Could the EU become a European "superstate"?

As long as we remain members of the EU, there is no way we can be "dragged into an EU superstate" against our will. The international treaties that created the EU and control its ongoing operation would have to be changed to allow a superstate to be created and this has to be done by the complete unanimous agreement of the signatories to the treaties. Those signatories are all EU members including us, so we could veto the idea. It's also worth remembering that several other EU states such as Greece, Spain and the eastern bloc countries were totalitarian dictatorships within living memory, and it is unlikely they would be willing to give up their self-determination in matters such as healthcare, education, policing and crime in exchange for "rule from Brussels". The EU is not some "evil empire" hell-bent on world domination; it is a group of countries pooling their resources to tackle problems that affect them all. The powers it has are the powers we and the other member states have agreed to give it and it cannot take on further powers unless we agree to give those powers to it.

One reason given for voting Leave in the June 2016 referendum, and a fear often expressed by the Europhobic side of the debate, is that the UK could be dragged into a pan-European superstate against our will. However this cannot happen; it's notable that this "superstate" concept and fear has been a constant theme in Europhobe circles for over 25 years but yet somehow it hasn't happened. The reason is that it is forbidden by the fundamental treaties fo the EU, of which there two: Treaty on European Union and Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. These treaties are the legal documents which give the EU its powers, but these powers are in turn only available because the member states have unanimously signed up to the treaties in question. Any changes to the treaties would again have to be made by unanimous agreement of all the signatories - this would include the UK, if we remain a member of the EU. The consent of the member states to grant the EU powers are set out in the preamble and Article 1 of the Treaty on European Union:

 

HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF THE BELGIANS, HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN OF DENMARK, THE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY, THE PRESIDENT OF IRELAND, THE PRESIDENT OF THE HELLENIC REPUBLIC, HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF SPAIN, THE PRESIDENT OF THE FRENCH REPUBLIC, THE PRESIDENT OF THE ITALIAN REPUBLIC, HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS THE GRAND DUKE OF LUXEMBOURG, HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN OF THE NETHERLANDS, THE PRESIDENT OF THE PORTUGUESE REPUBLIC, HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND [...]

 

A list of the Heads of State of each individual state that signed the treaty - in other words the members of the EU.

 

RESOLVED to mark a new stage in the process of European integration undertaken with the establishment of the European Communities,

DRAWING INSPIRATION from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law,

RECALLING the historic importance of the ending of the division of the European continent and the need to create firm bases for the construction of the future Europe,

CONFIRMING their attachment to the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and of the rule of law,

CONFIRMING their attachment to fundamental social rights as defined in the European Social Charter signed at Turin on 18 October 1961 and in the 1989 Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers,

DESIRING to deepen the solidarity between their peoples while respecting their history, their culture and their traditions,

DESIRING to enhance further the democratic and efficient functioning of the institutions so as to enable them better to carry out, within a single institutional framework, the tasks entrusted to them,

RESOLVED to mark a new stage in the process of European integration undertaken with the establishment of the European Communities,

DRAWING INSPIRATION from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law,

RECALLING the historic importance of the ending of the division of the European continent and the need to create firm bases for the construction of the future Europe,

CONFIRMING their attachment to the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and of the rule of law,

CONFIRMING their attachment to fundamental social rights as defined in the European Social Charter signed at Turin on 18 October 1961 and in the 1989 Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers,

DESIRING to deepen the solidarity between their peoples while respecting their history, their culture and their traditions,

DESIRING to enhance further the democratic and efficient functioning of the institutions so as to enable them better to carry out, within a single institutional framework, the tasks entrusted to them,

RESOLVED to achieve the strengthening and the convergence of their economies and to establish an economic and monetary union including, in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty and of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, a single and stable currency,

DETERMINED to promote economic and social progress for their peoples, taking into account the principle of sustainable development and within the context of the accomplishment of the internal market and of reinforced cohesion and environmental protection, and to implement policies ensuring that advances in economic integration are accompanied by parallel progress in other fields,

RESOLVED to establish a citizenship common to nationals of their countries,

RESOLVED to implement a common foreign and security policy including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to a common defence in accordance with the provisions of Article 42, thereby reinforcing the European identity and its independence in order to promote peace, security and progress in Europe and in the world,

RESOLVED to facilitate the free movement of persons, while ensuring the safety and security of their peoples, by establishing an area of freedom, security and justice, in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty and of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

RESOLVED to continue the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity,

IN VIEW of further steps to be taken in order to advance European integration,

HAVE DECIDED to establish a European Union and to this end have designated as their Plenipotentiaries:

(List of plenipotentiaries not reproduced)

 

This lists the aims and goals of the countries who have signed the treaty - in other words what the EU is supposed to achieve. Notice how the Treaty on European Union is intended to further the work done on creating the forerunner to the EU, the European Community. The signatories conclude that they have decided to create "an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe" but this is clearly meant to be in terms of cultural integration rather than total political union (a superstate). In particular we can see that the treaty explicitly calls for "subsidiarity" and that decisions should be made "as closely as possible to the citizen" - this is also incompatible with the idea of a Brussels-run single state. We also see in this treaty how fundamental freedom of movement is to the founding members of the EU (which remember, includes the UK).

 

WHO, having exchanged their full powers, found in good and due form, have agreed as follows:

TITLE I

COMMON PROVISIONS

Article 1

[...]

By this Treaty, the HIGH CONTRACTING PARTIES establish among themselves a EUROPEAN UNION, hereinafter called "the Union", on which the Member States confer competences to attain objectives they have in common.

This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen.

