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Will ECOWAS Benefit from Being Transformed into a « Confederation of States »?

Alioune Sall , Moubarack Lo | August 17, 2020

The transformation of the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) into a « Confederation of States » is sometimes considered, including by the Heads of State of the Community, as a natural next step in the process of deeper integration in West Africa. The purpose of this study is to explore its feasibility and relevance, based on the experience of other continents. A confederation of states can be defined as an association of sovereign states which, by means of an international treaty, decide to delegate the exercise of their competences in specific areas to common bodies which will tasked with the mission of coordinating or harmonizing their policies in the relevant sectors. At the international level, the evolution of confederal experiences shows a certain instability of this political form, whether it is subject to a progressive (transformation into a federation) or regressive (return to the full and complete sovereignty of states) destiny. As far as ECOWAS is concerned, its transformation into a confederation would not, in itself, have significant legal and political implications, since there is nothing to prevent the designation of « confederation » from being a simple revision of the ECOWAS Treaty. On certain points, far from representing a qualitative step in the process of integration of the states, this reform could imply « steps backwards », in terms of decision making (which would henceforward be unanimous and not by qualified majority) or in terms of integrating community acts into national law. Thus, the only meaning of transforming ECOWAS into a « confederation » would be to explicitly conceive it as a step towards the implementation of a properly federal project.