Tag Archive | "European Union"

David Cameron and Angela Merkel

Cameron Courts Germany to Discuss Great Britain’s Future in the EU

This is a follow up post to my prior post: David Cameron Wants Out of the EU: What are the Risks and Rewards?

Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, arrived in Berlin last week to engage in talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The purpose? Demonstrate “the close relationship between the two center-right leaders and a discussion of Britain’s future with the European Union.”[1]  Earlier this year Cameron announced that if his Conservative Party were to be reelected in 2015, he would either “reduce British entanglement with the EU – or allow his people to vote in a referendum to leave the bloc all together.”[2]

David Cameron and Angela Merkel

Sitting down to discuss their differences.
(Irish Examiner)

In the months following his announcement, Cameron has not let up on his calls for a re-evaluation of Britain’s membership in the EU. Just last week, he stated that “British support for the EU was ‘wafer thin’”[3] and that he would like to see member states given the right to opt of some EU laws.   Cameron’s conclusion that Britain’s placement in the EU has lost much of its utility comes on the heels of Britain’s weak economic data[4] and his claims that the EU has “sometimes overreached itself with directive and interventions and interference.”[5]

According to Cameron, “Europe will be more successful if it has the strength of flexibility rather than the weakness of inflexibility.  I think the best outcome for Britain is our membership of a reformed European Union.”[6] This signals a slight change in Cameron’s phrasing of the EU/Britain relationship. Previously, Cameron seemed determined to get Britain out of the EU altogether; now, however, he has started to focus more on reforming the EU.[7]  It is likely that the backlash from both France and Germany have tempered Cameron’s hardliner approach.

Great Britain and Germany Face Off Over Competing Views of the EU

While Cameron and Merkel are making the weekend into a family affair by bringing along their spouses, the relationship between the two has not always been so cordial.[8]  In 2009, Cameron pulled “his Conservatives out of the centre-right bloc in the European Parliament to which Merkel’s Christian Democrats belong.”[9]  Cameron’s previous visit to Berlin in 2011 came on the heels of a Cameron speech where the central message was “less Europe” and Merkel’s speech, given on the same day, emphasized the need for “more Europe.”[10]  Granted, Britain was attempting to maintain its distance from the euro-crisis, but Merkel scoffed at the idea that Britain should still have political pull in the EU.[11]

In March 2012, Britain and the Czech Republic were the only two Eurozone states that refused to sign a new fiscal treaty. While Cameron was complaining that his ideas were being ignored, Merkel described the treaty as a “great leap” and “a first step towards stability and political union.”[12]

Even more recently, Cameron’s plan “to defuse the Tory civil war over Europe by winning back powers from the EU has been thrown into doubt after Germany said it would prefer to solve the Eurozone’s problems without a new European treaty.”[13] Germany’s opposition to Cameron’s plan adds to the already sharp criticism pointed at Great Britain by France, which has come “out against opening up the EU rulebook again in the timescale envisaged by Cameron.”[14]

At Stake for Both Sides

Cameron’s visit is aimed to reduce the chatter surrounding Britain’s touchy relationship with the EU throughout the Eurozone.  Recall that shortly after Cameron’s referendum announcement, France commented that Britain could not have an “a la carte” attitude towards the EU,[15] and “German officials said Britain could not ‘cherry-pick’ the terms of membership.”[16] While German officials are not encouraged by Cameron’s desire to roll back EU powers, they were not surprised.[17]

If Britain leaves the EU, many argue that “France’s relative influence would increase as would that of the southern ‘Club Med’ nations, which tend to be less committed to free markets and budgetary rigor . . . . If Merkel [and Germany lose] Britain, then her game of politics of options”[18] will cease. The question really becomes what price Germany is willing to pay to keep Britain in the EU due to the fact that Britain is an “important German ally, especially on free trade issues.”[19]

The consensus is that Merkel needs Cameron: whether it be for free trade policies that require approval of all 27 EU member states, or on broad sweeping free trade policies.[20]

Some commentators have hinted that Germany and Britain could come to common ground on the issue of reforming the EU, but the depth of that reformation is likely going to be more limited than any of Cameron’s supporters envision.[21]  Germany is unlikely to budge on allowing Britain to opt out of more policy areas or give up “on the core values of European integration, a much stronger political idea on the Continent than in Britain.”[22] Tobias Etzold, an expert on European integration with the German Institute for International Security Affairs, warns: “It is important that Great Britain understands that possible alternative to full membership in the EU would hurt them more than it would hurt the remaining members.”[23]

Cameron would be wise to remember that just this month Merkel and French president, Francois Hollande, “snubbed a UK exercise to assess the impact of EU laws and regulations on Britain and the rest of Europe.”[24]


The topics that are officially slated for discussion between Cameron and Merkel range from the forthcoming G8 summit to the situation in Syria.  The highlight, however, is that the two leaders are scheduled to talk over “all aspects” of EU reformation.[25]

It is interesting to note that at the same time that Cameron seeks to increase Britain’s independence from the EU, he also is fiercely against Scottish independence.[26]  While Cameron may have hundreds of years of history to bolster his argument that Scottish independence is bad for the United Kingdom, one cannot help but be struck by the juxtaposition.

Treana Hickey is a third year law student at the University of Denver and is a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

[1] Melissa Eddy and Stephen Castle, In Cameron and Merkel Visit, a Chance to Discuss British Role in Europe, The New York Times, April 12, 2013.

[2] Andrew Higgins, Europe is Edgy as Cameron Seeks to Loosen Ties, The New York Times, Jan. 23, 2013.

[3] Stephen Brown, Merkel, Cameron to Bring Families Together in Castle Outside Berlin, Yahoo! News, April 12, 2013, http://news.yahoo.com/merkel-cameron-bring-families-together-castle-outside-berlin-143320632.html.

[4] Carsten Volkery, Opposing Visions of Europe: Tensions Ahead of David Cameron’s Berlin Visit, Spiegel Online, Nov. 17, 2011, http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/opposing-visions-of-europe-tensions-ahead-of-david-cameron-s-berlin-visit-a-798399.html.

[5] Andrew Sparrow, Cameron and Merkel to Discuss EU Reform in Germany, The Guardian, April 12, 2013.

[6] Cameron to Press for EU Reform During Berlin Visit, Europe Online Magazine, April 12, 2013, http://en.europeonline-magazine.eu/cameron-longs-for-eu-reform_275521.html.

[7] Andrew Sparrow, Cameron and Merkel to Discuss EU Reform in Germany, The Guardian, April 12, 2013.

