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Federalism, what Federalism?

Contribution by Brendan Donnelly to the LSE project “Hacking the UK Constitution”,

Federalism, what federalism?

It might be expected that the Federal Trust would welcome the willingness of politicians and commentators after the Scottish referendum to consider seriously what they describe as “federal” structures for the United Kingdom. There is however a strong possibility of entirely the “wrong sort” of federalism’s now commending itself to British policy-makers, particularly in England. Simply to label proposals as “federalist” in inspiration does not of itself guarantee either their correspondence with federalist values or their sustainability in the long term.

Continue reading Federalism, what Federalism?

A Federal Way Forward

Ever since the late 1990s the Federal Trust has held conferences and seminars on the British constitution with specific reference to devolution. A significant number of books and papers have been published, including in 2006 “Modernising British Government” written by Professor Stanley Henig and with a foreword by Roy Hattersley. In the light of current proposals and discussion positing a new role for the Second Chamber of Parliament as a means of linking devolved authorities with central UK governance, we are placing on our website an extract from this 2006 publication.

A Federal Way Forward

by Stanley Henig

Most second chambers in the democratic world have two roles – scrutiny and legislation. Second chambers may also have a special role as a kind of legal or quasi-legal constitutional watch-dog, although this may alternatively be the preserve of a special constitutional court. All of these are considered below. The House of Lords has in the past enjoyed a significant judicial role in a wider context: as the highest court in the land, although only a few of its members are involved. Parliament has already legislated to transfer that role to a new supreme court in the near future: some of the implications are considered in a separate section appended to this chapter.

Beyond the House of Commons, the role of scrutiny is not the exclusive preserve of the second chamber. In a pluralist society pressure groups and the media may well be equally if not more effective. However, it is worth noting that in this respect the House of Lords, however constituted, does possess a degree of legitimacy as a constitutionally recognized institution operating in an open and transparent manner. Inevitably, though, this is weakened by the lack of a democratic base and the absence of any accountability. Since much the same is true for pressure groups and the media, there is an important role for a reformed and modernized second chamber. Effective scrutiny of the executive and checking the ‘constitutional lock’ should be a means of adjusting the imbalance in political power discussed in the first chapter. As currently constituted, the House of Lords tends to reflect and even reinforce that imbalance.

The argument is even stronger where legislation is concerned. Any involvement by an all, or mostly, appointed chamber in the formal legislative process must be completely unacceptable from any democratic perspective. Since there does seem to be broad agreement on the need for a second chamber to fulfil a legislative role – technical, detailed and revising – it follows that it has to have a quite different composition, ultimately based on some kind of democratic mandate.

Scrutiny and legislation are key facets of governance in its wider context. Earlier chapters in this book underscored the importance of concepts such as balance and separation of powers in federal thinking. Countervailing centres of authority to the House of Commons/executive nexus, revolving around a majority or majoritaire party, must make for better governance. A codified constitution would ideally spell out ways in which various central and devolved institutions might help to achieve this. There is a sense in which the absence of such codification lends even greater potential importance to institutions outside the nexus identified above. In summary, diffusion of power is for federalists an important goal in itself: in a large, complex and modern state this is sufficient justification for a second chamber. When that state lacks both a codified constitution and any kind of constitutional court, the need is even more urgent. The current composition of the House of Lords, even its class ridden title, inhibits adequate fulfilment of that role.

Within the corpus of federal thinking there is also a strong presumption in favour of constitutional coherence: perhaps this more than anything else differentiates federalists from both new Labour and Conservatism. Since 1997 Labour has introduced a variety of constitutional and institutional changes under the broad, if not very meaningful, banner of modernization. Devolution has been an important feature. Scotland and Wales have functioning devolved authorities; those for Northern Ireland exist in theory but not currently in practice; London has what is in effect a regional government; new responsibilities are to be given to existing English regional assemblies; localism has been rediscovered and there have been some measures to promote the autonomy of local authorities. The descriptor often used is ‘asymetrical’. A virtue fashioned by necessity, the word may obscure the lack of coherence. A related concern is that the changes are neither constitutionally entrenched nor even consolidated. From the perspective of federal thinking, this is a context within which the uncompleted reform of the House of Lords may offer an opportunity to begin some sort of coherent restructuring of our unwieldy, somewhat inflexible and rather messy constitution.

The territorial dimension

In this context there is also a potential new role for a second chamber. The extension of territorial governance at different tiers must sooner or later occasion jurisdictional controversies. It seems improper – it certainly is not transparent – to hope that they can be sorted out through informal channels when the same party is in power at different levels. In any event the latter condition may not always be fulfilled. Sooner or later there will be a Westminster government which is not broadly sympathetic to the concept of Scottish and Welsh devolution and an executive in Edinburgh and/or Cardiff anxious to demonstrate its autonomy. There needs to be a centre for what might be termed conflict resolution. The parliamentary acts establishing devolved governments are frequently expressed in arcane language; those relevant to local government are scattered throughout the statute book. There is certainly an urgent need for a codified constitution and this will in turn promote the necessity for a constitutional court of some kind. There could still be a role for a court equivalent even in the absence of a codified constitution and I will return to this concept later in this chapter.

The previous paragraphs have examined a variety of possible of roles for the second chamber. In turn this should be the context for debate about membership.

