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3rd Mar 2024

Magazine

Better together - a new hope for a federal Europe

  • "European integration is not necessarily about ‘more Europe’, but about ‘better Europe’" (Photo: Doug Wheller)

The victory of the No in the referendum on Scotland's independence has saved the United Kingdom. However, it is clear that post-referendum UK will be different from pre-referendum UK.

This is because, after promises of further devolution of competences made by Westminster, the Scottish No to independence can only be interpreted as a choice for more subsidiarity and more autonomy.

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  • "European integration is not necessarily about ‘more Europe’, but about ‘better Europe’"

In other words, the Scots were presented with, and have chosen, a more federal United Kingdom.

The path of federalism in the UK brings hope for the discussion on future integration in the European Union.

Contrary to how it is often portrayed, especially by British eurosceptics, (European) federalism combines two principles of governance.

On the one hand it stresses the democratic legitimacy of European decision-making in its conviction that central governments should only exert those powers which cannot be exerted effectively by local governments (subsidiarity).

On the other hand, federalists believe that strength lies in union, and that every government of that union - thus also the central one - should be efficient, effective and endowed with full democratic legitimacy.

Turbulences of globalisation

The turbulences of globalisation force traditional nation states to constantly search for the right balance between those two principles of subsidiarity and stronger union.

For federalists, European integration is therefore not necessarily about 'more Europe', but about 'better Europe', which means ensuring that democracy and government work well on all levels.

So it is not paradoxical to claim that independence movements can be drivers for a better European Union.

It is only when existing state structures fail to acknowledge legitimate demands for such autonomy that problems may arise.

Indeed, much wariness (rightly) exists about independence movements as they are all too often driven by populism or used as a pretext for nationalism or thinly veiled racism.

As such, the UK did well in its choice for federalism: it is acknowledging the Scottish demand for more regional autonomy while maintaining the strength that lies in their union.

Unity in diversity

Now Scots must make sure that they get the autonomy that they were promised; while at the same time ensuring that they stay within the even bigger union (EU).

UK leaders who made the case for a federal Britain should now have the intellectual honesty to make the case for a federal European Union as well.

The Scottish experience has shown two things: it has demonstrated that the case for federalism is much stronger than the case for secession, and that the case for federalism is much stronger than the case for centralism. The same logic applies to the EU.

Much like the UK, the EU is 'better together' because it draws strength from its 'unity in diversity', necessitating a strong European government (especially for the eurozone).

At the same time, such unity cannot and should not exist without democratically legitimate and strong local, regional, national and European governments.

This is exactly what federalism offers to Europe today, and the newly found understanding of that perspective is precisely why the Scottish referendum presents a new hope for a better, united, federal Europe.

Peter Oomsels is vice-president of the Young European Federalists

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2014 Regions & Cities Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of our Regions & Cities magazine.

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