The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg (Photo: Ssolbergj)


A federation is a state where power is divided between the federal and the provincial or regional level and where the provinces, states or Länder as in Germany do not have absolute independence.

The EU is a hybrid of a federation and Confederation. Its constituent member states have handed control over large areas of economic, social and political life to the supra-national EU institutions. There are no strong federal police, defence or common budget compared to normal federations.

The EU has had federal state features from 1964, as shown by the primacy of EU law over national law in any case of conflict as decided by the Court of Justice

The word "federal" was deleted from the draft Treaty of Maastricht in 1991 as being too politically sensitive.

During the Convention negotiations, the Union was said to "administer certain competence on a federal basis". This expression was then changed to "in accordance with the community method".

The relations between the EU and its member states are currently dealt with under Arts. 5 TEU and 2-6 TFEU. Powers are "conferred" to the Union from the member states. 

The Lisbon Treaty gives the European Union, as distinct from the European Community, legal personality and a distinct corporate existence for the first time and a number of other federal-style features, such as an "additional" federal citizenship on top of their national citizenship for the citizens of the EU's member states, as in the USA and Federal Germany.

The supra-national policy areas have been continually extended in each new EU treaty and decisions by qualified majority has been the norm.

The German chancellor Merkel, the British prime minister Cameron, the new Commission President from 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker and others are now talking for moving certain decisions back to the member states.