Taking Control of Our Collective Destiny through European Federalism

Initiated by the Union of European Federalists - France (UEF France) and its Scientific Council, intellectuals and academics emphasize the need to implement effective European federalism at the European level.

In recent press and political debates, positions for or against European federalism have multiplied. As in any debate, terms are often twisted to suit respective positions. As Thomas Legrand noted in his May 29 column in Libération, the debate particularly revolves around the issue of sovereignty.

A notable recent example is the op-ed published on April 24 in Le Figaro, co-signed by a broad group of fifty personalities, including Arnaud Montebourg, Michel Onfray, Jacques Sapir, and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. The authors recalled that the European Parliament, following the demands expressed by citizens during the Conference on the Future of Europe, adopted a resolution on November 22, 2023, on the reform of treaties—treaties that have been in place for over 15 years in a radically different world with an imminent prospect of enlargement.

Those who oppose a European federal leap and whose only program is the liquidation of embryonic federalism invoke national sovereignty. But what is sovereignty if not the collective ability of a group to determine its future? Historically, the modern concept of sovereignty is associated with the formation of nation-states and large centralized monarchies eager to assert their power independently of any external papal or imperial authority. But from the 18th century, particularly in American federalism, the hypothesis of shared sovereignty emerged. Today, what is the sovereignty of a European state in the face of certain multinationals? In the face of states as large as continents with natural resources (fossil, mineral, water, agricultural, etc.) on which our supplies depend? In the face of crime and terrorism that organize across borders? Finally, what is sovereignty when military leaders claim that our country would be capable, after a few weeks of preparation, of defending 80 km of border for about ten days?

If we want to be realistic, we must face the fact: actors decide and act at multiple levels, and if we want to have control over our destiny in Europe, we need multi-tiered power: local, regional, national, European, and global. It is through this shared but clearly distributed and defined sovereignty that we will be able to take control of our collective destiny.

Don't confuse federalism with Jacobinism

Authors trapped in their Franco-centric vision confuse federalism with Jacobinism. They imagine the European Union as a grand, super-centralized France. What they criticize at the European level, they do not criticize at the French level.

However, federalism is the opposite of Jacobinism. The United States invented federalism at the time of their independence in 1787 (Philadelphia Convention) to be “both one and thirteen.” By virtue of such decentralization, brilliantly analyzed by Tocqueville, American states continue to have very different rules, whether one finds it satisfactory or not, on many subjects such as abortion rights or the death penalty.

European federalism presents an opportunity for Europe to act and position itself on aspects where a continental approach is necessary in today’s world: common foreign and defense policy, economic, monetary, and fiscal policy, and environmental policy to become a leader in the ecological transition. It is an opportunity to give back maneuvering room to states on subjects that are their own, such as education and justice.

If we want Europe to cease being an essentially normative power—that is, one that legislates—we need a European government capable of acting, implementing, accompanying, and adapting flexibly. This is how European policies can become more effective, more agile, and allow us collectively to meet the challenges we face today.

Prioritize a European defense

Defense is obviously the central issue in the current context. A recent Elabe poll for the Institut Montaigne, presented in Les Échos on May 2, shows that two-thirds of French people want European defense and even an army, up to 60% for RN voters. However, there will be no European army without a federation. The member states provided a pathetic illustration of "sovereignty" when voting on the Gaza motion proposed by Jordan at the UN: 8 states voted for, 4 against, and 15 abstained; a fine example of geopolitical assertion!

The authors of the sovereigntist/nationalist call want referendums without hiding that they count on a negative response. They criticize the method of small steps. However, what federalists have been advocating with Altiero Spinelli for over 70 years is indeed a big step, an appeal to democracy. The federal advance must be made by involving the citizens of each country based on one person, one vote. We therefore need a true European federal constitution to be submitted to a pan-European referendum. States would then be free to ratify or not their membership. Those that do not ratify would not be part of the new entity and would remain associated according to modalities to be defined. This would not prevent others from giving themselves the means to ensure collective sovereignty to continue asserting our European values in an unstable and threatening world.

This is even more urgent as the demand for enlargement is pressing from Kiev to Tbilisi; we cannot act as if the Iron Curtain still existed. Building European sovereignty means giving our democracies the ability to survive in the face of the threat of Empires.


  • Céline Spector, Professor of Philosophy at Sorbonne University
  • Robert Belot, Professor of History at the University of Saint-Étienne
  • Yann Moulier-Boutang, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Technology of Compiègne
  • Matthias Waechter, Historian, Director of the CIFE in Nice
  • Alexandre Melnik, Professor of Geopolitics at ICN Business School, Former Diplomat
  • Ghislaine Pellat, Lecturer-Researcher in Management Sciences at Grenoble-Alpes University, President of ERECO
  • Christophe Chabrot, Senior Lecturer in Public Law at Lyon 2 University
  • Thomas Guénolé, Political Scientist and Affiliated Professor at EM Lyon Business School
  • Arvind Ashta, Professor of Finance at the Burgundy School of Business
  • Guillaume Ancel, Former Officer and French Writer
  • Gaëlle Marti, Professor of Law at Lyon 3 University, Director of the Center for European Studies
  • Jacques Percebois, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Montpellier
  • Frédérique Berrod, Professor of Law at Sciences Po Strasbourg, Visiting Professor at the College of Europe in Bruges
  • Daniel Fischer, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Lorraine
  • Michel Catala, Professor of History at the University of Nantes