[8] Melissa Eddy and Stephen Castle, In Cameron and Merkel Visit, a Chance to Discuss British Role in Europe, The New York Times, April 12, 2013.

[9] Stephen Brown, Merkel, Cameron to Bring Families Together in Castle Outside Berlin, Yahoo! News, April 12, 2013, http://news.yahoo.com/merkel-cameron-bring-families-together-castle-outside-berlin-143320632.html.

[10] Carsten Volkery, Opposing Visions of Europe: Tensions Ahead of David Cameron’s Berlin Visit, Spiegel Online, Nov. 17, 2011, http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/opposing-visions-of-europe-tensions-ahead-of-david-cameron-s-berlin-visit-a-798399.html.

[11] Id.

[12] EU summit: All but two leaders sign fiscal treaty, BBC News, March 2, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17230760.

[13] Toby Helm, Germany and France ‘will block David Cameron’s plan for a new EU treaty’, The Guardian, April 6, 2013.

[14] Id.

[15] France’s Hollande rejects ‘a la carte’ attitude to EU, BBC News, Feb. 5, 2013,  


[16] Melissa Eddy and Stephen Castle, In Cameron and Merkel Visit, a Chance to Discuss British Role in Europe, The New York Times, April 12, 2013.

[17] Stephen Brown, Merkel, Cameron to Bring Families Together in Castle Outside Berlin, Yahoo! News, April 12, 2013, http://news.yahoo.com/merkel-cameron-bring-families-together-castle-outside-berlin-143320632.html.

[18] Melissa Eddy and Stephen Castle, In Cameron and Merkel Visit, a Chance to Discuss British Role in Europe, The New York Times, April 12, 2013.

[19] Stephen Brown, Merkel, Cameron to Bring Families Together in Castle Outside Berlin, Yahoo! News, April 12, 2013, http://news.yahoo.com/merkel-cameron-bring-families-together-castle-outside-berlin-143320632.html.

[20] Carsten Volkery, Opposing Visions of Europe: Tensions Ahead of David Cameron’s Berlin Visit, Spiegel Online, Nov. 17, 2011, http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/opposing-visions-of-europe-tensions-ahead-of-david-cameron-s-berlin-visit-a-798399.html.

[21] Melissa Eddy and Stephen Castle, In Cameron and Merkel Visit, a Chance to Discuss British Role in Europe, The New York Times, April 12, 2013.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Andrew Sparrow, Cameron and Merkel to Discuss EU Reform in Germany, The Guardian, April 12, 2013.

[25] Id.

[26] John F. Burns and Alan Cowell, Cameron Details Arguments Against Scottish Independence, The New York Times, Feb. 16, 2012.

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A white mouse suffers from skin and eye irritation tests conducted in a research lab. (Care2.com)

Critical Analysis: International Movement to Ban Products Using Animal Research

A white mouse suffers from skin and eye irritation tests conducted in a research lab. (Care2.com)

A white mouse suffers from skin and eye irritation tests conducted in a research lab. (Care2.com)

It took 20 years of campaigning and several delays, but on March 11, 2013, the European Union law went in to effect to ban cosmetic products and their ingredients that use research on animals. The ban stipulates that no new products tested on animals will be imported in the EU. This ban will include products from skin cream and toothpaste to bleaches and air fresheners. The EU ban follows a similar import ban in Israel that went into effect in early January for toiletries, detergents, and cosmetics. These import bans mean that any company that uses animal testing for new cosmetics will no longer be able to sell those products in the EU or Israeli markets.

The EU cosmetic industry is estimated to be worth $91 billion per year. The import ban opens the question as to whether or not other countries will end up adopting the EU standard in order to compete in the market. India is one country that recently made some movement in response to the ban. In late February, Drug Controller General of India, Dr. GN Singh ordered animal testing for cosmetics to be indefinitely suspended. In addition, an elected representative, Baijayant Panda, is also urging India to follow the EU and Israel to set an example for cruelty-free products.

On the other hand, in China, the law mandates that manufacturers test products on animals before selling to consumers. This will put China at an economic disadvantage since they will not be able to sell those cosmetic items in Europe. However, the Chinese regulation also puts outside brands in a bind. If they wish to sell within China, it will require the companies to make exceptions to comply with the required animal testing. A company claiming to be cruelty-free but allowing Chinese regulators to test certain products on animals could tarnish a company’s image in the eyes of its consumers. For example, the Japanese cosmetic company Shiseido, responded to the EU ban by explaining that in April, it would only use animal testing in rare instances of safety concerns or for import to China.

The Humane Society describes some of the types of animal tests used for researching cosmetic chemicals include skin and eye irritation tests used on rabbits without pain relief, force-feeding tests to look for cancer or birth defects, and lethal dose tests that feed chemicals to animals to discover the dosage level that causes death. However, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine consider animal testing alternatives to be necessary because animal research is not effective and does not accurately predict the way the human body will react to chemicals it is given.

The European Commission has been researching alternatives since 1991 but formally established the European Union Reference Laboratory with the launch of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods in 2011 to work towards reducing and replacing animals for chemical, biological, and vaccination safety testing. Animal alternatives include human volunteers for clinical studies, synthetic human tissue, computer simulation programs, or in vitro cell cultures. From 2007 to 2011, the European Commission made 238 million euros available to fund the research of alternative methods.

Despite the progress made, some people disagree with this view that alternatives are the better choice. Scientist Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council believes the alternatives cannot address all of the safety issues present. For example, synthetic skin tests will not indicate detrimental effects to the immune system. Furthermore, some scientists still firmly believe animal testing can be useful for humans in areas such as genetics, stem cell research, and the development of antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals. One German lawmaker, Ms. Roth-Behrendt, also believes the EU ban for cosmetics still provides companies with a loophole. She theorizes that if the ingredients tested on animals for non-cosmetic purposes, such as pharmaceuticals, the cosmetics companies could potentially use them. In addition, ingredients tested on animals prior to the ban will remain on the shelves. The EU remains firm on the ban however in hopes that scientists and regulators will collaborate and create innovative alternative methods.

It will be interesting to see whether other countries such as the U.S., Canada, Russia, or Brazil will adopt the EU standard to ban animal testing with cosmetics or if more corporations will voluntarily react to the changed law like Shiseido. Groups like PETA will likely continue to work closely on advocating for change in China; especially as science and technology progresses, animal advocates will hope that in time the laws will reflect a more humane method of research and development. It is possible that this EU ban will push more movement toward banning animal testing, not just for cosmetics, but also in other areas of safety testing such as medicine and pharmaceuticals.

Kristen Pariser is a 2L and Staff Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Europe, You Stay Over There.

