The case for limited European sovereignty – Sovereignty is transferred from nations to the EU; in return, the EU must use its secondary sovereignty to deliver to EU citizens when nations, by themselves, cannot.

IED Strategic Paper by Ambassador Stefano Stefanini



Limited European sovereignty is here to stay. EU citizens should be thankful for the benefits it brings; EU institutions should respect its boundaries.

As the European Union raises its level of ambition on climate change, "technological sovereignty" or "strategic autonomy", the underlying question is whether or not it is endowed with sovereignty and to what extent. The EU has no equivalent on the international scene, present or past. European sovereignty exists as a byproduct of transfers of sovereignty from Member States. Thus, it has to coexist with national sovereignies and operates within the boundaries of the transfers. Although it lacks many of fundamental elements of national sovereignty – such as monopoly of force on its territory – the EU has extensive and effective powers in important areas – such as trade. The result is a special mix of weaknesses and strengths. The sphere of European sovereignty is likely to widen in response to emerging supernational challenges but will remain a limited sovereignty. When Member States are not up to the task nationally, the EU should take over with additional transferred sovereignty from them.


About the author

Stefano Stefanini is a former Italian diplomat and writes extensively on international affairs. He was Diplomatic Advisor to the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano; Permanent Representative at NATO; Deputy Chief of Mission, Washington Embassy. He served in Perth, Western Australia, New York, UN; Moscow; Washington; Brussels, NATO. Throughout his career he built an extensive expertise in Transatlantic affairs, security and defence, Russia, European and Mediterranean affairs.

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