May 2001

Towards a European federal state?

A new debate about the future of EU institutions has been recently provoked by mainly German contributions. The German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, has predicted that the EU will become a federation of independent nation-states after 2004. His comments have been compared to the more federalist vision outlined recently by the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder.

The debate is being observed carefully in Finland. Around the same time with the publication of Fischer's views on the subject, a high-flying young Finnish eurocrat, Alexander Stubb, declared his preference for a European federal state. In an article which he wrote for Helsingin Sanomat (9 May 2001), Stubb says that he belongs to those who prefer a decentralised European federal state with a two-chamber parliament and an elected government. Stubb's views have been followed with interest in Finland after he was appointed as an advisor to Romano Prodi, President of the EU Commission. Stubb stated his views clearly:

"In a federal state, a constitution would be written to guarantee the rights of the citizens of the Union. A better division of labour between the Union and its member states would be defined. The system of institutions typical to a federal state is definitely in the interests of small contries and small units.

"A clearly defined and easily understandable system would also tend to increase the Union's legitimacy because it creates an equal basis for decision-making whilst decisions are made as close to citizens as possible. Traditional systems of federal states are more democratic, efficient, functioning and open. A federal state would be better able to take into account the double role of the Union as a union of states and peoples and it would reduce the democratic deficit of the EU.

"Unfortunately, at the present stage of the integration process, progress towards a federal state cannot be considered as a realistic option. The governments of member states are not ready to take the leap towards a federal state. Neither is there any sign of a popular movement which would put pressure on member states to establish a federal state. At the same time, the Union lacks demos, a kind of feeling of togetherness and political field."

Stubb lists as two other options intergovernmentalism and communitarianism. The former would, in his opinion, weaken the position of small countries and lead to a kind of directorate of big countries. The latter, Stubb writes, is a realistic option because it can be accepted by member states. He sees it as a better alternative compared to intergovernmentalism. However, unlike a federal state, it would not reduce the democratic deficit. This weakness might be alleviated by strengthening the power of national parliaments, he says.

Stubb writes that the European Union has always been a mixture of intergovernmentalism, federalism and communitarianism.

"The EU is considerably more than an international organisation but, on the other hand, less than a state. What we have here is an original sui generis system, a kind of new form of governance where the supra-national, national and regional levels function in a constant system of interaction.

"The discussion about the future has no value on its own. The aim is to create a functioning, democratic and efficient European Union. The Finns shouldn't forfeit their right of speech in a matter of this importance. The best way to influence the development of the EU is to put forward propositions for it."

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