David Cameron Wants Out of the EU: What are the Risks and Rewards?

The Treaty of Maastricht established the European Union (“the EU”) under its current name in 1993.[1]  The Treaty included a Social Chapter that laid “down EU policies on workers’ rights and other social issues.”[2]  The Treaty also established an economic and monetary union, which required the Member States to (1) coordinate their economic policies, (2) provide multilateral surveillance of the coordination, and (3) be subject to financial and budgetary discipline.[3]  The objective of monetary policy was to ensure the common currency’s “stability thanks to price stability and respect for the market economy.”[4]

Great Britain, however, has never adopted the EU’s single currency, opted out of the Treaty’s Social Chapter, “does not participate in Europe’s Schengen passport-free travel zone,” and “announced last year that it would opt out of a range of justice and security policy areas.”[5]

More specifically, Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, has voiced his frustration with the EU’s economic policies.[6]  Cameron has stated: “In the name of social protection, the EU has promoted unnecessary measures that impose burdens on businesses and government, and can destroy jobs.”[7]

Can't pick and choose these stars. (Borsen)

Can’t pick and choose these stars.

Just a year after his very public criticisms, on January 23, 2013, Cameron announced that if his Conservative Party were to be reelected in 2015, he would either “reduce British entanglement with the EU – or allow his people to vote in a referendum to leave the bloc all together.”[8]

The response to Cameron’s announcement has been mixed globally.  In the Eurozone, however, the criticism has come quick.  French President Francois Hollande “told the European Parliament there can be no ‘a la carte’ attitude to the EU.  [ . . . ] National interests, he said in Strasbourg, risked taking precedence over the interests of the EU.”[9]  Hollande also noted that either Europe “must move forward together [. . . ] or we will not move forward at all.”[10]

This first look at the potential impacts of Cameron’s announcement focuses on Great Britain’s current role in the European Union and a few of the political costs that may not be worth any of Great Britain’s solo gains.

A General Overview of the EU

The main governing body, the European Commission, is the only body that can propose new laws for the EU.[11]  The Commission is made up of 27 Commissioners—one for each EU member country.[12]  The Commissioners are appointed by their home countries and are not popularly elected.[13]   “The number of Commissioners will be reduced in 2014, so that not every member-state will have its own Commissioner.”[14]

European citizens, however, directly elect the Members of European Parliament (“MEPs”).[15]  There are a total 736 MEPs, while only 72 are from the United Kingdom.[16]  According to the BBC, the MEPs as whole have the power to block, scrutinize, and change the laws proposed by the Commission, as well as approve or disapprove of the European Union’s budget.[17]

Finally, the EU Council of Ministers is where the national governments of all 27 Member states come together to debate and vote on both domestic and foreign policy.  In 2014, “Parliament will be put on an equal footing with the Council for most issues, including the crucial areas of the budget and agriculture, under a system dubbed the ‘co-decision.’”[18]

A recent New York Times article noted that while officially decisions are made by national governments in the complicated way described above, “[i]n practice, countries strike informal agreements and compromises, often trading support on one issue for a reciprocal agreement, sometimes in an unrelated area of policy.”[19]

Europe, You Stay Over There. (Mirror)

Europe, You Stay Over There.

Great Britain’s Current Role

It is no secret that Britain has had a tenuous relationship with the EU despite its status as a Member State; even the giant piece of art that depicts each of the member countries represented on the EU Council of Ministers pokes fun at Great Britain by leaving the country off the mural.[20]

The Potential Gains & Losses

The following chart, originally compiled by BBC’s Brian Wheeler and Laurence Peter, lays out the arguments on both sides of the debate over Britain’s future relationship with the EU.[21] Only arguments pertinent to this posting remain and others have been removed.

Key Question

Better off out

Better off in

Are there any viable options for Britain leaving the EU? Yes. Britain could negotiate an “amicable divorce”, but retain strong trading links with EU nations. . . .Some favour the Swiss model, based on bi-lateral treaties with the EU rather than membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), a kind of “EU-lite”.Others say the EEA/Norway model would be easier as the UK is already a member of the free trade area. 

Some argue for a clean break from the EU, with the UK free to make trade deals with nations around the word.

No. An “amicable divorce” is a pipe dream.France, Germany and other leading EU nations would never allow Britain a “pick and mix” approach to the bloc’s rules.Norway and Switzerland have to abide by many EU rules without any influence over how they are formed.”If we weren’t in there helping write the rules they would be written without us – the biggest supporter of open markets and free trade – and we wouldn’t like the outcome,” argued David Cameron in a speech last year. 

If Britain went for a clean break from the EU, its exports would be subject to EU export tariffs and would still have to meet EU production standards.


What would be the impact on British jobs? With small and medium-sized firms freed from EU regulation, there could be a jobs boom. More than 90% of the UK economy is not involved in trade with the EU, yet still bears the burden of these rules, says the Bruges Group. The Eurosceptic think tank claims pulling out of the EU but staying in the EEA would create 1 million British jobs. Millions of jobs could be lost as global manufacturers move to low-cost countries within in the EU. Britain’s foreign-owned car industry would shift into the EU and sectors linked to membership such as aerospace would suffer. Airbus production could move to France and Germany, pro-EU commentators claim.
Would Britain save money?The UK paid £8.9bn into EU budget in 2010/11, says the Treasury, out of £706bn in public spending. Yes. It would save billions in membership fees, and end the “hidden tariff” paid by UK taxpayers when goods are exported to the EU, caused by red tape, waste, fraud and other factors.A study by UKIP MEP Gerard Batten claims the total cost to the UK of EU membership, when all these factors are taken into account, is £65.7bn a year. No. The UK’s contribution to the EU budget is a drop in the ocean compared with the benefits to business of being in the single market, says pressure group Business for New Europe.It could be costly for UK exporters if they face EU legal arguments against UK standards – there could be a lot more court cases.
What would be the effect on trade? “We will continue to trade with Europe, as part of an association of nation states,” says Eurosceptic Tory MP Bill Cash.The UK would also be free to establish bi-lateral trade agreements with fast-growing export markets such as China, Singapore, Brazil, Russia and India through the World Trade Organisation. The EU is the UK’s main trading partner, worth more than £400bn a year, or 52% of the total trade in goods and services.”The UK is always likely to be better positioned to secure beneficial trade deals as a member of the EU than as an individual and isolated player,” says Labour’s Europe spokeswoman Emma Reynolds.
Would the UK’s influence in the world change?  The UK would remain a key part of Nato and the UN Security Council and a nuclear power, with a powerful global voice in its own right. The Bruges Group wants an end to the “discredited” principle that Britain acts as a transatlantic bridge between the US and Europe, saying it should make self-reliance its guiding principle. Stripped of influence in Brussels, Berlin and Paris, Britain would find itself increasingly ignored by Washington and sidelined on big transnational issues such as the environment, security and trade.America and other allies want Britain to remain in the EU. The UK risks becoming a maverick, isolated state if it leaves.
Would taxes change? The EU has limited power over tax, which is largely a matter for national governments. The exception is VAT which has bands agreed at the EU level. Outside the EU, the UK would potentially have more flexibility. “Tax avoidance and evasion will reach crippling levels as our economy becomes increasingly wholly owned by foreign multinationals that make tax avoidance in Britain central to their business strategy,” claims The Observer in a recent editorial.
Would Britain’s legal system, democratic institutions and law-making process change? It would be a major shot in the arm for British democracy as the Westminster parliament regained its sovereignty and re-connected with voters.The country would be free from the European Arrest Warrant and other law and order measures, but would still have to deal with the European Court of Human Rights, which is separate from the EU. Britons benefit from EU employment laws and social protections, which would be stripped away. Withdrawal from the European Arrest Warrant could mean delays for the UK in extraditing suspects from other European countries; and the UK already has some opt-outs from EU labour law, including the Working Time Directive.


