Constitutional Reform

Patterns of Constitutional Reform in Federal Structures

The research project addressed cases of fundamental reforms of the territorial structure of federal states or regionalization in unitary states. Such reforms aim at revising ineffective centralization, improving the management of interdependence or solving conflicts in a multinational state. Irrespective of their goals, they are associated with a redistribution of power between governments and parliaments at the different levels, which makes them particularly difficult.

It is often assumed that these complications of a reform can be explained by rules of constitutional amendment. However, comparative studies have not confirmed this assumption. Our research therefore focused at structures and procedures of constitutional politics and policy-making. We found that the more complex the negotiating structures, the more effective constitutional reforms. Not constitutional conventions, that are often recommended in public discussions, nor constitutional committees usually established in the legislature or the executive, turn out as promising structures for drafting a reform. Effective reforms are more likely to result from negotiations including political leaders, administrative experts and representatives from civil society in separate “arenas” that are interconnected in a sequential process. These structures provide opportunities to generate both innovative reform proposals and to balance interests. They prevent the domination of interests of governments and parties in maintaining their power and to constrain reforms by veto players.

Moreover, our comparative research revealed that federal constitutional reforms generally do not fail, as predicted by existing theories. Rather, they often end with formal constitutional amendments. More often than not, ineffective reform proposals are ratified that resulted from bargaining in committees or meetings of party leaders. In mononational states, such outcomes consolidate the status quo, in multinational federations they can lead to further destabilization. Such consequences can be avoided by appropriate negotiation structures and procedures.


− Benz, Arthur, 2016: Constitutional Change in Multilevel Government: The Art of Keeping the Balance (in cooperation with Andrea Fischer-Hotzel, Dominic Heinz, Eike-Christian Hornig, Jörg Kemmerzell, Bettina Petersohn), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

− Arthur Benz, Knüpling, Felix (eds.), 2012: Changing Federal Constitutions. Lessons from International Comparison, Opladen, Berlin, Toronto: Barbara Budrich Publishers, 2012

− Benz, Arthur, César Colino (eds.), 2011: Federalism and Constitutional Change: Theoretical and Comparative Perspectives, “Regional and Federal Studies” Special Issue 21 (4-5), London: Routledge.

− Behnke, Nathalie, Benz, Arthur (eds.), 2009: The Politics of Constitutional Change between Reform and Evolution; Publius: The Journal of Federalism 39 (2), 213-240.

− Heinz, Dominic, 2013: Politikverflechtung in Föderalismusreformen. Deutschland, Österreich und die Schweiz in vergleichender Perspektive, Baden-Baden: Nomos

− Fischer Hotzel, Andrea, 2013: Vetospieler in territorialen Verfassungsreformen. Britische Devolution und französische Dezentralisierung im Vergleich, Baden-Baden: Nomos.

− Bettina Petersohn, 2013: Konfliktregulierung in multinationalen Demokratien, Föderalismus und Verfassungsreformprozesse in Kanada und Belgien im Vergleich, Baden-Baden: Nomos


− Behnke, Nathalie, Fischer-Hotzel, Andrea, Heinz, Dominic, Petersohn, Bettina (2011): Measuring Success of Constitutional Reforms: Evidence from Territorial Reforms in Eight Western Democracies; Regional and Federal Studies 21 (4-5), 447-477.

− Benz, Arthur, 2016: Gradual Constitutional Change and Federal Dynamics – German Federalism Reform in Historical Perspective; Regional and Federal Studies 26 (5), 707-728.

− Benz, Arthur, 2013: Balancing Rigidity and Flexibility: Constitutional Change in Federal Systems; West European Politics 36 (4), 726-749.

− Benz, Arthur, 2011: Escaping Joint-Decision Traps: National and Supranational Experiences Compared, in: Gerda Falkner (ed.), The EU’s Decision Traps: Comparing Policies Oxford: Oxford University Press, 199-216.

− Benz, Arthur, 2011: Das Zusammenspiel der Ebenen beim expliziten und impliziten Verfassungswandel, in: Christoph Hönnige, Sacha Kneipp, Astrid Lorenz (eds.), Verfassungswandel im Mehrebenensystem, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 21-40.

− Benz, Arthur, 2008: From Joint Decision Traps to Over-regulated Federalism – Adverse Effects of a Successful Constitutional Reform; German Politics 17 (4), 440-456.

− Benz, Arthur, Colino, César (2011): Federalism and Constitutional Change: Theoretical and Comparative Perspectives; Regional and Federal Studies 21 (4-5), 381-406.

− Heinz, Dominic, 2012: Varieties of Joint Decision Making: The Second Federal Reform, in: German Politics 21 (1), 129-142

− Heinz, Dominic, 2011: Politikverflechtung im Verhandlungsprozess der Föderalismusreform II, in: Europäisches Zentrum für Föderalismus-Forschung Tübingen (ed.). Jahrbuch des Föderalismus. Baden-Baden: Nomos, 181-191

− Bettina Petersohn (2011): Konfliktakkommodierung bis zur Selbstaufgabe? Stabilität und Dynamik der Verfassungsentwicklung in Belgien; Politische Vierteljahresschrift 52 (2), 195-219.

Funding institution: German Research Foundation (1667/9-1)

Funding period: 01.04.2008 – 29.02.2012

Principal Investigator:

Prof. Dr. Arthur Benz


Behnke, Nathalie (April 2008 to June 2009)

Fischer-Hotzel, Andrea

Heinz, Dominic

Hornig, Eike-Christian (October 2009 to September 2010)

Kemmerzell, Jörg (October 2010 to August 2011)

Petersohn, Bettina