The Idiot’s Guide To The EU

At the time of writing, it is almost inevitable that the UK is going to have to hold elections for the European Parliament. Three years after the 2016 referendum, we have so demonstrably failed to leave the EU that we are about to elect people to represent us in it.

As a member-state of the EU, Britain is legally obligated under the terms of EU law to have candidates ready, to hold a democratic process to elect them and ultimately provide politicians to be a part of the international body that the British people supposedly want to leave. If they don’t, they will be evicted from the EU because a lack of representation from a member state would make all of the EU Parliament’s rulings null and void if the leaving member (the UK) changed their mind and remained a member.

And I know what you’re thinking.

What on earth does that mean?

The mess that Brexit has created is as vast in its scale and as deep in its intensity as Donald Trump’s requirements for hair styling products.

Let’s answer two, burning questions:

  1. What actually is the EU?
  2. Why do these Parliamentary elections matter so much?

What Actually IS The EU?

At its core, the EU is a group of countries where, on their own, they would be middling-to-small economies. They got together and created a gang where they would create rules to trade with one another and make sure that all of their members were given a fair deal (oh, and also try to prevent another European war, of which there were literally hundreds). Additionally, to protect members’ interests, the EU would trade as a unified bloc (or group) to other nations like China, the US and other major manufacturing and trading partners.

The middling-to-small economies of each member state are made much, much bigger through these arrangements.

The issues with the EU have arisen because what started as an economic pact has increased in size and scope – the feeling is (for roughly 52% of the British people, at least) that the EU now actually governs over us rather than elevates us financially. For instance, it is the final arbiter of law – i.e. EU law can overturn UK law. So when the EU legislates that fishing waters in the Channel must be shared, for example, there is nothing the UK can do about it.

So that’s what it does in a nutshell. In terms of what the EU is, it’s comprised of seven decision-making bodies, the first six of which are:

  • The European Council
    • The heads-of-state for each of the 28 member states;
    • The ones that May had to ask for an extension to Article 50.
  • The Council of the European Union 
    • Confusingly named;
    • Also named “Council of Ministers”;
    • Shares law-making capabilities of European Parliament;
    • One minister per state that rotates based on topic of discussion (i.e. if discussing agriculture, each state chooses an agriculture minister to sit).
  • European Commission 
    • The executive, i.e. submits proposals for new legislation or laws to European Parliament + Council of EU;
    • One appointee per state.
  • European Court of Justice (ECJ)
    • The judiciary, i.e. the judges that uphold EU law;
    • Can settle disputes between nations and interprets laws and treaties;
    • Has final say in legal matters – more powerful than UK courts.
  • European Central Bank 
    • Central bank for the Euro;
    • Controls monetary policy.
  • Court of Auditors
    • Ensures that taxpayer funds from the EU budget have been correctly spent.

You will notice that a) good bloody grief that’s a lot of different bodies for one institution; b) it has a lot of power; and c) of all of those bodies, there is not a single election held by the citizens of the EU.

There is definitely some validity to the claims from some quarters that major political decisions that affect peoples’ lives are often made by unelected EUrocrats.

However, there is one body that is elected, and it is arguably the most important one.


The European Parliament

The second biggest democratic electorate in the world, nearly 500 million citizens from across the EU are represented by 751 members, who are elected every five years by universal suffrage (i.e. all member states hold elections). These members are just like MPs for Parliament, and stand representing a party like Labour or the Conservatives, but are called MEPs because they are Members of the European Parliament.

They get slightly fancier names, basically.

As per the UK’s Parliament, they hold votes on the legislation that is drafted for them by the European Commission and have the power to pass them into law, but it does have slightly weaker powers than the European Council of Ministers (the rotating, unelected one) in certain areas.

The UK currently has 73 members in the European Parliament, and here is where we pick up the big bad Brexit story once again, hooray for Brexit, kill me now.

Because of Brexit, the EU has already made plans for the UK to not be represented in any of its bodies. However, while the EU and British government can control Britain’s lack of representation across the unelected bodies, because the MEPs must be voted in by an election, this creates a massive problem. Why?

Because if they aren’t, the EU has broken one of its fundamental rules – the Parliament must be democratically-elected. This then means there could be legal challenges made against any law that Parliament creates because the Parliament has not been fulfilling its legal requirements.

Basically, if they done goofed and aren’t fully elected, then they cannot make new laws.

So with the UK being super awkward and not knowing if it’s going or not, it creates a problem –

  • Does the UK elect MEPs (an expensive process) and then immediately remove them the second they do leave the EU?
  • Or do they not hold elections and get kicked out of the EU so it can protect its legal structure?

As it turns out, we almost certainly will be holding elections for the European Parliament, because we don’t actually know if we’re leaving or not and we do know that we don’t want a no-deal Brexit. It would be a disaster for the Conservatives, who have promised to deliver Brexit and have so far just created one massive, sloppy, festering mess, and that is why many are opposed to holding the elections at all.

However, unless we find a way to leave by the 23rd of May (not even leave-leave, just find a majority for a way to leave), we will have to hold an election. Otherwise we will be turfed out of the EU, with no deal, on the 1st of June.

It is likely going to be a very angry affair indeed. Prepare for fireworks…


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