Intergovernmental Vs. Supranational Essay, Research Paper
Intergovernmental vs. Supranational
The European Union of today has been described as an intergovernmental organization by some scholars and a supranational organization by others. But which one is it in reality? The answer to this question is very trivial. There are many different aspects of the EU in which we first must look at. The different branches of the European Union contain these aspects. These branches include the Commission, the Parliament, the Councils and the European Court of Justice.
An Intergovernmental organization is one where the member states cooperate without giving up the ultimate right to make their own decisions. A Supra-national organization is one where the ultimate right to make decisions lie with the common institutions and national governments only have the right to maneuver within the framework of policy decided at the collective level (Gallagher 125).
The enforcement of European Union decisions in each member state reflects the status of the polity of the EU. At the moment none of the member states of the EU enforce all of the decisions made by EU legislation. If the member state does decide to implement the decisions they may sometimes do it in a timely manner. This scenario implies that the European Union is somewhat of an Intergovernmental organization. The European Union can only fully become a supra-national organization if all of the member states let their guard down and agree to comply with all decisions and policies of the European Union. Martin Shapiro wrote, “Implementation, as we all know, is in the hands of the administrations of Member States… Everyone knows it would be a miracle if all Member State administrations were implementing most EU regulations, let alone directives in the same way” (125).
“No member nation has shown any inclination in specific terms to abandon its sovereignty ”. The ultimate concern of the Member States, in regard to becoming a total supra-national body, is their loss of sovereignty and power. Two themes are brought up when looking at the growing of the European Union, the survival and nationalism of the Member State and international organization of the European Union. Does the increase in power and authority of the EU lead to a decrease in nationalism and sovereignty of the Member States? The answer is no. It is believed that “state and international organization are capable of being mutually reinforcing” (Nugent 125).
The Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Council, and the European Court of Justice all represent different forms of organization. The Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Court of Justice represent a more Intergovernmental organization. While the Council of the European Union and the European Council represent a Supra-national organization.
The Commission of the European Union has twenty members. Each one of the Member States is represented by at least one commissioner the largest five countries have two. The commissioners are elected nationally which would imply that the Commission is somewhat Supra national. But in reality the commissioners are not there to represent national interest. “ Upon taking office, each commissioner has to take an oath to the effect that he or she will serve the overall interest of the EU and will not take instructions from a national government or from any other body” (Gallagher 103). This oath should ensure that the Commission is and remains an intergovernmental organization but it doesn’t. The Commission contains a mix of nationalities and political views originating from the Member States. This scenario makes it hard for the Commission to come to a consensus on an overall goal or purpose.
The European Parliament contains 626 members. The number of members represented by each state is somewhat proportional on the population of the Member State. The focus of the Parliament, like the Commission, is on Increased European integration. Instead of sitting according to state origin, the members sit in the Parliaments chamber according to political group. This creates an environment based more on political party issues rather than the issues of Member States. This environment is similar to that of the national parliaments throughout the Member States. For example an issue on foreign policy may be looked at in a Liberal and Realist view as opposed to the views of France or Germany. Although there is somewhat of a separation of state and a focus on integration, the Parliament still remains somewhat Intergovernmental. A study in 1996 showed that representation in the Parliament was actually focused on the members’ own country rather than “Europe as a whole”. Rather than focusing on European political issues, the elections conducted to elect the members of the Parliament still remain to be focused on domestic politics. These domestic opinions reflect the claim that the Parliament has strayed away from European issues (Gallagher 105-111)
Unlike the Commission and Parliament the Council of the European Union and The European Council are similar to an Intergovernmental organization. In essence the Council of the European Union represents the individual governments and views of each of the Member States. The European Council, which is separate from the Council of the European Union, also signifies an Intergovernmental organization. The Council is made up of 15 members, each a head of government represents each Member State. Advocates of a Supra-national European Union resent the power of the European Council and its decisions. Both of the Councils are accountable to no one. The Council seems to present the idea that Member States and their governments are the main focus of the EU rather than the views of the Parliament and the Commission. The European Council “gives the impression that the EU is still more of an intergovernmental organization than a supra-national one” (Gallagher 114).
The Court of Justice is another branch of the European Union. If the Court of Justice was able to run without any problems or flaws it would turn the European Union into a Supra-national organization. The Court of Justice consists of fifteen members, one judge from each member state. The role of the Court of Justice is to apply the laws and constitution of the European Union, which originate from the treaties. The Member States are bound by the decisions made by the Court. No state can refuse a judgment made by the Court, unlike the judgments made by another international organization such as the International Court of Justice. Although treaties don’t specifically state, it is known and accepted that EU law overrides domestic law. Therefore the European Court of Justice is the highest authority in the EU. The Court allows for Member States to bring other members to before the Court in order to settle disputes. The problem that arises for the Court is its lack of a police force or army to enforce its judgments. The Court has to rely on the armies of the member states to enforce its rulings. Most of the time this leads to difficulty in ensuring that the judgments are implemented. The best records of compliance generally lie in the North and the worst in the South. The Scandinavian countries have great records of compliance while Italy was receiving fines for each day it wasn’t in compliance with the Courts judgment regarding urban water treatment. The compliance by the Member States to the judgments of the Court may be greatly increased if the Court was to establish a policing group or army. This would require huge amounts of capital, which the EU does not have (Gallagher 115-117).
Finally another aspect of the European Union that leads it to resemble an Intergovernmental organization is its low level of finance. The EU holds only 1.27 percent of the total GNP of the Member States. Which means that the resources available to the EU are minuscule compared to the resources available to the Member States. The source of the EU’s income comes from a small percentage of the taxes collected in Member Sates and duties collected from trade with other countries. Unless it finds other sources of revenue the European Union will stay at its current situation of not quite becoming a Supra-national organization (Gallagher 126).
In conclusion the answer to the question of the status of the European Union in regards to it being a Supra-national or an intergovernmental organization is: it is a little bit of both. Changes in the different branches of the European Union will head it in the direction of becoming a Supra-national entity. These changes may include strengthening the European Court of Justice and generating more capital. The ultimate goal must be to dispel the fear the Member States have of losing their sovereignty and creating a strong sense of European nationalism.
1. Gallagher, Michael et al., Representative Government In Modern Europe 3rd Ed.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001.
2. Nugent, Neill. The European Union Vol. 1. Brookefield. Dartmouth Publishing.
3. Wood, David. Power and Policy in Western European Democracies New York.