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The European Union as a Federal Polity?



Federalism is a Trojan horse of European integration: instead of giving way to a consensual characterisation of the European Union (EU), it is profoundly divisive. Some hate the concept (for long, the reverberated ‘f-word’), while for others federalism is clearly within the aims and nature of European integration. Still others neglect federalism in the EU context, as they purport a distinctive pathway for European integration, one that stands outside current, state-centric stereotypes. Left outside the realm of consensual issues of European integration, federalism is though a promising intellectual journey. The goal of the paper is to find out whether the EU currently incorporates federal elements. I am aware of the difficult task ahead, since there is no single theory of federalism. Assuming the existence of several models of federalism, the paper starts from a level playing field of federal features in order to understand whether the EU already matches with federalism. To that purpose, the paper surveys three federal criteria – legislative, teleological and institutional – and examines the EU through them. Nevertheless, additional difficulties arise for it is important to test to which mode of federalism the EU suits better (or, should one say, which mode of federalism matches with the EU?). New confederalism, cooperative federalism and regulatory federalism are the hypothesis under assessment. A methodologically coherent approach requires a final step: to seek the finalité of European integration, to put it differently, what is the EU as a polity. The paper surveys asymmetric confederation, federation without a federal state and emerging federal state as the working hypothesis.

Suggested Citation

  • Paulo Vila Maior, 2009. "The European Union as a Federal Polity?," Working Papers 1420, Universidade Fernando Pessoa.
  • Handle: RePEc:ufp:wpaper:1420

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    European integration; Federalism; Federal theory;

    JEL classification:

    • O19 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - International Linkages to Development; Role of International Organizations


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