Montesquieu research

The Montesquieu Institute Maastricht is a research centre dedicated to European and comparative parliamentary studies, democracy, rule of law and human rights, and separation of powers. Montesquieu's 'formula' for the organisation of a sustainable and democratic society under the rule of law (preventing abuse of powers) has to a large extent determined the organisation of many 'modern' liberal parliamentary democracies that operate under the rule of law and with proper respect for human rights.

One of the objectives of the Maastricht Montesquieu Institute (MMI) is to stimulate both Dutch and foreign scientists to look for answers to this kind of questions. The MMI is part of the nationwide interuniversity and interdisciplinary Montesquieu Institute ( which is a collaboration between, amongst others, the Maastricht Montesquieu Institute which is focused on constitutional legal aspects, the Hague Campus for public administration of Leiden University, the Centre for Parliamentary History of Radboud University, the centre for political parties of the University of Groningen, and the Parliamentary Documentation Centre in The Hague. Jointly the Montesquieu institute maintains a website with information, evens and blogs, a monthly electronic newsletter (De Hofvijver), policy papers, and books about current events (the Montesquieu reeks( published in collaboration with Boomjuridisch.

The Institute’s research focus is based on the notion that comparative research of parliamentary systems in Europe can help to find, articulate, analyse and develop common traditions, principles and practices in the field of parliamentary procedures and democratic decision-making. The process of European integration and democratisation is built on these shared national experiences, as articulated by Article 6 of the EU Treaty. At the same time, national parliamentary systems are influenced by developments at the European level, which underlines the need for national parliaments to develop a better understanding of democratic principles and procedures in other member states and in the EU itself.

MI Research lines

Research line 1
Parliamentary Systems in a Comparative and European Perspective

Europe’s Democratic Deficit

Research line 2

One of the reasons for the creation of the Montesquieu Institute is the widely held view that decision making in the EU is not sufficiently democratic. This is also considered to be one of the key factors in the recent slowdown of the European integration process. A recurring element in the debate on the 'democratic deficit' in the EU is the position of parliaments, both at the European and the national level. Since its creation, the European Parliament has become more and more powerful and influential. The role of national parliaments has also been growing in recent years. They are now expected to become important players in determining the subsidiarity and proportionality of EU proposals.

Even though these developments suggest that parliaments are considered to be important factors in strengthening European democracy, so far they have been unable to be a platform for further European integration and democratisation. Their position seems inherently weak within the European decision making process. The European Parliament remains unable to realize a firm democratic foundation for a further development of the European project. National parliaments have similarly been unable to fill this gap: European issues receive little attention in national political debates and parliamentarians are often not interested in effectively controlling or holding to account ministers negotiating in Brussels. The character and intensity of national parliamentary procedures regarding European issues vary considerably and cooperation between parliaments is still incidental.

IGIR header

European human rights and rule of law

Research line 3

Courts and human rights are an indispensable aspect of the rue of law, separation of powers and democracy. In that context the MI focuses on three aspects: the first is the European human rights landscape: which courts (national EU, ECHR) do play a role, how do they interact and which documents can be invoked. The second is the eternal quest for a proper balance between courts and parliaments, and between courts and democracy. The third aspects relates to an analysis of what rule of law means and implies and how the rule of law aspect has also intermingled between EU and national member-states, thus allowing for a perspective on the role of the EU in the area of the rule of law.

IGIR header

Populism and democracy

Research line 4

A sustainable and viable legal order assumes a proper balance between majority decisionmaking, protection of minorities and opposition and rule of law values. Populism is not focused on this balance but upon the statement that the majority is always right and must be able to push through its opinions. This in its turn also becomes complicated when populism obtains power through open mechanisms of an open liberal society, which are subsequently abolished by the populist majority. Can we build mechanism that are durable in withstanding an absolute rule of a majority and disappearance of a notable political opposition and proper balance by courts and through the rule of law?

This project was supported by the KNAW Staatsman Thorbecke Fund which granted in 2018 a subsidy to execute this research project. It is to be concluded in 2020 with the publication of two major books:

Sascha Hardt, Aalt Willem Heringa (eds, Populism and Democracy, Eleven international publishing 2020 Populism-and-democracy

Sascha Hardt, Protecting Liberal Democracy in a Populist Age, Eleven international publishing 2020, 
Protecting liberal democracy in a populist age

The project will be continued with further research and publications following up on these two publications. 

