It is about time that someone started talking about the `finalité politique' of European integration. As Joschka Fischer put it, the European Union (EU) faces the `parallel task' of, on the one hand, enlargement towards up to 30 members over the next decades, given the invitation to the Balkan countries and to Turkey issued at the Helsinki European Council while, on the other hand and by sheer necessity, the EU will have to undergo deep institutional changes, i.e., move further towards political integration, if its capacity for action is not to be seriously undermined through the enlargement process. How can one face this double challenge without thinking out loud about how the EU will look like at the end of this process? Thus, Fischer proposes a `European Federation' composed of a `European Parliament and a European government which really do exercise legislative and executive power within the Federation.' This European federation is to be based on a constitutional treaty which regulates, among others, the `division of sovereignty' between the European institutions and the nation-states. Thus, he distances himself from the concept of a European super-state transcending and replacing the national democracies.
In the following, we comment on Fischer's vision of the future European order. We applaud Fischer for striving to overcome the stylised dichotomy of the `Confederacy of European States' (Staatenbund) and the `European Federal State' (Bundesstaat), which has dominated the political debate about the `finalité politique' of the European integration process from its very beginning and which is also reflected by the international reaction to Fischer's speech. The question is not whether national sovereignty exclusively resides in the Member States or whether it is to be transferred to the European Union, but how to organise the division and sharing of sovereignty rights between the various levels of government. At the same time, Fischer's suggestions for a European federation are still rather ambivalent in this respect. We argue that a further exploration of federalist concepts in a framework of multi-level governance helps us to escape such ambivalence because federalism provides principles for the territorial organisation of political power. At the same time, the use of federal principles does not require the creation of a federal state.
Yet, if we compare the current structure of the EU to the concept of `federation' as used in the literature on federalism, the EU looks like and behaves like a federation, except for two major features. First, the EU lacks `taxing and spending' power. Second, the Member States continue to be masters of the constitutive treaties, at least formally speaking.
This essay proceeds in three steps. First, we demonstrate the inherent ambiguity of Fischer's vision which is undecided between a system of divided, as compared to shared, sovereignty. Second, we claim that neither the modern European nation-states nor the current European order resemble a system in which governments exercise autonomous sovereignty over people and territory. Rather, both the European states and the European Union constitute structures of `multi-level governance' in which power and action capacities are shared rather than divided. Third, we argue that the theoretical tradition of federalism provides constitutional structures which can be applied to systems of multi-level governance. But there are different federalist models to construct a future European order. We comment on the German and American models and discuss ways in which these can be applied to a European federation.