As EU budget talks heat up, many will be monitoring Britain’s bargaining effectiveness with Cameron’s comments looming over any budgetary talks. Since Cameron has sent the signal that Britain is not interested in any crucial positions within the EU, Britain may have already set itself up to have less bargaining power in the future.

Treana Hickey is a 3L at the Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy 

[1] Treaty of Maastricht on European Union, http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/institutional_affairs/treaties/treaties_maastricht_en.htm

[2] Profile: European Union, BBC News, Nov. 30, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18788906.

[3] Treaty of Maastricht on European Union, http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/institutional_affairs/treaties/treaties_maastricht_en.htm

[4] Id.

[5] Stephen Castle, Critical Stance on Europeans May Jeopardize Britain’s Influence, The New York Times DealBook, Ed. Andrew Ross Sorkin, Jan. 22, 2013.

[6] Id.

[7] Richard Fletcher, Davos 2012: David Cameron’s ‘stop tinkering’ call wins Britain few friends in Europe, The Telegraph, Jan. 26, 2013.


[8] Andrew Higgins, Europe is Edgy as Cameron Seeks to Loosen Ties, The New York Times, Jan. 23, 2013.

[9] France’s Hollande rejects ‘a la carte’ attitude to EU, BBC News, Feb. 5, 2013,  


[10] Gavin Hewitt, France Takes Aim at Britain, BBC News, Feb, 5, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21338499

[11] BBC News- Inside the European Commission, BBC News Video, April 28, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8021647.stm.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Profile: European Union, BBC News, Nov. 30, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18788906.

[15] BBC News- How the European Parliament Works, BBC News Video, April 28, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8021660.stm.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Profile: European Union, BBC News, Nov. 30, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18788906.

[19] Stephen Castle, Critical Stance on Europeans May Jeopardize Britain’s Influence, The New York Times DealBook, Ed. Andrew Ross Sorkin, Jan. 22, 2013.

[20] Profile: European Union, BBC News, Nov. 30, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18788906.  

[21] Brian Wheeler and Laurence Peter, The UK and EU: Better off out or in?, Jan. 16, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20448450.

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Group 12 -- EU Peace Prize

Critical Analysis: EU Wins Nobel Peace Prize

The European Union flag. (CzechFolks.com)

Early on Friday, October 12, the Nobel Committee in Oslo surprised many by giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union or EU, rather than an individual. The peace prize is historically bestowed upon individuals like Mother Teresa and Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu for fighting injustice, ending wars, and helping people in need. Last year’s peace prize was shared by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Liberian antiwar activist, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman, a democracy activist in Yemen.

This year, the Norwegian panel weighed 231 nominations before deciding to award the 2012 Peace Prize to the EU, even as the supranational organization faces its most serious crisis since it emerged from the ruins of World War II. Speaking in Oslo, Thorbjørn Jagland, head of the Nobel committee, dismissed the EU’s problems, stating that the institution had been a force for peace both after the World War II, and following the bloody slaughter of the 1990s in the Balkans. Citing EU achievements, Jaglan proclaimed, the “main message is that we need to keep in mind what we have achieved on this continent, and not let the continent go into disintegration.”  Jagland cited several key EU achievements. He said another conflict between France and Germany was “unthinkable” following 70 years as close allies.

The EU is often described as a “family of democratic European countries, committed to working together for peace and prosperity.” The origins of peace in Europe lie in the alliance made between France and Germany that gave birth to the European Coal and Steel Community, a forerunner of the EU. The EU, which now claims 27 member states, came into formal existence through the Treaty on European Union, signed at Maastricht in 1991. Since the EU came into existence, the continent has seen consistent peace, and international security remains one of the EU’s top priorities, not just in Europe but in the rest of the world. In addition, the single market is probably the EU’s single biggest claim, though the two achievements seem to be interrelated.  In addition, the EU accounts for half of all global aid, €53.1bn last year alone.

However, the Nobel Committee’s announcement to give the peace prize to the EU was met with mixed reactions. On one hand, many politicians and world leaders praised the decision, as is evidenced by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s statement that “the award of the Nobel Prize of Peace to the European Union reminds us that the EU is endlessly more than [interest-rate] spreads and bailout funds.”  Likewise, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said the award proved that the European body was “something very precious.” Barroso also stated that the award was a “justified recognition” of a unique project that works for the benefit of its citizens and the world.

In contrast, others in the international community were not so pleased with the Committee’s decision, “mocking the award to an agglomeration of countries, many of which are in recession and internal turmoil.” Rania Svigkou, a spokeswoman for Greece’s Syriza party stated that the “award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU is an insult to the people of Europe themselves, who currently are experiencing an undeclared war as a result of the barbaric, anti-social austerity policies that are destroying social cohesion and democracy.” Likewise, Nigel Farage, a British Eurosceptic, allegedly remarked: “This goes to show the Norwegians really do have a sense of humor.” Another Brit, Martin Callanan, a member of the European Parliament and the leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, stated that “the Nobel committee is a little late for an April Fool’s joke,” further stating that the EU’s policies have exacerbated the financial crisis.

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee has made little secret that the prize is being given in part because of the current predicament that the EU finds itself in. In response to a question about the decision, the secretary of the Nobel Peace Prize stated that the Committee was trying to send a message to the European public, urging them “to secure what they have achieved on this continent.” Thus, it seems feasible that the Committee is giving the award, in part, as a means to plea for support of the endangered EU at a critical moment in the institution’s history.

