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European Constitutional Law

European Constitutional Law (3rd edn)

Robert Schütze
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date: 29 May 2024

p. 412. Constitutional Nature

A Federation of Stateslocked

p. 412. Constitutional Nature

A Federation of Stateslocked

  • Robert Schütze


This chapter discusses the nature of the European Union, presenting two—opposing—‘federal’ traditions that have been competing with each other over the past 200 years. It begins by introducing the US federal tradition, which has historically understood a Union of States as a third form of political organization between international and national law. The chapter then moves to the newer German federal tradition. Insisting on the indivisibility of sovereignty, this second tradition ultimately led to the following conceptual distinction: a ‘Union of States’ is either an international organization—like the United Nations—or a nation State—like Germany or the United Kingdom. Finally, the chapter applies both theories to the European Union. From the perspective of the older US tradition, the European Union can be seen as a Federation of States. The German tradition, by contrast, reduces it to a (special) international organization. Which is the better theory here? If legal theories are meant to explain legal practice, one sees that the second theory—insisting on the idea of State sovereignty—runs into serious explanatory difficulties and should consequently be discarded. The European Union is indeed best understood as a ‘Federation of States’.

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