Frequently Asked Questions about the European Federalist Papers

2. About important concepts

What is a federation?

This is an organization in which the members remain autonomous and sovereign, while ceding a limitative number of powers to a separately functioning body, so that this body can take care of all interests that the members cannot (or no longer) take care of individually. This body for the whole is sovereign with respect to these limitative set of powers but does not possess top-down hierarchical powers. Thus, both levels of governance operate in a sovereign manner. They share sovereignty for the whole and for the members of the organization, for instance the federated member states. This system can only be changed upon the agreement of all governments, of the members and of the whole. See Papers no. 2, 5-8 en 10.

What is an intergovernmental governing system?

It is a system in which member states cooperate on the basis of a treaty and to that end cede powers to a central body. Although this seems to be similar to a Federation, the difference is that in an intergovernmental system member states lose their sovereignty due to the fact that the central body makes compromises between the interests of the different member states while forcing, time and again, in a hierarchical manner, a uniform way of operating: centrally imposed uniformity. Notwithstanding the treaty’s concept of subsidiarity, which should work as a shield against centrally imposed government. See Papers no. 1, 2, 4 en 10.

What is meant by subsidiarity in the EU-context?

This is a rule in the EU-treaties in which it is agreed that it remains with the member states to do themselves what they can do best themselves. However, this principle has never worked properly in the EU-intergovernmental governing system because it has never been clear what powers in which policy domains should be left to the member states to decide upon by themselves. The EU-treaties do not include a definition or a criterion regarding this matter. Thus, this principle provokes a permanent debate on the division of powers between the EU and its member states. Moreover, the European Council (the assembly of national government leaders) can decide top-down whatever they deem appropriate for all member states. Subsequently, the member states have to carry out these decisions, EU-wide. However, due to the fact that these decisions are mostly the fruit of wheeling and dealing by national-driven agendas, they may be profitable for one member state and disadvantageous for another. That is why the intergovernmental system, with its non-functioning principle of subsidiarity, meets with growing resistance. See for our criticism of the principle of subsidiarity in the EU-context Papers no. 2, 11, 16, 20, 21, 22.

What is meant by the vertical division of powers?

This is the essence of a Federation: the federal body has a limitative set of powers to take care of the common interests of all member states. All other powers remain with the Citizens and the member states. The federal body cannot take any decisions on subjects other than those which have been entrusted to this body by the member states within the limitative list of powers. See Papers no. 14, 16, 21, 22.

What is the horizontal division of powers?

This is the classic trias politica: the division between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. In a Federation this horizontal division of powers can be applied on the federal level, as well as on the level of the member states. See Papers no. 14, 19 en 20-22.

What are checks and balances?

Even when the horizontal division of powers – the trias politica – is executed properly, the three branches of government may encroach on each other’s domain. To prevent one from becoming dominant, the Constitution needs built-in checks and balances: they maintain an equilibrium between the three branches. See Papers no. 14, 16, 17 en 21-24.

What is European integration?

With this we mean a type of assimilation of member states, originally only intended to cover economic matters. However, over the years the EU has usurped more and more policy fields, due to the lack of a clear division of powers between the EU itself and its member states. Thus, the term ‘integration’ implies that member states have to look more and more alike because they have to adopt the same policies and the same rules. See Papers no. 4-6.

What is wrong with European integration?

As such ‘integration’ is a sympathetic word. However, it is necessary to use this term in the correct context. It is wrong to use it in the sense of the integration of member states themselves. That is similar to assimilation, losing one’s identity. States and citizens are not in favor of this. The concept of ‘integration’ is only wise at the level of the federal body. At that level the limitative set of powers which have been ceded by the member states to the federal body, are executed in an integrated manner. Thus, in a Federation the member states themselves do not integrate, only the powers of the federal body do.

What is the Kompetenz Katalog?

This is the list of limitative powers ceded by member states to a federal body in order to use these powers, and no other powers, to take care of the common interests of member states which can no longer be performed by them individually. For instance, to have a European defense, a European foreign policy, a European energy and environment policy etc. The federal state of Germany has many times insisted on accepting such a Kompetenz Katalog in the EU, whereas other member states have always rejected this. In essence, the application of such a Katalog is the same as creating a Federation. See Papers no. 4, 10, 15 en 20-22.

What is the difference between a Federation and an intergovernmental governing system?

In a Federation the members retain their sovereignty. They do not lose anything, but rather gain something instead: no worries about interests that they themselves can no longer take care of individually. In order to look after these interests, the sovereign members of a Federation create an equally sovereign body. To that end, they establish a Kompetenz Katalog, a limitative set of powers to be executed on behalf of them by this – equally sovereign – body. Meanwhile Germany remains Germany, Spain remains Spain, Romania remains Romania etc. Within an intergovernmental system member states gradually lose both their sovereignty and their identity: they have to dissolve, due to the necessary integration. And this is not what they want. That is why we find growing resistance among many member states and citizens against the European Union. EU-intergovernmentalism is feeding Euro-skepticism.

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