To What Extent Has Membership Of Europe

Affected Our Political Sovereignty? Essay, Research Paper

?Inside Europe we are part of what will be a world power. The national sovereignty

we lose is more than made good by a share of the much larger sovereignty which

we get from participation in Europe.? (Michael Heseltine)

?The 1986 Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty can be seen as further

reducing Britain?s sovereignty.? (Nugent)

Britain has been a full member of the EEC, and later the EU, since 1972. By

joining such an organisation it enjoys the benefits of a Common Market across

Europe, but surrenders some of its political sovereignty to the precedence of

European Law over Domestic Law. Indeed Britain?s political sovereignty has unquestionably

suffered a great deal due to its membership of Europe. In 1975 Tony Benn wrote

a letter to his constituents underlying the major worries of EEC membership.

Firstly he said that the Community subjects us to laws and taxes which British

government is powerless to amend or repeal, and they are passed by people not

elected by the British electorate. Furthermore he described how the EEC requires

British courts to enforce laws that have not necessarily been supported by the

British Parliament, and that Parliament does not have the power to change these

laws, even if they conflict with existing common or statute law. To add to this,

British membership imposes duties and constraints upon British governments.

This means that ministers have to discharge many of their duties, and those

that take them over are not accountable to British Parliament or public. Basically,

the EEC can use the British parliament as a layer of insulation separating them

from the British people. They therefore have no duty to remedy the grievances

of the British people, as they are not accountable to them.

Whilst Tony Benn presents an extreme example of Euro-scepticism, it is indisputable

that membership of Europe detracts from our parliamentary sovereignty. EU law

is binding on all member states and, therefore, takes precedence over British

domestic law. However, the British Parliament does have the power to at least

try to prevent the enforcement of EU law in the case of amendments to the Treaty

of Rome, but otherwise EU legislation automatically becomes law within the UK,

irrespective of the British Parliament?s opinion on it.

Unlike the other member states of the EU, the United Kingdom has a distinctive

constitution based not on a codified document but on the principle of parliamentary

sovereignty. The issue of national sovereignty is an intensively sensitive one

in British politics because of the country?s history, which has been very different

from that of continental states, and because of the different role which the

British Parliament plays from that of European Parliaments. Membership of the

European Union inevitably entails a loss ? or transfer ? of national sovereignty

in return for a share in a greater and more powerful European sovereignty. The

main institutions of the EU operate partly on a supranational level and partly

on an intergovernmental level, and it is this idea of supranational control

which seems to threaten the sovereignty of the British Parliament, and make

its policy less important and meaningful.

Sovereignty is an idea decked with tradition and prestige. Indeed, in 1885

A.V. Dicey defined parliamentary sovereignty as the right of Parliament ?to

make any law whatever; and, further, no person or body is recognised by the

law as having a right to override the legislation of Parliament.? The supremacy

of Parliament, established by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, effectively ended

when Parliament surrendered it in passing the European Communities Act in 1972.

When Britain became a member of the EEC in 1973 certain areas of policy making

were transferred to the EEC Commission and to the Council of Ministers. This

meant that if the Council approved the commission has the right to enforce its

recommendations irrespective of domestic legislation that might contradict it,

and the only way to reclaim this loss of sovereignty would be to repeal the

act of 1972 and withdraw from EC membership.

Entry into the EEC caused enormous controversy, leading to the first ever

national referendum in 1975 and the formation of the Social Democratic Party

by pro-European ex-Labour MPs in 1981. Under Maggie Thatcher, the EC was supported

as a free trade economic union but not as a ?federalist? concept moving towards

a United States of Europe. The difficulty of having greater economic integration

without greater political integration was highlighted by the Single European

Act of 1986. This act was the first comprehensive revision of the original Treaty

of Rome (1958) and while this speeded up economic integration it also strengthened

the supranational organisations such as the Council of Ministers so as to include

decision making, and it also made qualified majority voting replace unanimous

voting in the accepting or rejecting of proposals. This signifies a further

mark in the removal of British sovereignty ? no longer did it have the power

to block bills it personally didn?t agree with and became subject to legislation

irrespective of whether it agreed with it or not. Therefore it is possible for

laws to be made without the support of the British Parliament, and this therefore,

can be seen as a major intrusion on parliamentary sovereignty.

More recently, loss of British sovereignty can be seen in the Maastricht Treaty

of 1992. To add to the increased momentum for economic and monetary union in

the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty laid down a timetable for this.

The prime goal for EMU was to achieve a single European currency and Central

Bank, in 1999, and this was successful. However, it also extended the role of

the Community to include health, education and the environment, and the infamous

Social Chapter laid down a range of employment conditions and gave increased

powers to the European Parliament.

Surprisingly, Maastricht has had less impact on our national sovereignty than

the Single European Act, as the Conservative government at the time, opted out

of the single currency and the social chapter. National sovereignty was preserved

here by only opting in in areas such as Justice and Home Affairs which are based

on intergovernmental co-operation and unanimous voting.

In spite of the opt-outs at Maastricht, the fact remains that so long as Britain

is a member of the EU its legal and political sovereignty is over. This can

be seen in the Factortame case of 1990. This ruling by the European Court of

Justice on a case brought against the government?s Merchant Shipping Act by

a Spanish fishing company, confirmed the supremacy of Community law over domestic

law. The government was forced to suspend the offending parts of the 1988 Merchant

Chipping Act, and thus it is proved that membership of the European Union gives

the British courts the power to suspend an Act of Parliament, a dramatic constitutional

milestone, and a complete and total contradiction to the words of A.V. Dicey,

and the principles of British parliamentary sovereignty.

In conclusion, Factortame demonstrates just how much membership of the EU

distracts from national sovereignty. Indeed some commentators have speculated

on the end of the nation state, with the Europe of the future developing into

a possible superstate. Historically Parliament has symbolised Britain?s national

sovereignty, and as the European project advances, encompassing more people

and centralising more power it is perhaps fair to say that British parliamentary

sovereignty becomes less about contemporary politics and more about history.


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