Homewood: EU Law Concentrate 4e
The European Union has been criticized as 'undemocratic'. Critically evaluate the accuracy of this assessment by reference to the composition of the EU institutions and their respective powers in relation to law-making within the EU.
It is important when answering essay-style questions that you not only demonstrate knowledge of the relevant area, but also that you demonstrate an ability to analyse that knowledge.
You should begin by exploring the meaning of 'undemocratic' or 'democracy'. Definitions may vary, but are likely to include the idea that democracy relates to the engagement of citizens with political and law-making processes. This operates through their right to select and reject, in the electoral process, the persons whom they consider will best represent their interests in formulating law and policy.
It is worth noting that the accusation of a ‘democratic deficit’ within the EU goes beyond the institutions themselves. Thus, voter apathy in European elections, perceived complexity, etc. are all relevant and recognition of such enhances the answer. However, the focus of the question concerns the institutions and therefore discussion outside of this focus should be kept to a minimum.
The answer clearly requires consideration of each of the EU law-making institutions, the European Commission, the Council, and the European Parliament, including their composition and powers.
- The European Commission: not directly elected by citizens. Describe its composition, how Commissioners are appointed. Next consider the Commission's input into law-making and its power to initiate and draft proposed secondary legislation. You are likely to conclude that the Commission is not democratically appointed but has considerable power in the making of law and policy in the European Union, indicating that its composition and functioning is undemocratic. However, you may also consider the supervision of the Commission by other institutions which have greater democratic accountability.
- The Council: not directly elected by citizens. Do citizens nonetheless have some influence over the appointment of members of the Council? Describe the composition of the Council and how Council members are appointed. You might argue that there is an element of democracy in appointment in that the Council comprises ministers of the Member States who in many cases will have been indirectly chosen through national democratic processes. As to the Council's powers in law- and policy-making, these are considerable. Consider in outline the main law-making procedures, pointing out that the Council has extensive input into the framing of secondary legislation, as well as the ultimate power to approve it. You should also consider how far voting in the Council can be considered democratic. This entails discussion of unanimity, simple majority, and qualified majority voting and the extent to which these voting methods provide for representative decision-making.
- The European Parliament: the only EU institution that is directly elected by Union citizens but, arguably, the institution that holds the least power. You should evaluate the input of Parliament into the main legislative procedures recognising in particular, the development of what is now known (since Lisbon) as the ordinary legislative procedure. Thus, it is important to trace the development of Parliament's power from the beginnings of the EU. Originally, Parliament had the right merely to be consulted on secondary legislation but its input was increased as the cooperation and then the co-decision procedures were introduced and as co-decision (now ordinary legislative procedure) was gradually extended to more policy areas. You should also discuss the control that Parliament exerts over the executive through its power to approve the President of the Commission and the Commission; its power, by vote of censure, to dismiss the entire Commission; its powers of scrutiny, including the ability to question Commissioners orally or in writing; and its power to reject the annual budget.
- In conclusion: the fact that the European Parliament, the only directly elected EU institution, holds the least power supports the view that the EU is lacking in democracy. However, with the introduction of co-decision, its extension to more policy areas by amending Treaties and its current status as the primary procedure for legislative developments (as reflected in its renaming as the ordinary legislative procedure), this democratic deficit is being gradually addressed.
WHY THE EUROPEAN UNION WAS FOUNDED
What is now called the European Union was created in the aftermath of the Second World War at the initiative of France with the support of five other European states, mostly notably West Germany (as it then was). It was an economic initiative with an explicit political objective.The intention was that, by combining coal and steel resources and later by combining atomic energy resources and developing a common market for goods and services, this would make war between the member states effectively impossible. It should be remembered that the principal drivers of the concept – France and Germany - had gone to war against each other three times in less than a century: the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, the First World War of 1914-1918, and the Second World War of 1939-1945.In subsequent years, another nine states signed up to this proposition by becoming members.Once the Cold War effectively ended with the revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the new political imperative became the integration of the former Communist states to embed democratic institutions and free markets. Since 2004, 13 more countries have joined and 11 of them were formerly Communist. So what started as a form of economic union has always had fundamentally political objectives. Now that the European Union has 28 Member States, there are inevitably different approaches and different aspirations from different nations. Essentially there are two cleavages: first, between those who simply seek economic co-operation (notably the UK) rather than full-scale economic integration (such as those countries which have joined the Eurozone) and second, those countries that believe that economic integration does not require political integration (such as Greece) and those that believe that economic integration cannot work in the end without political integration (such as Germany). HOW THE EUROPEAN UNION HAS EVOLVED
What is now called the European Union has evolved over more than six decades, through a variety of institutional forms, which can be summarised as follows:
- European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) – This was created in 1952 by the Treaty of Paris of 1951 with six founding member states.
- The European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) - This was created in 1958 by the Euratom Treaty of 1957 with the same six founding member states.
- European Economic Community (EEC) - The EEC – often called the Common Market – was created in 1958 by the Treaty of Rome of 1957 with the same six founding member states.
- The European Communities (EC) – This was created in 1967 by the Merger Treaty as a result of the adoption of the same set of governing institutions for the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Atomic Energy Community, and the European Economic Community.