IGIR header


Ongoing projects

  • The Indonesian Presidency: a constitutional analys
  • Conditions of Efficient Parliamentary Scrutiny in
  • Government Coalition Building in a Comparative Perspective
  • Informal Networks of Market Regulators and Parliamentary Control
  • The concept of sovereignty
  • Democratic Legitimacy and the European Parliament

The Indonesian Presidency: a constitutional analysis of the executive’s powers in Indonesia

The Indonesian Presidency: a constitutional analysis of the executive’s powers in Indonesia, in comparison with Malaysia and the Philippines, by Rosa Ristawatti. In this PhD project Rosa Ristawatti will thoroughly describe and analyze the powers of the Indonesian president, under the present Indonesian constitution. That part of the project will be of great value to the study of Indonesian constitutional law and the development of democracy as well as a good assessment of the powers of the executive, also in relation to parliamentary control. The study of the powers of the executive in Indonesia will be put into an ‘Asian’ perspective, whilst comparing them to the constitutional structures of Malaysia and the Philippines.

Conditions of Efficient Parliamentary Scrutiny in EU affairs after Lisbon

The Lisbon Treaty has provided the national parliaments with a potential to play a greater role at EU-level politics. Nevertheless, it is yet to be seen how the national legislatures will in practice adapt to the new provisions and translate them into tangible influence. This project focuses on the transformation of the conditions of efficient parliamentary scrutiny in EU affairs after the Treaty of Lisbon. The study will also shed light onto the development of the EU polity and the Europeanization process. Drawing on the experience of Sweden, Czech Republic and Romania, the research will concentrate on the relations of the EU Affairs Committees and sectoral committees, engagement of opposition parties in the EU affairs scrutiny and the role of administrative players (members of secretariats, parliamentary experts, etc.) within the national legislatures. This four-year Ph.D. project, launched in October 2010 and funded by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, is carried out by Alexander Strelkov.

Government Coalition Building in a Comparative Perspective

Dutch elections are characterised by a structural lack of result, one Dutch politician famously said the 1970s. This statement is still very much up-to-date. There are hardly any formal rules for the process that leads from parliamentary elections to a new cabinet in the Netherlands. Every formation of a new governing coalition has its own dynamics. At the same time, the process is characterized by a body of informal rules. What exactly are these "rules of the game?" This project attempts to further analyze the formation process of the Dutch cabinet. It seems clear that "four P's" have to be determined: which political parties are taking part in the formation of a new cabinet, what programme can they agree on, which party gets which portfolio, and which persons are to be appointed minister? In order to better understand this process, the project will also take a comparative perspective. As other European parliamentary systems have their own ways of forming a new government, the Dutch case is compared to a number of other countries to examine questions such as: why is it that the German formation process takes much less time, or why is is that minority coalitions seem to work well in Sweden or Denmark? This three-year Ph.D. project, funded by the Montesquieu Institute, started in 2009 and is carried out by Peter Bootsma.

Informal Networks of Market Regulators and Parliamentary Control

The concept of sovereignty

Should Scotland become an independent state? Is there a legal basis for military intervention in Syria? Are member states of the EU giving up too much of their powers, or too little, in times of the economic crisis? 
Any attempt to answer one of these questions will deal with the issue of sovereignty. Assumptions about sovereignty play an important role in political and legal debate and they are nearly as diverse as the debates themselves: one could talk about internal and external sovereignty, sovereignty in international or in constitutional law, state sovereignty, popular sovereignty, parliamentary sovereignty, domestic or Westphalian sovereignty, but it is unclear where the differences and similarities lie - is there only one concept of sovereignty or several that ought to be distinguished? In order to remedy this conceptual confusion surrounding the term of sovereignty, a thorough analytical study of the different relevant discourses (i.e. philosophical, legal and political) and the precise role of sovereignty in these discourses is needed. On the basis of such a conceptual analysis, this study will clarify whether there are different notions of sovereignty, and if so whether and how they relate to one another and to other concepts. In doing so, this study will aid legal scholars, practitioners and politicians in using the concept of sovereignty more precisely and accurately, and it will allow for the elimination of inconsistencies.
The study is carried out at Maastricht University by Antonia Waltermann under the supervision of Prof Hage and Prof Heringa.

