Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law

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(2) European constitutional texts

Although the process of forming national constitutions in European states began more than two centuries ago, the actual texts of EU member state constitutions all date from the present century, with the single, obvious exception of the British constitution. The venerable British texts merit an obligatory nod of tribute to that paradoxical cradle of the constitutional state. A few European constitutional texts are the cumulative result of successive reforms of texts originally drafted in the nineteenth century or earlier,[2] and are found in those societies that managed to avoid the dramatic upheavals which punctuate the histories of other European states.[3] The majority of the constitutions were promulgated after the Second World War, following governmental ruptures of varying intensity and duration.[4] A final group of texts have their origin in the inter-war period and were drafted concurrent to the creation, or re-creation, of their corresponding states.[5]

The "reformed" texts often contain some structural traces of their origins in the preservation of the monarchy, or in the use of traditional formulae. However, the depth of the changes that were carried out[6] makes it virtually impossible to establish clear distinctions, based upon constitutional content, between these and the newer texts. Even those differences arising from the opposition of monarchy and republic are difficult to delineate clearly, in part due to the anomaly presented by Spain. The Spanish constitution is a new constitution, but it is also monarchical. In addition, the opposition in Spain to the constitutional order is no longer of political importance. The King of Spain is reputed to have stated long before his coronation that "my aspiration is to be king of a Spanish Republic" - a sentiment that acknowledged the reality that European monarchies are nothing more than republics with crowns.

[2] This set of cases includes Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

[3] The Swedish Instrument of Government, the oldest written constitution in Europe, dates from 1720.

[4] Prolonged and serious ruptures occurred in Germany, Spain, Greece, Italy, and Portugal. In France the rupture brought about by the Vichy regime was shorter and concluded with the Constitution of 1946. A new and clear break occurred in 1958 when political circumstances surrounding the army revolt in Algeria led to the replacement of the 1946 Constitution.

[5] Included here are the cases of Austria, Finland, and Ireland. These constitutions have a number of distinctive characteristics which are not considered here.

[6] In the case of Belgium, the extent of the constitutional reform affected the very contour of the state.

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