Tuesday, 28 September 2010

EU politics and law: Part federation, part something else? What?

Yesterday’s blog post “EU politics and law: “Community method” dead and reburied – What instead?” found that the European Union has “parliamentary” traits, but because of the structure of the EU it still feels artificial to try to cram even co-decision (the ordinary legislative procedure) under such a heading, now that the term “Community method” is obsolete.

I still hope for teachers, researchers and students of European Union politics and law, as well as others, to offer their views, but in the meanwhile I will continue the soliloqui.


By the structure of the European Union I mean that its powers are basically derived from its constituent parts, the member states, not from the people, although democracy is one of the founding values of the EU (Article 2 TEU) and the functioning of the union is said to be founded on representative democracy (Article 10 TEU).

When the directly elected European Parliament acts at eyelevel with the Council, we can describe the system and the decision making as federal, although the term seems to lack precision.

Should we try that: federal decision making or the federal method?

Does it satisfy sense and sensibility?

What about the rest?

If part of EU decision making is described as federal, we are still left with a few problems.

Are we to exclude the term “federal” when we discuss EU politics, policies or issues, where the European Parliament plays a lesser role than the governments of the member states?

I have a hard time imagining that a 21st century political system in Europe could be called federal, if not also democratic: based on legitimate representative democracy at federal level (with powers at least equal to those of the states).

This leaves outside a number of matters on a sliding scale of intergovernmentalism, from more limited participation by the European Parliament and the Commission to inexistent.

On the flip side of the coin, there are special legislative procedures where the European Council and the Council decide as EU institutions, within the EU framework and its powers (competences), but in principle everything outside the attributed powers is left to purely intergovernmental decisions.

Actually, the existential questions for the European Union are in the hands of the member states, each of them sovereign enough on its own to prevent a decision (liberum veto). Only unanimous agreement by all governments (possibly requiring ratification by all parliaments, or even some national electorates) can reform the structures and powers.

This means that the future development of the European Union could be held hostage by first the government, then the parliament and possibly (if national constitutional requirements so say) the voters as well, even in the smallest member state; at present Malta with about 416,000 people, something like 0.083 per cent of the total EU population of 501 million. Big or small, is this legitimate?

Despite my reticence, should anything on this sliding scale of intergovernmental decision making be included under the concept “federal”?

If not federal, which terms should we employ for the various modes?

Intergovernmental? Confederal? International?

Ralf Grahn

P.S. Comments relevant to the topic discussed in each Grahnlaw blog post are most welcome. However, the number of spam comments keeps skyrocketing. This is the sad reason for comment moderation, so it may take a while before your valued comment appears.

It is easier to understand a language than to use it correctly. As Eurobloggers we could and should promote interaction among Europeans across linguistic and national borders. We can link to blogs and other sources in foreign languages and share different viewpoints with our readers, perhaps explaining the gist of the arguments.

Another opportunity is to invite comments in different languages, those we are able to read or by using machine translation to understand the essentials.

Grahnlaw has adopted a multilingual comment policy:

I do my best to read comments in Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish or Swedish, even if the Grahnlaw blog and my possible replies are in English.