Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Comparative Federalism and the EU

LEVEL 03 - Years 2, 3, 4 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT European Studies

DESCRIPTION While references to a ‘federal Europe’, ‘European federation’, and the like, are frequently used in the political and public debate, the comparison between the European Union and federal political system is often the result of overt simplification. On the one hand, federations are alternatively referred to as quasi-totalitarian ‘superstates’ or the panacea for solving problems of representation of large and diverse polities. On the other hand, the European Union is compared to federations based (respectively) on fears or hopes, rather than on the basis of its structures and functioning. Understanding what federations are, as well as in what terms the European Union can be compared to federations, is important to get a thorough understanding of the political system of the European Union.

This study-unit is made of three interrelated components. The first part clarifies the notions of ‘federalism’ and ‘federation’, analysing the contributions of classical and contemporary political thinkers to the development of a theory of federalism. The second part illustrates the main features of contemporary federations by comparing selected federal systems. The third part builds on the previous and goes to the core of course providing a systematic comparison of the European Union and federal political systems.

Study-unit Aims

The objective of the study-unit is to provide BA students with a solid theoretical and empirical background to understand the core aspects and functioning of federations, and to help them understand the extent to which the European Union can be compared to a federation. The unit will provide students with the tools necessary to develop a critical judgement about the question whether and to what extent the EU approximates or is likely to approximate the model of a federation.

Learning Outcomes

1. Knowledge & Understanding:
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Define the way the notion of federation emerged in classic, modern, and contemporary political thought;
- Describe the main characteristics, structures, and functions of federal political system;
- Assess the degree to which the European Union approximates the model of a federation;
- Understand the extent to which the European Union is evolving as a federal political system, going beyond tabloid portrayals of a European superstate as well as rhetorical accounts of progressive European federalisation.

2. Skills:
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Explain the functioning of federal political systems;
- Assess whether and to what extent the European Union can be contrasted to federal polities.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Other readings including articles, extracts from texts and papers loaded on VLE may also be required readings.

Main texts

- Burgess Michael (2006) Comparative Federalism: Theory and Practice, Routledge.
- Fabbrini, Sergio. (2007). Compound Democracies. Why the United States and Europe are Becoming Similar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Hueglin and Fenna (2006) Comparative Federalism. A Systematic Inquiry. University of Toronto Press (Broadview Press).
- Karmis D. and Norman W., eds., (2005) Theories of Federalism: a Reader,London: Palgrave.
- Watts, Ronald L. (2008), Comparing Federal Systems, Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press (3rd edition).

Supplementary Readings

- George Anderson (2008) Federalism. An Introduction, Oxford UP.
- Burgess Michael (2000) Federalism and the European Union: The Building of Europe, 1950-2000, Routledge.
- Lijphart, Arend. 1999. Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-six Countries. Yale University Press.
- Menon, Anan and Martin A. Schain, eds. (2006) Comparative Federalism. The European Union and the United States in Comparative Perspective. Oxford UP.
- Piattoni, Simona (2010) The Theory of Multi-Level Governance. Conceptual, Empirical, and Normative Challenges, Oxford University Press.


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Presentation SEM2 No 25%
Examination (2 Hours) SEM2 Yes 75%


The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2021/2. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.