Friday 1 October 2010

To The European Citizen: The EUnion is behind us, we shall not be moved

Thoughtful, well reasoned and moderate, The European Citizen is a star among Euroblogs. The posts by Conor Slowey are a pleasure to read and instructive to boot, for those interested in the law and politics of the European Union.

Now there is a special reason to note The European Citizen, who in his blog entry Onward, Community Soldiers replied that the defunct “Community method” could be replaced by the “Union method” for co-decision under the Lisbon Treaty, perhaps opposed by the “Council method” or “Special method” for more intergovernmental forms of decision-making.

After I argued that the “Union method” would be a seamless and (politically) correct shift, but the “Federal method” a better description, The European Citizen returned with a pondered reply: Calling a spade a federal method.

He now proposes the “States’ method” for intergovernmental decision-making, but still favours the “Union method” as a replacement for the “Community method”:

It will probably be a matter of taste - who knows, the Community method label could survive for quite a while longer, and other different variations will probably surface. Avoiding "federal" may be a politically correct option, but I feel that if federal has been rejected from the Treaties in favour of "ever closer union", then adopting the f-word is a declaration of political ideology and aspiration, even if European law has a federal character. I have little problem with the term "federal method" in itself, but I'll stick with the (in my opinion) more neutral "Union method" and "States' method".

The reason for my series of blog posts was that leading EU politicians, such as Herman Van Rompuy and Martin Schulz recently used the old term “Community method”, terminology central to European integration (not only ‘cosmetics’).

Slowey and I seem to be in agreement that a new term to reflect the Treaty of Lisbon is preferable, and our different preferences can be described as a matter of taste.

However, continuing the hymn-like headlines, I do not embrace Slowey’s argument that the choice of the “Federal method” is dictated by political ideology and aspiration, at least in my case (although I am a federalist). I see the term “federal” as a better, though wide, description of co-decision in the European Union, including the ordinary legislative procedure (default mode).

I don’t buy ‘ever closer union’ as a supportive argument either. All the Treaties have stated this phrase about the latest leg of the journey, while leaving the ultimate goal (finalit√©) undisclosed, but this is a slightly different issue. In addition, we have the various forms of intergovernmental decision-making, so “federal” describes only a part of the functioning of the European Union, not the whole.

A rhetorical question, if you like: Do you want a physician to offer a politically or clinically correct diagnosis?

Politicians and officials may, or may not, prefer politically correct terms, in order to evade sensitive issues, especially when the ‘liberum veto’ forces them to adopt the lowest common denominator, but I see no reason why researchers, teachers, students, practitioners or other free citizens should.

Ergo, at this stage I still prefer the “Federal system” to replace the antiquated “Community system”.

The “States’ system” can, in my view, be tested as a headline concept for more or less intergovernmental decisions relating to the EU.

Perhaps there are others in the EU related online community thinking about these tools of trade(?)

Ralf Grahn


  1. Don't use the f-word! That's a cardinal rule in EU politics (which is based on compromise - not political correctness), especially if you want the British on board. I don't believe we should be moving towards a federal system, so I'm quite happy to either stick with "community method" or, if it must be changed, to go with something like "union method."

  2. Eurogoblin,

    Your prescription reads like a self-contradiction, i.e. motivated by the political correctness you deny as 'compromise'.

    What I am looking for is the best term to describe EU decision-making based on evidence, as far as co-decision is concerned.

    This should be of interest to freely thinking individuals, such as researchers, teachers, students, journalists, Eurobloggers and others who see the value of scientific quest and rational thought.

    Political correctness and compromise based on the lowest common denominator (liberum veto) are, in addition, related and complementary terms, rather than opposites.

    I don't deny that some people may be desperate enough to keep the British 'on board' to declare the abolition of the word 'federal' a cardinal rule of EU politics in general, but it is hard to find a more eloquent expression of what 'political correctness' means.

    Wanting to impose (self-)censorship on all the world in order to cater to the sensitivities of some makes your argument as well suited for free Western political discourse as jihadism.

    Think about it, and return with something sensible.
    As I said in the post, 'federal' is in my view a neutral and factual description of how one part of the European Union works, so it has nothing to do with my position regarding the merits or dismerits of federalism for the future EU.

  3. I though I WAS being eminently sensible. ;-) Don't use the f-word because the consensus is not that we should be moving toward federalism.

    It's not just the British that dislike federalism (though we may be more extreme than most in the degree of our euroscepticism). If "federal" had a place in the accepted lexicon, then the EU constitution would have passed the French and Dutch referendums and the EU would have (officially) had its own flag, anthem, and trappings of state.

    You can call it political correctness if you want - but it might be more precise to just call it politics.

  4. Eurogoblin,

    Your reply reminds me of the Inquisition's dealings with Giordano Bruno, Galileo Galilei and countless others.

    Eppur si muove.

  5. Replacing the "Community method" (or not) by the "Federal method" has been discussed on Twitter as well.

    Summary (hopefully just to the participants):

    @Eurogoblin is negative towards the f-word and eurospeak understood by few, @vihargg somewhat sceptical, @EuropeanCitizen prefers the "Union method" but can live with the "Federal method", and @simonblackley has suggested alternative terms: ordinary decision process (ex-Community method) and special decision process (different forms of intergovernmental decision making).


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