Wednesday 2 March 2016

UK and the EU (1) ~ History and Background

1945 - A Europe destroyed by war:

In 1945, a person standing almost anywhere in Europe would have found himself in a nation which was, or had until recently, been ruled by a brutal regime.  Tens of millions of Europeans were dead as a result of World War 2.  Hundreds of millions of the survivors were homeless, hungry or jobless. Europe’s economy lay in ruins.  Those grim days are becoming almost beyond living memory as the generation principally involved passes away.  Britain and its "Empire" (as it was then known) along with all its other allies had fought with extreme valour to prevent what Winston Churchill had called "a new dark age" and in those difficult times there was at least the opportunity to build political and other institutions so as to secure a brighter and better future for the peoples of Europe.  Those who had lived through two world wars had the vision of founding a Europe of peace based on the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

The path to a better future:

From the rubble and carnage of the war years, the United Nations (UN) was formed in 1945 to replace the ineffective League of Nations.   In 1948, the UN adopted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Council of Europe (COE) was founded in 1949 and the European Convention on Human Rights was drafted in 1950 and came into force from 3 September 1953.  It now has 47 member states.

Also in 1949 the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) came into being with the purpose of safeguarding the freedom and security of its members through political and military means.  NATO has 28 member states including Canada and the United States.

On the economic front, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was created in 1950 and the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957.  The EEC was created by the Treaty of Rome and there were six original members: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and West Germany.  A further community was Euratom, also founded in 1957.  The United Kingdom joined the EEC from 1st January 1973.  Please see this useful background material to the creation of the EEC and the entry of the UK.  Since 2013, the EU has 28 member states.

EU Development:

The development of the EU may be seen via the European Parliament website.  In addition to the present 28 Members States there are various territories with particular links to the EU.  The latter includes Greenland which acceded to the EU in 1973 (as part of Denmark) but left in 1985.  It is likely that the EU will expand further - e.g. Turkey is an important applicant - see EU Enlargement.

The Treaties:

All of these organisations exist by virtue of Treaties which are essentially agreements between Nations and which are binding on those States so far as international law is concerned.  Obviously, by signing ANY treaty, each signatory State has restricted its own freedom of action since the common purpose of the Treaty is for States to come together to achieve stated goals.  It is, in my opinion, quite wrong to refer to such restriction as loss of sovereignty since the signatory States retain their individual sovereignty including the right to withdraw from treaties.  Nevertheless, it has to be accepted that Member States have, by acceding to the EU, accepted some major restrictions upon the freedom to act that they would otherwise have had.

For a very good analysis of Sovereignty in relation to the UK Parliament at Westminster see Carl Gardner's Head of Legal blog 23rd February 2016 - What is Parliamentary sovereignty anyway?  Mr Gardner states - "Parliament can repeal the 1972 Act, with the result that EU law no longer applies in this country; or change its effect and reject a single EU law that it doesn’t like. If this were done while we were still in the EU, there’d no doubt be legal consequences in the European Court of Justice. But inside our own legal system, Parliament’s word would be law."

Treaties and the United Kingdom:

The domestic (internal) law within the United Kingdom requires that, before any treaty can have effect in domestic law, it must be approved by Parliament.  For this reason the UK Parliament enacted the European Communities Act 1972 to give effect in our law to the EEC Treaties.

Since 1973,  the European Union (EU) has emerged via several further treaties, the last being the Treaty of Lisbon 2009.  All the Treaties are set out on this helpful website BUT consolidated Treaties are also available:  Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

As the UK acceded to further Treaties, Parliament enacted appropriate legislation to give effect to them in our law - e.g. European Communities Act 1993 giving effect to the Treaty of Maastricht (the Treaty on European Union).   Within the UK Parliament there was often a great deal of political turmoil over such legislation but its enactment was always achieved.

The political question:

The EU is thoroughly disliked by many and others are vehemently keen for the UK to remain part of the EU but to seek reforms.  There is to be an IN or OUT referendum on 23rd June.  The difficulty is securing reforms as the Prime Minister discovered recently and as discussed in my previous post of 20th February - Brexit - Referendum - a few points.

The decision whether to vote to remain or to leave is perhaps THE most crucial decision the electorate have ever been asked to make.  I believe that it is vital that people make an INFORMED decision about what is, essentially, a major political question.  The decision will have major impact on our lives and those of our children and later generations.

Our legal relationship with "Europe"  is complex and full of intricate detail.  This post has just looked at why the EU originally emerged and the essential foundation stones.  Over the next few weeks I hope to write some more on this subject  and hope that it informs the debate at least in some small way.  My next post on this topic will look at the Treaties relating to the EU.

Some Links of interest:

TIMELINE 1945 - 2009

Churchill 18th June 1940 - Speech to the House of Commons - The History of the EU

University of Portsmouth - European Studies Hub - The Treaties of Rome

Parliament - World War 2 to the Treaty of Rome

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