Success of EU
Arguments to suggest the EU has been successful in achieving its aims include:
- The single market has made the EU one of the world’s most powerful economies and has promoted trade and prosperity
- The EU has extended workers’ rights over a range of areas.
- The EU has promoted increasing political union with greater co-operation, and has arguably contributed to the longest period of peace in the continent’s history
- The EU continues to grow and expand, with many countries wishing to join, which could be said to be a testament to its success
Arguments to suggest the EU has not been successful in achieving its aims include:
- Economic difficulties in the Eurozone have undermined confidence in the monetary union
- The free movement of people has proved controversial (particularly during the refugee crisis in 2015)
- There has been resistance to increasing political union, with concerns over increasing bureaucracy and the lack of democratic accountability of EU institutions
- In July 2016, the UK became the first member state to trigger the process of leaving the EU, which may lead to similar demands in other member states such as France
The Role of the EUIn Policy Making
Treaties: these set out the powers and structure of the EU and its institutions. They are negotiated by the European Council through the heads of government, and are then voted on by the European Parliament, before being ratified by each member state (usually through a vote in its legislature, although in Ireland a referendum is constitutionally required).
Directives and regulations: EU directives are goals for EU member states to work towards, which they can pass their own laws to achieve (for example, the directive to limit the time people work for, addressed by the 1998 Working Time Directive in the UK). Regulations are more binding- they are rules member states must adopt immediately. The European Council starts the legislative process by setting out an overall aim or goal for a law. Then, the European Commission proposes a specific new law. Then, the Council of the EU and European Parliament decide on how the law can be adopted, before it is passed. The European Council and Commission implement the law, and if a member state is not complying with the law, the Commission can bring a case to the European Court of Justice.
The Impact of the EUOn the UK
The Common Fisheries Policy: the aim of this was to preserve fish stocks, by introducing a quota of the amount of fish that could be caught. This created controversy in the UK over the Factortame case. UK law was that, in order to fish in UK waters, fishing boats needed to have a majority British crew (this was to protect British fishing boats from competition). This conflicted with the EU law that EU member states had equal access to each other’s waters. A Spanish fishing company argued that they were unlawfully being prevented from fishing in UK waters, and the European Court of Justice (backed up by the Law Lords) ruled in favour of the Spanish company. In addition, grievances were raised over the fact that fish had to be thrown back into the sea to meet quotas.
The Social Chapter: this was part of the 1991 Maastricht Treaty and aimed to establish guaranteed rights for workers, for example, equal rights for full and part-time workers, entitlements to parental leave and paid holidays. John Major refused to sign the UK up to this, fearing that businesses would be disadvantaged. Tony Blair did adopt the Social Chapter in 1997, but did not want to sign up to future expansion of EU social policy, to strike a balance between workers’ and business freedoms and rights.
Impact on UK Political System
- Profile of the PM has been heightened, as they attend European Council meetings. Cameron was very visible in renegotiating the terms of UK EU membership
- The foreign secretary also attends European Council, and Council of the EU meetings, raising their profile. Other ministers responsible for policy affected by the EU are also involved in negotiations with their counterparts. Mostly ministers rely on the work of the civil servants working for the EU (COREPER)
- A committee on European affairs has been set up for cabinet members to develop UK policy towards the EU, coordinating the work of government departments
- Parliament must examine EU laws, and proposed legislation from the EU must be reviewed by the Commons European Scrutiny Committee, although the amount of EU legislation makes this difficult to perform effectively
- Some policy areas affected by the EU are now devolved to regional institutions. The UK Parliament therefore consults with devolved governments in policy-making in these areas
- The above relationship is set to change due to Brexit. Negotiations will take place over the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and there have been divisions amongst ministers and MPs as to what those terms should be. Eurosceptics favour a ‘hard Brexit’, which would see the UK give up full access to the single market and customs union (meaning tariffs would be introduced when trading with other countries), and have complete control over its borders. Others favour a ‘soft Brexit’, where the UK would give up its seats and MEPs on EU institutions, but retain access to the single market, meaning that the ‘four freedoms’ would have to be retained.
- The issue of Scottish independence has been raised again by the Brexit vote, as the majority of Scotland voted to remain in the EU. The SNP has sad that Scotland should not be taken out of the EU against the wishes of its people, and that the only way for Scotland to have EU access is for it to become an independent country. However, calls for ‘indyref2’ were weakened by the decline in SNP support in the 2017 general election.
- The EU has power over some policy areas, but not others. For example, trade, the single market, social and employment, agriculture and fisheries, and environmental policy is the preserve of the EU, or at least the EU negotiating with member states. Areas such as defence, taxation, healthcare and education remain the exclusive preserve of the UK.
The above factors have led to two alternative conclusions about the EU and its impact on the UK. Those who feel that the EU has impacted the UK negatively suggest that membership has led to a loss of national sovereignty, the lack of ability to control the nation’s borders (and therefore a rise in net migration), restricted possible trading opportunities with non-EU states, and handed over control over several policy areas to the EU. These views led to the demands for a referendum on membership, leading to the 2016 referendum. The alternative view of the EU is that, by pooling sovereignty, the UK is strengthened, and that in a globalised interconnected world this is the sensible direction for the UK to take. In addition, the EU has guaranteed important rights for workers and has established safety standards for products, and that, by being part of the single market, the prosperity of the UK is strengthened.
- The EU has successfully achieved its aims. - Analyse and evaluate this statement. (25 marks- three arguments for and against)
- Your answer should include: Trade / Prosperity / Workers / Rights / Peace / Growth / Free / Movement / Political / Union / Accountability / Leave