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EU Ref Series #1: How we got to Political Union. And what is it?

Just Signed! The Maastricht Treaty and EU heads of state.

Political Union is a process. It has been and remains the long-term goal of the European Union. This type of integration involves the passing of policy making and political process to the centralised government in Brussels, taking political power from national sovereign governments.

Since the Treaty of Rome in 1957 the EU has evolved considerably. Beyond its remit as an economic community towards a political and economic supranational actor. In the subsequent years since Rome, the EU has acquired a Capital City, Brussels. A flag, an anthem, common citizenship, a passport and a currency, the Euro. Furthermore, the EU has taken control of vast policy areas of which many people have no idea. From Agriculture and Fisheries to Transport, Trade, Energy and the Environment.

So for example, when people ask why the British Government is not doing more to save our crisis-ridden steel industry, the simple answer is: it can’t. Plucked straight from Her Majesty’s government website this quote demonstrates the stranglehold the EU has our elected representatives in. “Some state aid is illegal under EU rules because it distorts competition in a way that is harmful to citizens and companies in the EU…In principle, state aid is not allowed in the EU”. 

Interestingly, what this shows is that Britain, just like every other EU member state has to accept the direct effect and the supremacy of EU law over competing national law. Many people are unaware of this, some find it hard to believe and some find it very hard to stomach. This issue is further exasperated by the fact that the European Commission (effectively the EU government) is completely unelected. Over time, this institution has become worryingly independent of member states, for example the national veto was replaced with qualified majority voting in the early 2000’s. The points in this paragraph show that while there has been an ongoing process of political integration, alongside this there has been an increasing and widening democratic deficit.

It comes down to the question of How, and by Whom do we want to be governed? The options are clear. An elected British Polity or a far-flung Brussels appointed Bureaucracy? The EU governs Britain through regulations and directives, and is legally aloud to do so under the treaties. Shockingly the EU passes hundreds of directives and over 1.5 thousand regulations every year, most of which are put under no proper scrutiny by the UK media and public. Directives in particular show the supremacy of EU law over our own. Directives are normally addressed to all member states as they involve harmonisation procedures. Some directives are drafted so tightly that there is little room to manoeuvre for national parliaments. Most importantly, if a member does not implement a directive by the date set by the EU, it may be referred to the European court of justice. The last point demonstrates that we are not just governed by Brussels, but that they will prosecute us if we think a directive is not in our national interest.

Since its formation the EU has focused on institutional and legal frameworks so it can exert the kind of influence talked about in the previous paragraph. However, no matter how much it integrates and no matter how supranational a policy maker it becomes, the EU needs one thing more than anything…Justification. That is to say, the EU has not yet proved to the UK why we need it. You only need to look at the fact that Britain is the only member state still seriously debating whether to be a member or not. The reason the EU is not justified to the British is that we cannot see why we have to pool our sovereignty, or accept supremacy of EU law, or pay such a large sum into the budget, when we get little back. In a modern 21st century world, the EU has not justified why it is relevant.

The Europhiles often use the fact we are living in a modern 21st century world as an excuse for political union and the pooling of sovereignty. However the two are not synonymous. In the current world we need to co-operate and trade with our neighbours and other member states. We need to tackle difficult issues together and always use diplomacy over force where possible. But being a member of the EU does not ensure any of this. As Margret Thatcher said “working more closely does not require power to be centralised in Brussels or in an appointed bureaucracy”. In fact on 55 occasions (since 1996) in which the UK voted ‘no’ to a measure put before the Council the measure passed anyway because the UK was outvoted. This shows that to an extent, the UK cannot achieve its political ambitions within the EU.

Political Union as stated in the opening line of this article, is a process. Ever-closer union binds the EU. Therefore, politics will become more and more centralised in Brussels over time. The pooling of sovereignty is likely to become more intense, especially as the EU only knows one way to deal with the multiple crisis it faces: More Integration. This will likely become an excuse for more blatant supranationalism, where the EU can find a common goal, and use it as an excuse to subordinate all other national interests, in turn giving the unelected commission a free run at more policy making.

Overall political union has come a long way since the Treaty of Rome. What is disturbing is that the transfer of power only seems to be going one way and no one accurately knows what the end game of the Brussels government is. This referendum will be a key test on whether the EU has justification in the UK and also gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves the question “How and by whom do we want to be governed?” By any measure there is a dreadful lack of democracy in the EU and this is getting worse alongside political integration, not better. Political Union, therefore, is an undemocratic process, a system of policy making implemented by an institutional and legal framework, rather than by any national justification

About Alex Kelly

Profile photo of Alex Kelly
Alex Kelly is a political blogger currently focusing on the EU referendum from Lancaster, UK. He is also a student at Loughborough University and is currently writing a dissertation on the role of nostalgia in the rise of UKIP. He tweets at @thepoliticsguy2 and posts articles at http://www.thepoliticsguy.co.uk

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