Federalism in the USA and the EU
Roger Helmer MEP
(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 -
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
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
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.