- The European Union (EU) – This was created in 1993 by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992 and was a renaming and strengthening of the European Communities.
THE GROWING MEMBERSHIP OF THE EU
What is now called the European Union has grown in stages, from an original six members to the current 28 members, as follows:
- 1951: Founding members: Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands
- Joined on 1 January 1973: Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom
- Joined on 1 January 1981: Greece
- Joined on 1 January 1986: Portugal, Spain
- Joined on 1 January 1995: Austria, Finland, Sweden
- Joined on 1 May 2004: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia
- Joined on 1 January 2007: Bulgaria, Romania
- Joined on 1 July 2013: Croatia
The European Union is not a state. But the easiest way to understand how its various institutions interact with one another is to use the analogy of a nation state, accepting that this is only a guide.So the European Council is in a sense the government or the executive of the EU – the body with ultimately the greatest power. However, unlike most nation states, its members are not draw from, or made members of, the legislature. Also, unlike in nation states, the Council does not propose legislation but has a joint role (with the Parliament) in approving legislation. The European Commission can be thought of as the civil service of the EU. However, unlike civil servants in most national states, it plays a very active role in advocating and promoting policy and it initiates all legislation.The European Parliament is the legislature of the EU. However, it does not have the authority or the power of a legislature in a democratic nation state. Instead it shares the legislative role of the EU with the Council.The European Court is in effect the judiciary of the EU. It rules on the exercise of powers by the other institutions in accordance with the various treaties which have been approved by the Member States.To understand more fully the powers and responsibilities of the various EU institutions, we need to look at each in turn and in more detail.THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL
The European Council is the institution of the European Union that comprises the heads of state or government of the Member States, along with the Council's own President and the President of the Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also takes part in its meetings. The European Council was established as an informal summit in 1975 and then formalised as an institution in 2009 upon the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon.Although the European Council has few formal powers specified in the treaties, for all practical purposes it is the supreme political authority of the European Union because of its political membership. It is the political powerhouse of the EU and defines its policy agenda. Formal powers include the following:
- It appoints its own President
- It appoints the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
- It appoints the President of the European Central Bank
- It proposes, to the European Parliament, a candidate for President of the European Commission
Most meetings of this kind do not involve the head of state of each member country but the national minister responsible for the subject under discussion. For these kind of meetings, the term the Council of the EU is used. The Council of the EU is a single legal entity, but it meets in 10 different 'configurations', depending on the subject being discussed. There is no hierarchy among the Council configurations, although the General Affairs Council has a special coordination role and is responsible for institutional, administrative and horizontal matters. The Foreign Affairs Council also has a special remit.
As with the European Council, the Council of the EU is chaired by the Member State holding the presidency of the Council with the exception of the Foreign Affairs configuration which is chaired by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs.The European Council and the Council of the EU have similar names and share the same buildings and staff - the General Secretariat of the Council (GSC) – but they have different roles and different membership.
Link: the European Council click here
THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION
The European Commission (EC) is the executive body of the European Union. Its main responsibilities are as follows:
- It proposes legislation to the Parliament and the Council
- It manages and implements EU policies and the budget
- It upholds the EU treaties and laws (jointly with the Court of Justice)
- It manages the day-to-day business of the EU
- It represents the EU around the world
Originally this institution was called the European Assembly and its members were appointed by the Governments of the Member States from the membership of the various national legislatures. Today the institution is called the European Parliament and, since 1979, all its members are directly elected by voters in the various Member States.Over the years, the European Assembly, and then the European Parliament, has acquired greater and greater budgetary and legislative powers, but it still does not have the equivalent role of a national legislature, sharing its power with the Council, and, unlike most national legislatures, not having the power to initiate legislation. The main powers of the European Parliament are as follows:
- It elects the President of the Commission.
- It approves (or rejects) the appointment of the Commission as a whole.
- It can subsequently force the Commission as a body to resign by adopting a motion of censure.
- Group of the European People’s Party (EPP)
- Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the EP (S&D)
- European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR)
- Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)
- Confederal Group of the European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)
- Group of the Greens–European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA)
- Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD)
the European Parliament click here
BBC broadcasting of the proceedings of the Parliament click hereTHE EUROPEAN COURTThe European Court of Justice is the highest court in the European Union in matters of European Union law. Its roles are:
- to interpret EU law
- to ensure equal application of EU law across all EU Member States.
- Directives which must be incorporated into the law of the Member States – each Directive includes a date by which this implementation must have been completed.
- Regulations which are legally binding in all Member States from the date(s) stated within them.
On a high turnout of 71.8% (the highest turnout in a UK-wide vote since the 1992 general election), 51.9% voted for the UK to leave the EU and 48.1% to remain in it. On 29 March 2017, the current British Prime Minister Theresa May activated Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon to give notice of the nation's intended withdrawal from the EU and there is now a period of up to two years for negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. The Article has only been in force since late 2009 and it has not been tested yet, so no-one knows how the Brexit (British exit) process will actually work and on what terms the UK will leave the EU.
Last modified on 29 March 2017
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