NEW WORLD ORDER: EUROPEAN UNION
(Region B – Europe)
Estimated Population (2022): 446,828,000
The European Union (EU) is a supranational political and economic union of 27 member states that are located primarily in Europe. The union has a total area of 4,233,255.3 km2 (1,634,469.0 sq mi) and an estimated total population of about 447 million. The EU has often been described as a sui generis political entity (without precedent or comparison) combining the characteristics of both a federation and a confederation.
Containing 5.8 per cent of the world population in 2020, the EU generated a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of around US$17.1 trillion in 2021, constituting approximately 18 per cent of global nominal GDP. Additionally, all EU states have a very high Human Development Index according to the United Nations Development Programme. Its cornerstone, the Customs Union, paved the way to establishing an internal single market based on standardised legal framework and legislation that applies in all member states in those matters, and only those matters, where the states have agreed to act as one. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the internal market; enact legislation in justice and home affairs; and maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. Passport controls have been abolished for travel within the Schengen Area. The eurozone is a group composed of the 19 EU member states that have fully implemented the economic and monetary union and use the euro currency. Through the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the union has developed a role in external relations and defence. It maintains permanent diplomatic missions throughout the world and represents itself at the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the G7 and the G20. Due to its global influence, the European Union has been described by some scholars as an emerging superpower.
The union was established along with its citizenship when the Maastricht Treaty came into force in 1993, and was subsequently incorporated as an international law juridical person upon entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009, but its beginnings may be traced to its earliest predecessors incorporated primarily by a group of founding states known as the Inner Six (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany) at the start of modern institutionalised European integration in 1948 and onwards, namely to the Western Union (WU, 1954 renamed Western European Union, WEU), the International Authority for the Ruhr (IAR), the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (EEC, 1993 renamed European Community, EC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), established, respectively, by the 1948 Treaty of Brussels, the 1948 London Six-Power Conference, the 1951 Treaty of Paris, the 1957 Treaty of Rome and the 1957 Euratom Treaty. These increasingly amalgamated bodies later known collectively as the European Communities have grown since, along with their legal successor, the EU, both in size through accessions of further 21 states as well as in power through acquisitions of various policy areas to their remit by the virtue of the abovementioned treaties, as well as numerous other ones, such as the Modified Brussels Treaty, the Merger Treaty, the Single European Act, the Treaty of Amsterdam and the Treaty of Nice. In 2012, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
After the creation by six states, 22 other states joined the union in 1973–2013. The United Kingdom became the only member state to leave the EU in 2020, several next countries are aspiring or negotiating to join it.
The European Commission (EC) is the executive of the European Union (EU). It operates as a cabinet government, with 27 members of the Commission (informally known as “Commissioners”) headed by a President. It includes an administrative body of about 32,000 European civil servants. The Commission is divided into departments known as Directorates-General (DGs) that can be likened to departments or ministries each headed by a Director-General who is responsible to a Commissioner.
There is one member per member state, but members are bound by their oath of office to represent the general interest of the EU as a whole rather than their home state. The Commission President (currently Ursula von der Leyen) is proposed by the European Council (the 27 heads of state) and elected by the European Parliament. The Council of the European Union then nominates the other members of the Commission in agreement with the nominated President, and the 27 members as a team are then subject to a vote of approval by the European Parliament. The current Commission is the Von der Leyen Commission, which took office in December 2019, following the European Parliament elections in May of the same year.
The governmental powers of the Commission have been such that some, including former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, have suggested changing its name to the “European Government”, calling the present name of the Commission “ridiculous”, likening it to a misnomer.
Powers and functions
The commission was set up from the start to act as an independent supranational authority separate from governments; it has been described as “the only body paid to think European”. The members are proposed by their member state governments, one from each. However, they are bound to act independently – free from other influences such as those governments which appointed them. This is in contrast to the Council of the European Union, which represents governments, the European Parliament, which represents citizens, the Economic and Social Committee, which represents organised civil society, and the Committee of the Regions, which represents local and regional authorities.
Through Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union the commission has several responsibilities: to develop medium-term strategies; to draft legislation and arbitrate in the legislative process; to represent the EU in trade negotiations; to make rules and regulations, for example in competition policy; to draw up the budget of the European Union; and to scrutinise the implementation of the treaties and legislation. The rules of procedure of the European Commission set out the commission’s operation and organisation.
Before the Treaty of Lisbon came into force, the executive power of the EU was held by the council: it conferred on the Commission such powers for it to exercise. However, the council was allowed to withdraw these powers, exercise them directly, or impose conditions on their use. This aspect has been changed by the Treaty of Lisbon, after which the Commission exercises its powers just by virtue of the treaties. Powers are more restricted than most national executives, in part due to the commission’s lack of power over areas like foreign policy – that power is held by the Council of the European Union and the European Council, which some analysts have described as another executive.
