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Asymmetry : Good for the EU Federalizing Process ?

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IAI was founded on 11 October 1965 on the initiative of Altiero Spinelli, its first director. In 1991 the Institute moved to Palazzo Rondinini, an elegant eighteenth century Baroque building in the heart of Rome, where the main activities organized by the Institute take place.

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A Multi-Speed EU? An Institutional and Legal Assessment. 2015/12






Asymmetry has been frequently experimented with within federalizing processes, specially in those federal or quasi-federal contexts characterized by the coexistence of different legal and cultural backgrounds (Canada, for example).

One should take this into account before conceiving, for instance, of enhanced cooperation as a form of “constitutional evil” conducive to a “disintegrative” multi-speed Europe.

On the contrary, asymmetry might even serve as an instrument of constitutional integration.

For instance, flexibility and asymmetry are two of the most important features of Canadian federalism, elements partly explicable by taking into account the cultural and economic diversity present in the territory: “Federal symmetry refers to the uniformity among member states in the pattern of their relationships within a federal system. ‘Asymmetry’ in a federal system, therefore, occurs where there is a differentiation in the degrees of autonomy and power among the constituent units.”

As Michael Burgess pointed out, within two broad types of preconditions for asymmetry ( called “socio-economic” and “cultural-ideological” preconditions ), it is possible to refer to a variety of factors that might lead to a given polity to rely on asymmetry (political cultures and traditions, social cleavages, territoriality, socio-economic factors, demographic patterns).

When listing the pros and cons of asymmetry Rainer Bauböck recalls that: 1/ asymmetry can affect cohesion, that is, “the glue binding the component parts together”; 2/ asymmetric powers can translate “unequal representation of citizens in federal government and thus can be seen to violate a commitment to equal federal citizenship”; and 3/ asymmetry may be perceived as a threat to the quality of the democratic debate, making the polity less understandable to citizens and creating “incentives for bargaining that will generate even more asymmetry.”

At the same time asymmetry is a resource for a polity that wants to recover disadvantaged minorities and that respects the equal dignity of its components. In other words, asymmetry is a game between centripetal and centrifugal forces.

As comparative law shows, asymmetry works as a safety valve of some tensions generated by the coexistence of different cultures.