Fischer's speech on the future European political order is ambiguous with regard to the division of formal sovereignty between the European level and that of the Member States. His subsequent comments have not clarified the matter further.1 It is not surprising then that his ideas met with the usual criticism, from both those in favour and those rejecting the notion of a European federation (mis-) understood as a European supranational state. These interpretations partly follow from the ambiguities in the speech itself. On the one hand, Fischer defined the European federation as `nothing less than a European Parliament and a European government which really do exercise legislative and executive power within the Federation' (p. 9). On the other hand, he talked about a `division of sovereignty' between Europe and the nation-states (p. 10) and of the need to take the nation-states along into such a federation (p. 9). In this context, he rejected the idea of a `European federal state' (europäischer Bundesstaat)2 `replacing the old nation-states and their democracies as the new sovereign power' which he called an `artificial construct which ignores the established realities in Europe' (p. 10). In this respect, the European constitutional treaty (Verfassungsvertrag) is, then, supposed to clarify the division of sovereignty between the European institutions and the nation-states, apart from containing a bill of rights. This can only mean that Fischer's vision of a European federation is supposedly something less than a supranational state (which would have to be based on a real constitution, and not a constitutional `treaty' which implies that treaty-making powers continue to reside with the nation-states), but more than the current mixture of supranational and intergovernmental institutions in the EU (`real legislative and executive powers').
To operationalise his ideas about the future European parliament and government, Fischer originally proposed a two-chamber parliament with the first chamber composed of elected members who are also representatives of their national parliaments. The second chamber should be modelled according to either the US Senate or the German Bundesrat. In the European context, the Senate model would imply a truly federal institution with directly elected senators from the nation-states, while the Bundesrat model would simply mean another intergovernmental body. In his speech at the European Parliament, he essentially opted for a modified US model: the first chamber of the EP would now be composed of directly elected members (a European `House of Representatives'), while the European `senators' would be delegated from the parliaments of the Member States.3
As far as the European government is concerned, Fischer remained ambiguous: `Either one can decide in favour of developing the European Council into a European government, i.e., the European government is formed from the national governments, or-taking the existing Commission structure as a starting point-one can opt for the direct election of a president with far-reaching executive powers' (p. 10). In his Strasbourg speech, he opted for a directly elected European president with the broad support of the majority of Member States.4
While Fischer's Berlin speech remained undecided between a European order in which competences are shared between the EU and its Member States and one based on a clear separation of powers, his subsequent statements appear to lean further towards a model based on the strict division of sovereignty between the European level and that of the Member States. His vision for a future European parliament now foresees no representation of the Member State governments. His proposal of a strong and directly elected European president who forms a European government which is to be confirmed by the European parliament moves further in the direction of an autonomous European political order. By implication, the current institutions representing the interests of the Member State governments, the European Council and the Council of the European Union (the council of ministers), would have to be abolished. Yet, at the same time, Fischer argues that the future European government should have the broad support of the Member States, i.e., of the national governments.
However, such a European federation looks pretty much like the United States of Europe, i.e., a European federal state, which Fischer explicitly rejected. One difference remains, though: the European federation does not have a `tax and spend' capacity independent from the nation-states (unless `far-reaching executive powers' means just that; but Fischer does not speak about the right of the federation to generate its own revenue). Taxation and spending powers, however, are crucial to both the effectiveness and legitimacy of a political system. Giving the European Union real legislative and executive powers remains for the most part futile without providing it with the necessary financial resources to exercise these powers effectively. Moreover, the comprehensive redistribution of social welfare at European level would foster the integration of European societies and increase the legitimacy of European institutions.5
By emphasising the division, rather than the sharing, of sovereignty, Fischer still thinks in categories of the hierarchically structured nation-state with its exclusive authority over people and territory, including the legitimate monopoly over the use of (internal and external) force. No wonder then that it is difficult even to describe a future European order which is neither simply inter-governmental (i.e., sovereignty ultimately resides with the nation-states even if they decide to pool it) nor supranational and, thus, creating a sovereign state above the nation-state. Fischer's notion of a `European federation' opens up the possibility of conceptualising a constitutional concept of a hierarchically structured nation-state which is beyond traditional concepts. Had he consequently used the language of federalism as a distinct political order of divided or shared sovereignty, he would have encountered fewer misunderstandings and could have been much more precise in his proposals.
1 See, for example, his discussion with Jean-Pierre Chevènement, Die Zeit, June 21, 2000, pp. 13-18, and his speech on 7 July 2000 at the European Parliament. On the latter, see `Fischer fordert Entscheidungen über die Zukunft der EU,' Süddeutsche Zeitung, July 7 2000; `Fischer Proposes Directly Elected European President,' International Herald Tribune, July 7, 2000.
2 The English translation of Fischer's speech is sometimes misleading. Europäischer Bundesstaat is translated as `federal European state,' Verfassungsvertrag as `constituent treaty' rather than `constitutional treaty'.
3 See, `Fischer fordert Entscheidungen über die Zukunft der EU,' loc cit n 1.
4 See, `Fischer Proposes Directly Elected European President,' loc citn 1.
5 `Federalize their wallets and their hearts and minds will follow,' (James Madison).