Considering that under the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Council has become a formal institution with the power of appointing the commission, it could be said that the two bodies hold the executive power of the EU (the European Council also holds individual national executive powers). However, it is the Commission that currently holds executive powers over the European Union.
The Commission differs from the other institutions in that it alone has legislative initiative in the EU. Only the commission can make formal proposals for legislation: they cannot originate in the legislative branches. Under the Treaty of Lisbon, no legislative act is allowed in the field of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. In the other fields, the Council and Parliament are able to request legislation; in most cases the Commission initiates on the basis of these proposals. This monopoly is designed to ensure coordinated and coherent drafting of EU law. This monopoly has been challenged by some who claim the Parliament should also have the right, with most national parliaments holding the right in some respects. However, the Council and Parliament may request the commission to draft legislation, though the Commission does have the power to refuse to do so as it did in 2008 over transnational collective conventions. Under the Lisbon Treaty, EU citizens are also able to request the commission to legislate in an area via a petition carrying one million signatures, but this is not binding.
The commission’s powers in proposing law have usually centred on economic regulation. It has put forward a large number of regulations based on a “precautionary principle”. This means that pre-emptive regulation takes place if there is a credible hazard to the environment or human health: for example on tackling climate change and restricting genetically modified organisms. The European Commission has committed EU member states to carbon neutrality by 2050. This is opposed to weighting regulations for their effect on the economy. Thus, the Commission often proposes stricter legislation than other countries. Owing to the size of the European market, this has made EU legislation an important influence in the global market.
Recently the commission has moved into creating European criminal law. In 2006, a toxic waste spill off the coast of Côte d’Ivoire, from a European ship, prompted the commission to look into legislation against toxic waste. Some EU states at that time did not even have a crime against shipping toxic waste; this led the Commissioners Franco Frattini and Stavros Dimas to put forward the idea of “ecological crimes”. Their right to propose criminal law was challenged in the European Court of Justice but upheld. As of 2007, the only other criminal law proposals which have been brought forward are on the intellectual property rights directive, and on an amendment to the 2002 counter-terrorism framework decision, outlawing terrorism related incitement, recruitment (especially via the internet) and training.
Once legislation is passed by the Council and Parliament, it is the Commission’s responsibility to ensure it is implemented. It does this through the member states or through its agencies. In adopting the necessary technical measures, the Commission is assisted by committees made up of representatives of member states and of the public and private lobbies (a process known in jargon as “comitology”). Furthermore, the commission is responsible for the implementation of the EU budget, ensuring, along with the Court of Auditors, that EU funds are correctly spent.
In particular the Commission has a duty to ensure the treaties and law are upheld, potentially by taking member states or other institutions to the Court of Justice in a dispute. In this role it is known informally as the “Guardian of the Treaties”. Finally, the Commission provides some external representation for the Union, alongside the member states and the Common Foreign and Security Policy, representing the Union in bodies such as the World Trade Organization. It is also usual for the President to attend meetings of the G8.
The European Commission organized a video conference of world leaders on 4 May 2020 to raise funds for COVID-19 vaccine development. US$8 billion was raised. The United States declined to join this video conference or to contribute funds.
The European Commission issued a new multi-year data plan in February 2020 pushing the digitalization of all aspects of EU society for the benefit of civic and economic growth.
The goal of this data strategy is to create a single market for data in which data flows across the EU and across sectors while maintaining full respect for privacy and data protection, where access rules are fair, and where the European economy benefits enormously as a global player as a result of the new data economy.
The European Council (informally EUCO) is a collegiate body that defines the overall political direction and priorities of the European Union. It is composed of the heads of state or government of the EU member states, the President of the European Council, and the President of the European Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also takes part in its meetings.
Established as an informal summit in 1975, the European Council was formalised as an institution in 2009 upon the commencement of the Treaty of Lisbon. Its current president is Charles Michel, former Prime Minister of Belgium.
While the European Council has no legislative power, it is a strategic (and crisis-solving) body that provides the union with general political directions and priorities, and acts as a collective presidency. The European Commission remains the sole initiator of legislation, but the European Council is able to provide an impetus to guide legislative policy.
The meetings of the European Council, still commonly referred to as EU summits, are chaired by its president and take place at least twice every six months; usually in the Europa building in Brussels. Decisions of the European Council are taken by consensus, except where the Treaties provide otherwise.