Kate Hennessy is a 3L at the University of Denver School of Law and Staff Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. 

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Critical Analysis: European Union Economic Position – Spanish Bailout

As the world market continues to struggle, Spanish Officials refuse aid for a possible bank bailout.  Spain’s Economy Minister, Luis de Guindos, spoke in Brussels regarding Spain’s economic position.  In responding to recent reports that Spain would be seeking a bailout for its banks, Mr. de Guindos stated, “I have absolutely not discussed any intervention in Spain’s banks today,” referring to the meeting in Brussels.  Responding to whether Spain would seek a future bailout from the EU, Mr. de Guindos said, “We are not preparing anything . . . we have a road map.”  While the Spanish Economy Minister’s comments bolstered the EU market, many speculators believe that a Spanish bailout is necessary and imminent.

Following the Spanish housing bubble of 2009, many Spanish banking institutions struggle to recover from their bad loans.  Currently, the Spanish banking sector is thought to need roughly between €50 and €100 billion from the EU.  However, Spanish officials are refusing to accept bailout conditions and, rather, seek to have any bailout money given directly to the Spanish banking sector.  As the Financial Times Deutschland wrote, “For months, the Spanish government has refused to make use of the bailout funds. Meanwhile, it has cried out ever more loudly for help. Apparently, the government believes that in their great distress they will be able to bypass the rules and still be helped out of the crisis. That may have to happen if the entire euro zone falls deeper into the abyss.”

Regardless, many EU member countries are ready to lend aid.  French Finance Minister, Pierre Moscovici, said at a Paris press conference that, “If Spain desires, we in the euro zone can mobilize rapidly.”   Additionally, EU members are confident that reasonable bailout conditions will be placed for the betterment of the EU.  Holger Schmiedeg, chief economist at Berenberg bank in London, predicts Europe, “will not impose onerous additional conditions on Spain,” and, “Once Spain has been granted 50 billion euros to recapitalize its domestic banks, the Spanish sovereign will be able to fund itself on the market again at bearable interest rates.”  Despite Spain’s reasoning behind its refusal to accept EU bailout money, the EU is in agreement that a necessary and imminent Spanish bailout needs to occur for the betterment of European market.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

News Post: EU and US Impose Further Sanctions on Iran

By: Kaitlin Fox

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with nuclear scientists

The European Union (EU) and the United States took further action on Monday to curb Iran’s nuclear program.  The EU agreed to impose a phased ban on oil purchases from Iran while the United States expanded its sanctions on Iran to include the countries’ third largest bank, Bank Tajarat.  Iranian Government Officials reacted by reiterating their threat to close the Straight of Hormuz, in which twenty percent of the world’s oil passes.  It is unclear whether the EU and U.S. actions will prove effective.  Some speculate that Iran will simply turn to alternative markets while others sense that the sanctions will cause major damage to the Iranian economy.  Either way, recent events are certain to escalate tensions in the region.

The EU’s phased ban on oil purchases does not permit EU member states to enter into new contracts for Iranian oil.  However, countries that have existing contracts will have until July 1 to end those agreements.  The EU’s decision is meant to “force a shift in policy and avert the risk of military strikes against Tehran.”  The U.S.’s sanction against Bank Tejarat is poised to further restrict Iran’s access to the international financial market.  The Treasury, under the Secretary for Terrorism, David Cohen, stated that, “At a time when banks around the world are cutting off Iran and its currency is depreciating rapidly, today’s action against Bank Tejarat strikes at one of Iran’s few remaining access points to the international financial system.”   Thus far, Iran has had little regard for its international obligations, and both U.S. and EU officials hope that these moves will increase their cost of defiance.

The EU’s action represents a shift in policy, as the EU has been reluctant to impose an embargo on Iranian oil imports. The U.S. stopped importing oil from Iran years ago where as EU member states, including France, Italy, Greece and Spain, currently import approximately 600,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran..  The EU’s shift came after the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was moving toward nuclear capability this fall.  The EU’s timeline to enforce its embargo coincides with the U.S. six-month timeframe, during which President Obama will need to decide whether to pursue sanctions on countries that import Iranian oil.    The effectiveness of recent action is unclear. Jamie Webster, a Middle East oil analyst at PFC Energy stated that the sanction could merely cause Iran to shift its customers and deliver more to Eastern markets.  What is clear, however, is that a drop in oil revenue would have a significant negative impact on an already weak Iranian economy.

Iran’s reaction to the EU and U.S. sanctions was defiant and almost skeptical.  Officials in Tehran insisted that the EU needed Iranian oil more than Iran needed its business.  Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi stated that, “The West’s ineffective sanctions against the Islamic state are not a threat to us. They are opportunities and have already brought lots of benefits to the country.”  The particular benefits he refers to are undefined and other officials in the region fear grave consequences of Iran’s hard-line approach.  Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britian, Prince Mohammad Bin Nawaf, expressed his concern that Iran’s threat to block the Straight of Hormuz would have grave consequences on the region and would undoubtedly escalate the entire situation to the detriment of Iranian citizens.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/24/us-iran-idUSTRE80N0YB20120124  If Iran’s attitude remains unchanged, the situation will certainly escalate as evidenced by the United States sailing an aircraft carrier through the straight, accompanied by British and French warships on Sunday.  The United States has asserted that, “it would not tolerate the closure of the world’s most important oil shipping gateway.” http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/24/us-iran-idUSTRE80N0YB20120124

Amidst this turmoil, it remains in controversy: do sanctions actually work?  Sanctions are appealing to governments like the U.S. and the EU.  In theory, sanctions force policy by blocking money from flowing in and out of a country, and thus forcing the sanctioned government to give in to political pressure.  On the surface, this seems like a much better option than forcing the issue through military action whilst risking American lives.  However, it is arguable whether sanctions do more harm to the citizens of the sanctioned country than to the governments they attempt to influence.  In this case, Iranian citizens already suffer from a weak economy and an oppressive government and it is likely that these sanctions will enhance these problems by further devaluing the currency and increasing oil prices.  The goal of these sanctions is to persuade the Iranian government to halt its nuclear program; but with the imminent risk of further stirring tension in the region and without any guarantee of success, there is the possibility that sanctions may do more harm than good.

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EU Flag

European integration – the European Union’s accession to the ECHR

In this third and final article about legal integration in Europe the subject is the EU’s forthcoming accession to the ECHR. Those not already familiar with the organizations in question – the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe and the European Union – are advised to read the two previous articles (here and here) in this series.