Electing a second chamber

Prima facie, direct election of a second chamber would seem to have the strongest democratic credentials. However, it should also be recognized that direct election is not the only possible basis for democratic mandate. The problem with direct election is that, unless the electoral system is different, the second chamber will bear an extremely close resemblance to the first. Given that the House of Commons is elected by the non-proportional and non-preferential first past the post system, employing a system of proportional representation for the second chamber would offer a contrast. If the two elections were held simultaneously, the party forming the government would probably also be the largest in the second chamber. Although most proportional systems do give some advantage to the largest parties, ‘third’ and minor parties – especially those lacking a territorial base – would be the main gainers.

It is generally assumed that elections for the two chambers should be simultaneous. Holding the second chamber elections separately from those for the first chamber could invite a relatively low turn out; timing them for mid-term would also be quite likely give an unnatural boost to ‘opposition’ parties. Another possible variation, clearly welcomed in some of the reports, would give members of the second chamber a longer period of office with re-election by, say, thirds. Successive partial elections would coincide with general elections. In theory individual members would thus have a normal term of office of twelve to fifteen year, depending on the proximity of general elections.

Overall the political composition of the House would reflect opinion over a longer period of time, potentially dampening any current government’s level of support. In theory this would make for a more experienced second chamber: in practice it would to some extent distance members from the more routine aspects of party politics. There would, though, be a tendency – very much in line with most second chambers elsewhere – for such a body to be more conservative (with a small ‘c’). Hypothesizing and projecting backwards, if this system had been in force from the 1950s, Labour would have been the largest party in the House of Lords during the years of Edward Heath’s premiership, whilst the Conservatives would probably have been the largest party from 1997 to 2001, despite Labour’s huge electoral mandate.  Be this as it may, there is something slightly odd about this whole approach. If there is a desire to have experienced representatives in the second chamber, the solution is in the hands of the electors – assuming they are to be trusted!

Of those EU member states with a second chamber, only a small number have opted for the all directly elected variety. Others have chosen from a variety of forms of indirect election. Some involve appointment by directly elected regional assemblies or local councillors. Many of these systems are based on the concept of regional/territorial representation. Most of the documents on House of Lords reform devote some space to this idea, but a good deal of the discussion about possible direct representation for devolved institutions is confused. Reports on the House of Lords not infrequently contain phrases about regional issues along the lines that Britain is not, and is unlikely to become, a full-blown federation. Undoubtedly true, but few, if any, federalists would have had any illusions on that score.

It hardly needs restating that federalism as a way of thinking and federation as a government structure are not the same thing. Experience elsewhere in Europe demonstrates that the impact of federal ideas and federal thinking is by no means limited to formal federations. Certainly, direct representation for localities and regions in central governance through the medium of the second chamber seems to be an indispensable part of a fully federal system. However, many non-federations employ a territorial (albeit not necessarily regional) basis for direct or indirect election to the second chamber. France, Ireland, Netherlands and Spain are examples. Second chambers need some form of legitimization if they are to be an effective part of the democratic process. Direct election is one route to legitimization. Indirect election offers an alternative, especially if there is some kind of territorial/regional link.

In this context a simple affirmation that political parties and the Independent Appointment Commission should take regional factors into account when nominating for the second chamber is quite inadequate as a means of promoting legitimacy. By definition the appointment process focuses on a potential member as an individual and he/she is appointed as such. All sorts of classifications and categorizations are possible, but an individual appointed in this way cannot represent a group or region in the sense of being potentially accountable to that group or region.

A specific proposal

Reforming the second chamber has been a constant perennial in constitutional discussions over the past century. During the past years of Labour government there has been a plethora of reports, discussion documents and proposals. There is widespread agreement that the present interim state is unsatisfactory. So the final section of this chapter draws on all the discussion and debate to formulate a specific proposal for a new phase in the government’s modernization programme. Based on federal thinking, it links the somewhat under-nourished concept of separation of powers at central government level in Britain with a new deal for local and regional government offering them a form of constitutional embedding.

To summarize the analysis so far, there is widespread agreement that a second chamber should have a general role of scrutiny and also a legislative function – technical and revising. The latter necessitates some kind of democratic mandate. In general, members should be either directly elected or indirectly elected by others holding a democratic mandate. It is also important that the process is transparent. (Thus, for example, the system whereby the German Länder governments appoint members of the Bundesrat has a transparency and legitimacy quite lacking in the method by which members of the House of Lords are currently appointed.) However, in addition to all this, the new second chamber could also be the means of entrenching or embedding regional and local authorities in the absence of a formal codified constitution and/or a separate constitutional court. Finally, an overall reform package offers the opportunity to create a remodelled second chamber as an institution of governance ‘fit for purpose’ – in the memorable words of the British Foreign Secretary commenting on the draft European constitution –  in the twenty first century.

A reformed second Chamber should have a professional membership with a professional purpose, which almost certainly necessitates a name change! Membership should be substantially reduced compared to the present House of Lords which is far larger than that of any other European second chamber. In principal, members should be paid as such and not rely solely on a totally non-transparent expenses system. It is now several decades since the distinction between Gentlemen and Players was abolished. It is time for our legislature to follow suite.

