002, Parl. Doc. Flemish Parliament 2002-2003, nr. 1176/2, 8; Opinion of 29 November 2004, Parl. Doc. Chamber 2003-2004, nr. 0281/004, 5.

22 Popelier, P., Democratisch regelgeven [Democratic Rulemaking] (Intersentia 2001) p. 265-269; Vande Lanotte and Goedertier, supra n. 11, p. 207-208.

23 Alen, A., Handboek van het Belgisch Staatsrecht [Handbook on Belgian Constitutional Law] (Kluwer 1995) p. 21 (authors’ translation).

24 For further discussion of participation in the Belgian legal context, see Lancksweerdt, E., Handboek burgerparticipatie [Handbook on Citizen Participation] (Die Keure 2009); Schram, F., ‘Juridische benadering van participatie’ [Legal Approach to Participation], in J. Van Damme et al. (eds), Participatie: what’s in a name? Een multidisciplinaire kijk op maatschappelijke participatie [Participation; What’s in a Name? A Multidisciplinary View on Societal Participation] (Vanden Broele 2012). Lancksweerdt also offers a summary reflection on the interaction between the concepts of ‘sovereignty’ and ‘political participation’ (see Lancksweerdt, supra, p. 431-439).

25 For a recent overview of the debate on referendums, see Tierney, S., Constitutional Referendums. The Theory and Practice of Republican Deliberation (Oxford University Press 2012). For recent empirical views on direct democracy, see Lupia, A. and Matsusaka, J.G., ‘Direct Democracy: New Approaches to Old Questions’, 7 Annual Review of Political Science (2004) p. 463-482; Lutz, G., ‘The Interaction between Direct and Representative Democracy in Switzerland’, 42 Representation (2006) p. 45-57. For the theoretical debate on deliberative democracy, see Bohman, J. and Rehg, W. (eds), Deliberative Democracy. Essays on Reason and Politics (MIT Press 1997); Levy, R., ‘The Law of Deliberative Democracy: Seeding the Field’, 12 Election Law Journal (2013) p. 355-371. For more practically oriented discussions on citizen participation, see Ackerman, B. and Fishkin, J., Deliberation Day (Yale University Press 2004); Fung, A. and Wright, E.O. (eds), Deepening Democracy. Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance (Verso 2003); Warren, M. and Pearse, H. (eds), Designing Deliberative Democracy. The British Columbia Citizens’ Assembly (Cambridge University Press 2008). For an overview of the debate in Belgium, see Van Damme, J. et al. (eds), Participatie: what’s in a name? Een multidisciplinaire kijk op maatschappelijke participatie [Participation; What’s in a Name? A Multidisciplinary View on Societal Participation] (Vanden Broele 2012).

26 Opinion of 15 May 1985, Part. Doc. Chamber 1983-84, nr. 783/2, 18.

27 It is not certain that this assumption is correct. Recent research suggests that direct democratic devices do not necessarily pose a risk to the unity of multinational societies, but might actually have a centripetal effect. See Stojanovic, N., ‘Direct Democracy: a Risk or an Opportunity for Multicultural Societies? The Experience of the Four Swiss Multilingual Cantons’, 8 International Journal on Multicultural Societies (2006) p. 183-202; Stojanovic, N., ‘Limits of Consociationalism and Possible Alternatives. Centripetal Effects of Direct Democracy in a Multiethnic Society’, 51 Transitions (2011) p. 99-114.

28 The sole ‘resistance’ to this transmission comes from the few authors who hold that the Constitution sanctions the principle of popular sovereignty (cf. n. 12), from authors who hold that the drafters of the Belgian Constitution did not have a genuine conception of sovereignty and had only ‘casual’ ideas about the source of all powers (cf. n. 13), as well as from those authors who believe that it would be better to drop the term sovereignty as it inevitably brings to mind an absolute, undivided power that is unrestrained by law. This latter point of view has been formulated by Michel Leroy, who targets the ‘national sovereignty’ interpretation as especially dangerous because it justifies this absolute power in reference to a non-existent, quasi-metaphysical entity. See Leroy, M., ‘Requiem pour la souveraineté, anachronisme pernicieux’ in Présence du droit public et des droits de l'homme: Mélanges offerts à Jacques Velu (Bruylant 1992) p. 91-106.

