Strasbourg Talks of Young European Federalists

Feature photo: Strasbourg Talks 2019 | © JEF

“The Rhine in community’ as a central topic of the Strasbourg talks is a very good example of the first European unification efforts, but it can also offer a starting point for new, future federal structures in a potential federal state of Europe due to the constant further development. I would like to take up the invitation in the JEF policy paper "Federalism" from March 2021 for "continuous discussion" and add a few comments.

Allow me a brief historical recourse:

Regulations for free shipping and the dismantling of the existing customs and tariff systems for shipping traffic on the Rhine have existed in earlier treaties for several centuries, but could not be enforced in practice for a long time; from the Peace of Westphalia 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years' War, 30 in the Peace Treaty of Rijswijk, which ended the Palatinate War of Succession, 1697 in the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss of Regensburg, 1803 in the Rhine Shipping Octroi Treaty of Paris, 1804 as part of the Confederation of the Rhine. With the first Peace of Paris of May 1806, 30, the principle of freedom of navigation was introduced on the major international inland waterways of Europe. In 1814, the Congress of Vienna again decided on freedom of navigation for international waters and for the Rhine to set up a central commission for navigation on the Rhine, which met for the first time in 1815 in Mainz. On March 1816, 31, the "Mainzer Akte" was agreed. This agreement eliminated, among other things, stacking and handling rights originating from the Middle Ages as well as privileges of seafarers' guilds and taxes arising from them. 
After the commission had been moved to Mannheim in 1861, the Mannheim Act was signed on October 17, 1868 by Baden, Bavaria, France, Hesse, the Netherlands and Prussia.
The Mannheim file (officially: Revised Rhine Shipping Act of October 17, 1868) is an international agreement that still regulates shipping traffic on the Rhine and its principles are still valid today. With the Treaty of Versailles, the seat of the Central Commission was moved to Strasbourg in 1920. A follow-up agreement that came into force in 1967 confirmed the principles of the Mannheim Act, and Switzerland, as a state bordering the Rhine, also became a signatory state. In this respect, the Central Commission is the first international organization worldwide and at the same time the oldest still existing. 

So much for a nice example of the arduous path to a common European solution that emerged from armed conflicts. 

In the meantime, however, the European states have also agreed to European Union further developed, which was also given political responsibilities over the Rhine. A Union with an internal market and the basic freedoms of free movement of goods, services, capital and people. As a cornerstone of European integration, transport is therefore of decisive importance for the realization of these freedoms and, with more than 9%, contributes significantly to the EU's gross value added.

The EU transport policy includes all types of transport: road, rail, air, sea and inland waterway transport. 

The related policy areas and responsibilities are the responsibility of the European Commission within the framework of shared competence (Art of the TFEU): The EU and EU countries can legislate and adopt binding legal acts. However, EU countries can only exercise their competence if the EU does not exercise its competence or has decided not to exercise its own competence.

There is thus some overlap in the responsibilities of the Central Commission and the European Commission, which are now being reconciled through administrative arrangements designed to strengthen cooperation between the two institutions. Their common objectives are to ensure the optimal functioning of the inland waterway market and to remove the barriers to greater use of waterways as a mode of transport.

The promotion of sustainable transport and the elimination of bottlenecks in central transport infrastructures is also one of the thematic goals for cohesion policy. Projects are financed with the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund for the – – development of a multimodal single European transport area (TEN-T), – Expansion of regional mobility by connecting secondary and tertiary transport nodes to the TEN-T infrastructure, including multimodal nodes (ERDF); and - most recently in relation to the european green deal - the development and improvement of environmentally friendly (including silent) and low-carbon transport systems, including inland waterways and sea transport, ports, multimodal connections and airport infrastructure, to promote sustainable regional and local mobility; including interoperable rail systems. 

It is always fascinating to see the changes in the overall view - also in the language and the terms used - and to imagine the possible further developments.

European development – ​​new federal structures

European Territorial Cooperation (ETC), also known as Interreg, is one of the main objectives of Cohesion Policy and provides a legal framework for the implementation of joint activities for actors at national, regional and local level from different member states (cross-border (Interreg A), transnational (Interreg B) and interregional (Interreg C).

At the European level, new structures have been formed for this purpose, the European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation / European Associations of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC/EGTC), which also include large regions, euroregions and eurodistricts; (meanwhile 81 EGTCs/EGTCs) also the development of European metropolitan regions with their own responsibilities and association structures within the member states or also across borders, represent new federal area structures. 

Various European associations have formed along the Rhine, such as the "Interregional Alliance for the Rhine-Alpine Corridor" (with 26 partners from Rotterdam to Genoa), the Euroregion "PAMINA" (Palatinat/South Palatinate, Middle Upper Rhine/Baden and North Alsace/Elsass), the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region (MRN, with Ba-Wü, Hessen, RLP), the trinational Upper Rhine metropolitan region (TMO with Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Alsace and the north-west cantons of Switzerland), or the Strasbourg-Ortenau Eurodistrict. The greater region of Saar-Lor-Lux is also linked to the Rhine line through the membership of Rhineland-Palatinate.

New federal structures towards a European federal state and demands on the conference on the future of Europe.

Such structures as the now 81 EGTCs can have the potential to influence the federalism debate and to promote the development towards a federal state of Europe, albeit “beyond” the previous terms and modalities. A discussion of the further development of the EU into a federal state with a constitution must therefore also aim to clarify the concept of "federalism" and a uniform understanding of federalism throughout Europe. 

In their policy paper published in March 2021, the JEF described the discussions on European federalism and rightly pointed out that “the distribution of competences in a federal system is not carved in stone, but represents living constitutional law. Because in federalism there are no definitive solutions, but a constant negotiation of the best approach to society's problems. Last but not least, the strength of federalism is that it allows ongoing democratic and dynamic discussion and at the same time is also constituted by it." (

The JEF policy paper on federalism ends with an invitation to engage with European federalism on an ongoing basis. Understanding the historical and ongoing development "around and around the Rhine" may contribute to this ongoing debate.

This undoubtedly and necessarily includes such events as the "Strasbourg Talks", but also in-depth academic talks and colloquia on "transnational regions" (–> LV Saar ?)

The resolutions and demands of the Federal Congress of the EUD should also be part of this: I would just like to refer to the recently passed resolution of the Federal Congress.

Strengthening the Europe of local authorities and regions

In it, the EUD calls for the role of the municipalities and regions to be strengthened as units close to the citizens through a mandatory hearing of the Committee of the Regions before the start of the actual legislative process for projects affecting municipal and regional self-government.

To this end, the EUD specifically demands that, as a first step, the EU Commission must carry out a more active subsidiarity check on all initiatives and legislative projects. As part of the necessary impact assessment/subsidiarity assessment, the ecological, social and economic effects on the municipalities and regions should also be examined more and more comprehensively.

Furthermore, the EU Commission is asked to submit proposals on how the new structures such as city federations and cross-border regional associations (European groupings of territorial cooperation, EGTC) and metropolitan regions can be given a stronger role and how their own responsibilities can be given in the "European decision-making concert".

I wish the Strasbourg talks every success and I look forward to further discussions and to the conclusions and resolutions on the Conference on the future of Europe.

peter schulze is chairman of Europa-Union Mannheim and a member of the state board of Europa-Union Baden-Württemberg. He is a founding member of the Europa-Union Luxembourg and worked as a European official at the European Commission in various policy areas in Brussels and Luxembourg until August 2019.

I am very happy to welcome him here as a guest blogger!

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