The composition of the new second chamber should be largely based on representation from regions and nations of the United Kingdom and also from both devolved institutions and local governance. I would propose that a minimum of three quarters of the members should be directly elected through a proportional open list system based on regions and nations. Most of the remaining quarter would be indirectly elected, drawing a specific mandate from devolved authorities and local government associations. Finally and exceptionally, there would be a few nominated/appointed places for faith leaders of all denominations and retired law lords. It can be argued that both categories would offer added value to the second chamber and that neither can seek a normal democratic mandate. An indication of the projected membership is shown below:-


A. Elected by PR from nations and regions                      228

(Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, London, seven English Regions: seats allocated by population)

B. Elected by devolved regional authorities                      23

(Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, London – four each; English regions one each) *a

C. Elected by local government associations                   14

(Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales – two each; Local Government Association –8. By PR) *b

D. Faith leaders                                                           10

E. Ex law lords                                                              8


TOTAL MEMBERSHIP – initially                                     283

Possibly rising to                                                       304 *c



*a The English regional representatives would be initially elected by existing assemblies; directly elected assemblies would be entitled to elect four members each.

*b Members to be elected. For this purpose LGA includes all England but NOT Wales

*c Dependent on developments in English regions

In principle, elections would take place simultaneously with those for the House of Commons. The indirect nature of some of the elections might necessitate a slight delay in finalizing membership of the second chamber. I do not think this has any wider constitutional implications, since the political balance in the first chamber will determine the make-up of the government. With the bulk of members of the second chamber being elected at the same time as the first, the relative position of the parties is likely to be similar albeit muted through the effects of proportional representation. There are probably some advantages in drawing some members of the government from the second chamber: there could be a slight delay in making some of these appointments.  The great advantages of the above proposal are that it would virtually do away with direct nominations or appointments, whilst all potential members would be subject to a democratic process with the sole exception of a small number of faith leaders and ex-law Lords. Old-fashioned ‘behind the scenes’ government or party patronage would no longer be a factor. Another advantage is that the system would give some slight encouragement for a reconsideration of directly elected assemblies by English regions. This issue is dealt with in another chapter, but federalists would not want to lose sight of the possibility of a revival of English regional devolution. At present all regions have assemblies; none are directly elected; and the powerful government offices are not regionally accountable.

In principle the new second chamber should have a broadly similar scrutiny and legislative role to the present. I would, however, suggest three changes, two relatively small and the third much more significant. First, the power of veto over statutory instruments, even if never used in practice, seems inappropriate: it should be replaced by a shorter delaying power. Secondly, in the event of disagreement between the two houses, the issue should immediately be referred to a joint committee to seek to reconcile the differences. The intention is to reduce the number of occasions when government legislation is held up by the second chamber and is only implemented through use of the Parliament Act.

A constitutional watchdog

The more significant change, and very much in accordance with the over-arching theme of this book, would give the second chamber an enhanced role as a kind of constitutional watchdog at least until such time as we have a formal constitutional court. It is already the case that the second chamber’s agreement is needed for the House of Commons to prolong its life beyond five years. This should be formally restated: a positive vote of both to be a requirement for delaying a general election (of first and second chambers) beyond five years. The other specific constitutional function should be to act as a safeguard for regional and local authorities. The second chamber would have the power to delay until after the next general election any proposal to abolish a principal authority or substantially to reduce its competence, unless the proposal is endorsed by referendum in the affected area.

Mired by its dignified role, the House of Lords has never quite become an efficient part of the constitution. The proposals contained in this chapter are framed so as to confirm the significance of the second chamber as an organ of governance; to give it a real role as a constitutional safeguard; and to switch its membership decisively away from ‘grace and favour’ benefiting the ‘good and great’.

Appendix; the Supreme Court

This chapter has been devoted to the reform of the House of Lords and as such has focused on its work as a second chamber of Parliament, participating in the legislative process and acting as a balance to the House of Commons and a check on the executive. However, the House of Lords has also in a generic sense fulfilled another – in some ways even more important – constitutional role, albeit that most of its members do not participate in this work.

The House of Lords has been at the apex of our judicial system – in most respects, but not in quite all – the ultimate court of appeal. Only the Law Lords have contributed to this work, which lies separate from the other functions of the House of Lords. To demonstrate their impartiality the law lords have tended by constitutional lore and practice not to be involved in the other work of the House. Despite this there was a concern in the context of the devolution settlements (discussed elsewhere in this book) that from a Northern Irish, Scottish or Welsh point of view the House of Lords might be perceived as being too closely inter-twined with the Westminster/Whitehall nexus. So the role of acting as legal arbiter re devolution was given to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, an archaic sounding body – not otherwise discussed in this volume – which has a variety of roles in the context of British governance and the operation of legal systems of other members of the Commonwealth.

In introducing the consultation paper on the proposed new Supreme Court which would become responsible for the judicial work of the House of Lords and the role of the Judicial Committee re devolution, Lord Falconer, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor placed the reform squarely in the context of the government’s modernization programme. He also emphasized the separateness of this new Supreme Court for the United Kingdom from the three court systems for England and Wales; Northern Ireland; Scotland.

It is difficult to think of any more significant reform in the context of the long-term evolution of our constitution. We do have checks and balances, but they are largely based on convention and lore rather than formal constitutional law. The powers of governance are to an extent separately located, but our unwritten constitution is not based on, indeed it scarcely recognizes, any formal separation of powers. The Lord Chancellor, one of the two posts now held by Lord Falconer, epitomized the uniformity of governance. Historically the Lord Chancellor fulfilled major roles with regard to the executive, legislature and judiciary. In this context it is interesting to recall the public controversy unleashed by the government’s proposal to abolish the post. This virtually eclipsed the constitutional significance of the formal separation of the judiciary from the other branches of governance.

