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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bulgarians Appealing To the E.U. Through Other States

As a form of government that checks abuses in government, federalism can pit a state government against that of the union. In fact, several state governments should be able to hold back encroachments from the federal government, and that government in turn should have the wherewithal to stop abuses of power in a state government. The appeals of protesters in Bulgaria, the poorest E.U. state, to the E.U.  in July 2013 exemplify how not to invoke this function of a federal government. The question regards how the Bulgarians got it wrong.
On the 33rd day of anti-government protests in Bulgaria, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the German embassy in Sofia to thank the German government by re-enacting the fall of the Berlin Wall. A few weeks earlier, the French and German ambassadors, Philippe Autié and Matthias Höpfner, issued a statement saying that “an oligarchic model has not place” in the European Union.[1] By “oligarchic,” the ambassadors meant a government that is corrupt with ties to mafia-type figures. This is precisely what the protesters were protesting against.
                                                                                                 Calling on the E.U.
           Bulgarian protesters appeal to the E.U. to stop corruption in Bulgaria. Federalism itself can be seen visually in this picture by looking at the flags.  Image Source: Euronews.               
Albeit well-intentioned, were the protesters going to the right place? In other words, were they "barking up the wrong tree?" To be sure, the German government at the time had tremendous influence in the European Council. However, appealing to the government of another state is not the same as appealing to the European Union. The appeal itself could have further weakened the federal institutions, which at the time were already dominated too much by the state governments. Furthermore, it cannot be assumed that the government of another state has an interest in prodding federal institutions to take action to curtail corruption in a state. In fact, the other state government may face a conflict of interest in doing so, given that states generally compete, at least economically. Continued corruption in Bulgaria could result in more investment going to France and Germany.
Generally speaking, a federal government must have sufficient power to check excesses in a state government. Circumventing federal institutions by appealing to other state governments enables the subordination of the former and the dominant role of the latter in the federal system. It is possible, however, that if another state government prods a federal official to take action, the resulting federal action against the corrupt state government could increase the power of the federal government, even if only in terms of establishing a precedent. Perhaps future protesters at the state level would appeal directly to the president of the European Commission, for instance. Even so, it would strengthen the E.U. federal system itself if E.U. citizens came increasingly to realize one of the major benefits of the E.U.’s federal system: the federal institutions being able to check excesses in the state governments.

1. Ludmil Arsov, “’Europe, Where Are You?’ Bulgarian Protesters Appeal to the EU,” Euronews, July 18, 2013.