Politics of the European Union

Politics of the European Union

The European Union is a unique entity possessing elements of intergovernmentalism, supranationalism and a multi-party parliamentary democracy. Issues such as foreign affairs are currently conducted primarily between member states.


As per the Maastricht Treaty of 1991, the Union's political scene is divided into three pillars; the European Community, which is the Supranational element, and two primarily intergovernmental elements; the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters. It should be noted that the latter two have supranational elements, although not as strong as in the Community.

The powers afforded to the Union fall within one of these pillars. More sensitive areas are pooled into the primarily intergovernmental pillars. The Union rarely has exclusive control over an area even in the Community pillar. [ [http://europa.eu/scadplus/glossary/eu_pillars_en.htm Pillars of the European Union] europa.eu] ("For details of the powers, see: The three pillars")


The Union is composed of its twenty-seven member states. They retain all powers not explicitly handed to the Union, except those handed to further subdivisions within member-states, such as in the German and Belgian federations. Enlargement of the Union's membership is a major political issue, with division over how far the bloc should expand. While some see it as a major policy instrument aiding the Union's development, some fear over-stretch and dilution of the Union. [ [http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meetdocs/committees/afco/20020417/443686EN.pdf EP Draft report on division of powers] europarl.europa.eu] [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/2266385.stm Q&A: EU Enlargement] news.bbc.co.uk]

Some member states are outside certain areas of the European Union, for example the Economic and Monetary Union is composed of only 15 of the 27 members and the Schengen Agreement currently includes only 21 of the EU members. However the majority of these are in the process of joining these blocs. A number of countries outside the Union are involved in certain EU activities such as the euro, Schengen, single market or defence. Even though some countries, such as those in the European Economic Area, have a high degree of integration, they have no representation in EU institutions. [ [http://www.ecb.int/bc/intro/html/index.en.html#map ECB: Introduction: Euro area] ecb.int] [ [http://europa.eu/scadplus/leg/en/lvb/l33020.htm Schengen acquis and its integration into the Union] europa.eu] [ [http://ec.europa.eu/external_relations/eea/index.htm European Economic Area] ec.europa.eu] [ [http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meetdocs/2004_2009/documents/dv/091006eubattlegroups_/091006eubattlegroups_en.pdf EU Battlegroups] europarl.europa.eu]


The primary institutions of the European Union are the European Commission, the European Council, the Council of the European Union (Council) and the European Parliament. The first two are a form of executive branch;

The Commission exercises control over agencies, proposes and drafts legislation and ensures application of the law. It is composed of one Commissioner per member-state, although are supposed to remain above national politics, and one of their number leads the body as the President. Each Commissioner is given a portfolio with a related Directorate-General (DG). In simplified terms, one could compare the roles of the President, Commissioners and DGs as the Union's Prime Minister, Ministers and Ministries. However there are important differences in powers. [ [http://europa.eu/institutions/inst/comm/index_en.htm European Commission] europa.eu]

The European Council has no official powers in the treaties, however it is composed of the heads of state and government of the Union's member states and therefore hold the considerable power not delegated to the Union's supranational institutions. The body also appoints the President of the Commission (based on the Parliament's elections) as well as the CFSP chief. In simplified terms along the lines above, the role of the council could be compared to that of a head of state. [ [http://europa.eu/european_council/index_en.htm European Council] europa.eu]

The Council and Parliament form the legislative branch of the Union. The Council is formed of national ministers while the Parliament is directly elected. Depending upon the area concerned their relationship differs with sensitive areas under greater control of the national ministers. In most cases, where the matter comes under the supranational European Community, both chambers have equal powers to pass, amend or reject legislation. [ [http://europa.eu/institutions/inst/council/index_en.htm Council of the European Union] europa.eu] [ [http://europa.eu/institutions/inst/parliament/index_en.htm European Parliament] europa.eu]

Treaties and law

The Union is based upon its treaties; they form its constitutional law, institutions, powers and so forth. There have been numerous treaties each amending and building upon the previous, transferring more powers to the Union and to the Community. [ [http://europa.eu/abc/treaties/index_en.htm Treaties and Law] europa.eu]

Laws made by the Union supersede those made by national governments ("See: Factortame case"). There are three forms of binding legislative acts the Union can pass: a regulation, which is a directly applicable law; a directive, which constitutes a framework of objectives which a national law must be based on to meet the stated aims; and a decision which applies only to a particular issue.

In passing laws, institutions use numerous legislative procedures; depending upon which is used, the balance of power between the Council and Parliament is altered. The most common is the Codecision procedure which gives equal position to both institutions.


