Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Whether we regard the European Union to be a political regime, an international organization, or a regional state, it is an entity like no other. The European Integration Project went much further than any other comparable effort at international cooperation. No surprise then, that when scholars evaluate other regional integration efforts, they take the achievements of the European Union as a benchmark, but this will only be touched upon in the last week. The question that we are now trying to answer here is what exactly makes the EU stand apart? Why is it so special? The answer lies in the very carefully crafted compromise between supranationalism and intergovernmentalism that the EU member states managed to establish and to refine when needed.
Skip to 0 minutes and 55 seconds While these two concepts, supranationalism and intergovernmentalism, may sound complex, they are, in the end, rather simple. When we speak of supranationalism, we speak of powers that have been vested in the hands of an authority that stands above the nation states. In the case of the European Union, policies in certain areas are designed only by the European Commission on behalf of the entire EU. The member states have limited their own maneuvering space by voluntarily giving up some national powers. Another example of this supranationalism would be the European Parliament, which while consisting of members of national political parties, votes on and thereby, passes, European legislation.
Skip to 1 minute and 42 seconds To counterbalance these supranational tendencies and to maintain some oversight, the member states also created intergovernmental institutions, predominantly the Council of the European Union and the European Council, which are tasked with defending national interests. This system did not come into being all at once but was a gradual process that started in the early 1950s and has not yet been completed. Within the European Union, any alteration to this carefully crafted compromise usually takes the form of a treaty revision. Let us now look at the most decisive moments that have shaped the relationship between the EU’s supranational institutions and the member states.
Skip to 2 minutes and 27 seconds The Paris Treaty, signed in 1951 that established a European coal and steel community, established the European Commission’s predecessor, the High Authority, thereby, setting the stage for member states delegating certain powers to an authority above themselves. This was then taken to the next level in the Rome Treaty signed in 1957 that established the European Economic Community and Eurotom. Here, the then six member states agreed to delegate policy initiation powers in the area of a European common market and agricultural policy to the newly established European Commission. From now on, these policy areas would be driven by the Commission and not by the individual member states. The Single European Act, signed in 1986, saw the powers of the European Commission expand greatly.
Skip to 3 minutes and 20 seconds The Commission would enjoy authority in the area of the European single market, health, and safety policy. More importantly, the Single European Act had codified what is called qualified majority voting for many policy areas. In essence, this further limited the member states’ powers to oversee European policymaking by allowing majoritarian votes for certain policy areas. In the most extreme cases, individual member states’ interests could be disregarded. While this possibility had existed already, it took until the Single European Act for member states to accept it. The compromise between supranationalism and intergovernmentalism found structural anchoring in the following treaty. The Treaty of Maastricht signed in 1992, establishing the so-called pillar structure.
Skip to 4 minutes and 17 seconds Foreign and security policy, as well as justice and interior policy, were now also under review. Although they were not, in the end, relegated to the EU level, member states did create structures to discuss these among themselves at the EU level. We can therefore, carefully talk of an EU foreign and security policy. The last major treaty revision came with the Lisbon Treaty signed in 2007, which saw the EU establish a catalog of competences, clearly enumerating which powers have, over the years, been delegated to the EU and which have been retained by the, by now, 28 member states.
Skip to 5 minutes and 0 seconds This carefully crafted compromise between EU institutions and member states makes the EU so unique, as nowhere else in the world have states been voluntarily ready to limit their powers to such an extent.
Why is the EU special?
Whether we regard the European Union to be a political regime, an international organisation, or a regional state, it is an entity like no other.
The European integration project went much further than any other comparable effort at international cooperation. No surprise, then, that when scholars evaluate other regional integration efforts, they take the achievements of the European Union as a benchmark. The question that we try to answer in this video is what exactly makes the EU stand apart and why is it so special?
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