From the Maastricht Treaty in nineteen ninety

From its inception against the backdrop of a warring Europe, the European Union evolved into one of the largest political organisations in the modern world. Whilst it could be seen as having helped provide a degree of stability across the continent, for many the means employed to achieve this meant individual nations giving up too much of their self-determination. It is through examining the structure of the European Union and its institutions that we aim to determine what effect it has had on the sovereignty of the member states comprising it.The institution now known as the European Union has undergone many alterations from its initial configuration. Beginning as the European Coal and Steel Community in the early fifties, its express intention was to better regulate the essential materials of war (Watts, 2006). Ratification of the Treaty of Rome in nineteen fifty seven led to the creation of the European Economic Community (Lynch and Fairclough, 2013), with it not being until the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in nineteen ninety two -also delineating the present three pillar structure- that it would become formally known as the European Union (McCormick, 2011). During this time the membership increased at different stages such as the southern enlargement of the nineteen eighties where Greece and Spain joined; also since then in two thousand and four ten new members, predominately from Eastern Europe, were granted entry (Leach, Coxall and Robins, 2011). Signed in two thousand and seven, the Treaty of Lisbon amended previous treaties and clarified the organisations mission today (McCormick, 2011). Whilst the European Union is now one of the largest bureaucratic institutions in the world employing over forty five thousand people (Cini and Perez-Solorzano Borragan, 2013), it has remained of paramount importance that the values outlined under its six key titles being that of dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, citizens rights and justice should be upheld (McCormick, 2011). Some of the changes which have occurred however may have affected its ability to do this, as well as impacting upon its key bodies.    Located in Brussels city centre, the Commission of the European Union in certain respects is at the very heart of the organisation. It is considered to be the guardian of the treaties  acting in the interests of the European Union as a whole(McCormick, 2011). As such the Commission is thought to be supra-national in nature, operating above the levels of national governments(Bache, George and Bulmer, 2011). Acting as the executive arm of the European Union, the Commission is the only body which can propose laws within it and is additionally considered responsible for ensuring the implementation of legislation across all twenty eight member states once passed (Bache, George and Bulmer, 2011). This in conjunction with their setting of the annual budget and implementation of spending give the Commission an extensive degree of power though this is not of a totally unchecked nature (McCormick, 2011) Parliament can in fact force the entire Commission to resign through passing a motion of censure (Cini and Perez-Solorzano Borragan, 2013). Commissioners themselves meanwhile are appointed by national governments of member states pending the approval of Parliament and the Council, serving five year renewable terms and being headed by an increasingly powerful president (Cini and Perez-Solorzano Borragan, 2013). In conducting their business weekly meetings are held where motions can be assented to either through a written procedure involving a degree of legal scrutiny, or by an oral process whereby Commissioners simply state if they are in agreement without such external oversight (McCormick, 2011). The informal nature of these meetings along with the fact that the Commission has not published its accounts since the mid-nineties, have led to criticisms that it lacks transparency (Follesdal and Hix, 2006). Problematic also is that the body which holds the greatest financial and legislative power in the union is unelected and therefore difficult to hold to account, leading many to feel that one of the central problems with the Commission and in the European Union in its entirety is this democratic deficit it suffers from with member states subject to rules passed by a body which is made up by appointment ( Follesdal and Hix, 2006).National interests of individual member states meanwhile are considered to be championed by the Council of the European Union. Comprised of government ministers from each member state, the agenda of the meetings determines who is sent to the Council so foreign ministers will meet when foreign affairs are on the agenda for instance (Cini and Perez-Solorzano Borragan,2013).Furthermore, the Council has a presidency which is rotated on a six month cycle, in theory giving each member state the opportunity to exert influence equally (Cini and Perez-Solorzano Borragan, 2013). The Council itself contains nine different agencies, of which the Committee of Permanent Representatives -COREPER- holds a certain prominence as it provides the European Union with the views of national governments preventing it from seeming quite so disconnected (McCormick, 2011). Moreover the Council is considered central to decision making with all legislation being sent to them with their express approval being a pre-requisite for ratification (Bache, George and Bulmer, 2011). Developments have led to this process moving to one of co-decision, whereby Parliament now holds more parity of decision making power with the Council (Bache, George and Bulmer, 2011). The matter being addressed dictates the decision making method utilised, with some requiring simple majorities whilst others necessitate a qualified