The Constitutional Experiment in Iceland
Forthcoming, Kalman Pocza (ed.), Verfassunggebung in konsolidierten Demokratien: Neubeginn oder Verfall eines Systems?, Nomos Verlag
16 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2013 Last revised: 29 Sep 2013
Date Written: September 4, 2013
Since the deep economic crisis of 2008, Iceland has seen the emergence of a remarkable, experimental attempt at constitution-making from below. This Icelandic experiment constitutes a rare –- in distinct ways probably unique -- example of a popular or citizen-driven constitutionalism. The Icelandic participatory approach in many ways challenges core assumptions of mainstream, modernist understandings of constitutionalism, such as the idea of constitutionalism as a social phenomenon and practice dominated by legal professionals or that of constitutions as higher laws that are near to impossible to change. At the same time, in particular now that the constitution-making process seems halted, the Icelandic experience brings to the fore many questions that popular or democratic constitutionalism raises as an alternative understanding and practice of constitutionalism, not least related to the modes and effectiveness of participation, the notion of representation in the constitution-making process, the role of deliberation, the role of parliament and other political institutions, as well as the actual, substantive results of participatory constitution-making.
In the chapter, we will first discuss the historical background of the 1944 Icelandic Constitution that is still in vigour. In a second step, the grassroots constitution-making process that emerged in 2009, and the reactions it provoked, are analyzed, while in a third step, we assess recent political events that conditioned the status of the constitution-making project -– now largely stalled in Icelandic parliament -- in the first half of 2013.
Keywords: Iceland, Constitution, Civic engagement, Referendum
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