In theory at least much of the criticism directed at the government was to do with the suddenness of the announcement which gave the impression of being unplanned and a by-product of a government reshuffle. Nonetheless, second and third thoughts did not apparently result in any lessening of the criticism. Ultimately the government gave way so that there is now a post with the cumbersome title of Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor. In fact in the latter capacity the post holder has lost most of the traditional powers including that of presiding over the House of Lords. The other public controversy concerned a new building for the Supreme Court: its availability will determine the date for implementation of the reform.

Of the various facets of the Labour government’s modernization programme considered in this book, the establishment of the Supreme Court is the most complete reform (or will be when it takes effect). From a federal perspective it is also amongst the most satisfying. In practice the previous system did offer some separation of powers, but this was obfuscated by the very terminology, House of Lords. It goes without saying that those in the legal profession and within the Westminster/Whitehall nexus were well aware of the different roles of the House in its judicial role and as part of the legislative/executive nexus. But that differentiation did not have the necessary transparency and public visibility. From the perspective of devolution there is a clear need for a transparently independent legal arbiter. The new Supreme Court is an obvious location. All told, a reform fully in accordance with the federal thinking!

Extract from “Modernising British Government“, 2006

The Changing UK Constitution

Devolution has ‘knock-on’ implications for many aspects of the UK constitution. The United Kingdom may still be classified as a unitary state, but the relationship of the devolved institutions of Scotland, Wales and (when operating) Northern Ireland with the Whitehall/Westminster nexus will gradually acquire many quasi-federal features. Federalism has a particular concern with the vertical relationship between different tiers of government. However, it also offers important insights into horizontal relations between institutions sharing legal, constitutional and political authority, with close interaction between these vertical and horizontal aspects of governance.

The various potential and actual spheres of reform – House of Lords, election systems, devolution, appellate and judicial review system – are closely inter-related. The Federal Trust will be producing a number of papers looking in turn at these issues and seeking to show how federal thinking and federal ideas can make a positive contribution towards the reform of our constitution.

Papers and Conferences

Do we need a written Constitution?
Speech by Dr Andrew Blick at the joint Federal Trust/ Federal Union event “Never-Ending Brexit?” held on 8th October 2019

The Two Unions: Brexit and the Territorial State
by Dr Andrew Blick, February 2019

Federalism: The UK’s Future?
by Dr Andrew Blick, April 2016

English Votes for English Laws: A Federal perspective
by Dr Andrew Blick
21st July 2015

The United Kingdom: Federalism or bust?
A collection of essays from the Federal Trust
June 2015
Review in the Irish Times, by Paul Gillespie
The Queen’s Speech and the programme of the Conservative Government: a federal perspective
by Dr Andrew Blick
29th May 2015
Federalism, what Federalism?
by Brendan Donnelly
6th January 2015

A Federal Way Forward
by Stanley Henig, extract from his book “Modernising British Government”, 2006

Conference: The United Kingdom: All Change after the Scottish Referendum?
21 October 2014

Conference: Scotland Decides – United Kingdom in Pieces?
16 July 2014

Conference: Devolution in England – A New Approach
10 June 2014 (Launch of the pamphlet with the same title)

Briefing: The Coalition and the Constitution after the Referendum
by Dr Andrew Blick, July 2011

Conference: Constitutional Reform – The End of the Road?
14 July 2011, with Prof Robert Hazell, Director of the Constitution Unit

Conference: The Alternative Vote Electoral System
14 April 2011

Conference: Coalition and Constitution: A laboratory of change?
13 January 2011
Conference Report

Evidence submission to the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, September 2010

Response to the Ministry of Justice Green Paper (Cm 7577) Rights and Responsibilities: developing our constitutional framework, May 2009

Evidence Submission to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Barnett Formula, March 2009

Evidence Submission to the House of Lords Select Constitution Committee inquiry into Referendums in the UK’s Constitutional Experience, January 2009

Commentary on the Government White Paper “Strong and Prosperous Communities”
by Stanley Henig, November 2006

Reforming the House of Lords – a federal perspective
by Stanley Henig, April 2005

European Essays

About European Essays

The Federal Trust produces a series of bi-monthly European Essays (ISSN 1468-9049) with the aim of enlightening the debate on good governance. Since 1999, this thought-provoking series has included a wide spectrum of contributors, among them:

Iain Begg, John Bruton, Andrew Duff, Valéry Giscard D’Estaing, Joschka Fischer, Marisiol Garcia, John Handoll, Stephen Haseler, Lord Haskins, István Hegedûs, Thomas Jansen, Christopher Johnson, Christopher Layton, Paul Magnette, John Pinder, Johannes Rau, Jo Shaw, Dusan Sidjanski, Martin Stransky, Gisela Stuart, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Graham Watson, Antje Wiener, Enid Wistrich and Alex Wright.

Recent European Essays

Previous European Essays

Policy Briefs

The Federal Trust regularly publishes short Briefing Papers, which often focus on current political and constitutional developments in the European Union. In particular, those papers published as part of the European Policy Briefs series assess and analyse major controversies in the British debate about Europe.