Powers and functions
The European Council is an official institution of the EU, described in the Lisbon Treaty as a body which “shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development“. Essentially it defines the EU’s policy agenda and has thus been considered to be the motor of European integration. Beyond the need to provide “impetus”, the council has developed further roles: to “settle issues outstanding from discussions at a lower level”, to lead in foreign policy — acting externally as a “collective Head of State”, “formal ratification of important documents” and “involvement in the negotiation of the treaty changes”.
Since the institution is composed of national leaders, it gathers the executive power of the member states and has thus a great influence in high-profile policy areas as for example foreign policy. It also exercises powers of appointment, such as appointment of its own President, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the President of the European Central Bank. It proposes, to the European Parliament, a candidate for President of the European Commission. Moreover, the European Council influences police and justice planning, the composition of the commission, matters relating to the organisation of the rotating Council presidency, the suspension of membership rights, and changing the voting systems through the Passerelle Clause. Although the European Council has no direct legislative power, under the “emergency brake” procedure, a state outvoted in the Council of Ministers may refer contentious legislation to the European Council. However, the state may still be outvoted in the European Council. Hence with powers over the supranational executive of the EU, in addition to its other powers, the European Council has been described by some as the Union’s “supreme political authority”.
The European Parliament (EP) is one of the legislative bodies of the European Union and one of its seven institutions. Together with the Council of the European Union (known as the Council and informally as the Council of Ministers), it adopts European legislation, following a proposal of the European Commission. The Parliament is composed of 705 members (MEPs). It represents the second-largest democratic electorate in the world (after the Parliament of India) with an electorate of 375 million eligible voters in 2009.
Since 1979, the Parliament has been directly elected every five years by the citizens of the European Union through universal suffrage. Voter turnout in parliamentary elections decreased each time after 1979 until 2019, when voter turnout increased by eight percentage points, and went above 50% for the first time since 1994. The voting age is 18 in all member states except for Malta and Austria, where it is 16, and Greece, where it is 17.
Although the European Parliament has legislative power, as does the Council, it does not formally possess the right of initiative as most national parliaments of the member states do, with the right of initiative only being a prerogative of the European Commission. The Parliament is the “first institution” of the European Union (mentioned first in its treaties and having ceremonial precedence over the other EU institutions), and shares equal legislative and budgetary powers with the Council (except on a few issues where the special legislative procedures apply). It likewise has equal control over the EU budget. Ultimately, the European Commission, which serves as the executive branch of the EU, is accountable to Parliament. In particular, Parliament can decide whether or not to approve the European Council’s nominee for President of the Commission, and is further tasked with approving (or rejecting) the appointment of the Commission as a whole. It can subsequently force the current Commission to resign by adopting a motion of censure.
The president of the European Parliament is the body’s speaker, and presides over the multi-party chamber. The five largest groups are the European People’s Party Group (EPP), the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), Renew Europe (previously ALDE), the Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) and Identity and Democracy (ID). The last EU-wide election was held in 2019.
The Parliament is headquartered in Strasbourg, France, and has its administrative offices in Luxembourg City. Plenary sessions take place in Strasbourg as well as in Brussels, Belgium, while the Parliament’s committee meetings are held primarily in Brussels.
Powers and functions
The Parliament and Council have been compared to the two chambers of a bicameral legislature. However, there are some differences from national legislatures; for example, neither the Parliament nor the Council have the power of legislative initiative (except for the fact that the Council has the power in some intergovernmental matters). In Community matters, this is a power uniquely reserved for the European Commission (the executive). Therefore, while Parliament can amend and reject legislation, to make a proposal for legislation, it needs the Commission to draft a bill before anything can become law. The value of such a power has been questioned by noting that in the national legislatures of the member states 85% of initiatives introduced without executive support fail to become law. Yet it has been argued by former Parliament president Hans-Gert Pöttering that as the Parliament does have the right to ask the Commission to draft such legislation, and as the Commission is following Parliament’s proposals more and more Parliament does have a de facto right of legislative initiative.
The Parliament also has a great deal of indirect influence, through non-binding resolutions and committee hearings, as a “pan-European soapbox” with the ear of thousands of Brussels-based journalists. There is also an indirect effect on foreign policy; the Parliament must approve all development grants, including those overseas. For example, the support for post-war Iraq reconstruction, or incentives for the cessation of Iranian nuclear development, must be supported by the Parliament. Parliamentary support was also required for the transatlantic passenger data-sharing deal with the United States. Finally, Parliament holds a non-binding vote on new EU treaties but cannot veto it. However, when Parliament threatened to vote down the Nice Treaty, the Belgian and Italian Parliaments said they would veto the treaty on the European Parliament’s behalf.