The 2017 Annual Conference of the European Society of International Law will explore how international law has responded, or can or should respond, to the fundamental challenge of defining and regulating global public goods, global commons and fundamental values. These concepts, individually and in their interrelationship, present ongoing challenges for an international legal system that, despite all its transformations in recent decades, essentially remains a pluralistic system organised around the principle of state sovereignty.
Global public goods are goods with benefits and/or costs that affect all countries, people, and generations. They include inherently public global goods, such as a healthy climate and the fight against terrorism, and domestic public goods whose global regulation makes every one better off, such as free trade and public health.
Global commons are resources, domains or areas that lie outside the political reach, and jurisdiction, of any single nation state. Traditional examples are outer space, the high seas and Antarctica, but the concept now tends to include intangible global commons such as the human genome or immaterial cultural heritage.
Fundamental values are values that make a universal claim to be shared by all states and peoples across the world. They have a marked political and axiological connotation. Decisions about what should be considered as fundamental values of international society are never beyond controversy. The category of fundamental values certainly includes the protection and promotion of human rights and the right to self-determination, but some would also include values such as human dignity, peace, the protection of the environment, and democracy.
Global public goods, global commons and fundamental values are interlinked above all by the fact that all states have an interest in their protection and promotion. It is also the case that, to varying degrees, long- term protection or regulation of each is beyond the ability of any single state. The three concepts can also overlap conceptually and in practice: particular objectives (e.g. the conservation of fisheries) have both a global public goods and global commons dimension, others (such as the protection of the environment) are both a fundamental value and a global public good, and so on.
While international law has long responded to all three concepts, the challenges posed by their definition and effective regulation remain formidable. The very idea of the pursuit of general interests in these three domains as an aim of international law is recurrently questioned, given that traditional international regimes tend to protect the interests of individual states. This interplay between domestic principles and the general interests of the international community leads to yet further complexities and uncertainties as to where the current regime of international cooperation on these questions really stands. Moreover, what might be included within each category and in what legal form changes over time. Today’s rapid flux of communications and migration of people, alongside social, political, economic and environmental interdependence, mean that, in an increasing number of situations, goods provide benefits and/or costs to all countries, are beyond the reach of any single state, and impact on fundamental values shared by all states. The responses of international law to each of the three phenomena are undergoing continuous transformation and appraisal – what was once a national public good may become a global public good; what was initially a matter of national jurisdiction may later be seen as a global commons, and what were thought of as purely national values may transcend national boundaries.
The 2017 ESIL Annual Conference will explore how international law responds to global public goods, global commons and fundamental values, examining the responses in a wide range of fields. It will discuss which general interests have or have not been deemed to deserve the protection of international law in one or more of these categories, and why; it will also explore the legal foundation of such interests in international law. In addition, the conference will focus on whether and how it is appropriate that international law intervenes to regulate such interests, taking into account the interplay between multiple actors of international law, ranging from states, international and regional organisations and non-state actors. It will explore how states and other actors have used international law to protect general interests, what lessons can be learned from these efforts, and what main challenges still need to be addressed. Looking at international law through the prism of global public goods, global commons and fundamental values also implies an in-depth examination of different substantive regimes, for example those regulating human rights, the protection of the environment, judicial cooperation in criminal matters, the use of force, terrorism, and so on.
In line with ESIL tradition, the fora panels will explore broader and methodological issues, while more specific issues will be discussed in the agora panels.
Please note that the fora themes are subject to change at a later date.