Historical Archives of the European Union

Send in the troops? Not in this EU

Vibeke Sørensen Grant Fellow Pekka Pohjankoski, a doctoral candidate in Law at the University of Helsinki, is examining historical debates on the EU’s federal coercion power.

08/11/2021 | News - Research

In 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional. When the governor of the state of Arkansas refused to comply with the ruling, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock to enforce the law.

With this example from across the Atlantic, doctoral researcher Pekka Pohjankoski explains the focus of his research at the Historical Archives of the European Union (HAEU): the EU’s federal coercion power over its member states.

Pekka spent six weeks at the Archives with the support of the Vibeke Sørensen grant. He joined us from the University of Helsinki, where he is pursuing a doctorate in Law after having worked for several years at the European Court of Justice.

For Pekka, the fact that a full federal coercion mechanism does not exist in EU law raises some interesting questions. First, what can the EU do if a member state does not comply with a European ruling, and, secondly, what does it tell us about EU law? Is the lack of a strong federal coercion mechanism a problem, or is the balance of power between the EU and its member states fine the way it is?

Pekka’s inquiry into the EU’s federal coercion power has taken him to an examination of the negotiations surrounding the proposed establishment of a European Defence Community and those undertaken by the Ad hoc Assembly regarding the creation of a European Political Community. Records of these debates are held in the HAEU’s collections.

The treaty establishing a European Defence Community was never ratified, and the question of how to approach not only a common defence but also internal subversion from within the European Union remains relevant and open. 

“We are now closer to discussing European defence cooperation than we have been in many years,” explains Pekka, “and issues concerning the primacy of EU law continue to emerge.”

When asked about his research stay at the Archives, he remarks that it “has been fruitful, a very good stay that I wish could be longer.” For Pekka, speaking from his background in Law, the Historical Archives of the European Union represents an “underexplored and underexploited possibility for understanding the legal aspects of European integration history.”

The Vibeke Sørensen Grant aims at encouraging research on the history of European integration based on primary sources held at the Historical Archives of the European Union. Application deadlines for the grant are in March and June of each year. 

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