A series of one-day seminars, organised by Kari Palonen & Henrik Stenius


22 March 2011 from 2 pm to 6 pm at the University of Helsinki, Metsätalo building, Unioninkatu 40, lecture hall 24


The Swedish historian Gunnar Wetterberg proposed in 2010 that the Nordic countries should establish a United Nordic Federation. Although politicians generally rejected the proposal as utopian and unrealistic, Wetterberg did succeed in provoking a vivid debate on the nature and prospects of Nordic cooperation.

However, the concept of federalism itself remained in the background of this discussion. Federalism has for long been central to the scholarly and political discussion in Europe, not least in connection with European integration. It is well understood that historically federalism has been defined in many different ways and deployed for many different purposes in different parts of Europe and the world. This seminar will compare and discuss different uses of federation and federalism, from the Holy Roman Empire and France during the revolution, to the discussions in contemporary Europe and the Nordic countries. This will provide a background for a discussion of different understandings of federalism, as well as to a discussion of the historical and contemporary examples to a projected Nordic federation.


Johan Strang, Introduction: Nordic Cooperation, Nordic Federation?

Hans Erich Bödeker, Federalism and the French Revolution

    In the summer of 1793, when the term federalism, first was used in everyday vocabulary of the French Revolution, only few contemporaries were ready to lay claim to it. Federalism was used almost entirely as a term of abuse by those who wished to cast doubt upon the political credentials of their opponents. To the critics of federalism, its central feature was a willingness to sacrifice national unity for the interests of individual cities or regions. Thus, federalism was depicted as the obvious antithesis of nationalism, by the Jacobins, the protagonists of the ideology of the nation. In 1793 revolutionary nationalism had become intolerant of local initiative, had become determined to impose national unity from the center Paris. The fact that France was embroiled in foreign war seemed to make the criticism of federalism as another manifestation of localism more pertinent and more damning.

Peter Haldén, The Return of Republicanism: Political Thought Before and Beyond States, Unions, Federations

    How two or more autonomous powers could combine in various kinds of association is of perennial interest to politicians and scholars. We have gradually lost the ability to think of such associations outside a spectrum ranging from state/federation to system of states/confederation. However, there are several examples of entities that do not conform to this spectrum, for example the EU. Continental Early Modern and classical traditions of republican political thought offer a way to understand entities like the EU but also the Holy Roman Empire (1648-1806) and the Deutscher Bund (1815-66) on their own terms. Normative concepts are central to the operation and survival of such entities. While historical republics were rich in such concepts, the EU lacks them, which compounds its crisis.

Heikki Mikkeli, Two Traditions of European Federalist Thought

    European federalist thought can be divided into two traditions which basically correspond with the two Early Modern ideas on sovereignty: state sovereignty and people’s sovereignty. One may even draw a parallel with the medieval ideas on ascending and descending modes of power, or the Latin words foedus (a pact) and fides (trust). First of these European federal traditions, constitutional federalism, represents a more centralized way of federal thinking while the other tradition, social federalism, relies more on the principle of subsidiarity. In this presentation I shall briefly consider the history of these two traditions and point out some possibilities for future research on European federalist thinking.

Panel discussion on The United Nordic Federation
with the speakers and invited participants.


Johan Strang, PhD, is a researcher at the Centre for Nordic Studies at the University of Helsinki.

Hans Erich Bödeker is a Senior Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for History in Göttingen.

Peter HaldénPhD, is a researcher at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at the Uppsala University.

Heikki Mikkeli, PhD, is University Lecturer in History at the University of Helsinki.

- - - -

The network is affiliated with the Centre for Nordic Studies at the University of Helsinki and the Institution for Political Science and Philosophy at the University of Jyväskylä. Scholars interested in the work of the network and wishing to receive more information of future events, should contact Jani Marjanen, secretary of the network, at