Territorial conflicts of sovereignty in Europe: good practices and proposals for resolution

Eusko Ikaskuntza established in May 1931 the first milestone of Basque self-government. It offered Basque society the "General Statute of the Basque State", known as the Statute of Estella. Today, after the centenary, offering an updated conception, it will tackle the consolidation of the capacity of decision making and its development from the point of view of collaborative governance.

Based on good resolution practices and solid and contrasted academic criteria, our objective is to carry out a European protocol for the resolution of conflicts of territorial sovereignty. Possible "instrument or rule of clarity" that can be approved by international, European and state institutions.

A collaborative methodology will be applied with the participation of experts from the international, state and Basque-Catalan . The result, fruit of this collective deliberation, will be presented in the international congress to be held on November 11-12-13.

Thematic area
Socio-political structure
In progress



Over the last two centuries, the States' Constitutions and other supra-state legal instruments have integrated a growing range of rights and freedoms, thus ing the democratic rules of law and international legal s to adapt to the citizens' demands and needs. However, there is an obvious deficit regarding the democratic management of the collective will of stateless states or political subjects who present themselves as differentiated demos/demoi and democratically demand their own decision-making capacity. In the past, Europe has experienced different conflicts of this nature, some of which have been resolved, while others still remain active. The way in which legal s tend to manage such conflicts poses a dual constraint, a bias that needs to be overcome.

On the one hand, these conflicts are usually considered “internal affairs” of states, meaning their proper management depends in excess on the particular democratic culture of each state. Thus, European institutions tend not to interfere with issues which, on the contrary, should be handled according to universal democratic criteria. Therefore, the first objective of this initiative is to project the idea that these conflicts are not internal problems of states, but rather, they are “European affairs” and, therefore, European institutions can and should regulate rational procedures for their democratic management. That is, territorial sovereignty disputes are not an internal matter. They must undergo the same change in perception as occurred with human rights, for example.

On the other hand, these conflicts over sovereignty within states and demands for self-determination are sometimes presented as a danger to the European project. In this case, the project we propose here aims to the opposite: firstly, we understand that it is likely that a Europe consisting of 50 units would be governed by a more federalising dynamic than a with only 6 or 8 main countries. It should be stressed that, while there are member states whose governments or major parties defend leaving the EU (Italy, Hungary) or have already left (United Kingdom), the stateless nations that want to exercise their right to self-determination wish to remain and strengthen the (Scotland, Catalonia, Basque Country...). It is very possible that an internal expansion would imply greater integration and strength of the , and, in any case, the presence of a regulatory or intervention framework - good practices protocol -, it would not in itself have a conflict-generating effect ­- nor a contagion effect–, and in any case it would allow its fair and democratic management.

In any case, the aim is to address the issue based on the following basic ideas:

  • We assume a scrupulous respect for human rights, inexcusable for the existence of a democratic context favourable to the resolution of territorial disputes, in line with the level of development of the most advanced democratic s.
  • We seek to increase the process of European integration on democratic grounds.
  • We believe that this initiative contributes to the fair and democratic management of conflicts and to the balanced development of our societies.
  • We believe that this initiative also contributes to socio-economic stability and sustainable human development, while eliminating uncertainties and disputes that divert resources and energies that may jeopardise a fair and prosperous coexistence.

Characterisation of the initiative

The following objectives have been set within this initiative:

  • To promote public debate on the democratic resolution of sovereignty conflicts in European states.
  • To encourage academic reflection on the issue and strengthen mutual knowledge and synergies, especially among international experts.
  • From academy, to cooperatively make a contribution to the resolution of active territorial disputes, achieving an impact on the international, European and different states' political agendas.

The core of the initiative is as follows:

  • To develop a basis for the writing of a code of good practice in resolving territorial sovereignty conflicts.

A "standard" that could be adopted or accepted by the various international, European and/or state institutions, where appropriate.

The reflection will be developed around these thematic axes:

1. What is a ‘territorial conflict of sovereignty’? The object and purpose of the code of good practice

Objective: This discussing group would seek to define the characteristics and conditions of territorial conflicts of sovereignty, as well as the general framework for their democratic resolution.

One of the main contributions of the process of European building process has been the reduction of territorial disputes sovereign states. However, the creation of a common European space has not yet provided a solution to the conflicts in which certain territorial political communities integrated into existing states claim the right to freely decide their political status, including the possibility of constituting themselves as a new sovereign state. A European code of good practice for the resolution of this type of conflict should allow, in the first place, an adequate characterization of the parties involved and the legitimacy of their respective claims: on the one hand, the parent state, and the debates related to its territorial form and the way of understanding sovereignty: unitary, federal and/or plurinational states; and, on the other hand, the subject that demands to have more or full territorial sovereignty: stateless nations or peoples. Secondly, this code should establish certain general principles that allow for the fair and democratic management of such conflicts: the democratic principle, that of respect for minorities and fundamental rights or that of legality and legal security, among others.

