The essence of federalism is decentralisation with powers distributed between different levels of government, but with decisions taken, wherever possible, at levels closest to citizens. The misrepresentation of federalism by some of our politicians in this country has been an unnecesary argument between Britain and its European Community partners about the objectives of European integration. Indeed, John Major's strenuous objections to the proposed closer European Union with 'a federal goal' in Maastricht led to the adoption of 'an ever closer union' implying a much closer centralised system, though somewhat ameliorated by applying to it the principle of subsidiarity.
The only really effective way to resolve this semantic argument is for the European Union, envisaged in the Maastricht treaty, to adopt a constitution within which the division of powers between the different tiers of government is clearly spelt out. Such a federal constitution, also enshrining the rights of individual citizens, of their communities and nations, would finally kill off Mrs Thatcher's bogy, put up in her 1988 Bruges speech, of a European federation that would 'try to suppress nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a European conglomerate' and fit individual member states 'into some sort of indentikit European personality'.
A federal Europe is the best guarantee of national identities and of the right to take national decisions which, under the constitution, have not explicitly been transferred to the federal institutions. This surely would be much better than a system, favoured by opponents of Maastricht, of cooperating states, supposedly independent, which in our interdependent world would inevitably be dominated by the strongest.
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