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Cover of: Heiliger Stuhl und Vatikanstaat in der internationalen Gemeinschaft Völkerrechtliche Praxis und interne Beziehungen
Friedrich Germelmann

Heiliger Stuhl und Vatikanstaat in der internationalen Gemeinschaft Völkerrechtliche Praxis und interne Beziehungen

Section: Treatises
Volume 47 (2009) / Issue 2, pp. 147-186 (40)
Published 09.07.2018
DOI 10.1628/000389209788770011
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With the Holy See on the one hand and the State of Vatican City on the other, the Pope has at his disposal two potential actors in the field of international relations. While the Holy See, both the main organ of the Catholic Church and a legal person separate from it, is one of the most ancient subjects of international law, the State of Vatican City was founded only 80 years ago by the Lateran Treaties of 11 February 1929 between the Holy See and Italy. In these treaties, Italy met the claim raised by the Popes after the loss of the Papal States in 1870 to recover a territory, however small, as a basis for carrying out their religious mission. While the Holy See derives its international legal personality from centuries-old custom, the State of Vatican City is a state under international albeit with several specific features. Both its territory and its population are extremely reduced. Its government depends on the Holy See whose independence its statehood is meant to secure. Today, the status of both entities under international law seems to be universally recognised. The Holy See entertains diplomatic relations with more than 170 states and with the European Communities. Both the Holy See and Vatican City State are party to several international treaties and take part in some of the most important International Organisations. However, it is not always clear according to which criteria the two entities under the sovereignty of the Pope enter into relations with other subjects of international law. While the droit de légation is only exercised by the Holy See, there appears to be some confusion in the practise of treaty-making. It is submitted that in principle, the Holy See concludes in its own name those agreements that are linked with its religious mission, especially in the area of humanitarian law, or that are of global importance. The State of Vatican City, usually represented by the Holy See, is a party to treaties that either regard its specific territorial interests or deal with more or less technical questions. A similar practise can be observed with regard to the membership or the status of a Permanent Observer to International Organisations. Although these criteria are not always strictly obeyed, the basic distinction between the two entities has been consequently upheld and never been questioned by any other state. The nature of the relationship between the Holy See and Vatican City State, however, cannot be described in a satisfactory manner in the notions of international law. It is mainly governed by internal law that does not affect the external sphere. There are therefore no legal reasons for abandoning or altering it.