Report on the Future of Europe: Federalism and Democracy
The supra-national European bodies

The report of the Future of Europe Group, released on 17 September 2012, warrants careful consideration by E.U. citizens and their state and federal officials. Beyond the various reforms proposed in the document is the critical notion that not every state need be a part of the enhanced integration (i.e., the additional governmental sovereignty being shifted to the Union from the states). This assumption applies both to the proposals themselves and to the application of a super-majority in place of unanimous consent to future amendments to the E.U.’s basic law. It follows that if the Czech Republic and Britain prefer the status quo, this would not prevent other states from going on to closer union. From an American standpoint, this “dual or multiple track” approach to federalism is quite foreign.

In terms of the individual policy proposals, the suggestion that the E.U. represent its states (and people) more in international organizations deserves to be highlighted. This proposal could be synchronized with a reform of the UN (including who sits on the Security Council). That one E.U. state (i.e., Britain) would doubtless insist on retaining its own seat need not detract other E.U. states currently in the Security Council from agreeing to an E.U. representative instead.

In terms of E.U. governance, the popular election of the Commission president ought to be carefully weighed. Such election of an empire-wide office necessarily has much distance between the electorate and the candidates. In other words, such a large electorate is not optimal democratically. This is why federalism, which emerged with alliances between countries and then was applied to empire-level Unions (e.g., USA, Russia), initially had the federal offices appointed by officials of the members or republics. Democratically, there is more accountability for an elected state official because the electorate is smaller. Put another way, the U.S. should not necessarily be followed in its historical shift from the Electoral College to de facto popular election of the federal president. In fact, the College was designed to counter the weakness in an empire-scale electorate.

The strengthening of federal political parties, on the other hand, would do much to bring E.U.-wide issues into the debate in the campaigns for the European Parliament’s representatives. They should not be chosen based on state issues because as per modern federalism the representatives represent the people rather than states. In terms of a second chamber for the states (no doubt with the U.S. Senate in mind), I contend that the European Council is already the other chamber. Rather than delegates, the governors themselves represent their respective states. The 26 American states who sued over Obamacare could take a lesson here in terms of their interests being represented by Senators vs governors in the U.S. Senate. In other words, Americans could look to the European Council for how the U.S. Senate could be improved in its capacity of representing the states.

In short, strengthening democratic accountability is a complex matter, for it may not mean expanding the offices subject to popular election. Modern federalism is a complex animal. For that matter, increasing the federal role in foreign policy and representation in international organizations, while beneficial to the E.U., is not as decisive as people may suppose in making the difference on the E.U. being a political union. Lastly, reducing the power of any state’s veto is absolutely essential to the E.U. of 27 or 28 states being able to function and adapt, so the notion of dual or multiple tracks—a homegrown feature of European federalism—is also important. One state should not be given so much power that the state can unilaterally keep the E.U. from shifting more governmental sovereignty from the states to the Union. To be sure, there is a lot for Europeans to consider as fundamental proposals are being tossed around and debated. Each proposal deserves to be carefully reasoned through, with improved clarity on federalism in particular. The report is a good step in this direction.