Παρασκευή, 10 Σεπτεμβρίου 2010

Federalism or How the Same Words Mean Different Things to Different People

I was reading about New Jersey's and Colorado's failures to make it to the final round of the "Race to the Top". Would that be a reality show? Some sort of competition? No, it is in fact the federal government spending money collected from all Americans and allocated only to a select few States. Someone reading the U.S. Constitution and the powers enumerated in Article I, Section 8 would have a hard time finding any powers granted to the federal government, that would allow it to allot federal money among States with its own criteria for education; administering education all over the Nation is not one of the enumerated powers*(and, even if it were, it is highly disputable that such a contest would be a necessary and proper use of federal powers); never mind that the whole nation gets to subsidize the Department of Education's select few preferences.

For us, Europeans, it is difficult to grasp that federalism is a system, in which a central government has only limited powers. This is because, within the context of European integration, no official European government exists, at least not in name. Federalists in Europe are those who seek the transfer of powers from national governments to a supra-national government of a federal European state - since the European Union has not become, at least formally, a federation yet, federalists in Europe are those, who are in favor of an officially Federal European State. Conversely, the United States were founded as a federal country, as opposed to a single entity - and federalists are those who struggle to keep it that way, sensing that a usurpation of powers by the federal government is encroaching on States' rights and taking power away from the people and their more direct control, shifting it away to a central bureaucracy in Washington, D.C.

It is, then, a question of concentration and centralization of power vs. devolution and decentralization of power. This blog is definitely on the side of federalists in the American sense: local issues should remain in the realm of local governments, as close to the people as possible. Accountability for elected officials and direct participation of the citizenry are much easier at the local level. While one cannot overlook the need for some central coordination of fields such as foreign policy and defense, the more powers are taken away (even in a local sense) from the people, the more it is all the more probable that unelected officials or bureaucrats will substitute the people in taking decisions for themselves. In Europe they already do. European bureaucrats are already wielding significant power. A large number of them receives enormous salaries, higher than those of many elected Prime Ministers. And democratic control of the European Union institutions is lacking.

Following the Lisbon Treaty, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union enumerates (in Arts. 3 - 6), for the first time, the exclusive competences (powers) of the European Union, the shared ones (i.e. those that belong to the member-states as well) and supporting and complementary fields of competence. Unfortunately, the wording of this enumeration is too broad, i.e. almost anything can fall under social policy or economic, social, and territorial cohesion. Practically, this means that European bureaucrats can claim control on almost every aspect of our lives. Enumerating the competences may be a good first step, but they need to be clarified a lot more and (this blog wishes) very much reduced.

* Keeping in mind that, according to the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, powers not expressly delegated to the federal government remain with the States or the people.

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