29 As far as we are aware, there is only one author who has ever denounced the national sovereignty interpretation as a ‘myth’, namely the historian Henk De Smaele (see De Smaele, H., Omdat we uwe vrienden zijn’. Religie en partij-identificatie 1884-1914 (PhD-dissertation) (KU Leuven 2000) p. 29-30). According to De Smaele, this myth emerged in the nineteenth century. Although we do not investigate the origins of the myth in detail here, we believe it originated in 1950 and probably took its cue from the influential French constitutional scholar Raymond Carré de Malberg. It has been demonstrated that Carré de Malberg played an important role in developing the conceptual distinction between ‘popular sovereignty’ and ‘national sovereignty’ (see G. Bacot, Carré de Malberg et l’origine de la distinction entre souveraineté du peuple et souveraineté nationale (CNRS 1985)). At one point, Carré de Malberg mentions in passing that the Belgian Constitution is one of the sole examples of a constitution that is built on ‘national sovereignty’ (see de Malberg, R. Carré, Contribution à la théorie générale de l’état. Tome deuxième (Sirey 1922) p. 169). Carré de Malberg was highly influential in twentieth-century Belgian public law and he is cited (next to younger French scholars such as Julien Laferrière and Georges Vedel) in the crucial passage where André Mast proposes the ‘national sovereignty’ interpretation. It should be noted that, for Carré de Malberg, the idea of ‘national sovereignty’ is tied up with a positivist legal philosophy that sees the state (rather than the people or parliament) as the supreme source of law. This state finds its legitimacy in the fact that it embodies a nation that is, by definition, a pure fiction and can thus never play a genuine role in the legislative process. Such a state-centric vision might be attractive to those who, in the name of ‘raison d’état’, wish to operate in relative independence from democratic pressure. This would help to explain the success of this vision in postwar Belgium, where the construction of compromises among elites was seen as a primary means to pacify social relations and to maintain stability, a stability that was never more threatened than by the one-time referendum on the so-called ‘royal question’ in 1950. Cf. n. 10 supra.

30 See Van den Steene, De Belgische Grondwetscommissie (oktober-november 1830) [The Belgian Constitutional Commission (October-November 1830)] (KVAB 1963); Gilissen, J., ‘La Constitution belge de 1831: ses sources, son influence’, 10 Res Publica (1968) p. 107-141.

31 Mast 1950, supra n. 10, p. 66-68.

32 See Mast, A., Overzicht van het grondwettelijk recht. Tweede druk [Overview of Constitutional Law, Second Edition] (Standaard Boekhandel 1966) p. 25-28; Mast 1981, supra n. 11, p. 27-30.

33 Bacot, supra n. 29; Brunet, P., Vouloir pour la nation. Le concept de représentation dans la théorie de l’état (Université de Rouen 2004). Although it seems Jacques Necker was already toying with some version of this idea around 1791. See Grange, H., Les Idées de Necker (Klincksieck 1974) p. 269-270.

34 Carré de Malberg, supra n. 29; Bacot, supra n. 29.

35 Cf. Gauchet, supra n. 4.

36 E.g. J. Lebeau, Observations sur le pouvoir royal (C. Lebeau-Ouwerx 1830).

37 The National Congress was Belgium’s 200-strong, provisional legislative assembly, elected in November 1830 and dissolved in July 1831. Its central task was to write and ratify a constitution for the new state. A smaller commission prepared a first, rough draft (see Van den Steene, supra n. 30) but the general assembly also took its task to heart. The minutes of its lengthy and often highly theoretical discussions have been published in five volumes: E. Huyttens (ed.), Discussions du Congrès national de Belgique 1830-1831. Tomes I-V (Société typographique belge 1844-1845).

38 Huyttens, supra n. 37, vol. I, p. 215-216; vol. II, p. 15.

39 Huyttens, supra n. 37, vol. I, p. 216 and 603.

40 Huyttens, supra n. 37, vol. I, p. 188, 208-209, 228 and 443; vol. II, p. 28.

41 F. Stevens et al. (eds), Constitutions of the World from the late 18th Century to the Middle of the 19th Century. Europe: Volume 7. Constitutional Documents of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands 1789-1848 (KG Saur Verlag 2008) p. 75. Note also that the term ‘National Congress’ (in French: ‘Congrès national’) was formally rendered in Dutch, in 1831, as ‘Volksraad’ (‘Council of the People’) and thus not as ‘Council of the Nation’.

