F-Word or Blueprint for Institutional Reform? European Integration and the Continued Relevance of Federalism


  • Maximilian Conrad
  • Freyja Steingrímsdóttir




European Union, federalism, institutional reform, democratic deficit, postnational democracy, constitutional patriotism.


Federalist thought has historically been an important source of inspiration in European integration. Although the last few decades have witnessed a gradual decline of the concept’s relevance, the most recent developments in the wake of the Eurozone debt crisis have drawn renewed attention to shortcomings in the European Union’s institutional architecture as well as to the feasibility of federal solutions to such institutional shortcomings. This article explores the potential of federalist thought as a blueprint for institutional reform in the EU. Based on a brief introduction to the concept of federalism, the article contextualizes federalism in debates on the democratic deficit, the EU’s sources of legitimacy and the relationship between the union institutions and the member states. If shortcomings in institutional design are the source of the current (and future) crises, then closer attention needs to be paid to the costs and benefits of federal reorganization in terms of democracy, legitimacy and sovereignty, particularly from the perspective of small states in the EU. Federal reorganization would not only improve the democratic character of EU decision making, but also strengthen the role of small states in the union. However, it also prompts a number of thorny questions, most importantly regarding the construction of a European demos and its relationship to deeply engrained ideas about the nation state as a more or less natural home of democracy.

Author Biographies

Maximilian Conrad

Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Iceland.

Freyja Steingrímsdóttir





How to Cite

Conrad, M., & Steingrímsdóttir, F. (2012). F-Word or Blueprint for Institutional Reform? European Integration and the Continued Relevance of Federalism. Icelandic Review of Politics & Administration, 8(2), 245–264. https://doi.org/10.13177/irpa.a.2012.8.2.3



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