 

We see here that the signatories to the treaty (again, including the UK, which is in full agreement with the aims set out in the treaty, otherwise it wouldn't have signed it) stressing that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the citizen and as openly as possible (see: is the EU undemocratic?). This portion alone is sufficient to render the idea of a "superstate" impossible since having completely centralised government from Brussels or any other seat of EU power, would clearly not be taking decisions "as closely as possible to the citizen".

 

The Union shall be founded on the present Treaty and on the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (hereinafter referred to as "the Treaties"). Those two Treaties shall have the same legal value. The Union shall replace and succeed the European Community.

 

Here we see how the European Community became the European Union. Every member state agreed to it including the UK, and this treaty was accepted and ratified by the UK Parliament in Westminster. It is true that there was not a referendum on the subject in the UK but there was no requirement that there should have been, because the UK's constitution is that Parliament is sovereign and can make the ultimate decision, not the people.

 

Article 5

[...]

1. The limits of Union competences are governed by the principle of conferral. The use of Union competences is governed by the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.

2. Under the principle of conferral, the Union shall act only within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the Member States in the Treaties to attain the objectives set out therein. Competences not conferred upon the Union in the Treaties remain with the Member States.

3. Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level.

The institutions of the Union shall apply the principle of subsidiarity as laid down in the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. National Parliaments ensure compliance with the principle of subsidiarity in accordance with the procedure set out in that Protocol.

4. Under the principle of proportionality, the content and form of Union action shall not exceed what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Treaties.

The institutions of the Union shall apply the principle of proportionality as laid down in the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.

 

This Article completely kills the idea of a superstate. It basically says that the EU only has the powers that the member states have agreed to give it, that those powers are only granted to the EU in order to allow the EU to carry out the role on the international stage that its member states want it to have, and that any powers the member states (including the UK) choose not to give to the EU are held back for use by the member states. Article 5(3) again stresses that the EU can't do anything the treaties don't allow it to do unless there is a good reason that it should. So for example, action on climate change and environmental matters cannot be achieved by one country alone (the polluters would just move to another country that doesn't have strict laws against their actions) and so such a "proposed action" would clearly "be better achieved at Union level". Equally, tasks such as healthcare, pensions, crime control and policing don't need to be carried out at EU level: there's nothing to prevent the member states from controlling these matters at their own national level. To change this clear language in the treaty forbidding the EU from doing things that memeber states can do themselves perfectly well, would require unanimous agreement amongst the signatories to the treaty, which includes the UK. Article 5 of the Treaty On European Union clearly prohibits the EU from becoming a "superstate" without our explicit and informed agreement and consent.

So what are the areas that the EU controls, and what is left to the member states to decide? We can find out from the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (PDF). Article 3 of this treaty states:

 

1. The Union shall have exclusive competence in the following areas:

(a) customs union;

(b) the establishing of the competition rules necessary for the functioning of the internal market;

(c) monetary policy for the Member States whose currency is the euro;

(d) the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy;

(e) common commercial policy.

2. The Union shall also have exclusive competence for the conclusion of an international agreement when its conclusion is provided for in a legislative act of the Union or is necessary to enable the Union to exercise its internal competence, or in so far as its conclusion may affect common rules or alter their scope.

The "exclusive competences" referred to here are the things that only the European Union itself is allowed to do: by joining the EU, member states agree to give these over to the EU upon joining. The UK signed this treaty of our own free will and we understood that we would be surrendering these powers. We also understood that Article 3(2) means that it is the EU that signs international treaties whenever those treaties affect what the EU does, or if an international agreement would affect what the EU does. This is why the EU is a member of the World Trade Organisation rather than its member states because, as we see from Article 3(1)(a), it is the EU that is responsible for establishing a customs union across all its member states which means deciding what tariffs to charge on goods entering the EU through any member state and setting external tariffs is a key task of being a WTO member. This also ties into Artice 3(1)(e) "common commercial policy" - a slightly vague term which in practice means extending the idea of a common external tariff for goods to non-physical imports and exports such as services and intellectual property.

Articles 4, 5 and 6 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union go on to describe how member states can and should develop their domestic policies to complement overall EU policy. Again, this isn't something forced upon us as signatories to the treaty: we knew what we were letting ourselves in for and we accepted the compromises on our own "sovereignty" in exchange for the benefits of being part of a more powerful political power bloc. Article 4 states:

 

1. The Union shall share competence with the Member States where the Treaties confer on it a competence which does not relate to the areas referred to in Articles 3 and 6.

 

2. Shared competence between the Union and the Member States applies in the following principal areas:

(a) internal market;

(b) social policy, for the aspects defined in this Treaty;

(c) economic, social and territorial cohesion;

(d) agriculture and fisheries, excluding the conservation of marine biological resources;

(e) environment;

(f) consumer protection;

(g) transport;

(h) trans-European networks;

(I) energy;

(j) area of freedom, security and justice;

(k) common safety concerns in public health matters, for the aspects defined in this Treaty.

 

Nowhere within these lists is there any mention of topics such as education, heathcare, policing, immigration of non-EU citizens, general taxation, border security, social security rights or payments, planning laws or many other policies required for the running of a nation state. As these topics aren't mentioned in the treaty they are explicitly reserved for the member states and cannot be given over to the EU (or "Brussels") unless the treaty was changed by unanimous agreement or by a separate treaty (as in the case of border controls, which in mainland Europe are subject to the Schengen Agreement).

From all of the above extracts from the legal documents underpinning the EU, we can see clearly that it is impossible for the UK to be froced to join an EU superstate against our will, as long as we remain full members of the EU. Should we go ahead and leave then it is possible the remaining memebrs will form a superstate without us and we would have no say in the matter.

 

 

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