Federalism and the global challenges

By Richard Laming

Notes for “Federalism and the global challenges”, Ventotene, 4 September 2002

What do federalists think of globalisation?

What is globalisation? It is people and organisations doing things they used to do in one country on a global level instead. National borders are ceasing to be an obstruction to the way people live. Federalist writers in the 1930s advocated free trade.

Why is globalisation a challenge?

Because people and organisations are now doing things they used to do in one country on a global level instead. The models and methods of government we are used to no longer apply. Economics has gone global. Politics must follow.

The federalist response to globalisation

The exercise of political power that has become impossible at the national level must be reinstated globally. This is not easy.

“to make a breach in the ramparts of national sovereignty which will be narrow enough to secure consent, but deep enough to open the way towards the unity that is essential to peace.”
Jean Monnet, an early draft of the Schuman Declaration

Six aspects to take into account

There are many different attempts at building global institutions. Some of them are of interest to federalists; others might not be. Here are some features we should consider in analysing them. None of the institutions chosen as examples below are perfect: all of them are interesting.

1. Membership

Must have enough countries from enough parts of the world at the start to look like a global rather than a regional entity, and must not be dominated by any one member state at the outset. Must be ready to press ahead with those countries that are willing to take part, rather than being held back. Example: Kyoto treaty.

2. Powers

Must choose an issue that provides genuine benefits for members and, correspondingly, a price for non-membership. Example: World Trade Organisation.

3. Structure

Need to establish institutions: an executive independent of the member states, a body to represent the member states, a parliamentary assembly to represent the citizens. Example: European Union.

4. Decision-making

Must act on the basis of justiciable law rather than political agreement. All decisions and actions must be open and accountable – this is government, not international relations. Example: difference between three pillars of the EU.

5. Direct effect

Law must have direct effect on citizens and companies in the member states and not only on the member states themselves. This provides a political equality for citizens independent of their different member states. Example: International Criminal Court

6. Scaleability

Institutions must be expandable with ease – should not have complicated mathematical formulae for voting rights and membership fees which need to be tortuously renegotiated each time a new country joins. Example: enlargement of the USA compared with enlargement of the EU.

These notes were prepared for a speech at the Ventotene seminar by Richard Laming, a member of the Executive Committee of Federal Union. He can be contacted at richard@richardlaming.com. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union.

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