8 okt 2013

The thorny issue of federalism

Whereas the European Union defines itself as a federation of nation-states, some of which are still very centralised while others evidently federal, the mere association of both concepts rings differently according to our respective political culture. In fact, discussing federalism is an excellent introduction to the actual relationship we each, individually and collectively, entertain with the state - and beyond the state, with power. 

Clearly, federalism is about redefining the scale of power. The more we expect from the centre of power (there's always a located source of power), the more powerful we wish this source to be. The most enthusiastic clergy of this worship of providential power would be the French, of course, whose history is nothing but the slow and relatively brutal construction of a nation-state and identity through an ever stronger central power. Hence Vendrell's reflections on the lack of a truly federal culture both at national and regional levels lead us to some (unexpected?) legacy of the Bourbons in contemporary Spain. And we could definitely consider that the national demands for autonomy are indeed manifestations of this claim for a stronger power - only with another centre. 

We need to break away from the illusion that the nation-state could do better

This paradox of power is at the other end quite well illustrated by Rossman and Feigl-Heihs’ contribution. As the current European intergovernmental practices and architecture proves each day its dangerous inadequacy, it becomes obvious that we need to break away from the illusion that the nation-state could do better. Budget, taxes, economic targets and social policies: solutions can only stem from actions taken at the level of a federalised Europe.

But what kind of federation? Here, the form that a federal Europe would take paves the way for another quest. How much of ourselves would we lose, once diluted in a bigger us? The connection between our citizenship and our nationality is a matter of identity. And Ahern's legitimate mistrust of the federalist attempt to overhaul our national identities is quite well addressed by Nollet's emphasis on the multi-level governance of the type that Belgium has developed. The defence of regional and national identities is best embraced by a truly federal organisation of power. In the eyes of the Belgian Greens, federalism and environmentalism are in effect deeply connected. 

The key lies with a concept that has been weakened by its abuse as a synonym for 'sheer national interest': 'subsidiarity'. But a federal power is by essence fuelled by subsidiarity, namely by genuine respect for the different scales of its implementation and thus the local environment/identity. 

Democracy and federalism have has a common trait that they are defined as "self-governing". What Greens should focus more on, is the "self" part of this definition. We might then be able to initiate, far from the institutional quandaries and the concerns for historical constructions called "nations", the building of a common polity truly democratic. Whatever form it will have achieved, this will be our "federal Europe". 
 

Dit artikel verscheen eerder in het eerste jaarlijkse gedrukte nummer van het digitale kwartaalblad Green European Journal(GEJ) dat wordt uitgegeven door de Green European Federation en sinds begin 2012 online is. Dit printnummer, onder de titel Mapping the Green Transformation, bevat een aantal voor de toekomst van Europa cruciale debatten. Wat hebben we nodig voor duurzame ontwikkeling: sociale of technische innovatie? Hoe ziet groene solidariteit eruit? En hoe kijken de verschillende landen aan tegen Europese integratie? 15 auteurs droegen bij aan het 80 pagina's tellende nummer.

Lees het GEJ online op greeneuropeanjournal.eu of bestel via info@gef.eu

Strategisch adviseur van de Groene fractie in het Europees Parlement.
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