This must be one of the most boring subjects ever!
Some years ago I waded through the treaties, protocols, and annexes until I was losing the will to live, to better understand what we are up against. I have written this in the format of a lecture, to try and inform us of what we are up against in the hope that a bit of extra knowledge may help when canvassing on the doorsteps. This is what I have come up with.
European law is made effective in Britain by the European Communities Act 1972, section 2 in particular. European law itself basically consists of two treaties: the “Treaty on European Union” (teu), which is the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, as amended; and the “Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union” (tfeu), which is the 1957 Treaty of Rome, as amended. All the other treaties that you have heard of: Lisbon, Nice, Amsterdam, and so on are all just treaties that amend these two main treaties. There are also protocols and annexes that are part of these treaties and a Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU that has the same legal value as the treaties, although its application in Britain and Poland is limited by Protocol 30.
The main institutions that administer the EU are listed in Article 13 (teu) as:
the European Parliament
the European Council
the European Commission
the Court of Justice of the European Union
the European Central Bank
and the Court of Auditors.
There is a variety of committees stemming from these institutions and also the European Investment Bank, which is a separate entity from the European Central Bank.
The European Parliament consists of 749 members at the moment including 11 from Croatia, which joined in 2013. Article 14 (teu) limits the number to 751 and also states that no member state shall have more than 96 MEPs; only Germany has 96 MEPs at the moment. The UK has 73 MEPs. The Parliament elects its own President (currently German Martin Shultz) and officers from within itself. It also elects the Commission President, but does so following a proposal from the European Council. Its main function is to exercise law-making functions along with the Council (not the European Council).
The European Council consists of Heads of State or Government of member states, plus its President (currently Poland’s Donald Tusk) and the President of the Commission. Its main function is to define general policy of the Union.
The Council, however, is the law-making body, along with the European Parliament, and consists, in various complex configurations, of a representative of each member state at ministerial level, who can cast the vote of that state. It acts by qualified majority voting unless otherwise stated in the Treaty article in question.
Up until 31 October 2014, the commission consisted of one Commissioner from each member state, including the President (currently Luxembourger Jean-Claude Junker) and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (currently Italian Federica Mogherini). After 1 November 2014 the composition of the Commission was supposed to change to a reduced number, chosen by a complex system of rotation which was outlined in Article 17 (teu). However there are still 28 Commissioners in the 2014-2019 Commission. The Commission acts as the civil service of the Union, but it also has the sole power to propose most legislative acts (Article 17 teu). The Commission is a very powerful institution.
The Court of Justice of the European Union consists of a number of different courts, some specialised, with judges appointed by member states. There is a detailed statute covering the court at Protocol 3.
The European Central Bank, together with national central banks, constitutes the European System of Central Banks, which gets a bit complicated. There is a detailed statute covering the banking system at Protocol 4.
The Court of Auditors consists of one appropriately qualified national of each member state, appointed by the Council on proposals from member states. They are appointed for six years at a time. Articles 285 – 287 (tfeu) refer.
The two main advisory bodies of the EU are the Economic and Social Committee, which consists of a variety of representatives of civil society; and the Committee of the Regions, which consist of elected representatives of regional and local bodies, or those accountable to them. Both these institutions are covered by Article 300 (tfeu). There is also the European Investment Bank, which finances European projects on a non-profit making basis. There is a detailed statute for the EIB at Protocol 5, which includes the amount each Member State is liable for.
That is a brief summary of the structure of the European Union and its institutions. Let us now have a look at how this behemoth functions.
The second sub paragraph of the third paragraph of Article 4 of the Treaty on European Union requires member states to: “… take any appropriate measure, general or particular, to ensure fulfilment of the obligations arising out of the Treaties or resulting from the acts of the institutions of the Union.” This is what obliges us to do as we are told by the EU. There are five basic acts of EU institutions, three of which are binding.
Regulations: these are effectively a law in their own right and are directly applicable to all member states.
Directives: these require member states to implement them by incorporating their provisions into national law.
Decisions: these are binding only on those to whom they are addressed.
There are also Recommendations and Opinions, but these are not binding.
How European legislation is made. There are two legislative procedures, the ordinary procedure and the special procedure. The individual Article should specify the procedure applicable to it.
The ordinary legislative procedure is laid out in Article 294 (tfeu) and begins with a proposal from the Commission to the Parliament and the Council. If both agree the proposal is adopted as is; if anyone disagrees there is a complex system of horse-trading to be followed until the proposal is either adopted as amended or dropped.
The special legislative procedure, which is laid out in paragraph 2 of Article 289 (tfeu), is where acts are adopted either by the European Parliament with the participation of the Council, or the Council with the participation of the European Parliament.
Let’s just recap on the function of the main institutions.
The European Parliament, along with the Council, makes the legislation. However, it can normally only legislate on a proposal from the Commission.
The European Council is the heads of government, their President and the President of the Commission, and they decide the general policy direction of the union. They, as an institution, do not create legislation.
The Council, along with the European Parliament, makes the legislation. However, they can normally only legislate on a proposal from the Commission.
The Commission is supposed to be the civil service of the EU. It executes the budget, manages the programmes and exercises coordinating, executive and management functions. In other words, it runs the show.
How the Council votes are cast depends on the individual Treaty Article, but the default system is Qualified Majority Voting. This is a system by which each member state is allocated votes according to its size. However after 1 November 2014 it got a lot more complicated and now depends on percentages of participating Council members and populations of participating member states. This is described in Article 238 (tfeu).
The two main Treaties can be amended in two ways, both laid out in Article 48 (teu): the ordinary revision procedure, which is a long and complex procedure that is effectively a new amending treaty, such as Lisbon, and requires ratification by all member states. The simplified revision procedure only applies to the Part Three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (tfeu), which is the bit about Union Policies and Internal Action. This procedure does not allow the EU to increase its competences (ie. power), and is enacted by a unanimous Decision of the European Council after consulting the European Parliament and Commission, and the Central Bank in the case of monetary changes.
I suspect that, by now, those of you who are still reading this must be totally confused. This is a very complicated subject and it is written in euro-gobbeldygook, probably by design. It is, however, the law of the land and it rules our lives at the moment.
Getting us out from under this nightmare is what we in UKIP are about and I believe that it helps to know as much about the opposition as you can.