This section does not expect to address in detail the conditions of clarity that such a code could imply, but rather the framework, values, principles and general definitions.

2. Why should Europe intervene? Interest, reasons and pragmatics of the code of good practice

Objective: In this section we would try to reflect on the convenience of elaborating and proposing from the European institutions, in a broad sense, a code for the democratic management of territorial conflicts of sovereignty at European level.

Given the varied constitutional response that the States offer in these cases, the very existence of a European democratic space would recommend the creation of a shared framework or code of good practices that would allow the establishment of basic procedural standards applicable in present and future conflicts. Inasmuch as these conflicts have an internal or domestic aspect and another external or European one, a multilevel procedural coherence would be sought, so it is relevant in this discussion group to pay attention to the articulation the State and European legal s. The internal incentives for the parties in conflict are clear - social, political and economic stability - and the external incentives, on a European scale, would be related to the democratic deepening of Europe and the opening of the debate on its future model, as well as the possible strengthening of the European project. Likewise, once the opportunity for European intervention and the conditions for its possible justification have been determined, it would be a matter of analysing its current or future legal possibilities, the institutional framework for intervention, as well as the implications that could arise from the establishment of a common European protocol of good practice.

3. How should Europe intervene? The content of the code of good practice

Objective: This discussion group would seek to propose the content of a code of good practice for the democratic management of conflicts of sovereignty within states.

First of all, it will be necessary to deepen the open debates on the general legal and political framework in which the democratic resolution of these conflicts is based -right of self-determination, right to decide and/or right to secession- following the reflections gathered in the first discussion table. Next, it would be a matter of reflecting on the formal and concrete material conditions that can lead to a fair and democratic resolution of these conflicts. In other words, what has come to be called the "conditions of clarity", among others: the definition of the decision-making subjects and areas of decision, the combination of deliberative, participation and direct democracy processes, the quorum of participation and the majorities required in the case of referenda, the conditions of the question to be asked, the reversibility of the decision and the ability of the processes, the inter-party guarantees a posteriori, etc. Finally, it could be proposed to consider various models of European intervention depending on the characteristics of the territorial conflict in question: the determination of the competent European body in each case, the possible instruments of facilitation, mediation or resolution, the hypothetical definition of special territorial status or the conditions of the possible internal enlargement of the European , etc.


After the preparatory work carried out in 2019, the initiative will be developed throughout 2020, to culminate in the organisation of an international Conference to be held in November.

The bases for a protocol for the resolution of territorial disputes around sovereignty within the states will be developed cooperatively.

With this objective, the working groups already formed in Catalonia and the Basque Country have agreed on an open methodology that will combine external expert contributions –through a questionnaire developed for this purpose–, and internal ones, with three joint work seminars.

All of this, complemented by different contrast mechanisms throughout the process, will allow us to reach the November conference with a consensus base document.

The conference/congress will be used to present the protocol proposal (draft legal norm), and it is decided to complement the contributions with open/participatory sessions, with social and political agents.

Stages of the project and actions


  • JANUARY: Preparation of the questionnaire.
  • FEBRUARY-MARCH: Sending of questionnaire and recruitment of experts to the collaborative process.
  • APRIL: Receipt of questionnaire.
  • MAY-JUNE: Writing of the first draft of the protocol and contrasts.
  • JULY: 1. Seminar (Bilbao) and drafting of the second draft of the protocol.



  • Dissemination, deepening and relations with European institutions.


Bases pour l’élaboration d’un code de bonnes pratiques pour la résolution des conflits territoriaux de souveraineté  

The bases for the elaboration of a code of good practices in the resolution of territorial sovereignty conflicts


Organisational partnership

In view of the relevance of the initiative, it is considered essential to design a governance model that guarantees the solvency, feasibility, impact and independence of the project. Given its nature - organisation of independent civil society - the promoter organisations will be Eusko Ikaskuntza-Society of Basque Studies and the Institut d'Estudis Catalans. At an immediate stage, as institutions offering support and coverage to the initiative, we have research groups from the UPV-EHU and the University of Deusto, as well as researchers/professors from the University of Barcelona, Autonomous University of Barcelona and Pompeu Fabra. We are managing the involvement of other Basque and Catalan universities. Within the scope of the institutional partnership we have the collaboration of the Basque Institute of Public Administration (IVAP) under the Basque Government, and the Institut d'Estudis de l’Autogovern, under the Generalitat de Catalunya. We have initiated very encouraging contacts with different institutions and foundations, adding different support and visions to the project.