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Soviet and Post-Soviet Integration : Methods of Integration

The 1922 Union Treaty served as the fundamental law throughout the Soviet era. Even if the Union of Independent States that it was, lasted only one year (from the end of 1922 to 1924) and the fact that it was quickly replaced by a federal State, the legal conception of the Union remained that of a Union founded on a treaty of international law. This treaty also laid down the main principles governing the whole of the Soviet Union. So if we compile the Constitutions of 1924, 1936 and 1977, we find an identical integrative logic. The tools used by the Soviet Union since 1922 are as follows:

  • Subsidiarity

All Soviet constitutional documents provide for a form of subsidiarity since they begin with an attribution of competences between those granted to the Union and those which remain the responsibility of the so-called “federated” republics. This element is common to all Federations as we have always known them but it is remarkable that here, like the European Union, we considered from the start that the Union was something distinct from sovereign States, which compose it and that it derives its powers only from their prior agreement expressed through the Union Treaty of 1922.

  • Primacy

Likewise, all Soviet constitutional documents expressly provide for the primacy of Union law over the law of the federated republics (the term “national law” being reviled in view of socialist ideology). This is of course the inevitable reflection of the hierarchy of norms and of an efficient federal functioning of the Union.

  • Linguistic regime

If the first two elements are common to all the federated states of the world, the linguistic regime is the first element of a striking parallel between the Soviet Union and the European Union. Indeed, the Soviet constitutional documents provide for a translation into all the official languages ​​of the Federated Republics of the standards resulting from Union law. In addition, the “local” language is protected as local law was always edited first in the “local” language. Moreover, one of the emblems of the USSR bore the inscription “Workers of the whole world, unite”, written in the official languages ​​of the USSR (therefore 15 languages ​​in 1945). The Union tried to present itself as the great defender of peoples and cultures, while acknowledging the end of Russian domination over the peoples.

  • Union citizenship

Another interesting element: the system of Union citizenship. It is in terms of international law the Soviet nationality of course, but the regime within the USSR was particular because one spoke of a “citizenship of the Union”. (Soviet citizenship) and “nationality” (the nationality of the Federated Republic from which one comes from). Thus a Ukrainian was, within the meaning of Soviet law, a Ukrainian national having Soviet citizenship by virtue of his nationality of a Member State of the Union. This element was therefore intended, as in the European Union, to give rights to citizens while creating a feeling of common belonging to the Union as such, to overcome national divisions.

  • Interpretation of Union law

This element is particularly interesting because the Constitution of 1924 expressly provides for a recourse open to the Supreme Courts of the Federated Republics to request an interpretation of Union law from the Supreme Court of the USSR. This is of course a question of a method of integration which has proved its worth in the European Union: the unified interpretation of Union law. If in the European treaties there is a recourse to the preliminary question within the framework of an existing dispute, the USSR preferred a more vague formulation within which the choice to request an interpretation is left to the Supreme Courts of Federated republics.

  • Settlement of disputes between member states

Another element which reinforces the idea of ​​state sovereignty is that mechanisms for settling disputes between member states are provided for by the 1924 Constitution. Thus any dispute between States is settled by the Supreme Court of the Union, empowered to do so by the Treaty of Union and the Constitutions resulting from this treaty.

  • Committee system

Last element to note, the formation of the executive of the Union. If, in a very revolutionary conception, the legislative and executive powers are held by the Congress of People's Deputies, the executive power is vested in a Central Executive Committee between the annual sessions of the Congress. This Committee is divided between a Council of the Union which represents the population of the Union, and a Council of Nationalities which represents the “sovereign States” of the Union. For a bill to be adopted, or for a regulatory decision to be taken, they must be adopted by an absolute majority of each of the Councils. Thus the Union played on the balance between national demands and at the same time a more advanced integration towards the integrated body which was the Council of the Union.

Thus the Soviet Union can be conceptualized as being an embodiment of functionalism, because it has competences only for specific objectives desired by the member states. Even if these play a role in the decision-making process, it should be noted that the USSR does not have an intergovernmental character : in fact, most of the power is supposed to be in the hands of the people represented by the Congress. Thus a form of democratic legitimacy is given to the Union, which allows it to detach itself from the will of the States that it will henceforth supervise.

By passing quickly on these elements, one can thus only be surprised by these elements of comparison between the USSR and the European Union. One could even almost say that the USSR, by its attempt to integrate newly independent states into a primarily political and international Union, and not a monolithic national entity, foreshadows the European Union. But this idea would be misleading because the true nature of the Soviet Union is not to be found in these legal texts but its practice of power: that is to say the absolute domination of the Communist Party and the mass repression carried out by the State police.


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