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date: 17 March 2018

Summary and Keywords

Federations have existed in a modern form since the constitution of the United States entered into force in 1789. Riker defines a federation as follows (1975, p. 101) “a political organization in which the activities of government are divided between regional governments and a central government in such a way that each kind of government has some activity on which it makes final decision.” The process of getting to the federation, the integration process, is best described as federalism.

There is some agreement on the core of what a federation is, and some disagreement over whether to apply the term “federation” strictly to states and state-like actors or in a broader sense. Federations are concrete ways to organize government, but in many writings, they are also given positive attributes, such as enhanced democracy and efficiency, too.

There are two ways to think about federalism: as a politico-ideological theory of action and as an academic theory of regional integration. The first theory is propagated by writers such as Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, Jean Monnet, and Altiero Spinelli. This theory is of political rather than academic interest. Academic theories of regional integration are divided into two groups, following the common practice in international relations theory: liberal theories (by far the largest group) and realist theories.

Federalism theory as a theory of regional integration was abandoned too early because, inter alia, it had been linked to the development of the European Community, which was in crisis from the mid-1970s till the mid-1980s. This was a mistake. Federalism theory provides the scholar with at least two tools. First, under the title “federation,” it introduces a large number of theories, methods, and empirical studies on how to analyze the European Union and other regional integration projects. Second, as a federalism theory, especially in the realist or the Riker-McKayian version, it provides a theory of how countries may unite peacefully. This approach must be developed in terms of (a) the concept of threat, which must be broadened to include economic, social, and cultural elements, and (b) the role of a basic common culture, which primarily facilitates the founding of the federation and constitutes the foundation securing the maintenance of the new federation.

A brief analysis of the development of today’s European Union, following the realist approach, demonstrates that, broadly speaking, a correspondence exists between threat and the integration process: In times of threat, the process of integration and federalization advances; in periods of peace and no crisis, the integration process stagnates.

Keywords: regional integration, federalism, federation, realist, liberal, founding federations, K. C. Wheare, W. H. Riker

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