The question of national self-determination is a live one in Europe. In recent years, movements for self-government have increasingly placed their demands in a broader European rather than a purely state context. For some, the European Union and the broader framework of European security and human rights have lowered the threshold and costs of independence. Others look beyond the nation-state model altogether, to a ‘post-sovereign’ order in which sovereignty is pooled and shared at multiple levels. Neither the states nor the EU as a whole have developed consistent normative and legal principles for dealing with these challenges.

In parallel, the external borders of the European Union are becoming increasingly diverse and multiple. Integration proceeds at different paces, creating a variety of models linking states to the EU. For example, Switzerland and Norway have not joined the EU, but share many common spaces, including border controls. Other countries like Turkey, share the customs union and most regulatory areas; also other countries like Israel share some particular policies with the EU (for example in the research area). Similarly, inside the EU there are large –and growing- internal differences, which create internal borders for some specific purposes.

The Euro area creates a major internal division, but there are also internal borders in respect to specific fields including refugees, migrants and labour rights. The recent agreement with the United Kingdom will create further asymmetries and complex border regimes. The EU’s main instrument for dealing with nationality claims in neighbouring countries (notably the Balkans) has been a promise of future membership but this has reached its limits in the cases of Ukraine and the Caucasus. The EU may therefore need to develop a more consistent neighbourhood policy offering new forms of association and recognizing the internal diversity of neighbouring states.

This research project aims to raise a number of questions regarding these two transformative processes –national self-determination and blurring of EU borders- and their interrelations. Both challenge the traditional ‘Westphalian’ conceptions of sovereignty to which states are attached. We propose to explore and discuss how the variable geographies of European borders may affect the issue of national self-determination in Europe, opening spaces for potential accommodations that could be compatible with existing states and legal frameworks. We also are interested to understand better how self-determination pressures within the EU are creating growing concerns about member states’ identity, questioning their territorial sovereignty and redefining multi-level government in the European space.


July 15, 2016

October 3-4, 2016 – LEUVEN
Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies

February 20-21, 2017 – EDINBURGH
Centre on Constitutional Change (CCC)

May 29-30, 2017 – BARCELONA
Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals (IBEI)