42 Cf. Geenens, R. and Rosenblatt, H. (eds), French Liberalism. From Montesquieu to the Present Day (Cambridge University Press 2012).

43 Constant, B., Ecrits politiques (Gallimard 1997); Holmes, S., Benjamin Constant and the Making of Modern Liberty (Yale University Press 1984); Rosenblatt, H. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Constant (Cambridge University Press 2009); Weber, F., Benjamin Constant und der liberale Verfassungsstaat: politische Theorie nach der Französischen Revolution (Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften 2004); Vincent, K.S., Benjamin Constant and the Birth of French Liberalism (Palgrave Macmillan 2011).

44 Van Velzen, P., De ongekende ministeriële verantwoordelijkheid. Theorie en praktijk 1813-1840 [The Unknown Ministerial Responsibility. Theory and Practice 1813-1840] (Wolf Legal Publishers 2005); Delbecke, B., De lange schaduw van de grondwetgever. Perswetgeving en persmisdrijven in België (1831-1914) [The Long Shadow of the Constitution-Maker. Press Legislation and Press Crimes in Belgium (1831-1914)] (Academia Press 2012).

45 Fontana, B., Benjamin Constant and the Post-Revolutionary Mind (Yale University Press 1991); Weber, supra n. 43; Rosenblatt, H., Liberal Values. Benjamin Constant and the Politics of Religion (Cambridge University Press 2008); Rosenblatt 2009, supra n. 43; Vincent, supra n. 43.

46 A brief exception is Craiutu, A., ‘The Battle for Legitimacy. Guizot and Constant on Sovereignty28 Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques (2002) p. 471-491.

47 The same tension of course returns in contemporary discussions about the opposition between sovereignty and the rule of law. E.g. Leroy, supra n. 28; Jacobs, F., The Sovereignty of Law: The European Way (Cambridge University Press 2007); Eleftheriadis, P., ‘Parliamentary Sovereignty and the Constitution’, 22 Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence (2009) p. 267-290; Eleftheriadis, P., ‘Law And Sovereignty’, 29 Law and Philosophy (2010) p. 535-569.

48 Rousseau, J.-J., Œuvres complètes III. Du contrat social, écrits politiques (Gallimard 1964).

49 Urbinati, N., Representative Democracy. Principles and Genealogy (The University of Chicago Press 2006) p. 98.

50 Putterman, E., Rousseau, Law and the Sovereignty of the People (Cambridge University Press 2010).

51 Sieyès, E.J., Ecrits politiques (Editions des archives contemporaines 1985); Pasquino, P., ‘Emmanuel Sieyes, Benjamin Constant et le “Gouvernement des modernes”. Contribution à l’histoire du concept de représentation politique’, 37 Revue française de science politique (1987) p. 214-229.

52 Goldoni, M., ‘At the Origins of Constitutional Review: Sieyès’ Constitutional Jury and the Taming of Constituent Power’, 32 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies (2012) p. 211-234.

53 Mairet, G., Le Principe de souveraineté (Gallimard 1997) p. 101.

54 Guizot, F., ‘Philosophie politique: de la souveraineté’, in Histoire de la civilisation en Europe (Hachette 1985).

55 Manent, P., Histoire intellectuelle du libéralisme: Dix leçons (Calmann-Lévy 1987).

56 Lefort, C., ‘Le libéralisme de Guizot’, Guizot, in F., Des Moyens de gouvernement et d’opposition (Belin 1988). An even more radical rejection of the idea of popular sovereignty can be found in J. De Maistre’s De la souveraineté du peuple. Un anti-contrat social (Presses Universitaires de France 1992). Already written in 1794-1795, this (unpublished) book was intended as an attack on what De Maistre saw as an important cause of the Revolution, namely Rousseau’s theory of popular sovereignty.

