Let’s Talk About Federalism!

Article published on July 8, 2004
community published
Article published on July 8, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Power in Europe is divided up between the major capitals, the States and the European Union. Is Europe an end in itself? No, the end is a formal declaration of individual and collective rights and States in equilibrium.

You’d be forgiven for thinking the States were the baddies of this story, and the European Union as it stands is certainly no post-modern D’Artagnan. In reality, the relationship between the EU and the national parliaments is quasi-hierarchical. With its rules and regulations the EU makes mere administrative puppets out of the States, avoiding accountability itself by writing the laws and then getting the States to implement them.

In truth, the States have signed up to this model through the Community Agreements, but it is nevertheless a model that undermines the separation of powers and the constitutional values of pluralism: the Council of Ministers combines executive and legislative powers and is built on the state model. On the other hand - and however contradictory this may seem - the EU isn’t an autonomous power, nor is it directly representative of the citizens of Europe; the States act as mediators.

We could do with some order

If we’re on the subject of power and its distribution, then we have to take a look at the United States. One of its greatest accomplishments is its pluralist, federal constitution. It is based on two key ideas: national unity through the co-participation of the states (with the Senate), and dual sovereignty, which prevents the states’ legislative powers being swallowed up by Washington. This way, the federal legislative is prevented from being able to dictate to the state parliament.

If ever dual sovereignty were imported into Europe, the European Administration would extend its influence in the States, and, most importantly, the change would lead to a clear distinction between the two spheres of power. The model would strengthen the power bases of both the EU and the States.

In fact, what with the constitutional changes and enlargement, the States already have less control in Europe than they did before. For example, until now the member states have been able to control the implementation of European law inside their own borders without interference from a supranational European Administration, and this stems from the fact that originally the Treaty of Rome was seen as an international treaty, giving prominence to the States and not their integration.

A federalism for and with the citizens

In the US, the doctrine of dual sovereignty was principally intended not to protect the rights and autonomy of the states, but rather those of the citizens. But importing federalism into Europe isn’t going to be easy. In the most recent elections for the European Parliament the parties made their contempt for European integration abundantly clear. Turnout was at an all-time low and the Eurosceptics really made their presence felt. And if we introduced full federalism in all spheres, including the economic, the ‘national champions’ – or the European multinationals – would be completely against it.

For us citizens, federalism (of the economy too) is the way forward. We need a system that helps us to identify easily who is responsible for every policy at every level of government, that protects us against tyranny and that is also adaptable. Federalism is a political philosophy that can be made to fit any context as long as two things are present: the desire for unity, and respect for the independence and interests of the various communities. It is the key to strengthening Europe and also the member nations, preventing the paternalism of some States towards others, the elitism that exists within the EU, centralism and socio-economic inequality, as well as contempt for the peripheral states.

Through transparency and honesty we can improve our societies as cohesion between them is increased. But to achieve this we’ll also need to democratise the existing structures: we must create a new, truly democratic, deliberative administration, because parliamentary democracy as we know is on its last legs. We must create a plurinational federalism and bring about the repoliticisation of the public administration.

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts on a topic people should be discussing but aren’t. But the Eurogeneration are on the case and there is a sign that things could be stirring… So come on, let’s talk about federalism.