November 2001

Towards a federal EU?

It would benefit EU debate if things were called by their real names. This is the opinion of Finnish foreign and security policy analyst Teija Tiilikainen. In her column in the news weekly Suomen Kuvalehti (23 November 2001), Tiilikainen writes that the legitimacy of the EU would surely gain as much from using up-to-date terms as from planned structural reforms.

"In the Finnish debate, the European Union is described as a union between independent states whilst at the same time the possibility is denied that the union could eventually evolve into a federal state. Pretty unanimous support is given to the planned structural reforms which aim above all to federalise the judicial system which is already highly supra-national. Isn't it time at this stage to call things by their real name?"

Tiilikainen asks whether it makes sense to talk about independent member states when decision-making in most central political sectors has been given over to strongly supra-national decision-making organs. She says that there seems to be a supposition that none of the constitutional reforms which are in the pipeline will change the EU's political nature. Tiilikainen says that by looking at the history of integration, it is easy to reach a different conclusion.

Tiilikainen believes that European integration has evolved step by step towards a European federal state even if preparing the ground for it has been very discreet. The constitution now being prepared will suggest the next phase. She says that in many EU countries there is a reluctance to admit that this stage will mean a federal state.

A politically more acceptable term has been "a federation of nation-states". As one looks at the details, even this term seems to mean a federal state system. Tiilikainen believes that this kind of fudging harms the EU's reputation.

"Political spinelessness in questions of integration strengthens citizens' image of the European Union as an unclear project which seems to be evolving into a deeper form of integration without anyone actively pursuing this goal."

Tiilikainen points out that opinion polls in Finland show that people are not systematically opposed to EU's federal elements. Instead, opposition is aimed against those parts of EU activities which seem unclear to citizens. The main examples are the EU institutions because their principles of action have been left unclear, Tiilikainen writes.

"In every-day life, a federal EU would not differ much from the current union. For it in time to gain a legitimacy in citizens' eyes, it would be important that its central building phases with their political justifications would be made clear. We have now arrived at one the most crucial building phases of the European federal state."

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