Year XXXVI, Number 3, November 2023
Elected MPs, Candidates, Dare on Federalism!
Member of the Board of the Federalist Press and of the Board of the UEF – France
A mystery hovers over French politics. Despite public opinion appears to be more and more ripe for the idea, it is the absolute silence in all political parties, even the most pro-European among them, that is astonishing.
The parties no longer manage to speak to the population, to arouse support or even enthusiasm. They have at their disposal a revolutionary vision supported by half of the population but no, they do not seize it. They sometimes defend the idea of Europe, sometimes subsidiarity, sometimes both of them, but they do not take the plunge. The omertà of the “F word” reigns.
And yet, this bold proposal could bring many voters back. Don’t you believe?
A few facts
In March 2022, when the French opinion-polling institute IFOP, working for the Journal du Dimanche/Paris Match/Europe1, posed the question: “Do you think that France should propose the establishment of a European federal government, which would act without having to consult the governments of the member States?”, 49% of the French people answered that they are in favor of it.[i]
Already at the end of 2021, in an Odoxa poll published on December 8, 2021, before the war in Ukraine, the French reacted to the proposal for a federal Europe of the current German coalition.
To the question: “The new German Chancellor, at the head of a coalition, wants to ‘move towards a federal Europe’”, 58% of French respondents believe that it is “a good thing”; 63 to 73% of French men and women are in favor of a Eurofederation, from Les Republicaines [right] to La France Insoumise [left], and even 41% among those close to the Rassemblement National [far-right].
The word “federalism” therefore does not frighten the majority of French people
Yet, who really knows what federalism implies? The object of fantasies on the part of nationalists, federalism is often confused (in France only) with an all-powerful unitary central state, directed from the capital in defiance of the Member States. Basically, the current functioning of the French republic, historically Jacobin, bureaucratic and directed from Paris. But federalism is quite the opposite!
Federalism: fantasy and reality
Federalism is the translation into an institutional and political system of the principle of subsidiarity, which is intended to be a concept of delegation of power from the base to the top. This assumes that sovereignty belongs first to the individual or to the district/village, which however, living in a society, delegate certain collective tasks in the first place to the municipality. The municipality itself, having a limited territory and a limited capacity for action, delegates in turn powers to the region, then to the State, etc. and so on up to the top level, in this case Europe.
In a federation, power therefore belongs to the base, which delegates it to the higher level. It is not the central state that grants power to the communities. Thus, in a federation, federated states and federation are on an equal footing. One is not subordinate to the other, they are perfectly equal and it is the Constitution that distributes their spheres of action. If there is a conflict between the two, it is the Court of Justice that settles that, according to the law, on the basis of texts democratically adopted.
For example, financially, each entity is autonomous, has its own resources and manages its expenses (and part of the income) as it sees fit. In a federal Europe, Brussels would have no say in national budgets.
What Federalism Is Not
Federalism is therefore not the exercise of a top-down power, a vertical power concentrated in few hands, distant and authoritarian. It’s just the opposite.
This philosophy is thus perfectly adapted to today’s world, where citizens are thirsty for participation in decisions, for proximity, for regaining control, for horizontality. But in a globalized world populated by empires and sometimes freewheeling multinational companies, federalism makes it possible to reconcile these aspirations with the challenges of democracy, of the values to be defended, of justice, of the organization of the world, of an opposition to external forces hostile to liberal democracies.
What federalism can be
One of the great strengths of federalism is that it offers an infinity of possibilities: parliamentary or presidential democracy, broad competences at the federal level, shared with the federated states, or very limited powers over foreign policy (defense, diplomacy, foreign trade), significant or minimalist equalization between states, a more or less liberal or socialist or absolutely neutral Constitution.
Ladies and gentlemen, you know that copies and old recipes no longer work in the current French political landscape. Do I need to remind you how the most entrenched old parties were swept away, as well as the longest careerists of all stripes? The European elections are approaching, let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past.
We, both Eurosceptics and pro-Europeans, shall not allow ourselves to be locked into a binary pro-EU or anti-EU debate. Let us embody a third way: Europe, yes, but based on subsidiarity, preserving the peculiarities of the States while being credible on the major issues that go beyond our borders, and democracy.
Let’s give it a name: the Eurofederation
If you were looking for a modern project that meets today’s challenges and is popular among the electorate, look no further, you have found it!
So, DARE! Be innovative, differentiate yourself from both the populists and the Euro-fanatics, who promote a tentacular and bureaucratic Europe!