June 5, 2014 by apaubxl
I just typed the word “federalism” into Google search and received 1,690,000 results. Therefore I guess that everybody has at least heard of this word and yet I can see that it causes very different emotions. What is it that makes the word so special? Federalism is easily translated and sounds in most languages almost the same. Nevertheless, its meaning differs substantially. While for a German increasing federalism means more power to the regions, French understand the exact opposite.
The European elections in 2014 brought a complete novelty, which not everybody was happy about – the so-called “Spitzenkandidat”. The latest when the EPP decided to join this “game” with the PES by nominating Jean-Claude Juncker I was however convinced that this was going to change our political system. What we are currently seeing is the consequence of such change. We see not only a complete clash between the European Parliament and the European Council but also a battle between integration and intergovernmentalism. Yes, David Cameron is right that the Treaty gives the European Council the exclusive right to nominate a President of the Commission. Nevertheless, the candidate still needs to be approved by the European Parliament. I am wondering if not exactly the ignoring of European candidates by members of the European Council plays into the cards of those who just won the elections in the UK, France and Denmark.
55 % of European electorates were not participating in this year’s election, probably because they did not believe that their vote counts. In light of an expected low participation rate, the heads of state and prime ministers begged their people to vote, to only two days after prove the non-voters right. Yes, a prime minister of a Member State with over 60 million inhabitants is important. And yes, it would be a pity if the UK drifted apart from the European Union. But are the other 442 million Europeans not important?
In every democratic system the head of government – despite all its limitations, this is also what the President of the European Commission is – needs a majority of the parliament to support him. Even in systems where he is not directly nominated by the parliament, in the long run he will never be able to govern against the parliament. In the European case another question overlaps : How do we keep the needs of Member States represented? So far the European Council and the Council took care of this task and acted as strong representatives of the Member States. But how democratically legitimate are they on a European level if they are trying to overrule other electorates they are not responsible for?
A federalist state has one key political characteristic: a two chamber system. One chamber represents the political majorities of the population while the second chamber represents the regions. In Europe the European Council may be able to play the role of a second chamber, but as it consists of the national governments there is a very strong tendency to remain focused only on their own country. Also in federal states (such as Germany), the heads of regions have political power, but they themselves never sit in the second chamber.
Therefore, wouldn’t the logic consequence of what is happening now be the abolishment of the European Council and the Council and their replacement with a real second chamber in the European Parliament? Such a chamber would of course need to be equally strong to the first chamber and represent Member States equally strong. In this sense the system of the USA can serve as an example. There the second chamber, the Senate, consists of 2 senators by State while the House of Representatives distinguishes between the size of population.
Such a system would probably have less of a problem appearing intransparent and undemocratic than the fight between heads of states, prime ministers and institutions behind and in front of closed doors.