EU Flag

EU Flag

At the time of writing final negotiations are still ongoing regarding the EU’s accession to the ECHR. Before outlining the negotiation process and the effects the accession will have, it is necessary to understand exactly who the parties are, and how they are represented at the negotiating table. In this regard it is important to keep in mind the fundamentals: the EU as an international organization is acceding to the ECHR – a human rights treaty. EU acts will therefore be subject to external judicial review by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) – a treaty body under the ECHR.

Negotiations: parties and playing field
The accession agreement is to be concluded between all 47 members of the Council of Europe (CoE), on the one hand, and the EU, on the other. There is a high degree of overlap with regards to membership between the two organizations – all 27 EU members are also members of the CoE. In practice this means that those 27 states have interests on both sides of the negotiating table. As for the states involved it thus seems more like a negotiation between the 27 EU-members and the 20 non-EU members among the CoE states.

This is, however, only half the truth. Both the international organizations involved have a certain degree of autonomy, and their own interests to protect that cuts across the state interests. While the Council of Europe is not itself formally party to the negotiation, they have have provided the forum for negotiation, and provided the negotiators with a secretariat. Recognized as the “benchmark of human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Europe”,1 the CoE fears the development of competing human rights standards within the EU. Potentially, this could lead to a two-tier human rights protection in Europe, and put the CoE on the sideline politically. EU accession, on the other hand, would entail a submission of the Union to the ECHR standards, thus solidifying the CoE’s position as the human rights “benchmark”.

Last, but definitely not least, the European Union as an international organization with a large degree of autonomy is a key player in the negotiations. It will become one of the signatories to the accession agreement, is directly involved in the negotiations through its organs, and consists of a number of bodies and agencies staffed by persons sitting in private capacity. Despite its strong position in Europe politically, its vast resources, and the fact that it has its own human rights regime, the Union still considers the rapid accession to the ECHR as a key priority.

Historical and political reasons for accession
To understand why the Union is willing to submit itself to the external judicial review of the European Court of Human Rights – a de facto Council of Europe organ – one must look to the history of the Union. When it was conceived2 in the early fifties there were talks of creating formal ties between it and the already existing CoE, including an accession to the ECHR. However, the idea of a greater political Union in failed. Instead a purely economic Union was created, and human rights were left out of the original EU treaties.

However, it did not take a long time before litigants from countries with proud constitutional traditions challenged Union legislation on human rights grounds before national courts. Initially the European Court of Justice (ECJ) did not budge.3 It also rejected the argument that EU law contained any human rights principles.4

Nonetheless, the litigants persisted, and a political solution to this conflict was not found, despite strong criticism from several angles. An accession to the ECHR was also deemed impossible at the time, due to the fact that France – a founding EU member – was not party to it. Finally, in 1969 a judicial solution as found when the ECJ gave in to the criticism by recognizing that fundamental human rights are a general principle of EU law.5

While the creation of an EU system of human rights protection by the ECJ gave the Union some breathing room, it was far from the coherent and codified system of the ECHR. These rights were developed ad hoc on a case-by-case basis, and were thus hard both to interpret and apply.

Consequently, it was still plenty of room to criticize the EU’s system of human rights protection. And, ss the EU expanded its field of operations in the past few decades, the critical voices grew in numbers. The codification of the Union’s human rights principles in the non-binding EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in 2000 did not manage to turn the public opinion around. Even though the Lisbon treaty provided the Charter with binding legal effect in late 2009, the EU still lacks the hard-earned legitimacy of the ECHR. Its human rights protection is still seen as second class by many.

This has become even more pressing in recent years when the EU has expanded heavily into the area of foreign affairs. With a easily criticizable system of human rights protection at home, it is harder to push compliance with such rights toward other international actors. As a consequence, EU is keen on acceding to the ECHR as quickly as possible to tap into the success and legitimacy of the Convention system, including its Court.

Legal and technical reasons for accession
There are also more technical legal arguments for an accession, rooted in the fact that all EU members are also parties to the ECHR. This can lead to norm conflicts between the two legal regimes. Furthermore, the ECJ and the ECtHR will often have jurisdiction to deal with the same factual matters.

As a result of this, there is a real and serious risk of divergent interpretation. States could therefore be faced with a dilemma. There could potentially be situations where the national state is left to choose towards whom it should breach its obligations. Take for example an EU legal act that is incompatible with an ECHR right: Should the state prioritize human rights, and face the wrath of the Commission at the ECJ? Or should it uphold EU law, and possibly face an array of individual complaints at the ECtHR?

An accession could mitigate the risk of divergent interpretations, as both courts would have a common legal framework. Furthermore, the ECtHR is to become a court of external judicial review in relation to the Union – comparable to that of a national constitutional court. This will make it possible to solve instances of divergent interpretation. With the formal ties in place, there is little doubt that the ECJ will follow the ECtHR’s jurisprudence. If not, the Union would loose face, and incur international responsibility in the ECtHR, something it seeks to avoid at all costs.

Another more technical reason in favor of accession is the need for correct attribution of responsibility between the EU and its member states. At present it is possible for individuals to challenge national acts taken in compliance with EU law before national courts. These cases can, and do, end up in the ECtHR as a case between the individual and the EU member state implementing an EU act.

While the ECtHR has held that the EU cannot be brought before it due to it not being a party to the Convention,6 it has insisted that the national states in principle retain responsibility for the sovereign powers transferred to the Union.7 The consequence of these statements of principle could potentially lead to the ECtHR finding a national state responsible for implementing EU acts, regardless of the fact that it is obliged to implement it, and may not even have voted in favor of it.8

An accession would make it possible to allocate responsibility correctly. If the violations is inherent in the relevant EU legislation, then the Union will be found responsible. On the other hand, if the EU legislation provides the member states with a margin of discretion wide enough to enable human rights-compliance, they will be held responsible for any non-compliant implementation.

Finally, an accession would make it possible to bring human rights cases that does not involve national acts before the ECtHR. This would include the cases there EU organs have acted directly. Examples include labor disputes, and enforcement of European competition law.

Negotiations: status
The above-mentioned reasons has made accession a pressing issue for the Union. As soon as the legal basis for such an accession was firmly in place,[TEU art. 6(2), ECHR art. 59(2).] negotiations began in the summer of 2010. The negotiations took place in the context of a CoE working group, which presented a draft Accession Agreement a year later, in summer 2011. It was then expected that the negotiations would be formally concluded within a couple of months.

However, during a CoE meeting in October the British and French delegations raised objections against the negotiated draft. This halted the negotiations while the 27 EU member states try to iron out their differences. This process is ongoing, and despite the initial protests by the French and the British, it seems like an agreement will be reached on the final details within a relatively short amount of time.

