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The structure and functioning of the European Union

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 EU building in Brussels

The EU building in Brussels

the European Parliament

the European Council

the 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.

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About Phillip Smith (43 Articles)
Phillip Smith is a retired aircraft maintenance engineer and former serviceman. He has been a member of UKIP since 1995.

14 Comments on The structure and functioning of the European Union

  1. Sorry but I disagree with all comments and would rather be governed by eu than UK gov. made up of too many 620 non practical types. We found eu much more sensible to deal with via mep xxxx and modified directive requirements that hitherto were impossible through uk channels. Most of UK civil service has been established by people promoted beyond their level of competence and politicians do not have the savy to realise.
    We have lost influence in international matters, however the good bit is our overpopulated island will hopefully depopulate as the living standard falls.
    We need to improve eu not leave it!

  2. This is why we need to leave the EU!!! It is insane, and they make it this difficult so if we try to understand this maze we go insane and become totally spaced out and pliant.

    Oh, and by the way I didn’t finish reading this as boredom sapped all my strength away.

  3. But how to put this over publicly? Publish it in newspapers? Study material for a levels and universities? Unfortunately the TV is only good for sound bites.

    • You’d need a whole programme devoted to the topic, complete with digital diagrams, graphics, animation, stills, footage and super-teacher experts on getting difficult subjects over. But which TV channel would be prepared to go to all that trouble to present the facts in a digestible way? Certainly not the ever-EU-lovin’ BBC!

  4. Thank you for a great article. Sadly I think few voters would understand even if they could be bothered to read it.

    Nevertheless it should be posted far and wide, perhaps with a good sample of the ridiculous policies it seems to make.

    • That’s the whole point though: very few voters WOULD be able to understand it, because it’s an impossible hotch-potch of committees, commissions, councils, courts, regulations, directives and gobbledegook. The average taxpayer might look at it and think “I’m helping to pay for that bureaucratic mess run by unelected foreigners who don’t give a fig for me or anyone in this country.” Then he/she might vote NO on the referendum paper.
      I think it should be posted on the UKIP website with the invitation to “see how the EU decides how to spend your money on laws you don’t want” along with those samples you mention.

  5. Congratulations to Phillip Smith for a very clear and virtuously unbiased description.

    Here is my version.

    Every member state is governed by a collective of foreigners in which its own representation is limited by the size of its population, in the case of the largest countries 8.2% (UK, Germany,France, Italy) or as little as 0.8% for small countries (Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg, Slovenia).
    These foreigners are wholly unaccountable to the people of any member state except their own.
    No state has a veto on EU legislation whatever the will of its own parliament.
    The people elected to national parliaments in order to govern the countries making up the EU do not in fact do so since the majority of all legislation is EU legislation (over 60% in the case of UK, over 80% in the case of Germany) and the vast majority of that is not debated in national parliaments but simply signed off by government ministers.

    No national parliament is sovereign and they may exercise legislative authority only to the extent permitted by the EU.

    In the event of a dispute between the EU and a national government or parliament the EU’s enforcement agency, the ECJ, will do its best to rule against the nation concerned, since its remit is to further the EU’s rather than national interests.

    Every member state’s foreign, security and defence policies are coordinated by the EU’s unelected High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

    The EU is bound by the Lisbon Treaty to expand and this is the role of the EU External Action Service. Were the EU an actual state this would be illegal in international law.
    The authorised methods used by the EEAS are 1) to target poor countries, 2) offer the usually corrupt governments of these countries bucket loads of other people’s money for investment in infrastructure, (re)education, adapting its institutions to facilitate eventual accession to the EU, adopting EU laws progressively; 3) to offer the people of these countries freedom and democracy if they persuade their governments to join the EU; 4) to subvert the government and campaign for its replacement by a more compliant one if it fails to sign an accession agreement with the EU and turn its back on its other regional allegiances; 5) once the country is in the EU its sovereignty is transferred to Brussels so the accession country is now almost completely ruled by a foreign collective rather than the empowering democracy it was promised. Furthermore, it is no longer permitted to negotiate trade deals with countries outside the EU.

    Being a supranational government the EU invites lobbying from multinational companies, some of which are far larger than the smaller member states, and establishes committees or working parties of experts to decide what is best for corporations and the EU government and its agencies.

    Being supra-national also enables the EU to put multi-national companies on a par with nationally elected governments by giving them the right to sue national governments for passing legislation that damages their profits.

    Talk of such things as the national will expressed through democratically elected parliaments is considered by the EU elite as in extremely poor taste or even xenophobic or racist and plans are afoot to outlaw it as offensive.

  6. Well-presented.
    Nicely done!
    Now, we have to vote to make all of this irrelevant to the UK.

  7. Stephen Barraclough // August 5, 2015 at 8:07 pm // Reply

    Stephen Barraclough a few seconds ago

    Who in his right MIND wants to stay within a mess like this? It makes our Parliamentary system look sweet and easy (apart from being populated with so many LYING, DEVIOUS TREACHEROUS SELF-SEEKING, DOUBLE-DEALING,SNAKES-IN-THE-GRASS!) and a lovely place to be.

  8. Stephen Barraclough // August 5, 2015 at 8:06 pm // Reply

    Who in his right MIND wants to stay withina mess like this? It makes our Parliamentary system look sweet and easy (apart from being populated with so many LYING, DEVIOUS TREACHEROUS SELF-SEEKING, DOUBLE-DEALING,SNAKES-IN-THE-GRASS!) and a lovely place to be.

  9. Thanks for wading through that quagmire on our behalf. I’ve saved your article for future reference.

    • My sincere thanks as well. I am sending your article around to everyone I have on my list and asking them to pass it on in turn.
      May I ask all your readers to do this a well?

  10. I have read it through and can only suggest that this rigmarole of ruling makes our British political system look simplicity itself. This is the crux of the matter: in a democracy the system should be straightforward enough for anyone with reasonable intelligence to grasp and inform their voting intentions. The EU is an enormous exercise in deliberate obfuscation designed to deflect understanding and cause confusion as to where the power lies. Therefore, it is undemocratic and boils down to dictatorship of the few over the many. And we delivered ourselves into its rotten grip.
    It reminds me of the lines in Shakespeare’s Richard II:
    “This dear, dear land
    Dear for her reputation through the world,
    Is now leas’d out … Like to a tenement or pelting farm…
    With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
    That England, that was wont to conquer others,
    Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.”

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