The Bruges Group spearheads the intellectual battle against the notion of "ever-closer Union" in Europe and, above all, against British involvement in a single European state.

Different notions of federalism

Federalism in the USA and the EU

Roger Helmer MEP 

Cheyenne (pronounced "Shy-Anne") - a name redolent of the myths and legends of the old West, of cowboys and Indians, of Saturday matinees at the Odeon Cinema. I was delighted to discover recently that Cheyenne is more than a name from the old movies. It is a real place, the capital of Wyoming, and I have recently met several of its residents and legislators.

My regional colleague Chris Heaton-Harris and I were invited to go to Washington by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national association of state legislators. Chris and I were especially befriended by the Wyoming and Montana delegations (hence the Cheyenne connection), and enjoyed a couple of excellent dinners with them.

ALEC espouses a conservative philosophy, so Republicans are well represented, although interestingly there were also a number of Democrats who were happy to describe themselves as conservative (small "c"!). ALEC is particularly committed to "Jeffersonian principles", which I found included limited government, free markets and individual liberty. As I told our hosts, we supported those principles, but we had a different word for them - Thatcherism!

But there is another Jeffersonian principle which at first sight sits less easily with Thatcherism, and that is federalism. ALEC expresses its key objective as "To promote the principles of federalism", though it adds that "the powers of government are derived from, and assigned to, first the People, then the States, and finally the National Government".

So we have a conundrum. How can we reconcile Jeffersonian support for federalism with Thatcherite opposition? How can federalism be right in the USA and wrong in the EU?

There is a two-fold answer. First, federalism can deliver a model of limited, democratic government within a nation. It cannot do so within an association of distinct nations. Secondly, the EU model of governance, and especially the new draft EU Constitution, which we loosely describe as federalist, is in fact not federalist at all. It goes beyond federalism - it is a model for a centralised, unitary state called Europe.

... the new draft EU Constitution, which we loosely describe as federalist, is in fact not federalist at all... it is a model for a centralised, unitary state called Europe.

Taking the first point, America, thank heaven, is "One Nation Under God". The EU may be many things, but it is assuredly not One Nation, nor ever will be. If we went out into the streets of Washington and asked the first hundred Americans we met to characterise their nationality, I guess at least 99 would say "First and foremost, I am an American". Very few people in the EU would say "First and foremost I am a European".

Democracy is more than simple arithmetic and majority voting. Democracy presupposes a group of people who feel that they are in the same boat, that they are part of a common enterprise. As Enoch Powell famously put it, "they must have enough in common, in terms of language, history, culture and economic interests, that they are prepared to accept governance at each others hands". As John Stuart Mill wrote, they must share "the common public opinion without which representative government cannot exist".

Democracy is more than simple arithmetic and majority voting. Democracy presupposes a group of people who feel that they are in the same boat

Clearly, these conditions apply in the USA. Equally clearly, they do not and cannot apply in the 15 (soon to be 25) diverse nations of the EU. So to the extent that we give up powers to EU institutions, we are giving up democracy itself, and consigning our governance to people we did not elect and cannot remove.

Secondly, the EU model of governance is not in any case federalist. When ALEC argues for federalism, it argues for states' rights against the ever-growing powers of the Federal Government. When we, loosely and mistakenly, describe European integration as federalist, we are speaking of a continual transfer of powers to centralised institutions. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing may pretend that his Convention has drafted an EU Constitution which bears comparison with the US Constitution, but it is wholly different. It is not federal at all. He has created a Constitution for a centralised, anti-democratic unitary state.

The EU Constitution is a model for the subjection of historic nation-states to unaccountable centralised institutions which are not, and cannot be, democratic.

Federalism in the USA is a workable model for democratic accountability in a single nation. The EU Constitution is a model for the subjection of historic nation-states to unaccountable centralised institutions which are not, and cannot be, democratic.


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