How close is the European Union to being a federation?

There has been considerable debate over the past decade or so, regarding the EU and federalism. Whether the EU is already a federation. Whether the EU is getting closer to being a federation. Whether the EU has the intention of becoming a federation. Just what the heck it means, anyway, to be a federation.

This article is my quick take, regarding the current status of the federal-ness of the EU. Just a simple layman's opinion, on what is of course quite a complex question. Perhaps not an expert analysis; but, hopefully, a simpler and more concise run-down than experts elsewhere have provided.

EU as a federation – yes or no?

The fruit salad of modern Europe.

The fruit salad of modern Europe.

(Image courtesy of Probert Encyclopaedia).


  • Free trade within the Union, no customs tariffs within the Union
  • Unified representation in the WTO
  • Unified environmental protection law (and enforcement of such law)


  • Single currency (currently only uniform within the Eurozone, of which several EU member states are not a part)
  • Removal of border controls (some borders still exist, most notably between UK / Ireland and the rest of Europe)
  • Central bank (the ECB only applies to the Eurozone, not the whole EU; the ECB is less powerful than other central banks around the world, as member states still maintain their own individual central banks)
  • Integrated legislative system (European Union law still based largely on treaties rather than statutes / precedents; most EU law applies only indirectly on member states; almost no European Union criminal law)
  • Federal constitution (came close, but was ultimately rejected; current closest entity is the Treaty of Lisbon)
  • Federal law enforcement (Europol has no executive powers, and is not a federal police force; the police forces and other law-enforcement bodies of each member state still maintain full responsibility and full jurisdiction)
  • Integrated judicial system (European Court of Justice only has jurisdiction over EU law, has neither direct nor appellate jurisdiction over the laws of member states; as such, the ECJ is not a federal supreme / high court)
  • Single nationality (each member state still issues its own passports, albeit with "EU branding"; member state citizenships / nationalities haven't been replaced with single "European" citizenship / nationality)
  • Unified immigration law (each member state still has jurisdiction over most forms of immigration, including the various permanent residency categories and also citizenship; EU has only unified immigration in specific cases, such as visa-free periods for eligible tourists, and the Blue Card for skilled work visas)
  • Military (each member state maintains its own military, although the EU does co-ordinate defence policy between members; EU itself only has a peacekeeping force)
  • Taxation (EU does not tax citizens directly, only charges a levy on the government of each member state)
  • Unified health care system (still entirely separate systems for each member state)
  • Unified education system (still entirely separate systems for each member state)
  • Unified foreign relations (member state embassies worldwide haven't been replaced with "European" embassies; still numerous treaties and bilateral relations exist directly between member states and other nations worldwide)
  • Unified representation in the UN (each member-state still has its own UN seat)
  • Unified national symbols (the EU has a flag, an anthem, various headquarter buildings, a president, a capital city, official languages, and other symbols; but member states retain their own symbols in all of the above; and the symbols of individual member states are generally still of greater importance than the EU symbols)
  • Sovereignty under international law (each member-state is still a sovereign power)


The EU is still far from being a federated entity, in its present incarnation. It's also highly uncertain whether the EU will become more federated in the future; and it's generally accepted that at the moment, many Europeans have no desire for the EU to federate further.

Europe has achieved a great deal in its efforts towards political and economic unity. Unfortunately, however, a number of the European nations have been dragged kicking and screaming every step of the way. On account of this, there have been far too many compromises made, mainly in the form of agreeing to exceptions and exclusions. There are numerous binding treaties, but there is no constitution. There is a quasi-supreme court, but it has no supreme jurisdiction. There is a single currency and a border-free zone, apart from where there isn't. In fact, there is even a European Union, apart from where there isn't (with Switzerland and Norway being the most conspicuously absent parties).

Federalism just doesn't work like that. In all the truly federated unions in the world, all of the above issues have been resolved unequivocally – no exceptions, no special agreements. Whichever way you look at it – by comparison with international standards; by reference to formal definitions; or simply by logical reasoning and with a bit of common sense – the European Union is an oxymoron at best, and the United States of Europe remains an improbable dream.

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