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Intergovernmental relations in divided societies

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - IGR-IDS (Intergovernmental relations in divided societies)

Reporting period: 2018-07-02 to 2020-07-01

Diversity, along ethnic, religious, linguistic or other related fault-lines, is a major aspect of the social reality that characterizes the overwhelming majority of the states in the world. Many of these societies are not only diverse but also deeply divided. The horror of ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia, the threat of secession in Spain and the United Kingdom and the communal tensions in India tell us stories of places where ethno-cultural differences have become political differences. Although these and many other countries use arrangements of territorial autonomy to manage their divided societies, the continuous tension in many of these societies indicates that not much emphasis has been given to the integration of the society. In particular, intergovernmental relations (IGR) between sub-national units with distinctive identity, on the one hand, and the national government, on the other, is not given adequate attention. That is the focus of this project.

Studying the interplay between politicized ethno-cultural diversity and intergovernmental relations is important because of the limitation of autonomy arrangements. Autonomy may go a long way in terms of addressing communal tensions. But it only addresses part of the problem. Equally important are integrative institutions and instruments that provide the glue to hold divided societies together by complementing the provision of territorial autonomy. This is particularly important in case of divided societies in which IGR are often complicated by rival nation-building projects. In those societies, intergovernmental relations may be tense not just because of divergence over specific policy objectives but because of the contentions around the very nature of the society and the constitutional vision. For divided societies it is even more essential than for others that IGR are efficient and effective, as intergovernmental conflicts in this context are bound to be more salient, deeply-rooted and pervasive.

In this light, the overall objective of the project is to examine the form and operation of IGR in divided societies. This entails three specific objectives. The first objective is to examine whether and how identity politics shapes the dynamics of intergovernmental relations. The second objective is to determine whether the societal divide is reflected in intergovernmental relations arrangements (i.e. institutions and instruments). The third objective is to analyze the relevance and effectiveness of intergovernmental institutions and instruments in acknowledging and accommodating the distinctive identity and specific demands of subnational units, thereby, contributing to the peaceful management of divided societies.
The deliverables of the project included a combination of publications, presentations at conferences and the organization of a seminar. I have produced three articles and a book chapter. The first two articles aimed at taking stock of the existing institutions and processes of IGR. The article on horizontal intergovernmental forums reveals how subnational units attempt to overcome the limits of autonomy by creating a common front against the national government. This article is published in Perspectives on Federalism, an open access journal. The article on legislative IGR, published in Regional and Federal studies, discusses, in comparative manner, the failure of second chambers to serve as a site of legislative intergovernmental relations. The third article, published in World Comparative Law/VLR, explores how identity politics shapes the dynamics of IGR, where conflicts between different levels of government dominates IGR not because of divergence over specific policy objectives but because of underlying communal tensions. The book chapter analyses, in comparative manner, how institutions and processes of IGR have been used to help manage communal tensions.


An edited book on intergovernmental relation in divided societies is one of the other major deliverables of this project. In addition to an introduction and a comparative conclusion, the book includes eight country chapters, including Switzerland, Canada, India, Italy, Spain, Belgium, United Kingdom, and Ethiopia. These countries are selected because each of them exhibit, to a varying degree, traits of a divided society and have established territorial autonomy to deal with the challenges of their respective divided societies. By way of addressing each of the three specific objectives mentioned above, each of the eight country case studies assembled in the book examines how the distinctive identity of particular subnational units shapes the dynamics of IGR, investigates whether identity politics has affected the type of institutions and instruments of IGR employed in the country and, finally, examine if and how institutions and instruments of IGR have contributed to the peaceful management of divided societies.

I have disseminated the results of my research in scientific publications. As mentioned above, I have published my articles in leading international journals. I have also presented my work at a number of international conferences, including at the the 2019 edition of International Federalism Days, which took place in Munich (Germany), in November 2019, where 80 experts from twenty European, African and Asian countries discussed federalism and IGR. I was one of the two international experts that chaired the panel on ‘Intergovernmental relations: Institutions and processes’. I have published my work in reputable scientific blogs, including the Conversation, IACL-IADC Blog and verfassungsblog. I have given radio interviews on intergovernmental relations and federalism to BBC, DW and ShegerFM. I gave lecture to participants at highly regarded summer schools organized by European and Canadian institutes, comparative constitutional law students at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University(USA) and to constitutional law students of a number of universities in Italy, including University of Trento, University of Verona and University of Naples L'Orientale.
Intergovernmental relations have increasingly become the focus of comparative research on the politics and law of territorial autonomy and federalism. This should not be surprising given the increasing importance and complexity of intergovernmental interactions. Most of the work has, however, focused on giving an account of the diversity of institutions and instruments employed in IGR. A review of the state of the art reveals an obvious gap. The project contributes towards filling this gap by exploring the unique challenges of IGR in divided societies.

A number of results are expected. The first expectation is that we will have an idea on whether intergovernmental relations tend to work in different ways in divided societies. Second, the project is expected to give us insight into the form of IGR institutions and instruments employed in divided societies. Finally, the third expectation is that the project will evaluate the the track record of IGR institutions and instruments in accommodating the distinctive identity and demand of subnational units.