Viewing Comparative Law from Another Angle: The Common Core Project

While quantitative comparative law mainly focuses on differences (i.e. the common law – civil law divide), another way to look at things is to pay attention to the similarities among legal systems. Hence, the Common Core of European Private Law (Common Core Project) maps legal systems based on hidden analogies. The Common Core Project is an ongoing research project initiated in the 1990s by Ugo Mattei and Mauro Bussani. It is largely influenced by the Cornell Project previously conducted by Rudolf Schlesinger in the 1960s from which it draws its methodology. However, the scope of the Common Core project is much smaller different than that of its role model.

The Common Core Project only considers the private law of the various national legal systems in Europe. It is an academic rather than a political movement with the ultimate goal to portray the commonalities of European legal culture. In order to achieve this, the Common Core Project employs a factual approach focusing on technical problems in the three specific legal areas it considers: contracts, torts, and property. These areas are subsequently divided into different topics. The factual approach consists of the drafting and dispersing of questionnaires to comparative law experts within the respective countries. A lot of emphasis is placed on the way the questions are formulated in order to assure that the answers comprehensively elicit the way specific legal issues are handled in different countries. In this regard, the project is also inspired by Rudolfo Sacco’s idea of legal formants, i.e. the focus on the entirety of formative elements that constitute law beyond statutes, cases etc. Examples of such questionnaires which consist of hypotheticals followed by specific questions can be found on the website of the Common Core Project under the specific topics.

The Common Core Project is a large research endeavor that due to its strict focus on European legal systems has drawn relatively little attention beyond Europe. This is probably also its main criticism: in today’s global environment it seems hard to understand the merits of such a limited scope. Many countries beyond Europe share some common legal background. Therefore it might be interesting to extend the common core research and to start a comprehensive collaboration among comparative lawyers worldwide.


Mauro Bussani & Ugo Mattei, The Common Core Approach to European Private Law, 3 COL. J. OF EU L. 339-356 (1997/1998)

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