Constitutional Culture in Western and Central Europe

Recent constitutional developments in Hungary and Romania drew remarkable international attention to the Central European region and shed a new light on the age old problem of constitutional and democratic consolidation processes. Only a few scholars and politicians have assumed that after more than two decades of experiencing with democratic practices a series of institutional changes may occur in countries which were supposed to be consolidated or at least semi-consolidated democracies. On the other hand, the financial and economic crisis from 2008 has induced Western European countries to rethink some constitutional constrains, especially but not exclusively on public finances. Both on the European and the national level tendencies have loomed which implicated radical or sophisticated changes (or challenges of the prevailing constitutional regulations as in case of Portugal) in the political system of individual countries and the European political system as well. Questions were raised especially concerning the role of constitutional courts as powerful veto players in public financial matters. Although in different contexts and with different aims, important decisions (or cut of the competence) of the constitutional courts in Portugal, Hungary and Germany showed that the financial and economic crises had a deep impact on and reopened some constitutional debates.

Nevertheless some scholars think that the disfunctionality of certain institutional factors or even their deadlocks in the political system are only symptoms of a more fundamental factor which determines the workings of the whole structure or at least the attitudes towards and operations of particular political institutions and their cooperations. From this point of view institutions are organizational frameworks which can determine the political life of a political community only to a certain extent. This brings us to another major factor of the constitutional life of Western democracies: it is the role of unwritten norms of a given political culture to secure the appropriate daily operation of the political mechanism of a community. Beyond securing a rational institutional structure the daily performance of political actors should also be the object of scientific research: players on the political field have an immense and largely underestimated personal responsibility in establishing and maintaining a constitutional and democratic culture.

Against this background our conference aims to highlight some theoretical, historical and practical questions regarding the contemporary challenges of constitutional and democratic culture.

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