How the EU functions is perhaps one of the most complex and thorny issues of all. For those unfamiliar with the EU, its structure, decision making process and composition can rapidly resemble a Byzantine maze built, for good measure, in a foggy bog.
How simple life would be if the EU had a seven article constitution such as that of the United States. The reason why this is not so is because the simpler the constitution the more federal and political the EU would become – and as already stated (bar some fringe groups) there is not much desire for the EU to evolve into a more political structure.
Like the British constitution the EU appears to be evolving organically – its roots are the European Coal and Steel Community. Every Treaty change and amendment represents another branch of an evolving plant.
Unlike the British constitution, however, the EU is governed by written Treaties specifying exactly what powers the EU does and does not have and how those powers are to be used.
The EU has often been compared to a club and that is perhaps the easiest analogy with which to begin. As with any club – be it a local foot-ball club, a library or London gentleman’s club, membership comes with certain rules that need to be respected by all (not just the few) and a membership fee.
In EU jargon, the club members (nation states) are referred to as the “member states”, whose interests, influence and concerns are represented through the European Council that meets in Brussels.
Representing the club’s interests and acting as Club Chairman is the Commission President. He has an administration to help him in this task; the European Commission. The incumbent Commission swears to represent the interests of the “whole” rather than the individual.
Offering democratic over-sight over the club is the European Parliament.
Acting as arbitrator of the rules, in cases of dispute, is the European Court of Justice.
In his/her capacity as “Chairman” of the club the Commission President proposes the laws to the member states sitting in Council and to the European Parliament. The Commission can not propose any old law. It has to find authority to do so from within the European Treaties. Both the Council and the European Parliament can prompt the Commission to act.
Before being enacted the law must be approved by the member states sitting in Council as well as the European Parliament. Approval is, in most cases, based on a majority vote. More politically sensitive matters such as tax require unanimous support before it can become law. Once on the statute book the laws have supremacy over national laws. Were this not the case there would be no harmony – only fracture.