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Ingrid Leijten participates in first European Constitutional Law ‘Schmooze’ in Milan

For a long time, in the United States ‘Schmoozes’ have been organized. These small-scale meetings offer the opportunity to informally discuss important themes. On 12 and 13 October, the first European Schmooze took place in Milan. The topic was ‘Economic Inequality as a Global Constitutional Challenge’. Ingrid Leijten was invited to take part in this meeting.

A few months ago, Antiona Baraggia and Lorenza Violini (University of Milan) decided to organize the first European ‘Schmooze’ in Milan. Schmooze experts Professors Mark A. Graber (Universtiy of Maryland) and Ran Hirschl (Universities of Toronto and Göttingen) were there to set the example: a ‘Schmooze’ is an informal exchange of ideas and arguments based on ‘tickets’ (short papers) written by the participants. Short presentations form the starting point for discussion and every speaker turns into a moderator as he or she gets to pick the next speaker.

The theme the organizers picked for this first Schmooze was ‘Economic Inequality as a Global Constitutional Challenge’. An important topic that brings up questions such as: Wat can states and especially constitutions do about economic inequality? What is the role of fundamental rights in this regard? Are local governments perhaps better capable of addressing economic inequality? What about the effect on women and how does inequality reflect in voting behaviour? The discussion brought researchers from different fields together and led to new ideas and research agendas.

Ingrid Leijten’s contribution dealt with the importance of equality norms. Even though these may seem to be the answer to issues of inequality, relying on these norms before courts is not always effective. Striving for more economic equality requires a relative improvement, yet it is difficult to convincingly argue that two cases are similar and deserve to be treated equally. Moreover, economic inequality requires a structural approach that can hardly be offered through case-based adjudication. Leijten made the point that a focus on equality norms may hinder efforts to concretize the content of other substantive (socio-economic) rights norms, something which may help rightholders as well as state authorities. That this may result in an emphasis on ‘sufficiency’ rather than equality (something that is criticized by Samuel Moyn in his new book Not Enough), shows that the role of fundamental rights in combating economic inequality is a limited one. This does not mean that there are no other ‘constitutional’ solutions available that may help to address inequality. Think of constitutional arrangements that allow tailored policies at regional and local levels.

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