Is the European Union a new kind of political order?
I believe that the EU is a political order which is very distinct and may be difficult to replicate anywhere else. To understand the limitations, you need to know a bit more about the well-defined legal and political nature of the European Union
The European Union officially came into force in 1993 after the signing of the Maastricht treaty. However, the EU that we know today is the fruition of years of integrated strategies that ensure peace and cooperation in Europe. In 1951, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, Netherlands and Belgium signed a treaty which established the European Coal and Steel Commission (ECSC). Its purpose was to foster trade and development and deal with the aftermath of the second world war. The success of the ECSC led to the treaty of Rome in 1957. This treaty established the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy treaty. In 1987, the treaty of Rome was revised, and this revision enacted the Single European Act. The Act facilitated a single European community. 1993 brought the ratification of the Treaty of Maastricht and this treaty formally established the European Union with its significant provision being the single Euro currency. There have been several revisions to this treaty since 1993 and the member states have increased to 28 with Croatia joining in 2013.
The treaties of the European Union give the organization its legality. They make provisions which echo the founding principles of the union. These principles include liberty, equality and respect for fundamental human rights. The treaty of Lisbon also reiterates the equality of all member states and states in its article 10, that “The functioning of the Union shall be founded on representative democracy” (EURLEX,2007). It goes further to assert that the citizens have a right to democratic representation. The European Union also operates a system of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism. The term intergovernmentalism is synonymous with the EU integration project. Neil Nugent, a political science professor at Manchester University, defined it as “arrangements whereby nation-states in situations they can control and operating mainly through their government, cooperate on matters of common interests” (Nugent, 2017). Therefore, nation-states that operate under a system of intergovernmentalism, are states that take joint decisions on matters which affect them. He also defined Supranationalism as “states working together in a manner that does not allow them to retain complete control over developments” (Nugent, 2017). Andreas Staab further explained these concepts in his book titled ‘The European Union explained’. Staab used the European Court of justice, as an example, to explain how the EU operates under supranationalism by pointing out that the court can override the decision of a national court. He also noted that the single currency system is also an example of supranationalism. He stated that “with supranationalism, institutions and policies supersede the powers of their national equivalents” (Staab, 2013).
The EU consists of seven principal institutions. However, five of these institutions are primary bodies that run the EU. They include The Council of the European Union, the Court of Justice of the EU, the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission. Together, these institutions operate in a system of checks and balances, not unlike the traditional branches of a national government i.e, the executive, legislative and judiciary. These systems of checks and balances portray true republicanism as the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, proposed in his essay on Perpetual Peace.
The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union and the European Council make up the legislative and executive and branch of the EU. “The Council of the European Union is the principal decision-maker of the European Union, the main legislative institution. Along with the European Parliament, it creates European laws by adopting the propositions submitted by the European Commission” (CIIE, 2007). The European Parliament directly represents EU citizens while the European Council consists of the heads of all the member states of the EU. The court of Justice of the EU functions as the judicial branch that interprets various EU legislations. This role was emphasized in the landmark ‘Cassis of Dijon’ cases that “was an important contribution to the opening of a real, single European market” (CIIE, 2007). This case which lifted the ban placed on the importation of liqueur by a French retailer opened free market and trade, a ‘Kantian’ principle which has boosted the Economic growth of member countries and led the EU to the path of becoming one of the most peaceful and successful regions in the world. The secondary institutions of the EU include the European Central bank and the Court of Auditors that handle the financial matters of the EU. Together, these institutions carry out representative functions with shared responsibilities of promulgating and executing laws that foster reciprocity and have led to lasting peace in the formerly war-torn region. Ian Hurd argued that “influence of political power, the different treatment of different policy areas, the degree of autonomy of these institutions, and the increasingly complex legal arrangements among European courts, governments, and citizens” (Hurd, 2014), are components that make the EU truly interesting i.e., they form the essence of the EU.
So why can the EU be replicated in other regions of the world?
The importance of regional organizations in fostering development, cooperation and integration, cannot be stressed enough. Regional organizations play a crucial role in the spread of economic, legal and social policies that progress societies. These policies cannot be realized if states are not willing to cooperate. The European Union is a unique concept that was birthed out of a common resolve to build economic and political stability in Europe and to prevent future wars. However, it has proven difficult to replicate the success of the European Union, elsewhere. The regional organisations that exist today do not operate on the same scope as the European Union. Take the African Union for example which has similar structures as the EU but does not have the same powers given to it by its member states. To declare that the European Union is a new kind of political order is very premature and does not take into consideration, the various peculiarities of the EU such as a common belief in the same principles. Additionally, it is necessary to consider the rapid changes in the international system such as, the rise of nationalism all over the world, the rising inequality in international status amongst states in the same region (e.g. China in the pacific region), and finally, the rise of dangerous non-state actors, which make international trade, movement and cooperation, ten times more difficult.
Primarily, if there is no common belief in the same principles such as, fundamental human rights, equality and freedom, it will be nearly impossible for states to replicate this level of a corporation and integration.