The EU was founded on the principle that members would strive towards ‘an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’. This has led to integration as member states have allowed more and more decisions to be made at a European level. As a result some previously national powers have moved from national governments to EU institutions. The EU is different to other international organisations because it has the power to create laws that member states must adopt.
Why has there been integration?
After World War II people wanted to make sure that the countries in Europe would never go to war again. They thought that the best way to do this was to make European countries dependent on each other. The idea was if Germany, France and their neighbours relied upon each other for trade in coal and steel (the main materials needed to produce weapons) then they would not be able to go war against each other.
How Europe became more integrated
In 1952 the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was established with six members; France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The ECSC was given the power to regulate the coal and steel markets across the member states. The ECSC was the first European supranational organisation, a form of organisation through which decisions are made by international institutions, not by individual states.
Following the creation of the ECSC some countries wanted to expand the areas of cooperation. So, in 1957, the European Economic Community (EEC) was established by the Treaty of Rome. This treaty first contained the words ‘ever closer union’. The EEC would eventually become the EU. It created a system of European governance based on the idea that countries should give up national sovereignty, the absolute power of nations to make decisions about their country, on certain issues. This would allow members to collectively achieve things that they could not achieve on their own.
Initially, the European Commission was created and was given some of the powers of a national government, including the power to propose new laws. In the 1980s some member states felt that economic integration was happening too slowly as not all countries could agree. Therefore, the second development was a system which meant that not all members had to agree on a policy for it to be passed.
Since the Lisbon Treaty came into force in 2009, the standard voting system in the Council of the European Union is Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). This means that in order to be passed, a proposal must be backed by 55% of member states, with countries supporting the proposal representing at least 65% of the EU population. In some areas, such as tax and foreign affairs, all countries still have to agree. The 2007 Lisbon Treaty increased the use of QMV, removing states’ power to veto changes in over 30 policy areas. This means that national sovereignty in these areas was transferred to the EU, as national governments no longer have the power to overrule the EU. National vetoes remain in tax, foreign and defence policy.
Britain negotiated the right to ‘opt-out’ of certain policy areas now covered by QMV, including Justice and Home Affairs.