You will find our latest commentary on Brexit  on our Blog and on the Views from the Federal Trust page.

Brexit: Heading to a Deal or No Deal While UK Politics Implodes?
by Kirsty Hughes,18th July 2018

Brexit and the European Court of Justice
by Dr Andrew Blick, 1st November 2017

‘There May be trouble ahead’: Brexit after the election
by Dr Andrew Blick, 26th June 2017

The 2017 General Election: a mandate for Brexit?
by Dr Andrew Blick, 30th May 2017

“Hard Brexit”, International Trade and the WTO Scenario
by Dr Andrew Black, May 2017

Deal or no deal? The Article 50 process in context
by Dr Andrew Blick, 14th March 2017

The EU referendum, devolution and the Union
by Dr Andrew Blick, December 2016

Taking back control? The EU referendum, Parliament and the ‘May Doctrine’
Dr Andrew Blick, October 2016

European Defence Procurement and the Emerging EU Defence Presence
Dr Andrew Black, May 2016

Is Europe losing the Internet Race? Some implications for the European Union of the 2015 Mary Meeker report on Internet trends
Cameron Thomson, September 2015

What Future Role Should the EU Play in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict?
Dor Wolff, April 2015

How the European Social Fund helps solve local social problems, and more
Dor Wolff, November 2014

The EU in the future of British security: Why a safer UK needs a stronger Europe
Andreas Capstack, November 2013
Paper published by Global Policy Institute

EU Regulation and the European Single Market: Incompatible or inseparable?
Dr Andrew Blick, May 2013

What Would Happen if the European Union Broke Up?
John Bruton, November 2012

Europe and the Unitary Patent – Progress towards reshaping the European Patent landscape
Bertie Radcliffe, September 2012

Recent CJEU Decisions on European Citizenship
Anja Lansbergen, April 2012

Neither in nor out: Coalition policy in the EU Area of Freedom, Security and Justice
Dr Andrew Blick, January 2012

The European Union Bill
Dr Andrew Blick, March 2011

The Controversy over University Student Finance: The EU Perspective
Dr Andrew Blick, December 2010

Testing the Limits of European Citizenship
Anja Lansbergen, May 2009

EU military and civilian crisis management operations: the first six years
Jeannette Ladzik, April 2009

A Stabilisation Fund for the Eurozone
Mark Nevin, European Policy Brief No 31, August 2007
This policy brief sets out to explore in detail the issues related to the establishment of a supranational fiscal stabilisation fund for the Eurozone. 10 August 2007, Policy Brief 31

Scrutiny of the Executive by the Executive?
Jonathan Church, Briefing, October 2007

Parliament, Foreign Policy and Accountability
Briefing, January 2007

Democracy and the European Commission
Joana Cruz, Policy Brief 30, July 2006
This policy brief looks into possible ways for the European Commission to improve democracy, accountability and legitimacy in the European Union. In order to make the exercise of its existing competences more legitimate and democratically accountable, the European Commission will have to rely on more than just policy results. This policy paper suggests bringing to the European surface some elements of member states’ parliamentary structures, which allow for political competition and for the formation of political preferences at the EU level. Giving EU citizens a say on a preferred candidate for the Presidency of the Commission and on a clear European Agenda could genuinely alter the status quo.

National Parliaments and Democratic Control in the EU
Markus Wagner, Policy Brief 29, July 2006
This policy brief considers the role of national parliaments in EU policy-making with some scepticism about its beneficial impact on improving the legitimacy of the EU. It highlights that national parliaments are already given the power of commenting on European Commission’s legislative proposals and that the proposed ‘early warning mechanism’ in the Constitution has already been informally agreed. The policy brief suggests that national parliaments’ central remit is and should remain primarily the control and scrutiny of their own executive directly represented in the Council of Ministers.

Openness and secrecy in the EU institutions: lessons from the EU sugar regime
Richard Laming, Policy Brief 28, June 2006
This Policy Brief examines the transparency of EU decision-making in the Council of Ministers and in the European Parliament. It uses as a case study the recent revision of the EU’s sugar regime, which was debated in both institutions at the same time. While the Parliament conducted its discussion wholly in public, the Council proceeded mostly in secrecy. As last year’s reforms to the transparency of Council meetings will not be as significant as they may appear at first sight, the author argues that the Council should open up its legislative process further and adopt the Parliament’s procedures.

Voting for Europe: Citizens, Elections and Referendums
Brendan Donnelly and Markus Wagner, Policy Brief 27, June 2006
This Policy Brief examines how European elections and referendums could be reformed in order to encourage participation in campaigns and voting. The Brief argues that voters should be presented with clearer choices in elections. This could be achieved by linking EP elections with the nomination of the Commission President and by strengthening EU parties. Referendums should in future be held on the same day and in as many states as possible.

The European Security and Defence Policy
Jeannette Ladzik, Policy Brief 26, April 2006
This Policy Brief examines the development of the European Security and Defence Policy and assesses its successes and shortcomings. It considers in particular the EU’s Rapid Reaction Force, the new battlegroup concept and the development of civilian capabilities. Despite real achievements in achieving a common defence policy, this Policy Brief argues that there are still some important problems that remain.

