Thursday 30 September 2010

Calling a spade a federal method

In my last blog post, I offered a short suggestion to Grahnlaw's question of: what should we replace the term "Community method" with? My suggestion - the "Union method" - may be a pretty bland and politically correct offering, following in the tradition of the "Community method". After all, if the Community has been replaced by the Union, why not just change that aspect of the description? My alternative, the "Council method" doesn't sound right, so I would like to change it to the "States' method", since such measures generally concern the Member States simply using the EU as a forum to advance a collective goal.

Grahnlaw's response is a well argued one: when the EU acts under the ordinary legislative procedure, the Council, Commission, Parliament and ECJ are involved (or potentially involved in the case of the ECJ), so the apparatus of federal decision making is engaged, compared to the intergovernmental methods of the European Council/the Council acting on its own. It is hard to argue with this; European law has a federal character, or at least several federal characteristics. The doctrines of supremacy and direct effect ensure that European law has a binding nature quite different to international law (see Van Gend en Loos for the court's famous "new legal order" statement), and can be relied on by citizens against national laws and administration. (Direct effect is generally for invoking against the Member State, rather than against fellow private citizens (though it can be done), and the complex character of this body of law mean that European law isn't always federal in the most clear-cut manner).

It will probably be a matter of taste - who knows, the Community method label could survive for quite a while longer, and other different variations will probably surface. Avoiding "federal" may be a politically correct option, but I feel that if federal has been rejected from the Treaties in favour of "ever closer union", then adopting the f-word is a declaration of political ideology and aspiration, even if European law has a federal character. I have little problem with the term "federal method" in itself, but I'll stick with the (in my opinion) more neutral "Union method" and "States' method".

UPDATE: Grahnlaw has posted a reply on his blog. Since I think I would be largely restating my argument if I replied, I think I'll chalk it up to a matter of personal preference.


  1. "Federal method" would be the most accurate term, for there are federal elements in institutional design and decision-making in the EU, though there are also intergovernmental elements... so not easy to go for the "federal", besides a particularly "forbidden" word for Eurosceptics.
    I would say that "Union method" sounds really confusing to me, specially when you try to translate it into Spanish

  2. Eurocentric,

    Thank you for your reasoning. I am going to post an argued response.