Elections are held in the Union's member-states according to their own rules. Their elected heads of state and government form the European Council and national ministers form the Council of the European Union. The European Parliament is the only directly elected institutions of the Union. Elections take place every 5 years by universal suffrage of EU citizens according to national restrictions (such as age and criminal convictions). Proportional representation is used in all parliamentary constituencies. [ [http://www.europarl.europa.eu/facts/1_3_4_en.htm The European Parliament: electoral procedures] europarl.europa.eu]

The first such election was of the EC-9 in 1979. The latest and upcoming elections are below;

Political parties

Political parties in the member states organise themselves with like-minded parties in other states into political parties at European level. Most parties are a member of one of these, there are currently 11 recognised parties which receive state funding. They do not operate like the largely unitary national parties and few develop comprehensive manifestos.

The parties are present in all institutions but have most impact in the European Parliament. Most organise themselves with other parties, non attached national parties or independents to form a political group. No party has ever held a majority in the Parliament, this does not have a great affect as it does not form a government but there is usual a coalition between the two major parties to elect the President of the European Parliament. [ [http://www.euractiv.com/en/Fixed/groups/EU-political-parties.htm European Parliament] euractiv.com] [ [http://www.civitas.org.uk/eufacts/FSCIT/CIT3.htm Party Politics in the EU] civitas.org.uk] [ [http://assets.cambridge.org/97805218/06251/sample/9780521806251ws.pdf European Parliament and Supranational party system] cambridge.org]

The latest European Parliament elections are now taken into account by leaders when appointing the President of the European Commission, hence in 2004 the Commission President came from the European People's Party, who were the largest party following the elections.

Foreign affairs

The Union's foreign affairs are driven by its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Foreign policy is still largely the domain of the member-states. The most visible face of the Union's foreign policy is the High Representative of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana. The High Representative has become a powerful figure on the Union's political scene being not only in charge of foreign policy but of the European Defence Agency as well as being the Secretary Generals of the Council and the Western European Union.


The Financial Perspective for 2007–2013 was defined in 2005 when EU members agreed to fix the common budget to 1.045% of the European GDP. [PDFlink| [http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/en/misc/87677.pdf Financial Perspective 2007–2013] |236 KiB , Council of the European Union, 17 December 2005. Accessed 25 January 2007.] UK Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed to review the British rebate, negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1984. Former French President Jacques Chirac declared this increase in the budget will permit Europe to "finance common policies" such as the Common Agricultural Policy or the Research and Technological Development Policy. France's demand to lower the VAT in catering was refused. [" [http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/01/30/business/vat.php Poles block EU deal on lower VAT] ", "Times Online", 31 January 2006. Accessed 24 January 2007.] Controversial issues during budget debates include the British rebate, France's benefits from the Common Agricultural Policy, Germany and the Netherlands' large contributions to the EU budget, reform of the European Regional Development Funds, and the question of whether the European Parliament should continue to meet both in Brussels and Strasbourg.

The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE), commonly referred to as the European Constitution, is an international treaty intended to create a constitution for the European Union. The constitution was rejected by France and the Netherlands, where referendums were held [" [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4601731.stm Varied reasons behind Dutch 'No'] ", BBC News Online, 1 June 2005. Accessed 24 January 2007.] causing other countries to postpone or halt their ratification procedures. The constitution now has an uncertain future. [" [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4596005.stm Q&A: EU constitution's future] ", BBC News Online, 10 May 2006. Accessed 24 January 2007.] [" [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4268094.stm EU admits constitution is on ice] ", BBC News Online, 21 September 2005. Accessed 24 January 2007.] As of February 2007, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Romania, Slovenia and Spain have ratified the constitutional treaty. Finland, Germany and Slovakia have completed parliamentary procedures required for ratification. Spain and Luxembourg held referendums, thus in those member states the constitution was ratified by popular vote. [" [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3954327.stm EU constitution: Where member states stand] ", BBC News Online, 9 May 2006. Accessed 24 January 2007.] In June 2007, a preliminary agreement on a new Reform Treaty was reached. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6232540.stm EU leaders agree on reform treaty] , BBC News, Accessed June 27 2007.]

ee also

* List of European Union directives

External links

* [http://www.europa.eu/ Official EU website: Europa] europa.eu
* [http://elections.online.fr/ European Elections Online] (in French) elections.online.fr
* [http://www.ena.lu?lang=2&doc=20992 European NAvigator: The three pillars of the European Union] ena.lu
* [http://ec.europa.eu/comm/external_relations/cfsp/intro/index.htm Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)] ec.europa.eu


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