European Federalism: Pitfalls and Possibilities

19 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2017

See all articles by John Erik Fossum

John Erik Fossum

ARENA Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo

Date Written: September 2017


The purpose of this article is to show that federalism provides a better understanding of what the EU is, the nature of the challenges facing it, and the realm of possible solutions than do alternative conceptions such as multilevel governance. First, some important distortions about the EU and federalism in the EU studies literature need to be cleared up, before developing a new federal conception of the EU, that of a ‘poly‐cephalous’ or multi‐headed federation. A poly‐cephalous federation is not only deeply contested; it is a highly unstable system, in particular when facing the types of challenges that the EU has faced since the global economic crisis of 2008. In the final section, the article looks at a full‐fledged pluralistic federation with poly‐cephalous traits, namely Canada that, since the 1980s, has greatly modified its poly‐cephalous features with democratic effects. The article identifies a set of lessons for the EU from Canada's experience.

Suggested Citation

Fossum, John Erik, European Federalism: Pitfalls and Possibilities (September 2017). European Law Journal, Vol. 23, Issue 5, pp. 361-379, 2017. Available at SSRN: or

John Erik Fossum (Contact Author)

ARENA Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo ( email )

PO Box 1143 Blindern
N-0317 Oslo, 0318

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