How does the European Union effect the legal structure of the United Kingdom?
Good question, ever since the European Community (now the European Union) formed in 1957 more and more countries have been joining. The UK joined the Union in 1973, although the effects of the Union on UK law are really no different than the effects on any of the other members.
The European Union is divided into the same three areas as many governments are, including the UK, the executive, legislative, and judicial.
- The executive branch of the Union, the European Council, is made up of European government heads of states and Foreign Ministers. They meet twice a year and basically they decide what laws they want to bring back to their countries to implement. Each country does get a say but if they are out voted on a certain issue, the country they represent will still have to adhere to the laws created by the Union. I’ll get into how the Union makes the laws in the first place shortly.
- The legislative branch, the European Commission, is made up of nominated members from each member state, the UK usually send a representative from both the government and the opposition party. The job of the Commission is to ensure the rule of the Council is upheld. The Council is the only governing body the Commission is answerable to. The Commission is also responsible for the Unions funds and investigating complaints of breaches of Union laws.
- The judicial branch, the European Court of Justice, is made up of judges, and Advocates-General, who are appointed by member states. The Court of Justice (kind of sounds like the old League of Justice from DC comics) is as important a branch as any. Their duties include: examining the validity of the measures the Union takes against member states who may have infringed Union laws, clarifying Union law (this is done on request by national courts) by making preliminary rulings, and finally they deliver legally binding opinions on proposed agreements. The Court of Justice acts almost like a higher court for the local courts, when a decision needs to be made and the national court is either unable or unwilling to make the decision (or they decide to not make a decision in accordance with Union law) the Court of Justice takes over. It is in this last responsibility that the Union has the most effect on UK and other national laws
Basically the courts in any given member state must adhere to the decisions made by the Court of Justice. The court of Justice interprets and acts upon the decisions of the European Council. It is these intrerpretations that define the specifics of the laws created by the Union. Next we’ll look at how the Council goes about making these laws, and why they are important to the Union.
There are three basic avenues the Union uses to make laws, they are: treaties, regulations, and directives.
- Treaties are the main laws of the Union, the Council creates them and member nations are required to follow them. The Union is currently attempting to create a treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. This treaty will replace and include all other treaties to date. The treaties affect the international laws of the member nations.
- Regulations take precedence over any member state’s domestic law, at least those that are inconsistent with them. Local governments are not required to establish these regulations. Court decisions must adhere to these regulations and if they do not they are traversed to the Court of Justice.
- Directives are general goals in which each member nation must strive to meet. Member states are required to make laws that would implement these directives.
In summary the UK and other member nations are effected by the Union laws in three ways: the court systems adherence to treaties and regulations imposed by the Union, by making laws that adhere to the directives given by the Union, and by not creating laws that would be in direct opposition to the treaties, regulations and directives decided by the Union. Keep in mind that all of the decisions of the Union are really joint decisions of all member nations.
Here is a link to the European Union web page, where you will find much more on the European Union in general: http://europa.eu.int/