57 Constant, supra n. 43, p. 317.

58 For further discussion of this ‘puzzle’, see A. Kalyvas, supra n. 3; Loughlin, M., ‘The Concept of Constituent Power’, 13 European Journal of Political Theory 2014, p. 218-237.

59 According to Kalyvas and Katznelson, Constant remained ‘ambivalent’ with regard to the notion of constituent power. See Kalyvas, A. and Katznelson, I., ‘“We Are Modern Men”: Benjamin Constant and the Discovery of an Immanent Liberalism6 Constellations (1999) p. 521.

60 Gauchet, M., ‘Liberalism’s Lucid Illusion’, in H. Rosenblatt (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Constant (Cambridge University Press 2009) p. 41.

61 Vincent, supra n. 43, p. 176.

62 Jennings, J., ‘Conceptions of England and its Constitution in Nineteenth-Century French Political Thought’, 29 The Historical Journal (1986) p. 65-85.

63 Carré de Malberg, supra n. 29, p. 23.

64 Constant, supra n. 43.

65 In the intellectual-historical studies that trace the sources that influenced debates in the run-up to the Belgian revolution and during the drafting of the Constitution, the influence of Montesquieu (see for instance De Dijn, A., ‘A Pragmatic Conservatism. Montesquieu and the Framing of the Belgian Constitution (1830-1831)’, 28 History of European Ideas (2002) p. 227-245) and of French catholic liberalism (see Haag, H., Les Origines du catholicisme libéral en Belgique (1789-1839) (Nauwelaerts 1950); Jürgensen, K., Lamennais und die Gestaltung des Belgischen Staates. Der liberale Katholizismus in der Verfassungsbewegung des 19. Jahrhunderts (Franz Steiner Verlag 1963); Simon, A., Rencontres Menaissiennes en Belgique (Académie royale de Belgique 1963); Viaene, V., Belgium and the Holy See from Gregory XVI to Pius IX (1831-1859): Catholic revival, society and politics in 19th-century Europe (Leuven University Press 2001)) are very much stressed as well.

66 Van Velzen, supra n. 44; Delbecke, supra n. 44.

67 Courrier des Pays-Bas, 27 July 1829. The fact that the protagonists of the Belgian revolution and the drafters were familiar with Constant, can also be gathered from their political-philosophical publications (e.g. A. Castiau, De la responsabilité, de la mise en accusation des ministres en Belgique (Ghent 1829); Lebeau, supra n. 36).

68 Huyttens, supra n. 37.

69 Marteel, S., ‘Constitutional Thought under the Union of the Netherlands: The “Fundamental Law” of 1814-15 in the Political and Intellectual Context of the Restoration’, 27 Parliaments, Estates and Representation (2007) p. 77-94; Marteel, S., “Inventing the Belgian Revolution”. Politics and Political Thought in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (1814-1830) (European University Institute 2009).

70 Where relevant, the claims made below have been checked against the corresponding discussions in the National Congress. A complete reading and study of the five volumes of the records of the National Congress in light of the sovereignty question (something which remains to be done) would probably yield additional bits and pieces of information. Yet even from an incomplete reading it can be gathered that the records do not offer an unambiguous answer as to what is the best interpretation of sovereignty in the 1831 Constitution, or even as to the more concrete question of what the different congressmen personally thought about sovereignty.

71 Bacot, supra n. 29.

72 ‘As the constitutional powers only exist by grace of the constitution, they can never and under no pretext whatsoever suspend application of the constitution.’ (authors’ translation).

73 Huyttens, supra n. 37, vol. II, p. 464.

74 The resulting article was more terse and remains until this day in the Belgian Constitution (Art. 187: ‘La Constitution ne peut être suspendu en tout ni en partie.’ ‘The Constitution can never be suspended, neither partly nor as a whole.’).