majority vote or even unanimous support in cases such as treaty amendments (McCormick, 2011). Therefore the Council could be seen to represent the autonomous nations of the union operating inter-governmentally in comparison to the supra-national Commission (Cini and Perez-Solorzano Borragan,2013). However it remains not directly elected and its activities often lack transparency (Follesdal and Hix. Since the Council holds substantial decision making authority the extent of its influence does somewhat impinge upon the sovereignty of member states (Follesdal and Hix, 2006). Parliaments are generally seen as being an electorates connection to governance, however the European Parliament is not quite the same as others. Of the main institutions only Parliament is directly elected, with all seven hundred and fifty members facing five year election cycles (Bache, George and Bulmer, 2011). Unconventionally Parliament itself is split between the three locations of Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg, and it could be considered somewhat atypical in other respects (McCormick, 2011). Within Parliament itself for instance, MEP’s will sit grouped according to political ideology, rather than along national lines (McCormick, 2011). They act to supervise the rest of the union, submitting questions to be asked of the Council and overseeing the day to day management of policies( Cini and Perez-Solorzano Borragan, 2013). Parliament has actually in certain respects gained greater clout over time, particularly since Maastricht as now it has equality of legislative power with the Council of Ministers and through co-decision Parliament must give its approval for legislation to successfully progress towards implementation (Bache, George and Bulmer, 2011). However, its role could still be considered to be more revisory in nature as they can only propose changes to legislation and it is troublesome for some that the body which gives the citizens representation holds so little power comparatively to two unelected bodies (Follesdal and Hix, 2006). Indicative of this are the typically low turnouts exhibited at european parliamentary elections with Parliament being considered by some to not be particularly well understood (Follesdal and Hix, 2006).   Law making in the European Union involves the cooperation of all three main institutions and its primary method is sometimes known as the ordinary legislative process. Beginning with the Commission drafting the proposal this is then submitted to both Parliament first and then the Council for its first readings (McIver, 2016). Bills can take the form of a regulation which is binding across all member states or a directive which leaves it up to respective governments to achieve a target in ways they deem appropriate (McIver, 2016). At reading stages, legislation can be adopted as is if no objections are raised in what may be considered a more simple route legislation can pass (https://europa.eu,(2017). Alternatively, upon potential amendments being tabled, draft bills are sent back first to Parliament for the second reading stage after the Council has come to a common position which the Commission has overseen (McIver, 2016). The second reading allows both institutions to propose changes, at which point it is possible for the Commission to chair a conciliation committee, inviting representatives from both Parliament and the Council to come to an agreement on a joint version of legislation (Cini and Perez-Solorzano Borragan, 2013). Third readings allow both bodies a final opportunity for examination at which point legislation is either adopted formally or rejected and flat rejection at any stage signals a bills failure (McIver, 2016). Whilst this is a cooperative process and there is a degree of interdependence between institutions, the majority of the power could be viewed as resting with unelected bodies which are not accountable to an electorate (Follesdal and Hix, 2006). Parliament instead only revises legislation meaning European laws which supersede those of sovereign national governments are largely formulated outside of the influence of any Parliament or democratic mandate (Follesdal and Hix, 2006).  Aiding integration may be one of the European Unions more admirable objectives though the degree to which this is successful is not unilaterally clear. Member states do not all view the European Union in an overly positive light, as Britains recent decision to leave presciently illustrates (Mason, 2016). The political climate in Britain had being one of increasingly low levels of competence satisfaction with Europe, perhaps best illustrated by the consistently low turnouts in european parliamentary elections for some time (Banks, 2014). Such antipathy could be seen to have manifested in the rise of the UK independence party, as UKIP went from a fringe group to actually winning a nationwide election2014: national share of vote%CON 23.93%LAB 25.4%LD 6.87%UKIP 27.49%SNP 2.46%Greens (E) 7.87%Other 2.65% (Source: www.theguardian.com)and achieving their aim when Britain voted leave (Mason, 2016). They consistently reiterated that the European Union was damaging British national sovereignty and were particularly critical of the Commission (Leach, Coxall and Robins, 2011). The supra-national nature of the Commission meant principles such as the free-movement of people applied to Britain regardless of what Britons felt about their immigration policy, with this dissonance being central to the leave campaign during the referendum (Blenkinsop, 2016). The Commission ensures legislation is enforced across the continent and can impose sanctions for non-compliance, however as a body which is appointed rather than elected some see this as overstepping its remit, unduly interfering with sovereign governments (Blenkinsop, 2016). Ideally, disputes