Federalism in the European Union: Rhetoric and Reality

Andrew Moravcsik

in The Federal Vision

Published in print November 2001 | ISBN: 9780199245000
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599996 | DOI:
 Federalism in the European Union: Rhetoric and Reality

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Moravcsik attacks the view, shared by Euro‐enthusiasts and Euro‐sceptics alike, that current developments in the EU herald the advent of a European federal state; according to Moravcsik, the EU lacks and is likely to continue to lack the fundamental competences that would make it federal. To make this point, Moravcsik emphasizes what the EU does not do and is unlikely to take on in the foreseeable future, spelling out how the ‘EU plays almost no role—at most a weak sort of international coordination—in most of the issue‐areas about which European voters care most, such as taxation, social welfare provision, defence, high foreign policy, policing, education, cultural policy, human rights, and small business policy’. Moravcsik finds this not surprising, since the EU's built‐in ‘constitutional constraints’, from fiscal to legislative and regulatory powers, create a strong bias towards the status quo. His normative conclusion that the ‘existing hybrid status quo is sufficiently efficient and adequately legitimate to resist any fundamental institutional reform’ seems to echo Weiler's conclusion in Ch. 2 that the EU ‘ain’t broke, so don’t fix it’, although the two authors get to this position from opposite premises: Weiler thinks that today's EU founded on constitutional tolerance—bowing to the majority without being one people—is an amazingly ambitious project, while Moravcsik celebrates the EU's character as ‘a second‐best constitutional compromise designed to cope pragmatically with concrete problems’. The three sections of the chapter: (1) describe the existing confederal structure of EU institutions, focussing on the substantive narrowness and institutional weakness of its mandate; (2) examine the causes of this narrow and weak institutional mandate in the European constitutional settlement; and (3) assess the normative consequences for the democratic legitimacy of the EU state structure.

Keywords: confederal structure; confederalism; democratic legitimacy; European constitution; European institutions; EU; federalism; institutional mandate; institutional weakness; legitimacy; state structure

Chapter.  11547 words. 

Subjects: European Union

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