To leave or not to leave? The Conservatives and the European People’s Party in the European Parliament
Markus Wagner, Policy Brief 25, March 2006
This Policy Brief assesses the choices available to the Conservative Party if it decides to end its association with the European People’s Party in the European Parliament. It considers in particular the effects of such a move on the legislative influence and the organisational power of the Conservatives in the EP. The Brief also examines the availability of attractive alternative arrangements. The Policy Brief concludes that it will be difficult for the Conservatives to establish a new EP Party Group that it can present as modern and forward-looking.

The US Deficit, the EU Surplus and the World Economy
George Irvin and Alex Izurieta, Policy Brief 24, March 2006
This Policy Brief argues that the long US consumer boom is unsustainable, but that its cure cannot be left to the market. Instead, a package of co-ordinated policy measures is needed. The main elements of such a package are managed revaluation of the major non-dollar currencies and, crucially, the reflation of the EU economy.

A Foreign Minister for Europe
Jeannette Ladzik, Policy Brief 23, February 2006
This Policy Brief discusses the features, and the possible future, of the European Foreign Minister envisaged by the Constitutional Treaty. It argues that despite the current impasse caused by the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty the question of a European Foreign Minister will in the future be revisited by member states as part of their efforts to increase the effectiveness and coherence of the Union’s foreign policy.

Guy Verhofstadt and the ‘United States of Europe’: The Eurozone as a new core Europe?
Katharina Gnath, Policy Brief 22, January 2006
This Policy Brief discusses the ideas on European integration by the Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, set out in his recent pamphlet ‘The United States of Europe. Manifesto for a new Europe’. It concludes that his vision of a new core Europe based on the Eurozone is at the same time more compelling and more controversial than the comprises of the rejected Constitutional Treaty.

Civil Liberties and Democracy in the EU: Assessing the Data Retention Directive
Markus Wagner, Policy Brief 21, January 2006
This Policy Brief reviews the EU Directive on mandatory data retention, recently adopted by the European Parliament. It argues that this directive demonstrates that the policy-making process at EU level in the policy area of justice and home affairs is technically and democratically unsatisfactory.

A European Diplomatic Service
Jeannette Ladzik, Policy Brief 20, January 2006
This Policy Brief discusses the proposals for a European diplomatic service contained in the now deadlocked Constitutional Treaty. It concludes that there are no substanial legal or administrative obstacles in the way of setting up this European External Service early, but argues that the current impasse over the ratification of the Constitutional Treaty acts as a barrier to mobilising the necessary political will.

How to lose friends and influence: the UK and the new member states
Dr Julie Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Policy Brief 19, January 2006
This Policy Brief considers the difficulties facing the UK in brokering a deal on the budget in December 2005 and assesses the impact Blair’s actions have had on relations with the new member states.

Fresh Faces, Tired Policies? The German ‘Grand Coalition’ and the EU
Markus Wagner, Policy Brief 18, December 2005.
This Policy Brief argues that despite the change in government, Germany’s position in the EU will not change much. While plans for domestic economic reform are limited rather than radical the new government’s approach to the Lisbon Agenda and the EU budget will remain largely unchanged. Broad continuity will also characterise the new government’s stance on foreign policy and EU enlargement. The coalition’s strong committment to the EU Constitution may however come as a surprise.

Unemployment and Fiscal Policy in the European Union
John Grieve Smith, Robinson College, Cambridge University, Policy Brief 17, November 2005
This Policy Brief discusses the need for a more expansionary approach to fiscal policy to combat the persistently high levels of unemployment in many parts of the EU. This will require amendment to the Stability and Growth Pact. Harmonisation of taxes will limit individual countries’ room to manoeuvre, but provide opportunities to make tax changes on a European scale. Any attempt to conduct fiscal policy on such a scale raises the question of a European Budget and the issues considered in the 1977 MacDougall Report.This in turn raises constitutional issues about the most effective way of taking budgetary and fiscal policy decisions at a European level.

Democracy and Legitimacy in the European Union
Dr Julie Smith, Senior Research Fellow, The Federal Trust, Policy Brief 16, October 2005
This Policy Brief assesses the problem of the ‘democratic deficit’ in the EU. It argues that the emergence of a directly elected European Parliament has not led to resolve this problem and discusses how to improve the Unions’ legitimacy.

The Euro and British Politics
Brendan Donnelly, Director of the Federal Trust, Policy Brief 15, September 2005
In this Policy Brief, Brendan Donnelly discusses the role the single currency has played in British politics over the last decade, in particular the approach New Labour has taken to the subject.

No European Constitution, No European Flexiblity?
Brendan Donnelly, Director of the Federal Trust, Policy Brief 14, July 2005
This Policy Brief considers three possible avenues the member states may explore now in the short term for a more flexible European Union: the setting up of a European ‘hard core’ among a limited number of member states, greater use of ‘enhanced co-operation’ along the lines already permitted by the Nice Treaty and the development of a more integrative system of political and economic governance for the Eurozone.

The UK Presidency of the European Union 2005
Brendan Donnelly and Ulrike Rüb, Policy Brief 13, June 2005
On 1 July 2005 the UK will take over the EU Presidency. This Policy Brief considers the questions likely to dominate the work of the British Presidency, and the progress the British government may hope to make on them.

Flexibility and the European Constitution
Brendan Donnelly and Ulrike Rüb, Policy Brief 12, May 2005
This Policy Brief considers whether a ratified Constitution would make the emergence of a flexibly integrated Europe more likely and what shape this might take. It particularly looks at the possible implications of this for the European institutions.

