EU intergovernmental body
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Why is the concept of the EU difficult to understand?

The European Union (EU) is a unique economic and political union between 27 countries, namely Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

On the 31st of January 2020 The United Kingdom left the organization.

This kind of union is defined as an “intergovernmental body“, or better, a body juridically located above the sovereign States that exists due the binding agreement signed by these 27 countries.

What does “intergovernmental body” mean?

Before explaining the concept of “intergovernmental”, I would like to ask you a few questions I bet you can answer with no troubles: How can you easily identify your country of origin or other ones? What are their distinctive elements?

I think some of your answers have been: “My country is such because of our culture and language”, “My country differs from others due to our customs and traditions”, or, “My country is made up of 15 regions and the capital is headquartered in the Northern part”.

All of these answers or similar are correct.

Most of the definitions in books, manuals and accredited online sources refer to the EU only as an union in terms of economic and political elements.

This without mentioning the concept of “national border“, so obvious to understand when talking about our own country, so complex to interpret when talking about the European Union.

Here is an example:

Italy is a sovereign state (we are going to deepen this topic later in the following articles) composed of 20 regions which is guided and led by the Political and Judicial System, through Legislative (Parliament), Executive (Government), and Judicial (Magistracy) powers.

Looking for the meaning of State, the Oxford dictionary provides the following clarifications State: “the political organization of an area under an independent government. An organised political community forming part of a country.” Following this logic, it is therefore difficult to get the sense of the EU, seen as a “State”.

Indeed, its “intergovernmental nature“, involving the governments of two or more countries, means that the actions taken by the EU are founded on treaties that have been approved voluntarily and democratically by all the EU Member States.

But intergovernmental is not a synonym of “supranational”, or having power or influence that transcends national boundaries or governments.

The sole body with this feature, is the European Central Bank (ECB) that even if it works with the national central banks of all EU countries, it acts independently, where its actions or decisions are not to be approved or discussed by Member States beforehand.

What does it mean to be a “Member State?”

For the moment being the East borders extend to Romania and are going to be likely enlarged in future years. Yet, to become a Member State, the potential candidate has to meet all the eligibility criteria:

  • Being a European state;
  • Respecting and committing to such values, namely: respect for human dignity and human rights;
  • Stable institutions able to guarantee the democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • A functioning market economy and the capacity to cope with competition and market forces in the EU; (it means stable enough to enter into the market)
  • The ability to take on and implement effectively the obligations of membership, including the aims of political, economic and monetary union; (it means a manageable stability in the long run with the expectation of increasing it more and more later).

In other words, it is possible to define the European Union as a voluntary “association” by countries which have agreed some rules in order to proceed together and achieve certain results.


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Info Astrid Amodeo

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European citizen and Consular Agent. She has a diplomatic background and a degree in EU law. She began traveling abroad to study at the age of 14, knows seven foreign languages including Arabic and Russian, and is fluent in four of them. Committed to the EU and politics, Astrid writes for Liguria.Today and in each monthly appointment discusses a changing Europe, vast and complex but not difficult to be understood.

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