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Dividing competences: Germany's vision(s) for Europe's federal future

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Germany’s preferences regarding the kind of federal Europe it wants have been characterized by both continuity and change. While its preferences regarding (horizontal) institutional developments at the European level have remained relatively stable, its preferences on the vertical distribution of power in Europe have changed. Perhaps the most important shift has been the recent German push for a European federation modelled on a dual (competitive) federalist system in which competencies are divided vertically by policy sector, rather than on a cooperative federalist model in which decision-making power is shared across levels of government. This paper argues that this change had little to do with strategic considerations by the Federal Government about how Germany should position itself in Europe after unification. Instead it can largely be explained by the growing dissatisfaction with the performance of Germany’s cooperative federalist model, in particular on the part of the German Länder who are seeking new ways to overcome centralizing tendencies inherent in both the German and the EU system of governance. By analysing German contributions to the EU’s constitutional debate, the paper assesses the relative importance of norms, interests and ideas in shaping German preferences on the type of European federation it wants.

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