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The European Court of Justice

This decides cases in accordance with the Treaty of Rome and other later treaties, mainly arising from disputes between member states and the Commission or between the institutions of the European Union.

The EU is particularly open to interest groups. The Directorates of the Commission, lacking democratic legitimacy through direct political control, have been ready to be responsive to interests as a substitute, and to anticipate any problems coming from member states.

Members of the European Parliament are not controlled by party discipline or party leadership in the way that members of national parliaments are and are ready to work with interest groups to change policies and amend legislation. The EU has two official consultative bodies that lack any powers but have to be asked for their views on some issues:-

The Committee of the Regions was established in 1994 and consists of representatives of local authorities and regional government. The Maastricht Treaty that created it also established the principle of subsidiarity, that decisions should be taken as close as possible to citizens, and the Committee is consulted on policy areas that regions and local councils are responsible for.

The European Economic and Social Committee has existed from the beginning and consists of employers’ organisations, trade unions and other groups including farmers, small firms, environmental groups and the voluntary sector and has to be consulted on a range of areas.

The Growth of the European Union

The growth of the European Union (called the European Communities 1967 to 1993) has taken place in two ways: through greater integration, so that common institutions have become stronger and common policies have been adopted, and enlargement, with new countries joining, so that most of Europe is now in the EU.


This has seemed like an unstoppable process until increasing Euroscepticism in the last ten years and the need to absorb the countries of Eastern Europe has dramatically slowed it, though there have also been slower periods over time.

The main stages have been:-

  • With the Treaty of Rome in 1957, integration in coal and steel was joined by a Customs Union and integration in agriculture and foreign trade. With the Commission as the driver this was carried out and included the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy, which subsidised production and, until the 1990s, took up 60% of the Budget. The Fischler Reforms of 2004 ended the overall subsidy and instead concentrated it on small farms. The Treaty also set up a European Social Fund to help employment projects.
  • A Common Fisheries Policy was developed from 1970.
  • A European Regional Development Fund was created in 1975 after pressure from Britain, who had made it a condition of entry, and Italy.  This and the Social Fund make up most of non-agricultural expenditure by the EU.
  • A European Monetary System was created in 1979 so that countries had the option to link the exchange rates of their currencies.  Britain did not join until 1990 and then had to leave in 1992 after a run on the £ forced a devaluation.

By the early 1980s European growth had slowed to below the level of the United States and Asian countries.  The Single European Act in 1986 was designed to stimulate economic growth by removing non trade barriers to goods and services, so that the same regulations applied in each country and goods could be easily exported from one country to another.

As there were now 12 members, qualified majority voting was introduced to see through the Single Market so that individual countries no longer had a veto.  Integration was begun in environmental policy, regional policy and research and technology and European Political Cooperation to work out joint foreign policy positions was created. The European Parliament became more involved in legislation.

The Maastricht Treaty

The Maastricht Treaty in 1992 was a major extension of integration.  This was organised into three pillars:-

  • The EU pillar of existing policies including agriculture, the environment and the internal market
  • A Common Foreign and Security Policy pillar, controlled through the European Council so that a common view could not be forced on member states.
  • A pillar of cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs in the area of drugs, international crime and terrorism.

The first steps towards European Monetary Union were envisaged. Qualified Majority Voting was extended and a process of co-decision so that the European Parliament had more power was adopted.

  • The Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997 increased the powers of the European Parliament and organised the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
  • The Nice Treaty in 2001 reorganised the voting system of the European Council.
  • A Treaty to create a European Constitution was signed by the member states in 2004. It mostly codified existing rules and treaties with little that was new but, in the developing climate of Euroscepticism was rejected by referendums in France and the Netherlands.  The Dutch had been among the most supportive of European integration in the past and so there seemed little chance of getting the proposals through more Eurosceptic countries such as Britain and Denmark and the Constitution was abandoned.
  • The Lisbon Treaty in 2007 extended Qualified Majority Voting, increased the powers of the European Parliament in legislation to be equal to that of the Council and included a Charter of Fundamental Rights of EU citizens. A high Representative of Foreign and Security Affairs was created to act as a sort of EU Foreign Minister.  A Citizens’ Initiative was created so that 1 million signatures from at least 7 countries would require the Commission to consider legislation.

17 of the 28 countries joined the Single Currency and the problems of the Euro, after the financial crisis, led to further integration of Euro countries into a European Stability Mechanism in 2012


Countries have joined the EU in the following order:-

  • 1957   The original 6 of West Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. For France and the three Benelux countries this provided security by binding Germany into the rest of Europe. For Germany and Italy, membership rehabilitated them into the international community after their dictatorships.
  • 1973   The United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and Denmark. When Britain joined so did Ireland, as their economies were so related, and Denmark was an EFTA country bordering on Germany.
  • 1981   Greece
  • 1986   Spain and Portugal. The three Southern European countries had recently been dictatorships and so EU membership brought them back into the mainstream of Europe. The addition shifted the geographical balance and brought in poorer agricultural areas to join Southern Italy, previously the only area of this type.  The Mediterranean became more of a focus for the EU in both economic links and foreign policy.
  • 1990   German unification consequent on the Fall of the Berlin Wall brought in East Germany.  The EU and West German systems were applied to it without modification but it contained areas of severe industrial decline.
  • 1995   Austria, Finland and Sweden.  These were all wealthy countries and so able to contribute to the budget but their entry geographically shifted the centre of gravity of the EU more to the centre of Europe.
  • 2004   Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta. Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia
  • 2007   Bulgaria, Romania.  The most recent additions have produced another geographical shift and a group of countries lagging economically. It also raised major questions about how to get agreement amongst so many countries with different interests.

Membership discussions are proceeding with Iceland, Albania, Turkey and the other countries of former Yugoslavia. The Turkish bid has stalled following a veto from Cyprus because of Turkey’s refusal to allow Greek Cypriot imports but there is also concern about its democratic credentials.