What do French Voters want from the European Constitution
Brendan Donnelly and Markus Wagner, Policy Brief 11, April 2005
This Policy Brief contrasts the differing public discussion of the European Constitution in France and the United Kingdom. It argues that any interpretation of the Constitution which might make it more acceptable to French opinion would risk making it less acceptable in the United Kingdom.

The Constitutional Treaty and the Question of Ratification: Unscrambling the consequences and identifying the paradoxes
Professor Jo Shaw, Policy Brief 10, April 2005
This updated Brief assesses what might happen if the EU Constitution is not ratified. It considers some historical examples of attempts to ratify previous European treaties. The article concludes by examining some of the options which might be taken by one or more of the Member States in the event of non-ratification.

A flexible Union?
Brendan Donnelly and Ulrike Rüb, Policy Brief 9, April 2005
This Policy Brief describes and reviews different models for flexibility in European integration and seeks to identify the degree of effective support they might enjoy in the EU’s member states.

France and the Referendum on the EU Constitution
Markus Wagner, Policy Brief 8,March 2005
This Policy Brief considers some of the complex arguments and issues surrounding the French debate on the ratification of the EU Constitution. It has been suggested by many commentators and observers that the referendum in France will be the key factor on whether the EU Constitution is ultimately ratified by the EU’s 25 Member States. With this in mind this Brief considers in detail the positions of the main actors in the French campaign and examines how the political debate there contrasts with the discussion surrounding the Constitution in the UK.

The beginning of the end or the end of the beginning? Enhanced co-operation in the Constitutional Treaty
Anthony Dawes and Brendan Donnelly, Policy Brief 7, October 2004
This Policy Brief analyses the development and present status of ‘enhanced co-operation’. It further considers the impact of this new procedure on the future coherence of the European Union. It concludes by asking what real political will exists among member states to make use of ‘enhanced co-operation’.

What Happens if the Constitutional Treaty is not Ratified?
Professor Jo Shaw, Senior Research Fellow, Policy Brief 6, September 2004
This Brief assesses what might happen if the EU Constitution is not ratified. It considers some historical examples of attempts to ratify previous European treaties. The article concludes by examining some of the options which might be taken by one or more of the Member States in the event of non-ratification.

The EU Constitution and asylum – beyond the myths
Séverine Picard and Brendan Donnelly, Policy Brief 5, September 2004
This commentary sets out to explore the myths about this complex subject and highlights how the draft European Constitution allows for the future elaboration of a common European asylum policy.

Legitimacy and the European Union
Brendan Donnelly and Ulrike Rüb, Policy Brief 4, March 2004
This paper assesses whether institutional reform alone can suffice to underpin the political legitimacy of the European Union.

The Role of National Parliaments in the European Union
Brendan Donnelly and Lars Hoffmann, Policy Brief 3, February 2004
This paper analyses the new ‘early warning system’ proposed by the Convention to involve national parliaments in the European decision-making process. It argues that this is unsatisfactory and that national parliaments should be given the right to bring cases before the European Court of Justice when they believe that a piece of proposed European legislation infringes the principle of subsidiarity. In addition, national parliaments should be encouraged to make more use of their powers to scrutinise their national governments in the contributions they make to legislative procedure.

In Europe’s defence
by Brendan Donnelly and Ulrike Rüb, Policy Brief 2, December 2003
This paper analyses the current debate which has arisen out of the recommendations of the Convention on European defence policy. Since the Convention made its original suggestions in June of this year, the debate on European defence matters has moved on considerably. The attached brief concludes that developments in this area of policy will have a particular significance, even beyond the defence field, for the future political development of the European Union and for Britain’s position within it.

All change or no change? Convention, constitution and national sovereignty
Brendan Donnelly and Lars Hoffmann, Policy Brief 1, November 2003
This paper examines in detail the question of the potential impact on the British constitution of the recommendations of the European Convention on the Future of Europe, if implemented. It concludes that the impact of the Convention’s recommendations on the British constitution would be limited, and less than the constitutional impact of previous European treaties.

Advisory Council

Members of the Advisory Council support the Director and staff by offering guidance on current research and suggesting ideas for future studies.

To contact any member of the Council please contact the Director Brendan Donnelly.

We are very saddened to hear of that our Council member Robert Emerson died on 2nd April 2019.  Please click here for a eulogy by his son.

Click here for further obituaries of some of our previous Council members.

Members of the Advisory Council

President: The Rt Hon. the Baroness Quin
Former Minister for Europe and former MP for Gateshead East and Washington West (1987 – 2005)

Chairman: John Stevens
Former MEP (1989 – 1999)

Professor Iain Begg
Professor of International Economics, London School of Economics

Graham Bishop
Consultant on European integration: Political, financial, economic and budgetary; Founder of

Dr Hywel Ceri Jones
Executive Chairman, European Policy Centre, Brussels

Professor Stefan Collignon
Visiting Professor at Harvard University and Professor of European Political Economy at the London School of Economics

Claudia Hamill
Fondation Arlon; formerly Brunswick PR and the National Trust

Richard Laming
European Movement

Nicolas Maclean
Chief Executive, NWM

Robert Moreland
European Movement; former MEP

John Palmer
Former Political Director of the European Policy Centre and journalist

Tom Spencer
Executive Director, European Centre for Public Affairs

Sir Brian Unwin
President, European Centre for Nature Conservation/Honorary President, European Investment Bank

Professor Richard Whitman
Professor of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent



Eulogy of Robert Emerson

Obituaries/ In memoriam of Professor Mike Burgess:

University of Kent
Comparative Federalism
International Association of Centers for Federal Studies

Tributes to our former President Peter Sutherland (Federal Trust President 2004 – 2017):

Tribute by the Trust’s Director, Brendan Donnelly

Tribute by Council member Hywel Ceri Jones

Click here to watch the speech given by Peter Sutherland to our conference on asylum and migration policy in November 2015.

