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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

E.U. Vetoing Unanimity?

In the U.S., states can get waivers from having to comply with regulations, depending on the particular law; federal legislation is not passed as if only between some of the several states. It is pretty much a one-size-fits-all notion of federal law, with opt-outs possible typically only on particular regulatory requirements. One such publicized waiver enables states to be exempted from the health-insurance mandate if they can show they have achieved the aim (universal healthcare) by another means. Massachusetts, for example, had a pre-existing program of universal health-care.

In Europe, David Cameron vetoed the European Council proposing an amendment to the E.U.’s basic law that would have strengthened the enforcement mechanism constraining state governments that exceed deficit and debt limits established by the E.U. His message was on behalf of state rights. So it was very smart indeed that the Europeans came up with a way to avoid the downside of unanimity while recognizing that some of the states jealously guard the sovereignty they have retained.  Hitherto, the veto mechanism that any state can use to block laws in important areas like taxation has crippled or at least hampered the E.U. institutions in meeting even the responsibilities entailed in the E.U.’s current competencies. Besides gradually increasing the percentage of the E.U.’s competencies (domains of authority) subject to qualified majority voting rather than unanimity, it turns out that groups of at least nine states can go ahead with legislation if a proposal is stalled or vetoed by a state. Crucially, the vetoing state need not be subject to the legislation. Valuing this is a distinctive European trait in the annals of modern federalism. Adding competencies to the E.U. government need not require every state, including most notably “euroskeptic,” veto-prone states like Britain, to give up more sovereignty.

The complete essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires.