A federal state

Osborn's Concise Law Dictionary defines a federal state as 'a state which apportions power between a central government and several regional governments in such a way that each is sovereign within its prescribed sphere. ' Federalism, as an approach to the future of Europe, first surfaced in the 1950's with the introduction of the idea of creating a supra-national entity in which Europe, as a state, would be the most important factor. Throughout the years the popularity of a federal Europe has varied, often reflective of periods of economic change.

With the creation of the European Communities and the current development of a Constitution for Europe there have been definite steps towards the creation of a federal state, however, can these steps be considered enough to constitute the full creation of a European federation? There have been several Treaties over the last twenty years that have signaled a shift in power within Europe, promoting the idea of Europe as a supra-national state.

The Single European Act (SEA) 1986 was the first of these Treaties and it concentrated on promoting the importance of social issues and the completion of a single 'internal marketi'. The SEA was given nearly three hundred directives for ways in which to complete this proposed move towards economic unity. The creation of a single market was considered to be extremely important; the principle purpose of the SEA was to eliminate the remaining barriers to the single internal market by the 31st December 1992.

The term 'barrier' is of great importance with regard to the federal debate; if the barriers were removed the structure would become more unified, and therefore more federal. These barriers may take some time to overcome but one could argue that once they have been removed the structure of the EU could one day become a federation. The SEA introduced new Community competencies that focused on economic and social cooperation. In achieving this directive the SEA set up various funds, such as the European Regional Development Fund, the Social Fund and the European Investment Bank.

This cooperation inevitably brought the Member States closer together and resulted in the unification of the states policies and joint finance arrangements. Finally, this Treaty granted Parliament increased power. Articles 6 and 7 of the Treaty provided for a 'co-operation procedureii' which could be used in certain instances, however the legislative power of Parliament remained very limited. The SEA replaced the requirement for unanimity in the Council with the process of qualified majority voting; this meant that a single state did not have the power of veto to block certain legislation.

This treaty also officially recognised the Assembly as the European Parliament, and this, however small, extended the powers of the Parliament. The achievement of the internal market was an economic success, and the SEA undoubtedly injected a 'new dynamism into Community affairsiii'. However it left a number of loopholes, and there was still a lot of work to be done to achieve the main objective of the 'ever closer union' and development of a federation. In 1992, the Treaty on European Union (TEU) was signed.

The TEU created the 'European Union' which consisted of three pillars; firstly, the common Foreign and security policy pillar, secondly the 'Three communities' and, in the third pillar, Co-operation in Justice and home affairs. The Treaty was signed at a time of economic decline within the continent and was the most controversial of all the treaties. This was due to its original inclusion of the word 'federal'. However, this was then changed to 'an ever closer union' to avoid problems, this has remained the continued aim of the European Union.

The TEU came into effect later than anticipated as there were some problems with its ratification in a number of countries; these consisted of referendum complications in Denmark, Constitutional problems in Germany and legislative problems in the UK. The Treaty eventually came into force in 1993. A number of important federalist ideas where introduced by this Treaty; such as the Euro, Article 8/TEU created a timetable for the idea of a single currency, this was achieved in January 2002, the UK, Sweden and Denmark opted out.

Article 1 introduced subsidiary, where judicial decisions should be made at the lowest possible level. However, this still lacked the introduction of any formal documentation or fundamental alterations to the Union that constituted the creation of a federal state. Although the importance of the Treaty on European Union in attempting to develop an 'ever closer union' within Europe is obvious, it was the Treaty of Amsterdam (ToA) 1997 that brought the proposal of the 1992 Treaty into existence.

Hilaire Barnett writes that the ToA 'gives substance to many of the commitments undertaken in principle at Maastricht. iv' It is believed that the Treaty of Amsterdam dealt with four key areas with regard to the European Union, however when considering this Treaty with reference to Europe as a federation it can be considered most important to concentrate on only one of the four issues; the alterations within the structure of the institutions of the Union.

However, this is not the only important area of the federal debate covered by the ToA, closer co-operation and flexibility are also important concepts when considering the idea of a federation. The Treaty of Amsterdam dealt with structural changes within the third pillar of the European Union, at the time of its creation there was no legal obligation for any members of the Union to adhere to the policies within this column. The Treaty transferred areas of free movement of persons, asylum and immigration out of this third and into the central or second pillar.

This central pillar is known as the European Communities and is governed by Community law, meaning that members now have a legal obligation to follow Union rules in these three areas. Regardless of the introduction of the federal concept of free movement, the Treaty of Amsterdam cannot be seen to have created or even moved towards a federal Europe. This is due mainly to two reasons; firstly the introduction of the concept of flexibility within the Union.

Due to this flexibility clause, a provision that allowed Member States to opt out of community institutions and procedures was created. This forced the beginning of a 'multi-speed Europe' in which domestic issues still took priority over Community ones. Secondly, the Treaty of Amsterdam did not signal the introduction of a codified constitution, a key principle in the existence of a federation. The Treaty of Nice (ToN) 2000 was designed to deal with enlargement of the Union and institutional reform.

It dealt with issues such as; the limitation of the commission and reduction in areas in which the power of veto could be exercised. The Member States agreed the proposals of the ToN in December 2000, however due to ratification problems in Ireland the Treaty did not come into force until February 2003. A special provision introduced by the ToN was that a Member State could be suspended from the Union if it was found to be in breach of human rights, with only a majority of four-fifths in the Council of Ministers.

This had previously required a unanimous vote by the Council. With reference to the process of qualified majority voting; the ToN allocated the number of votes that each country received under the new system, consequently resulting in the enhancement of the relative strength of the larger Member States. With reference to the issues regarding the enlargement of the Union; Agenda 2000 outlined the necessary criteria for future entry into the European Union.

In the Commissions opinion each applicant state should demonstrate; a respect for democracy and human rights, a viable economy with a capacity to cope with competitive market forces and the ability to adopt the Community legal system. Neither of the documents created in 2000 provided any of the necessary steps to change Europe into a federal entity. Although definite criterion for entry into the Union were laid out, which is a federal idea, Europe had still failed to create the obligatory constitutional charter, the central federal document.