Tribute to our longstanding Council member Professor Stephen Haseler, Director of the Global Policy Institute at London Metropolitan University,  who died in July 2017.

An obituary for our former Council member Professor Maurice Fraser can be found on the LSE website.

A Memorial Service was held in honour of our former Chairman John Pinder OBE on Saturday 25th April 2015. Please find the eulogies and obituaries for John here.

Obituary for our former Council member Ernest Wistrich in The Guardian

Obituary for our former Council member Roger Morgan in Times Educational Supplement

Obituary for our former Council member Marie-Louise Rossi (published in Interlib , the Journal of the Liberal International British Group, No.1, 2015)


Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne
Baroness Nicholson was the Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for the South East region of England  1999 – 2009. During her time at the European Parliament, she served as Vice President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Defence and Security Policy and is Rapporteur for Iraq and Romania. She was a member of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities and sat on two EU delegations. Baroness Nicholson was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Torridge and West Devon 1987 – 1997 and was Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party for four years. Her charitable work includes Trusteeship of the Booker Prize for English fiction literature. Baroness Nicholson has been appointed as first Special Envoy for the World Health Organisation to work on peace, health and development in the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean region.

Lord Plumb of Coleshill
Lord Plumb continues to have a distinguished career in British agriculture and European politics. A Conservative Member of the European Parliament from 1979 to 1999 and the only British President of the European Parliament (1987 – 1990) since direct elections were held in 1979. Lord Plumb has also been Chairman of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee; Chairman of the European Democratic Group; Leader of the Conservative delegation in Europe; Co-President of the EU-ACP Joint Parliamentary Assembly; and has been a full member of the Environment, Agriculture and Development committees of the European Parliament.

Carole Tongue
Carole Tongue was, from 1984-1999, a Member of the European Parliament serving on various committees and was the Parliament’s spokeswoman on the European Car Industry and on Public Service Broadcasting. Carole Tongue is now a consultant at Citigate Public Affairs. She is also a Visiting Professor at the London Institute. She is a consultant to a film production company and a member of an EU High Level Group in Cultural Diversity in the Audiovisual Sector. She was recently appointed to serve on the Professional Conduct Committee of the General Medical Council.

Sir Brian Urquhart
Much of Sir Brian Urquhart’s life has been spent in and around the United Nations system – experience which accounts for his international stature and visibility in current debates over the future of the United Nations and the role of UN security forces in the post-Cold War era. After working in intelligence during World War II, he served as a personal assistant to Gladwyn Jebb, who established the preparatory commission of the United Nations in London. He was personal assistant to the first Secretary-General and subsequently worked on peaceful uses of atomic energy, the Congo crisis in the early 1960s, and peacekeeping. Sir Brian Urquhart became one of the principal political advisors of the Secretary-General, and served as the Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs. Today he has become a central figure in the dialogue over renewing the United Nations system. He is currently a scholar in residence at the Ford Foundation.

World Trade Negotiations and WTO

Saving Doha: A Call For Leadership And Momentum
In The World Trade Negotiations:
A Working Group project

  • In October 2006, the Federal Trust and Chatham House convened a high-level WTO Working Group under the chairmanship of Peter Sutherland, former Director General of the WTO.The group’s aims are to consider the key strategic issues facing WTO members in their efforts to conclude the Doha Development Round of negotiations. As part of their deliberations they are seeking the views of key participants in the negotiations and other interested parties around the world.
  • The group issued an interim report containing underlying analysis and recommendations during the preparations for the Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting in December 2005.
  • The group issued their final report in the first quarter of 2006. This report assessed the current state of the Doha Development Round, offer suggestions as to likely outcomes and consider how the final stages of the Doha Development Round might ultimately impact upon the WTO as an institution.

Global Governance

Disputes over the definition and objectives of Global Governance have long been an issue of debate between practitioners and academics. recognizing the increasing interdependence of nation states, some view global governance as the formal and informal political interaction of transnational actors in the absence of world government , whilst others see global governance as the necessity to develop incremental global federal economic and political entities to deal with global issues.

Reshaping Global Governance

In a European Essay from 2008, Mark Corner argues the need for the creation of a Global Union of shared sovereignty in specific issue areas to resolve major global issues (climate change, ). According to Corner, only sovereignty-sharing can provide the appropriate structures for ‘effective multilateralism’ by enduring that its members conform to its rules. The global union would provide a mechanism for measures to be taken that were enforceable, while at the same time providing assistance to states that were in difficulty. The emergence of a global union would run parallel to the development of regional unions, but this process risks being undermined in the short run by the absence of many of the world’s biggest countries.

Towards a Global Sharing of Sovereignty by Mark Corner, European Essay No. 44, August 2008.