Tuesday 14. July 2020

An Indian Perspective on the Federalism as a Remedy for the EU

Denzil Fernandes SJ is an Indian Jesuit. He spent some time in Brussels and in his second article comparing the EU with India, he takes the institutional perspective.

Walter Hallstein, in his book Europe in the Making, referred to the European Union (EU) as “an unfinished federal state”. A fundamental question that is worth being addressed is whether the union of sovereign European nations we know as the EU, can become a single sovereign federal state. In a democracy that celebrates diversity, it can be argued that a federal republican system of government is best able to fulfil a multiplicity of hopes and aspirations of a pluralistic society. In this regard, the challenges that face India are not dissimilar to those faced by the EU. The EU has some of the features of the Indian federalist system, but there are several other characteristics that are unique to the EU and are not to be found in India.


Indian Federalism

India is a federal State of 29 states having their unique cultural and linguistic identity. This multi-cultural reality is reflected in the 28 Member States of which the EU is composed. Out of respect for different linguistic groups, EU and India have 24 official languages, with English being the only common official language they share. Each federal state in India has its own executive, legislature and judiciary which act in accordance with the Indian Constitution. This is similar to the EU, except that the individual states are independent nations having much greater autonomy.


Federalism in India is articulated in Part XI (11) of the Indian Constitution which defines the legislative, executive and administrative powers of the Union Government and the States. The legislative section has three lists, Union list, State list and Concurrent list. The Union list consists of 100 items, the State list has of 61 subjects, and the Concurrent list consisting of 47 subjects. In the federalism practiced in India, the Union Government is more powerful than the State Government and laws made by the Parliament often prevail over similar laws legislated in State Governments.


The EU's unique institutional set-up

In contrast to the federalism in India, the European Union is founded on Treaties that have been approved voluntarily and democratically by all its member states. The EU can only act in matters which its member states have conferred upon it and according to the principle of subsidiarity (Article 5 of the Treaty on European Union), the EU shall intervene only if it is able to act more effectively than member states in order to achieve the objectives spelt out in the Treaties.


There are certain institutions in India which differ widely from the European Union, being a union of independent nations with diverse democratic systems. For example, the President of India is the formal head of the executive and legislature, while the three main EU institutions - the European Commission, European Council and European Parliament – are each headed by a separate president. The European Parliament of 751 members resembles India’s Lok Sabha or Lower House of Parliament having 543 members, but the Indian Parliament consists of two Houses, the Lok Sabha and the 250 member Rajya Sabha (Council of States). India has powerful institutions, such as the Supreme Court of India and the Reserve Bank of India quite different from the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Central Bank due to the unique nature and internal structure of the European Union.


Indian federal system that accommodates a plurality of cultures, religions and peoples in spite of having a powerful Centre could be an inspiration to face the challenges of the changing nature of the European Union. However, given the unique and distinct nature of Europe, the institutions of governance of the European Union need to evolve to respond to the hopes and aspirations of its peoples as well as the changing global scenario. Whether European Union will evolve into a sovereign federal state or not will depend on the extent each independent member state lets go of its national identity in favour of a common European identity.


Denzil Fernandes SJ

Indian Social Institute, New Delhi

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Note: The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Jesuit European Office and COMECE.