between member states and the European Union would be resolved through the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg (McCormick, 2011). This court holds supreme legal authority in the Union, capable of overruling British court decisions which critics argue undermines the national justice system(Mason, 2016). Other member states do not necessarily share such views. Germany as one of the strongest economies in the union tend be more amenable as they exercise a large degree of influence through holding the most seats in the European Parliament (Cini and Perez-Solorzano Borragan, 2013). Additionally, newer members such as Bulgaria who benefit from being in an economic union which can support them financially tend to view this organisation more favourably; in fact in a recent survey Britain had the second lowest level of trust in the European Union and may be viewed as something of an outlier or an anomaly (European Commission, 2017). Britain may be seen having a some what atypical relationship as a member state being one of the few nations not to join the common currency of the Euro (McCormick, 2011). Regardless of such caveats for many Britons the impingements imposed upon national sovereignty was of primary importance in their decision to leave the European Union. Fundamentally going forward, the increasing diversity of the European Unions membership could itself create difficulties. Proposed in recent times for instance has been that Turkey should join, however increasingly under President Erdogan Turkey has had a problematic human rights record which goes against the core principles which are the backbone of the European Union(Uras, 2017).The range of different economic strengths too across the union has posed its own problems, as stronger nations such as Germany have been asked to come to the aid of the seemingly perpetually failing Greek economy as such raising questions about how well suited countries of such different levels of economic strength and development are to being in a harmonious political union(Smith, 2017). Admirable as the idea may be, it could perhaps simply not be pragmatic. In summation therefore, the European Union has evolved exponentially from its foundation aiming to create greater solidarity across the continent. Although, the methods by which they have sought to bring this about may be seen as having interfered with member states national sovereignty in ways which have irrevocably affected all parties. As the European Union continues to look to further expand eastwards, the balancing of their supra-national principles, whilst also respecting the rights of independent governments becomes of heightened importance as the organisations borders expand ever further.Bibliography:Bache, I,. George, S,. and Bulmer, S. (2011) Politics in the European Union. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Banks, M. (2014) Vote turnout in May’s European elections was lowest ever. Online Available at:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/eu/11015823/Voter-turnout-in-Mays-European-elections-was-lowest-ever.html (Accessed 11 December 2017).  Blenkinsop, P. (2016) From trade to migration- how Brexit may hit the EU economy. Online Available at: https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-eu-economy-europe/from-trade-to-migration-how-brexit-may-hit-the-eu-economy-idUKKCN0ZA0KE (Accessed 9 December 2017).Cini, M and Perez-Solorzano Borragan, N. (2013) European Union Politics. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.European Commission, (2017) Public opinion in the European Union Key trends. pdf Available: file:///C:/Users/Owner/Downloads/eb87_keytrends_annex_en.pdf.Accessed: 11 December 2017.Follesdal, A and Hix, S. (2006) Why There is a Democratic Deficit in the EU: A Response to Majone and Moravcsik. Journal Of Common Market Studies. Vol.44(3), pp.533-62. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.https://europa.eu.(2017) How EU decisions are made. Online Available at: https://europa.eu/european-union/eu-law/decision-making/procedures_en (Accessed 1 December 2017). Leach, R., Coxall, B., and Robins, L. (2011) british politics. 2nd ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Lynch, P and Fairclough, P. (2013) AS UK Government and Politics. 4th ed. Deddington: Hodder Education.Mason, R. (2016) How did UK end up voting to leave the European Union?. Online Available at:https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/24/how-did-uk-end-up-voting-leave-european-union (Accessed 10 December 2017). McIver, I. (2016) The European Union – The Legislative Process. Online Avaialble at:http://www.parliament.scot/ResearchBriefingsAndFactsheets/S5/SB_16-39_The_European_Union_The_Legislative_Process.pdf (Accessed: 1 December 2017).McCormick, J. (2011) european union politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.McCormick, J. (2011) Understanding the European Union A Concise Introduction. 5th ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Smith, H. (2017) Greek gloom as economy stalls amid latest bout of EU wrangling. Online Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/apr/08/greece-last-protesters-diehards-rise-up-compromise-syriza-eurozone (Accessed 4 December 2017).Uras, U. (2017) EU cuts Turkey funding after ‘democratic deterioration’. Online Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/11/eu-cuts-turkey-funding-democratic-deterioration-171119093145715.html (Accessed: 8 December 2017). Watts, D. (2006) British Government and Politics a Comparative Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.www.theguardian.com. (2014) European Elections:UK results. Online Available at:https://www.theguardian.com/politics/ng-interactive/2014/may/25/european-elections-uk-results (Accessed 11 December).

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