On the 18th April 1951, six European countries created the European Coal and Steel Communities, and in March 1957 two further treaties followed which were often called the Treaties of Rome. The main purpose behind this was to prevent another war in Europea by creating a unified economic alliance amongst the democratic states of Western Europe. The UK became a signatory to these treaties on 1st January 1973 by passing the European Communities Act 1972. The current number of member states is now 28.
By passing the European Communities Act 1972 a new source of English law was created. Sc 2(1) of this Act states all UK courts have to recognise all EU law and when it appears that there is conflict between UK and EU law, then EU law will prevail.
European law could be the supreme source of law for the UK as it has priority over both domestic legislation and case law so Parliaments sovereignty is now limited to passing legislation thaty doesn't confilict with EU law.
However, UK Parliament could still leave the EU by a simply majority vote in Westminister so to that extent Parliament is still the supreme legislative body in the UK. But while we remain members of the EU our national sovereignty has been limited.
There are four insitutions involved in the running of the EU:
Council of Ministers.
The European Parliament.
The European Court of Justice.
The Council of Ministers
It's the main decision-making body of the EU e.g. whether to implement any EU legislation.
A government minister from each of the 28 member states sits on this Council in Brussels and votes on policy decisions.
There are different techniques of voting in the Council. For important decisions like adopting a treaty, a unanimous majority is needed but other decisions can be made by a simply majority.
Qualified Majority Voting came under the Single European Act1987. For this each country has a 'weighted' vote according to the size of its population e.g. France has 29 votes but Malta has 3 votes.
Under this rule, a qualified majority is reached in the Council if a majority of member states (15) vote in favour/a minimum of 260/352 votes are case in favour.
However, QMV is never imposed on an unwilling state in matters of importance, rather member states always try to compromise.
The executive arm of the EU, the day to day running of the EU e.g. implementing EU policies and the budget.
Political body whose role is to propose ideas for legislation to the Parliament and Council, though it can't be implemented without authority of Council. Must consult with European Parliament and Economic and Social Committe on proposals for new laws.
Comission appointed by member states for 5 year period.
Responsible for administration of EU and investigates any alleged breaches of EU treaties by member states.
Acts as 'Guardian of Treaties' and ensures Member States comply with their EU obligations. If they don't, it can take action against them in CJEU.
The 28 Comissioners are indepedent of their national governments and represent/uphold interests of EU as a whole. Also represent EU internationally, negotiating agreements between EU and other countries.
The European Parliament
Doesn't create legislation but it does have right to approve legislation once it has been drafted by Council. Main purpose to control EU budget and to also exercises democratic supervision over other EU Institutions, particulary the Commission.
Main function to discuss proposals put forward by Commission and to act in conjunction with Council to pass EU law via the ordinary legislative procedure.
Has administrative powers and advises Comission on important policy matters because MEP's are democratically elected by people of each member state, therefore claim their views represent views of electorate. Has power to sack entire comission.
MEP's elected from each member country, though numbrt of seats allocated to each country varies more/less with their respective populations.There are 751 MEP's, most recently elected in May 2014 of which 73 represent UK.
Under Article 144 of the Treaty of Rome, European Parliament may by a two-thirds majority pass a motion of censure against activities of Commission and then C must resign. However, prodecure can only be taken against whole Commission, not individual.
European Court of Justice
Sits in Luxembourg, known as CJEU and deals with legal disputes involving EU law. Ensures EU legislation applied and interpreted consistently throughout Member States and that they uphold their EU obligations.
28 judges sit in this court and serve for 26 years, can sit another 6 years to ensure continuity. Judges assisted by 8 Advocate Generals whose job is to presen cases to court in unbiased way (also sit for 6 years).
Power to issue sanctions and settle disputes, doesn't follow system of precedent instead decides cases by majority. For efficiency Court rarely sits as a full court, generally sits as a 'Grand Chamber' of 13 judges/in chambers of 5 or 3 judges.
Since 1988 CJEU has been assisted by Court of First Instance to help cope with large number of cases brought before it.
Functions of CJEU
A) Hear actions against member states for breach of EU traties for law
e.g. Re Tachographs (EC Commission v UK) 1979: An EC law made tachographs compulsory in all lorries in EU. UK didn't change its law but introdcued a voluntary scheme instead. The Commission told UK to comply with law, and when it refused the UK was taken to ECJ. It ruled tat UK must comply and necessary law introduced.
B) Power to declare invalid any law that is passed illegally by Council and Commission.
C) Deals with disputes between Community and employees.
D) Rules on Interpretation of EC law when asked to do so by member state. By virtue Article 177 of European Communities Act 1972 (now Article 234 of Maastricht), whenever there's a case which concerns interpretation of European legislation, then any court in member state from which there is no further appeal (e.g. in this country this would be House of Lords) must suspend case and submit it to ECJ for a ruling. Other lower courts may send cases concerning European legislation to ECJ, 'leapfrogging' House of Lords.
Carry on functions
ECJ then makes ruling in ase and then case referred back to national court from which it orginated for final decision. However, process of sending cases to ECJ is expensive and time consuming. Lower courts tend to be discouraged from using it. In Bulmer v Bolinger 1974 Lord Denning laid down guidelines as to when a case should be sent to ECJ.
Case shouldn't be sent when:
Been previous ruling on same point.
Decision by ECJ wouldn't be conclusive to case.
Court consders case to be relatively clear.
Facts of case not been decided.
Guidelines used today in: Rochdale Borough Council v Anders 1993.
Good example of process of referral is: Van Duyn v Home Office 1978.
Rochdale Borough Council v Anders 1993
Tests compatibility of UK's laws on opening of stores on Sunday against EU's rules on free movement of goods. In circumstances court cited its earlier judgement and indicated that it was so longer prepared to review cases where there had been earlier precedent on same point.
Van Duyn v Home Office 1978
Miss Van Duyn was citizen of Netherlands and wished to enter UK to work as Scientologist. UK refused her entry on grounds that Scientology was socially harmful. She applied to High Court on grounds that it breached EC treaty Article 48 which allows free movement of workers within the Community. However member states could limit freedom on grounds of 'Public Policy'. High Court was uncertain of meaning and referred case to ECJ which laid down its interpretation of phrase and High Court then applied this decision to case.