Federalism as a new political thinking

Richard Laming speaking at Ventotene
Notes for “Federalism as a new political thinking”, Ventotene, 2 September 2002, by Richard Laming

Examples of rival forms of political thinking

– Nationalists – people we are clearly opposed to
– Anti-globalisation campaigners
– People who talk about Network Europe and other forms of intergovernmental cooperation

Federalism as old political thinking

1. Federalism is a belief in government

Federalists believe that government has the power to do things for the benefit of society as a whole. There is a conservative, neo-liberal strain of thought which argues that government is the problem and not a solution. Federalists do not share that view. Federalists believe that law is a means of restraining the strong and protecting the weak. We do not pretend that the world is perfect, but nevertheless the building blocks of society remain as they always were. Democracy is not for sale.

2. Federalism is a belief in progress

There is such a thing as right and wrong. There are some things that are better than others. We don’t give in to moral relativism.

3. Federalism is precise

There are specific features of institutions that make them work or not work, and federalists are insistent upon the distinction between two. An example of this is the direct effect that institutions should have on the citizen. In the ideal theoretical model, all institutions should be elected by the citizens, be paid for by the citizens, and their decisions should affect the citizens directly. That is the difference between federalism and confederalism.

There are such things as federal principles.

Federalism as new political thinking

1. Federalism is not constrained by borders

Federalists are not limited by national borders and traditions. Our proposals and ideas aspire to being universal, based on fundamental principles. We reject ethnic and racial categorisation.

2. Federalism is a direction, not a destination

Federalism looks at the world as it is, and also as it should be. We are not deterred by the distance between the two. Debates about strategy are about how to bridge that gap.

3. Federalism is a moral necessity

Federal institutions are a means and not an end. Consider the economic and ecological consequences of the absence of federalism, not to mention the military ones.

There are such things as federalist values.

Why is federalism unpopular?

Federalism has a price. The benefits it brings are not free. If powers are to be managed by supranational democratic institutions, influence must necessarily be ceded to others. For example, if the British are to gain influence over Europe, the Europeans must gain influence over Britain. Sadly, there does not seem to be enough willingness in Britain to tell the truth.

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 [email protected]. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union. 15 August 2002

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