The Composition of the European Union

The European Union consists of 27 member states, with nearly 500 million inhabitants.  Its member states account for nearly 30 per cent of global output.

The European Union has evolved progressively.  The original six members (France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) were joined by Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Denmark in 1973, Greece in 1980, Portugal and Spain in 1986, Sweden, Austria, and Finland in 1995.

Eight former communist central and eastern European countries, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Poland, together with former Soviet Republics of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania together with Malta and Cyprus joined in May 2004.  Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007. Croatia joined in 2013.

The United Kingdom ceased to be a member of the European Union on 31 January 2020. However, it remains subject to all EU laws on much the same terms as a member state during the transitional or implementation period scheduled to end on 31 December 2020. The UK no longer participates in EU institutions the transitional or mentation period may be extended to 31 December 2021 31 December 2022 under the EU UK withdrawal agreement by joint agreement of the EU UK made before 1 July 2020

Unique Governmental Institutions

There is nothing like the European Union anywhere else in the world. Membership has profound consequences.  EU member states have given up their sovereignty, their right to make, change and enforce their laws, across a wide range of matters.  The member states pool their sovereignty in those areas in order to make common rules and policies which apply across the European Union.

In return for each EU state giving up its sovereignty in the areas concerned, the citizens and businesses of all EU states are conferred with unique and important rights including full and effective freedom to trade with or establish themselves in another EU state on much the same terms as in their home state.

The EU treaties establish institutions which make administer and enforce EU law in the defined areas. These institutions include the Council comprising members of the government of each state which makes law in conjunction with the directly elected parliament, the Commission which administers and enforces EU law much like a government and EU Courts which together with domestic courts give effect to EU law rights throughout the union.

The EU treaties define the extent and terms of EU power and shared sovereignty. They are the legally binding constitution of the European Union. EU laws must be made in accordance with the governmental and institutional provisions of the treaties. The laws themselves must be within the areas of competence defined by the treaties.

The treaties have been amended from time to time. In broad terms, the areas of competence of the European Union have expanded and evolved. There have been stops and starts along the way. Ireland and the United Kingdom and in some cases the United Kingdom only has opted out of certain areas of EU cooperation. Ultimately following a referendum on 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom decided to leave their European Union.

Sovereignty and  Accountability

The European Union and its predecessors are often described as supranational organisations. In this context supranational organisation or institution is one that has governmental or governmental like powers. The EU has its own institutions of government administration lawmaking and courts. The nature of all these institutions and the extent of the powers are defined in the European Union treaties.

In the areas prescribed by the EU treaties European institutions can make laws in accordance with the treaty rules. In many areas those laws are made by a qualified majority which means that they may become binding on member states without their consent. In practice most proposals for law are negotiated extensively, are the subject of very full consultation and are usually made in practice, with the consent of all member states. However within the scope of the treaties the European lawmaking institutions namely the EU Council and the EU Parliament can make laws which are contrary to the wishes of the government of the state concerned (which is represented on the EU Council and all of its members of the European Parliament. The courts of the member states guided ultimately by the European courts are obliged to give effect to European Union law over national law. They are obliged to diapply any inconsistent provision of national law.

The there are European courts to which courts on member states must refer any uncertain point of EU law. The European Union courts have developed the key freedoms under the treaty namely free movement of goods workers capital and services in ways which have the effect of invalidating and cutting through inconsistent national laws. Sometimes their decisions have been controversial and have seemed to go beyond earlier understandings of the position. Nonetheless their interpretation of the European Union laws and in particular the general principles and freedoms which are somewhat nebulous is binding and effect must be given to it by all states.

EU states are obliged to comply with an excuse EU law automatically. States can be subject to sanctions for failure to comply. The commission is the guardian of the treaties and they take action against governments for non-implementation or improper implementation of EU laws.

Brexit and the Evolution of the EU

To understand Brexit, both its cause and background and its likely effect, it is necessary to understand what the European Union is what it does and how it came to be. The European Union is unique. There is no other international institution or arrangement that has the same degree of powers or integration. The EU Treaties establish institutions including a government and administration (the Commission) a law-making arm (the Council and Parliament jointly) and courts which enforce EU law.

Over nearly 70 years, The European Union has evolved from being a community of six states dealing with coal and steel to a community of 27 (28 pre-Brexit) states which act as one across most business and economic areas as well as a wide range of social and political areas. It has come to be described as the European Union although it is a not a state or a federal state.

Leaving the EU involves the United Kingdom disentangling over 45 years of shared EU laws across the whole economy and taking an undefined path away from the remaining member states. The process is itself complex, and the effect is likely to be profound. Much of what has been taken for granted in everyday life and in business may be affected. The balance of advantages and disadvantages for the UK in leaving the EU will become apparent only in hindsight.

Direction of Travel

It is fair to say that the deal that is EU membership has changed over time and may continue to change in the future. A common criticism from a UK perspective is that the UK joined a common market and ultimately found itself in something, just short of a federal state. Since the outset and the notorious recital in the original EEC Treaty of an “ever closer union, “there are those who argue that the EU is on a journey to a unified federal state. Seen from this perspective, many in the UK believe that they have disembarked before it is too late.

The direction of travel points to ever closer union, but the journey also shows very significant breaks and limitations. There has been significant resistance to further integration and an effective two speed, or more accurately multispeed Europe in many key areas for almost 30 years. Many believe that the survival of the EU requires further accommodation   of differing preferences in relation to degrees of integration.

Entering the 2020s, it appears likely that further significant integration of the EU states will be limited over the next decade. Political integration does not appear to have much support in any of the member states. More nationalist leaning governments have taken power in several EU states. There are fewer areas of competence left which member states might agree to transfer. Any such transfers would require the agreement of such states through significant amendments to the Treaty.

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