Aims of the EU
To promote peace: one aim of the initial establishment of an economic union between European nations was to lessen the likelihood of another major conflict like that of World War One and World War Two.
To establish economic integration (the single market): The Single European Act of __1985 __aims to establish ‘four freedoms’- the free movement of goods, services, people and capital. This was achieved in a few ways, for example the abolishment of customs controls at borders, and the creation of EU-wide standards for products. The free movement of EU citizens to live and work in member states was agreed by the __1995 __Schengen agreement, although opt-outs to this were negotiated by the UK and Ireland. Temporary restrictions on this have been established in some states in response to the rising number of refugees arriving in Europe from countries such as Syria.
To establish and economic and monetary union: a single currency for EU member states, the Euro, was introduced in 1999. In addition, a European Central Bank was created. The aim was to make trade and travel more straightforward by eliminating fluctuating values of different currencies. In 2014, 19 states were members of the Eurozone. Britain and Denmark chose to opt out of the Euro, not wishing to cede economic sovereignty. The __2008 __financial crisis created problems for some Eurozone countries such as Greece and Ireland, who had run up large amounts of government debt. These nations were required to be bailed out with EU funds. In return for the bailouts, they had to sign up to agree to implement more controlled budgetary actions in the future.
To enlarge/expand: 10 new members were admitted to the EU in __2004 __(mostly former Soviet Union states). The aim was to ensure further unity amongst European nations and create a larger and potentially more prosperous trading bloc. States wishing to join needed to demonstrate that they were liberal democracies with functioning market economies. Concerns were raised over the possible increase in people from Eastern Europe moving to other nations in search of work and prosperity, potentially increasing the demand for jobs at the expense of the ‘host’ state’s population. Anxiety over these issues was perhaps a contributing factor to the UK voting to leave the EU.
To create social policy: the aim in this area was to ensure fair and equal treatment of workers and a level playing field for business. Worker’s rights are protected under EU laws (although this varies between states).
To establish political union: some institutions of the EU work in a balanced, intergovernmental way. Member states need to cooperate with each other in these when making decisions. Some decision-making power is held in ‘supranational’ bodies, which operate independently of nation-states:
- European Commission (supranational)
- Officials nominated by member states
- Proposes and enforces EU laws
- Prepares EU budget
- European Council (intergovernmental)
- Consists of heads of member states
- Takes strategic decisions, e.g. whether to admit new members
- Council of the European Union (intergovernmental)
- Consists of ministers from member states
- Discusses policy areas (e.g. environment)
- Works with European Parliament to adopt legislation
- European Parliament (supranational)
- Elected members
- Works with Council of the EU to adopt legislation
- Has influence on adoption of EU budget
- Accepts/rejects appointments to the Commission
- European Court of Justice (supranational)
- Enforces EU law
- Resolves disputes between states
In the Council of the EU, qualified majority voting is used- each state gets a number of votes in proportion to their population. Moves have been made to create a common foreign and security policy (for example, states pooling their resources for humanitarian reasons). The European arrest warrant allows wanted individuals to be moved from one member state to another. The Lisbon Treaty (2009) established the creation of a permanent European Council president, allowed for legislative proposals to be established with 55% of member state support, and established the Charter of Fundamental Rights, containing rights to education and healthcare, amongst other things (the UK refused to accept this as legally binding).
How successful has the EU been in achieving its aims?
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 EU in 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.