75 Albeit acting in a special capacity and by special majority.

76 The National Congress indeed tended to describe itself as the ‘pouvoir constituant’, and never saw a reason to subject important decisions (e.g. the choice for monarchy as opposed to an elected head of state) to popular approval (cf. Huyttens, supra n. 37, vol. I, p. 229). Contemporary public law scholar Jan Velaers accepts that the original ‘pouvoir constituant’ did not reside in the Belgian people but in the National Congress (see J. Velaers, ‘Het referendum en de volksraadpleging in grondwettelijk perspectief’ [The Referendum and the Popular Consultation in Constitutional Perspective], in F. Fleerackers (ed.), De re ferenda. Een meta-juridische conflictanalyse van het referendum [De re ferende. A Meta-Legal Conflictanalysis of the Referendum] (Larcier 2001) p. 165-166). Against this view, one could argue that since the Belgian Constitution was promulgated ‘in name of the Belgian people’ (according to the official document preceding its publication), the drafters acknowledged – at least nominally – the existence of an original, pre-constitutional ‘pouvoir constituant’ that therefore retains the right to be directly involved in decisions about substantial constitutional change. See De Meyer, supra n. 12.

77 We presume that the term ‘nation’ in Art. 33 was in the drafters’ view by and large equivalent to the term ‘people’. This is confirmed by the fact that the National Congress – despite its name – always speaks in name of the Belgian ‘people’ and by such interventions in the Congress as that of Charles Blargnies, who emphasises that ‘all powers emanate from the nation’ and, in the same passage, describes the monarchy as a contract between the ‘people’ and the head of state. See Huyttens, supra n. 37, vol. I, p. 238.

78 In the National Congress, Pierre Seron literally states that the phrase ‘tous les pouvoirs émanent de la nation’ means that ‘sovereignty resides in the nation’ (Huyttens, supra n. 37, vol. II, p. 15), a statement that does not draw any criticism from his fellow Congress-members.

79 E.g. Leroy, supra n. 28; Jacobs, supra n. 47; Eleftheriadis 2009, supra n. 47.

80 The fear of a too strongly united power is sometimes raised during the National Congress as an argument against making Belgium a republic, e.g.: ‘La république une et indivisible a laissé de trop profonds et de trop cruels souvenirs dans les cœurs des Belges, pour qu'ils puissent désirer le retour du régime républicain’ (‘The republic, one and undividable, has left too deep and too crual memories in the hearts of the Belgians for them to want a return of the republican regime’) (Huyttens, supra n. 37, vol. I p. 238, original italics, authors’ translation).

81 Huyttens, supra n. 37, vol. I, p. 184-261.

82 Holmes, supra n. 43; Vincent, supra n. 43.

83 De Dijn, supra n. 65.

84 De Dijn, supra n. 65, p. 230. Similar formulations abound in the discussions in the National Congress (e.g. Huyttens, supra n. 37, vol. I, p. 189, 197, 199, 200, 206, 220, 231, 236 and 240).

85 Jennings, supra n. 62, p. 68.

86 Constant was regularly mentioned during the debates on the senate (e.g. Huyttens, supra n. 37, vol. I, p. 398, 414-415, 433 and 465; vol V., p. 80).

87 Huyttens, supra n. 37, vol. I, p. 229 and 236.

88 Jennings, supra n. 62, p. 69.

89 Huyttens, supra n. 37, vol. I, p. 193 and 208-209.

90 Delbecke, supra n. 44.

91 Thonissen, J.J., Constitution belge annotée (Milis 1844); Orban, O., Le droit constitutionnel de La Belgique. Tome I: Introduction et théories fondamentales (H. Dessain / V. Giard & E. Brière 1906).

92 Laurence Morel claims that, in general, there are two distinct types of discussions on referendums. There are ‘classical’ discussions on the constitutional compatibility of referendums and representative democracy. And then there are discussions in democratic theory where it is asked whether referendums would improve the democratic quality of existent democratic regimes. Morel, L., ‘Referendum’, in M. Rosenfeld and A. Sajó (eds),The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Constitutional Law (Oxford University Press 2012) p. 501-528.

93 Cf. Rousseau, supra n. 48.

94 Thompson 2010, supra n. 5.

95 Rosanvallon, P., ‘Sortir de la myopie des démocraties’, Le Monde, 7 December 2009. A similar complaint is voiced by Tine Stein, see Stein, T., ‘Does the Constitutional and Democratic System Work? The Ecological Crisis as a Challenge to the Political Order of Constitutional Democracy’, 4 Constellations (1998) p. 420-449.