Upon agreement by the EU countries there will be another round of negotiations between the 27 EU members and the 20 non-members. After that the ECJ, and possibly the ECtHR, will be asked to give their opinions on the draft. It is not given that the ECJ will accept that the ECtHR encroaches upon its exclusive jurisdiction and the Union’s autonomy. But, it is hard to guess what the ECJ will decide, as its case-law regarding treaty-made external judicial institutions is somewhat confusing. I will thus not venture further into this topic, as it would require an article of its own.

On the other hand, if the court opinions are indeed positive, the draft will be adopted, and opened for signature and ratification by all 47 CoE member states, as well as the EU.

The Accession Agreement – solutions and new issues
The current drafts puts great emphasis on the principle that the EU will become a party to the ECHR on an equal footing with the states parties to the Convention. Thus, the EU’s accession will resolve many of the problems outlined above.

However, as two complex international legal orders are to be integrated, difficulties are bound to arise. To give the readers of The View From Above a taste of what’s to come, I will deal with one of the issues arising in connection with the ECtHR’s review of EU acts.

In order to say something about judicial review by the ECtHR over EU acts following accession, we must look to the present situation. As mentioned above, the ECtHR is capable of reviewing national acts implementing Union law. Nevertheless, such review has been severely limited. Thus, when implementing Union acts, the national states are given a significantly broader margin of appreciation than otherwise.

This is the result of the three-step test the ECtHR applies in these cases. First, it considers that the Union as a whole provides an “equivalent protection” of human rights, while underlining that equivalent means comparable, not identical.9 Second, it adds that when such equivalent protection is provided by the EU, there is a presumption that the state in question has not departed from the ECHR’s requirements “when it does no more than implement legal obligations flowing from its membership of the organisation”.10 Third, this presumption may only be rebutted if the protection of the ECHR rights in an individual case is “manifestly deficient”.11

The ECtHR’s rationale for this three-step test is not crystal clear. It seems to be an attempt to balance the “growing importance of international cooperation and of the consequent need to secure the proper functioning of international organisations” with the importance of human rights compliance.12 However, it might just as well be seen as an non-principled attempt to avoid an open conflict with the ECJ.

As the accession of the EU to the ECHR is to be primarily based on the equal footing principle, it seems likely that this doctrine will be scrapped. If the Union is to be seen as an equal contracting party, there is no reason for the ECtHR to provide it with a large margin of appreciation. This must at least be clear for cases where the Union participates in the proceedings. Here the rationale is without basis following an accession.

But, what if the Union does not join the proceedings? This will, at least in theory, be possible under the latest draft Accession Agreement. It ultimately leaves it to the Union’s free will if it wants to join a case against an EU member state pending case before the ECtHR that involves Union law.13 If the Union does not, the ECtHR would have a hard nut to crack.

Should it perform a full scrutiny of whether EU law is compatible with the ECHR, and attribute the responsibility to the member state that happened to be chosen by the individual applicant as respondent in that case? Should it rather dismiss the application, as it concerns the act of another High Contracting Party – namely the Union – than the one chosen as respondent? Or should it use the three-step test outlined above?

There is no clear cut answer to this question. Neither does it seem likely at the present time. As long as the Union is still set on enhancing its image in the field of human rights, it is highly unlikely that it would refuse to join such proceedings. However, it is given that the tide will turn. A non-cooperative Union would put serious strains on the ECtHR’s judicial review.

No accession without difficulties – and no coherence without accession
As should be obvious from the above, the EU’s accession to the ECHR can be equated with the opening of Pandora’s famous box. Nevertheless, these difficulties seem to be necessary in order to create an integrated and coherent human rights framework in Europe.

Furthermore, the current state of affairs is neither coherent nor easily understandable. Even if it might lead to some difficulties, it should be possible to iron those out, as there will be a formal link between the two courts. Hopefully, the end result will be easier to grasp for laypeople than the complex, multi-layered and fragmented system of human rights protection we have in Europe today.


  1. Memorandum of Understanding between the EU and the CoE (available at: http://www.coe.int/t/der/docs/MoU_EN.pdf), para 10
  2. Then called “the European Community”, which through a complex history evolved into the European Union. To avoid these historical complexities, which are without interest in the context of this article, I refer to the EU using the contemporary terms for the organization and its organs.
  3. Case 1/58 Stork v. High Authority (1959)
  4. Joined Cases 36, 37, 38 and 40/59 Geitling v. High Authority (1960)
  5. Case 29/69 Stauder v. City of Ulm (1969)
  6. CFDT v. the European Communities (dec.), no. 8030/77 (1978); M & Co v. Germany (dec.), no. 13258/87 (1990)
  7. M & Co v. Germany (dec.), no. 13258/87 (1990); Bosphorus Airways v. Ireland (GC), no. 45036/98 (2005) para 152
  8. See TEU art. 16(3), TFEU art. 294. The treaty of Lisbon introduced qualified majority voting in several areas where human rights issues are likely to be raised, such as the “Common foreign and Security Policy” and important parts of the “Area of Freedom, Security and Justice”.
  9. Bosphorus Airways v. Ireland (GC), no. 45036/98 (2005) para 155
  10. ibid. para 156
  11. ibid.
  12. ibid. paras 150-154
  13. Draft Accession Agreement (available at: http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/hrpolicy/CDDH-UE/CDDH-UE_MeetingReports/CDDH_2011_009_en.pdf) art. 3(5).

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Protesters in Greece

The Epic Proportions of the Greek Debt Crisis

As Odysseus was returning home from the Trojan War, he came to a narrow channel that enclosed two deadly monsters: Scylla and Charybdis. On one side – Scylla – a six-headed demon that devoured any sailors that came too close. On the other side – Charybdis – a kraken that would swallow massive amounts of water to create huge whirlpools that capsized any ship in the area. While these whirlpools would only come three times a day, a sailor had no way of predicting when one was about to begin. Avoiding Charybdis meant passing through Scylla’s striking zone, and vice versa.

Odysseus had to make a difficult decision. While he originally contemplated charting a course down the middle of the channel, in the end he decided it was better to pass within the reach of Scylla. With Scylla he would only lose six sailors, one to each of her six terrible heads, rather than risk the loss of his entire ship in the whirlpool.

Today, the European Union faces a similar situation as it contemplates the Greek debt crisis. Scylla is reincarnated as a structured or “orderly” default program. A structured default would result in large losses for Greek debt-holders, but offers more predictability. Charybdis takes the form of continuing credit injections. While bailout money may allow Greece to escape the whirlpool of bankrupcy, many feel that there is a strong chance the country would default anyway. A default in this situation could lead to a panicked run on the banks and could potentially sink the entire European Union as the crisis spread to Italy and even Spain.

