The European Union as a Supranational Federation: A Conceptual Attempt in the Light of the Amsterdam Treaty

6 Colum. J. Eur. L. 27 (2000)

Armin von Bogdandy. Professor of Public Law and Jurisprudence at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main.

Conceptualizing the institutions of European integration has always been challenging. In the view of many observers, it has even become an insurmountable task after Maastricht, considering the heterogeneity of the various founding Treaties. According to the general view, the Treaty of Amsterdam introduces no changes in this respect. Rather, its meaning is limited-according to the prevailing perception-to only minor corrections. Both views should be rejected.

Certainly, the Amsterdam Treaty does not resolve all of the cardinal questions that were formulated at the Intergovernmental Conference. In particular, there is no institutional preparation either for the enlargement to the East or for a crisis-proof Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). If one compares what has actually been accomplished with the goals that had been formulated in advance by the national governments, the conference’s failure can hardly be denied. Still, the Treaty encompasses more innovations than are readily apparent. Only a decade ago, the mere prophecy of today’s European Union (EU) would have been denounced as purely speculative and wishful thinking. In the following analysis, the Union’s nature is outlined on the basis of a theoretically informed interpretation of the Amsterdam Treaty.

The central thesis of this article states that the external nature of the Union has, to a large extent, developed along the lines of federalism. The Union has by now become the organization that bundles together almost all integration movements; it is a guarantor of collective order and can comprehensively regulate the networking in Europe. The Union defines itself-in accordance with federal thought-as a unitary polity with territory and citizenship. European integration does not-as the functionalist or a postmodernist approach suggest-lead towards the political rule of different and primarily functionally oriented, partially overlapping organizations, for which territory and citizenship are negligible elements. Although the Treaty of Amsterdam thus contains a remarkable unifying potential, closer analysis reveals prominent differences between the structure of the Union and the federal structure within a state. Most notably, the internal, i.e. organizational, framework is characterized by polycentrism and fragmentation to such an extent that it is unlikely that unifying forces will lead to the emergence of a state.

Thus, supranational federalism is proposed as the appropriate characterization and conceptual framework for such a form of government. The following analysis seeks to demonstrate that this notion on the one hand is faceted enough in order to reflect the complex reality after Amsterdam, but on the other hand is sufficiently simple for efficiently reducing that real complexity. Moreover, it should unfold a convincing normative vision for a dynamic legal interpretation and further political development.