Self-Denial in Federalizing Power in the European Union: Lessons from the Causes of the American Revolution

Richard J. Sweeney

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Because the conflicts that led to the American Revolution mainly arose from constitutional issues, the history of these conflicts offers lessons for the design of the new European Union constitution. One lesson is the importance of avoiding needless conflicts between federal and member-state governments. In particular, forcing decisions on where sovereignty lies may cause great conflict. Another lesson is that a federal system depends on good will among the federal and member-state governments, and because this good will is easily dissipated, efforts should be made to nurture it. Federal exercise of power will often alienate member states; thus, a sensible strategy is to grant the federal government only the minimal powers that a strong consensus agrees it must have, and to change these powers only by strong consensus. Removing “democratic deficits” may not be sufficient in many cases to give legitimacy to exercise of federal power; minorities may require protection by constitutional limits on federal powers.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
PublisherLEFIC. Center for Law, Economics and Financial Institutions
Number of pages36
Publication statusPublished - 2003
SeriesLEFIC Working Paper

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