Protesters in Greece

Protesters in Greece

Which is the lesser of two evils?

Like the story of Odysseus’ trip home to Ithaca, the story of the Greek debt crisis has been a protracted one. Greece first requested a €45 billion bailout from the EU/IMF in April 2010, amid fears that it was carrying an excessive debt load. In May 2010, the EU/IMF agreed to a larger, €110 billion euro loan package to be distributed over three years. Of course, as a condition precedent to receiving this loan, Greece had to undertake rigorous fiscal adjustment (a.k.a. austerity measures). These austerity measures, which included public-sector pay cuts, pension reductions, and increases in taxes, lead to mass protests by the Greek population. Despite these austerity measures, however, Greece failed to bring its debt under control. In fact, 2010 estimates indicated that Greece’s debt had increased to €328 billion which amounted to 160% of its GDP.

In June 2011, Standard and Poor’s downgraded Greece to a CCC credit rating, suggesting that the market felt that the bailout was a failure. As the situation continued to simmer, many analysts began to argue that an uncontrolled full default was looming. While it is difficult to predict what would happen in the case of a full Greek default, it would likely prove disastrous for the Eurozone. Banks in countries with weak finances could face a run by depositors, exposing Italy, and possibly even Spain, to the crisis. The Italian and Spanish economies are far bigger than those of Greece, and the European Union would struggle to bail them out if that became necessary.

Thus, world leaders are moving towards rescue proposals that include a structured partial default for Greece. If these proposals are passed, the country will simply be allowed to pay back less than it actually borrowed. Institutions that lent money to Greece will have to write off some of the money they are owed.

Like Odysseus, the European Union seems to be choosing to make a controlled sacrifice to avoid potential disaster. While structured default includes guaranteed losses, those losses are easier to contain. Let’s hope that the European banks are able to come out relatively intact as they pass through Scylla’s many-headed attack.

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Flags of the European Union

European integration – an overview of the European Union

Flags of the European Union

Flags of the European Union

This blog post is the first in a series of three where I will be exploring the forthcoming changes of the European Human Rights system. In this post I intend to give an overview of the European Union. The second blog post will focus on the European Convention on Human Rights. Both these posts will lay the foundation for the third blog post, where the EU’s accession to the European Convention of Human Rights will be discussed.

After the Second World War, the nations of Europe saw regional cooperation as a key for avoiding further wars. Out of the ashes of war two international organizations were set up; the Council of Europe and the European Coal and Steel Community. The former exists to this day, and is the parent organization of the European Court of Human Rights. The latter was the first building block of the European Union.

The layout of the Union

The European Union is, at its heart, an international organization. However, in contrast to traditional international organizations, which are generally a form of institutionalized inter-governmental cooperation, the European Union has a much larger autonomy.1 The EU has also been conferred considerable powers from the member states.

These powers are mainly exercised through the Unions’ four primary organs. The Commission is the Unions executive organ. It consists of 27 commissioners – one from each member state – sitting in their private capacity. The Commissions primary tasks is suggesting new legislation, enforcing legislation existing, and representing the EU externally.

One way of enforcing EU law is through the European Court of Justice (ECJ). As the supreme court of the EU it primarily handles two types of cases: Firstly, the so-called enforcement actions,2 which are brought by the Commission against a member state that it considers not to be fulfilling its obligations under EU law. Secondly, depending on the case, national court may either have a right, or be obliged, to ask the ECJ for its opinion on the relevant EU law. The Court then gives a preliminary ruling which will be binding upon the national court.3

The third body worth mentioning is the Council. It  consists of representatives from the member states, and has the final word on EU legislation and international agreements between the Union and non-member states. It also approves the budget and coordinate the economic, foreign and defense policies. Votes in the Council are weighed according to the size of the countries, and binding legislation may be passed without necessarily requiring unanimity. Even though the council resembles the main organs in other international organizations, it differs by being able to pass binding legislation upon member states without unanimous consent.

Finally we have the Parliament. It consists of several hundred members directly elected by nationals of the member states. It is supposed to provide democracy to the Union. However, few people care about, or even participate in, the European Parliament elections. In addition, there are no parties in the traditional sense, but rather coalitions of similar national parties. If one adds that the parliaments limited powers to the mix, one can easily see that the democratic alibi of the Union is lacking in accountability and effectiveness. However, since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force in 2009, the Parliaments powers when passing legislation has increased somewhat. While the legislative power in the end rests with the Council, the procedure today has a larger degree of cooperation built into it.

Legislation that stings

It is not just the layout of the organs that give the EU its’ supranational character. Much due to the the ECJ, which has followed a line of jurisprudence gradually extending the Union powers on behalf of the member states, EU law has become a powerful tool. Since the 1960s the ECJ has held that EU legislation has both direct effect in, and enjoy supremacy over, national law.4

This jurisprudence has in turn been accepted by virtually all national courts. Thus, implementing measures by individual member states are not necessarily needed for citizens to be able to rely on EU law before national courts. Since EU law may also be used to annul national legislation it has a sting to it that’s unmatched by other international organizations.

EU and human rights

Due to the broad scope of contemporary EU law, some of the legislative acts give rise to human rights concerns. Starting out as an economic union, human rights did not really have a place in EU law in the early years. Through the case-law of the ECJ, however, an EU concept of human rights evolved in the first couple of decades after the union was founded.5

When creating and interpreting the EU concept of human rights the ECJ was inspired by both national constitutional traditions and international conventions. Especially the European Convention of Human Rights was held in high regard. At the turn of the millennium the EU also proclaimed its own Charter of Fundamental Rights, which finally became legally binding through the Lisbon treaty in 2009.

But, as we shall see in my upcoming articles, the EU concept of Human Rights had its limits. Before we can investigate these limitations in detail a brief examination of the European Convention of Human Rights, and its system of enforcement, is necessary. That will be the subject of the next article.

Stian Øby Johansen is from Norway, and works as a Research Assistant at the Centre for European Law at the University of Oslo. He is currently writing his Master thesis on the European Union’s forthcoming accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.

  1. Trevor Hartley, The Foundations of European Union Law (7th edn, OUP 2010) 11
  2. TFEU art. 258
  3. Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) art. 267
  4. Case C‑26/62 Van Gend en Loos (1963); Case C‑6/64 Costa v ENEL (1964)
  5. See, among others: Case 29/69 Stauder v. City of Ulm (1969); Case 4/73 Nold v. Commission (1974)

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law