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LUISS Guido Carli


Europe and the principle of a union between equals

On Wednesday, February 24, Professor Fabbrini will speak in the European Parliament

Sergio Fabbrini Parlamento europeo

On Wednesday, February 24, 2016, Professor Sergio Fabbrini, Director of the LUISS School of Government will speak at the European Parliament to present his research on the European Union, published in two books: Which European Union? Europe After the Euro Crisis (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and Compound Democracies: Why the United States and Europe Are Becoming Similar (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Invited by General Secretary of the Parliament, Klaus Welle, the Political Science professor will participate in a debate on European institutions in search of an alternative point of view on the European Union project. “The central argument of the two publications regards the aggregation of states,” explains Professor Fabbrini. “Europe should look at the history of the United States and a model of a federal union that contrasts with the predominant model in Europe: the federal state. Political debates have favored the German model, a typical example of centralized national federalism, even if it is balanced by direct representation of Laender governments in the federal government, through the Bundesrat. In my opinion, this model cannot work in the European Union, where there are deep demographic and national differences between member states. The EU or Euro zone should adopt an original model, and not a federal state based on the separation of the central government and member states, in addition to the separation between the center and its institutions, in order to prevent or hinder centralizing tendencies.”

Sergio Fabbrini LUISS School of Government

The professor’s criticism of the state model comes from a comparative analysis of federal systems. The European Union should look more towards the United States or Switzerland, two empirical cases of aggregative federalism, compared to countries such as Austria, Belgium, Canada and Australia, to not mention Germany, examples of disaggregative federalism. “The alternative model I am proposing is a composite democracy, on which we can still rely on James Madison’s reflections: a democracy based on  the separation of powers, that delegates certain powers to the national level (self-government), and others to a supranational European level (shared government). A model based on the separation of powers also requires a system of checks and balances between a body that represents the citizens (in this case, the European Parliament) and a body that represents governments (the European Council), with the European Commission playing a primarily administrative role. More or less, this is how things work in Bern and in Washington DC, where confrontation between the executive and the legislative branches (both independent of each other) creates the mediation necessary to govern the country. This situation certainly has its defects, for example, in such a system, political polarization tends to create a stalemate. What alternatives do we have? Any form of separation of powers requires a willingness to compromise by all parties and bodies involved.”

This historic model of the great European democracies, in which the powers of kings were given to parliaments (according to the King into Parliament principle), cannot be applied in a Europe of asymmetrical states divided by several national interests. “If there is one normative point of view that I tend to support, it is that a union of states must be a union between equals. The fact that has struck me the most in my research on this topic is that Virginia (the 18th century American equivalent of today’s Germany) decided to reduce its power in order to create a union between states that were generally equal. For example, Virginia accepted that each state would have two representatives in Congress, no matter its population,” states the professor. He continues: “In my research I tried to give weight to the project supported by Jacques Delors to make the Union a federation of nation states.”

According to the professor, Italy can play a fundamental role and suggest an original strategy to rebalance power between European states. “Germany is a large country with several important decision-makers and a well-rooted democratic culture, ready to listen to scholars. Italy will never be Germany or France, but it can be a country that is respected for its original ideas. Everyone senses that Italy will never be a dominant country, which makes it easier to accept our ideas. I expect that a discussion will emerge, and that this discussion will lead to a strategic proposal, using the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in 2017. We have to greet the celebrations with a reform proposal that supports a European Union of equal states as the only way to guarantee the continent’s peace and democratic stability.

Will there be time during the European Parliament’s debate for current events? According to the professor, a discussion on Brexit should favor a more organic and realistic reflection on the state of the European Union. “Great Britain has already decided to hold a referendum on June 23, purely for domestic politics. In the meantime, we must begin researching how to differentiate between the single market and the monetary union on a constitutional level, while respecting the strong links between the two. We must prepare to leave the Lisbon Treaty behind and embrace a single approach for different Europes.”