Democratic Legitimacy and the European Parliament in a Two-Speed Europe’

The current crisis in the Eurozone is not only a financial and monetary one; it is also a democratic one. Instruments adopted as a response affect the citizens’ everyday life but give them very little opportunity to participate. The European Parliament, as their representative organ, is being systematically excluded from the crisis management which has witnessed a re-emergence of intergovernmental cooperation. This research project seeks to remedy this situation by analyzing the role of the European Parliament for democratic legitimacy and setting out criteria for the participation of the European Parliament in a future EU with a deeply integrated Eurozone. The three-year PhD project, funded by the Montesquieu Institute, started in August 2013 and is carried out by Thu Nguyen under the supervision of Prof. Heringa and Wytze van der Woude.

Bescherming van de liberale constitutie in een populistisch tijdperk

Onderzoeksproject aan de Universiteit Maastricht, sectie staatsrecht / Montesquieu Instituut, mogelijk gemaakt door een subsidie van het Fonds Staatsman Thorbecke van de KNAW.

Aalt Willem Heringa, Hoogleraar Vergelijkend Staats- en Bestuursrecht aan de Universiteit Maastricht en Sascha Hardt, universitair docent staatsrecht aan de Universiteit Maastricht hebben van het Fonds Staatsman Thorbecke van de KNAW een grote subsidie gekregen om onderzoek te gaan doen naar de bescherming van de constitutionele rechtsorde tegen (populistische) bedreigingen waar traditionele constitutionele dan wel rechtsstatelijke waarborgingsmechanismen niet voldoende op lijken te zijn toegesneden. Het betreft hier zaken als scheiding der machten, grondrechten, rule of law, die destijds ontwikkeld zijn als instrumenten tegen misbruik, maar die door nieuwe feitelijkheden en fenomenen omzeild lijken te (kunnen) worden. Het idee achter dit onderzoek is dat een duurzame constitutionele rechtsorde uitgaat van een goede balans tussen meerderheidsbesluitvorming en bescherming van minderheden en oppositie en rechtsstatelijke waarden, zoals bijvoorbeeld onafhankelijkheid van rechters. Het onderzoek bestaat uit een literatuurstudie en een analytisch vergelijkingsonderzoek naar de verschillende waarborgingsmechanismen zoals die in Nederland, Hongarije, Polen en Duitsland bestaan. Het doel is om uiteindelijk te kunnen bepalen waar in het staatsrecht nadere waarborgingsmechanismen ter bescherming van een uitgebalanceerde constitutionele rechtsstaat ontwikkeld kunnen worden. Dit project past in de onderzoeksagenda van de sectie staatsrecht van de Faculteit der Rechtsgeleerdheid van de Universiteit Maastricht / Montesquieu Instituut over multi-level constitutionalisme en de bescherming van parlementarisme en rechtsstaat.

De uitkomsten van het onderzoek dat gaat lopen tot 2020 zullen worden gepresenteerd in boekvorm en ander (wetenschappelijke) publicaties; ook zal gewerkt worden aan een symposium voor de ontwikkeling van en bespreking van voorstellen en toetsing van de analyses. Meer informatie over toekenning van subsidie door KNAW Fonds Staatsman Thorbecke voor dit project.

Montesquieu Research Meetings

The Montesquieu Research Meetings series provides an opportunity for Montesquieu Institute fellows and other researchers at the Faculty of Law to present their work and discuss topical issues in the area of European and comparative parliamentary studies and in related fields of constitutional law and politics. The meeting format is flexible. Topics range from current research presented by Montesquieu fellows to roundtable discussions of a new book or article and relevant case law of the European Court of Human Rights or the European Court of Justice. Members of staff at the Faculty of Law who are interested are warmly invited to join the discussion. The Montesquieu Research Meetings take place every 3 to 4 weeks throughout the academic year.