96 Thompson 2010, supra n. 5.

97 E.g. Vande Lanotte and Goedertier, supra n. 11, p. 233; Popelier, supra n. 22, p. 48.

98 For an overview see e.g. Goldsworthy, J., ‘Constitutional Interpretation’, in M. Rosenfeld and A. Sajó (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Constitutional Law (Oxford University Press 2012).

99 There was, after all, an undeniable ‘elitism’ among the drafters.

100 Dworkin, R., ‘Comment’, in A. Gutmann (ed.), Antonin Scalia, A Matter of Interpretation. Federal Courts and the Law (Princeton University Press 1997).

101 Note that, as of 2014, Belgium did abolish the Senate as it formerly existed and turned it into a meeting place for representatives of the different regions and communities that make up the Belgian federal system.

102 Dennis Thompson (cf. Thompson 2010, supra n. 5) defends the idea of citizens assemblies that would act as ‘trustees’ of future generations. According to him, regular citizens would be suited to do so because they are not exposed to electoral pressure (and hence to the pressure of short-term interests) on the one hand, and on the other hand because ‘ordinary citizens’ are more plausible ‘as surrogates for the ordinary citizens of the future’ than professional politicians can be. In alternative proposals, referendums could play a role in the defense of the interests of future generations (Ekeli, K.S. Skagen, ‘Constitutional Experiments: Representing Future Generations Through Submajority Rules’, 17 The Journal of Political Philosophy (2009) p. 440-461), the representation of future generations could be entrusted to an ombudsman (Jávor, B., ‘Institutional protection of succeeding generations – Ombudsman for Future Generations in Hungary’, in J.C. Tremmel (ed.), Handbook of Intergenerational Justice (Edward Elgar 2006)), or a limited number of representatives could be added to legislative assemblies with the express task of representing future generations (Dobson, A., ‘Representative Democracy and the Environment’, in W. Laffert and J. Meadowcroft (eds), Democracy and the Environment (Edward Elgar 1996).

103 Cf. Dewachter, W., De mythe van de parlementaire democratie. Een Belgische analyse [The Myth of Parliamentary Democracy. A Belgian Analysis] (Acco 2001); Dewachter, W., De trukendoos van de Belgische particratie [The Trickery of Belgium’s Particracy] (Pelckmans 2014); De Prins, D., Handboek politieke partijen [Handbook on Political Parties] (Die Keure 2011).

104 Constant, supra n. 43, p. 341 and 360; Kalyvas and Katznelson, supra n. 59, p. 528.

105 Lancksweerdt makes a similar observation. According to him, adding participatory procedures to Belgium’s representative democracy would be a further refinement of its Montesquieu-esque system of checks and balances. Lancksweerdt, supra n. 24, p. 430.

106 In a recent book, political theorist John McCormick likewise proposes several ‘extra-electoral’ procedures that are meant to be ‘elite-constraining’ and ‘citizen-empowering’. He finds inspiration for these procedures in historical republics. See McCormick, J., Machiavellian Democracy (Cambridge University Press 2011). It can be added that Carré de Malberg himself, towards the end of his life, pleaded in favour of referendums as a way of limiting the increased power of parties in France. de Malberg, R. Carré, ‘Considérations sur la question de la combinaison du referendum avec le parlementarisme’, 48 Revue du droit public et de la science politique (1931) p. 225-244.

107 Cf. n. 2 supra.

* Raf Geenens is assistant professor at KU Leuven’s Institute of Philosophy. Stefan Sottiaux is associate professor at KU Leuven’s Faculty of Law. We would like to thank a number of colleagues who provided helpful suggestions: Bram Delbecke, Stef Feyen, Dimitrios Kyritsis, Stefaan Marteel, Helena Rosenblatt, Jo Tollebeek, and Jan Velaers. Drafts of this paper have been presented in Leuven at the Institute for Constitutional Law and at RIPPLE; we have profited from the comments made in these sessions. The authors are also grateful to two anonymous reviewers and to the editors of the European Constitutional Law Review, who helped to fine-tune the argument.

Keywords

Sovereignty and Direct Democracy: Lessons from Constant and the Belgian Constitution

  • Raf Geenens and Stefan Sottiaux

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