E pluribus unum? Some remarks on the future of 'regional' legal systems of private law in the European Union from a historical perspective

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The increasing integration of Member States into the European Union has resulted in a system of government that is often referred to as ‘multi-level governance’. In such a system, some competences are exercised at a central level, but substantial autonomous powers remain at a regional or local level. As a corollary, a ‘multi-level legal system’ has developed as well, also in the field of private law. Consequently, the previously national systems of private law have become ‘regional’ systems. Historically, the structure of ‘multi-level governance’ was common for many centuries. However, since the seventeenth century, it was increasingly seen as an anomaly In the modern concept of a state that has been dominant for the last two centuries, centralisation and unification are paramount objectives. With the rise of the modern concept of a state, the view on legal diversity changed as well. Legal unity became the predominant ideal, which was eventually realised in several European states by means of the introduction of a uniform civil code in the nineteenth century. This historical development raises the question of what the future of the former national legal systems of the Member States of the European Union will be. There are three possible scenarios: further regionalisation of private law by strengthening the legal systems of regions of the national states, retaining the present multi-level legal system in which European legislation and national law will coexist, or replacement of the national legal systems by a uniform European Civil code. It is the purpose of this paper to describe the debate on legal unity prior to the introduction of the civil codes in the nineteenth century and use it to shed some light on the question which scenario will be most likely.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-137
Number of pages23
JournalRechtskultur. Zeitschrift für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte 9: Widerstand gegen Rechtsvereinheitlichung
Publication statusPublished - 1-Dec-2020

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