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European public law after empires


This article seeks to remedy a fundamental flaw in the debate about European integration and European Union (EU) law: the almost complete absence of a reckoning with the legacy of empire and imperialism. The article shows that the significance of EU law can be understood only against the background of the historical transformation of the European public law order with the decline of the European empires. European integration is an integral part of a new European public law order that finally replaced the public law order of the European empires – Droit Public de l’Europe or Jus Publicum Europaeum – in which the European states held a privileged place as the only ‘civilised’, and hence, sovereign states in the world. The post-World War II European public law order entailed a new vision for domestic public law, but also constituted intra-European relations anew, and established a new set of external relations between Europe and its former colonies. With the shift from ‘European’ international law to ‘universal’ international law in the twentieth century, European integration helped carve out a space for ‘Europe’ in a world where Europe was no longer the centre of gravity.


Dr Signe Larsen

Signe Larsen joined Magdalen College as a Fellow by Examination in Law in 2020. Before that she was a Max Weber Fellow in Law at the European University Institute. She was educated in law, politics and philosophy at the LSE, the New School for

Social Research, Bard College Berlin and the University of Copenhagen. Her research is concerned with the study of constitutions in a theoretical, historical and comparative perspective. Larsen is currently pursuing a new research project on empire and public law. By incorporating insights from history and social science on colonialism and imperialism, Larsen aims to develop a public law theory of empire that can provide us with a better understanding of the legacies of imperialism in constitutional law, including its transnational dimensions.