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The political structure of the
The common institutions mix the
Although direct elections take place every five years, there are no cohesive political parties in the national sense. Instead, there are alliances of ideologically associated parties who sit and vote together in Parliament. The two largest parties are the European People's Party (centre-right, mostly Christian Democrat) and the Party of European Socialists (centre-left, mostly Social Democrat) with the former forming the largest group in Parliament since 1999. As well as there being left and right dividing lines in European politics, there are also divides between those for and against European integration (Pro-Europeanism and Euroscepticism) which shapes the continually changing nature of the EU which adopts successive reforming treaties. The latter was a significant political force in the United Kingdom in the decades and years before leaving the Union, and some member states are less integrated than others due to legal opt-outs.
- The functioning of the Union shall be founded on representative democracy.
- Citizens are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament. Member States are represented in the European Council by their Heads of State or Government and in the Council by their governments, themselves democratically accountable either to their national Parliaments, or to their citizens.
- Every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. Decisions shall be taken as openly and as closely as possible to the citizen.
- Political parties at European level contribute to forming European political awareness and to expressing the will of citizens of the Union.
The democratic legitimation of the European Union rests on the Treaty System. The move toward unification first arose in the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928, which gained adherent countries during negotiations and took on a theme of integration for the achievement of peace between the Great Powers. After the Second World War, European society sought to end conflict permanently between states, seeing the rivalry between France and Germany as the most worrying example. In the spirit of the Marshall Plan[how?], those two states signed the Treaty of Paris in 1951, establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. Since then, the Treaty of Paris, which focused on price setting and competition for purposes of a common market, has been superseded. The legal basis for the European Community now rests on two treaties: The Treaty of Rome of 1958; and The Treaty of Maastricht of 1992. The various additions and modifications of treaties has led to a patchwork of policy and planning, which contributes to the unwieldiness of the EU. The pastiche of treaties, and not a single actualising charter of government, form the constitutional basis of the European Union. This ambiguity is what critics call a primary cause of "democratic deficit."
The EU itself is a
The competences of the European Union stem from the original Coal and Steel Community, which had as its goal an integrated market. The original competences were regulatory in nature, restricted to matters of maintaining a healthy business environment. Rulings were confined to laws covering trade, currency, and competition. Increases in the number of EU competences result from a process known as functional spillover. Functional spillover resulted in, first, the integration of banking and insurance industries to manage finance and investment. The size of the bureaucracies increased, requiring modifications to the treaty system as the scope of competences integrated more and more functions. While member states hold their sovereignty inviolate, they remain within a system to which they have delegated the tasks of managing the marketplace. These tasks have expanded to include the competences of free movement of persons, employment, transportation, and environmental regulation.
Types of legislation
The Ordinary Legislative Procedure (OLP) is the formal, main legislative procedure. In OLP, the European Parliament (EP) and the Council act in much the same way as a bicameral congress, such as the British Upper and Lower Houses or the American Congress. The co-decision rule in Maastricht, and the subsequent Lisbon Treaty, ultimately gave the EP and the Council equal weight and formalised OLP as the main legislative procedure. It also gives the EP veto power. The two legislative powers of the OLP are directives and regulations. A directive requires the member states to pass the new law individually, a process called "transposition." The difference in the timing of completing transposition is the "democratic deficit." A regulation acts on all the member states at once and is effective immediately.
The other legislation option is the Special Legislative Procedure (SLP). The SLP consists of the passing of laws proposed by member states, the Central Bank or Investment Bank, or the Court of Justice. Judicial activism—the interpretation of the spirit of law rather than the letter of law—is handled by the SLP. The procedure is discussed either in the EP with consultation with the council, or in the council with participation of the EP. In other words, the consultative role stops short of the equal weight given to both the EP and the council. While provided for in the treaties, the SLP is not as formal as the OLP, relying less on the hierarchical structure. This lends more credence to Kleine's argument of the contrariness of the EU's agenda-setting procedure.
Mechanics of legislation
In the OLP, there are four types of rulings: Regulations, Directives, Decisions, and Recommendations. Decision-making is shared by the European Parliament and the council, which are equally weighted. Regulations are binding on all member states effective immediately. Directives are binding on all member states, but the implementation is left up to the national courts in a process called transposition. However, since member states set their own timelines for transposition, there is a democratic deficit between states. Decisions are binding on non-state litigants to whom they are addressed. Recommendations are intended to guide legal judgments and are non-binding, similar to opinions.
In the SLP, the council is the sole ruling body. The European Parliament is involved strictly in a consultative role and can be ignored.
There are twenty-seven
Some member states are outside certain areas of the EU, for example the eurozone is composed of only 20 of the 27 members and the Schengen Agreement currently includes only 23 of the EU members. However, the majority of these are in the process of joining these blocs. A number of countries outside the EU are involved in certain EU activities such as the euro, Schengen, single market or defence.
The European Parliament shares the
The European Council is the group of
Council of the European Union
The Council of the European Union (informally known as the Council of Ministers or just the council) is a body holding legislative and some limited executive powers and is thus the main decision-making body of the Union. Its
The European Commission is composed of one appointee from each state, currently twenty-seven, but is designed to be independent of national interests. The body is responsible for drafting all
The commission is led by a
Direct elections take place to the European Parliament every five years. The Council and European Council is composed of nationally elected or appointed officials and thus are accountable according to national procedures. The commission also is not directly elected although future appointments of the President must take into account of results of Parliament's elections.
Parliament's elections are held by
Political parties in the member states organise themselves with like-minded parties in other states into
The EU's chief diplomat, sometimes dubbed its
- Multi-facet as it is carried out through different venues namely the External Action of the EU (Part Three with Titles I, III, V, VIII, XIX, XX, XXI and Part Five with Titles II, III, IV and V of the TFEU).
- Multi-method as it is materialised through different venues, in practice this means that it happens in two different legal settings, the first two policy field (CFSP and CSDP) are regulated through the supranational), in the second we see the presence of actors such as the Commission and the European Parliament playing a rather important role whereas in the intergovernmental method, the decision lies in the hands of the Council under unanimity.
- Multi-level because it is embedded in the international level with different international organisations (UNO, IMF, NATO and WTO). Member States are also members of these organisations adding new actors into the game. The EU itself is a member of some of these and in practice this mean that Member States have other options to "pick from".
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.
"Counter-nationalistic shearing stress" is the term coined by one commentator for the theoretical tendency of certain regions of larger countries of the EU to wish to become fully independent members within the wider context of the European Union's "bigger umbrella". If the Union is to become "ever closer", it follows that regions with their own distinctive histories and identities within the existing member nations may see little reason to have a layer of "insulation" between themselves and the EU. The surprisingly close vote on
- Miller: 1928, The Paris Peace Pact (London, G.S. Putnam's Sons) pp. 26-29
- As outlined in Title I of Part I of the consolidated Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union
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