Wanted: A Federalist Debate

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The Recovery Package makes the perfect case for eurofederalism, writes Volt Europa Board Member Joel Boehme, but the debate is lacking. We need pan-European politics, and visionaries must take the lead.

The Recovery Package with which we have now ended up, is absolutely not enough. It’s good that we have a deal , and for sure – it’s good that we move in the direction of a debt and a fiscal union, but as sorely needed as that is – we are left wanting in other ways. The package’s connection to the Rule of Law is diluted to the opaqueness of dishwater, and bizarrely, even support for common health work took a blow. The list goes on. What we got is simply less than what we needed.

At the same time, honing in on specific points of inadequate output frames it all as a failure of the Europhile wing who simply couldn’t negotiate well enough, while the issue is that the system is too intergovernmental, too chaotic, and not federal enough, for the necessary output to even be possible . The fact that frugal nay-sayers and petty autocrats wield the threat of derailing the quest for a common good is offensive – affront to everything the EU claims to stand for – and therein lies the issue: the lack of clearly delineated federalism is what set the stage for all the crippling, parochial haggling.

For those of us who are already convinced of the european state, this whole mess is an almost self-evident case for federalism, and the electorate is behind us. Indeed, in the last Eurobarometer, a notable majority of all respondents wanted more EU competence to tackle matters such as COVID, and more than half answered that they also want the EU’s budget for COVID related work should be expanded.

That said, if you ask about federalism or a European state or ‘country’, the knee-jerk reaction of many of the same people would likely tend towards the hell-to-the-no. This means that curiously, in spite of the scepticism towards the concept of a European state, more would want to move in that direction, than not. Indeed, if we want to ensure reliable EU support on such common issues, we need a federal EU, or that dream of stability goes out the window.

This is the message we federalists should shout between the Atlantic and the Black sea: We now see how fragile Europe is, when a crisis strikes and we aren’t properly federalised. In the place of a clear-cut European constitution – with a federal government held accountable by an empowered European Parliament – we get local strongmen divvying up the package spoils.

As good as this argument is, we – the federalists – seem unable to make the connection, though.

The reason this isn’t being properly articulated en masse , is that eurofederalism suffers from a very particular issue: it’s not being debated. Sure, it is discussed, but either at such a level of abstraction or one of such immense hypergranularity, that it alienates any and all outsiders. Lofty ideals and minute details of principle are subatomically dissected, in the place of a bold debate. And while such enjoyable debates do refine the federalist vision, now is the time to move beyond them.

We must take to the streets and to the national papers. The European demos is emerging, and it must be given a voice. Parties, movements and activists must step up their game. This multinational electorate must be represented by Pan-European parties and the rules of the political game must be rewritten. We are not the Frugal Four or the Franco-German Alliance – we’re one Europe of many nations, united and stronger in our diversity. Indeed, we all need to step up our game – because if we do not make this case, whenever will we realise we must?


Joel Boehme
Joel Boehme is a Swedish citizen based in Lund, where he has studied primarily political science. A passionate pro-European, Joel has a background in different federalist ventures and is currently a board member of Volt Europa, after previously having been the president of Volt Sweden.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Stuart Clark

    I like the way this is written, so clear.
    We have become very good at explaining the problem.
    Personally I think you’re a bit hard on the frugal four. When has frugality ever been seen as a fault.
    We have been taking the wrong approach for too long.. Hoover salesmen don’t sell Hoovers by explaining the mechanics of it and expecting customers to jump for joy. No, they tell them what it does and then demonstrate it, and offer them a guarantee. It’s not important if someone sees themselves as European or Swedish or Irish, what’s important is they can see the benefits of closer integration, which are security, opportunity and prosperity. The mechanics of how we achieve that through pooling resources and sharing wealth via a federal governing structure are not so important to the majority of citizens.
    If we can’t sell our vision to the Greeks, the Czechs and the Dutch at the same time then it’s probably not the right solution, or we’re not selling it right.

    1. Joel Boehme

      I think you’re reaching the same core conclusion as I do – this is a golden moment for federalism and the onus is on us to explain why it’s good. If we navelgaze instead of proselytise, it’s our fault. However: my point is that part of what will help pitch federalism in general, is the observation that this hodge-podge system with which we find ourselves today, empowers frugals and strongmen disproportionately.

  2. Cathal

    Great read. I couldn’t agree more with Joel here. It took me a while to come around to come around to federalism. Like you say, knee jerk reaction is not federalist. But it makes sense for citizens, the climate, fighting racism and nationalism and for security and development

  3. Brendan McKee

    Though I am certainly not an opponent of the idea (though neither am I per say a supporter), my issue with discussions on European Federalism is that the political system described simply does not sound like federalism. Federalism, as former Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau conceptualized it, was founded upon the “patient and painstaking co-operation between federal and provincial governments” and not the unilateral actions of a central government. As such, the challenges in creating an EU relief package would not dissipate if real federalism were actually adopted.

    I wrote a piece a while back which looked at how Canadian Federalism functions and what lessons can be learned for Europe, and that may be worth a read: https://www.europaunited.eu/european-federalism-and-the-canadian-model1/

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