‘The European Union is a unique political system.’ – Discuss.
The main topics that will be covered, through political comparison, is how unique the structure of the EU is, in terms of hierarchy and branching of authority, the way in which the EU fulfils its role as a democracy; in what ways is the EU a democratic system, [2 more topics]
Using Almond’s criteria (Almond 1956) for defining whether systems of governance can be classed as a political system, shows the European Union clearly falling under this category:
- The EU has a specific system in place to collectively make decisions
- The public have the ability to have their say either through groups or political parties.
- Decisions made have a great impact on the whole system in all aspects, including economic and political (Hix 2005).
As it stands there are a very large number of such political systems, which means, in this sense, the EU is no different, but the extent of the systems in place is definitely unique. The degree, if at all, of the uniqueness of the EU can only be correctly considered if comparisons are made between said political system and others such as the UK.
The EU, made up for 27 member-states, is the base which makes up this political system. While the countries such as the UK are definitionally correct to be called a state (Weber 1918), this does not apply to the European Union as a whole. The EU has no power, in itself to enforce policy and laws, but must in fact rely upon each member state’s individual policing and military authority.
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The EU has a significantly more complex governing system in place than any other country by far, due to the three main institutions which are not implemented in the same way, elsewhere. Firstly the Council of the European Union is the backbone for the formation of legislature. With this, the Commission of the European communities is closely tied in, in order to ‘initiate proposals for the EU [and] to act an EU-level regulator.’ (Warleigh 2004). Finally the European parliament’s, which is made up of elected MEP’s, main role, is the oversight of the EU’s budget and decision making. These institutions intricacies are what make the EU unique, especially in comparison to ‘regular’ democratic countries such as the UK where the date by which legislation is enforced, is country-wide 
As mentioned previously, the separation of powers that makes up the EU is unique due to its complexity, however, taking the US political system into account, there are significant similarities in the structure. Both systems, have effectively allocated power, Executive, Judicial and Legislative, to different governing bodies. It is very clear to say where each of these branches of government, derive their power from in the US. 
In some ways therefore, the EU and US have fairly similar outline of power dispersion even though the EU is neither country nor federation and therefore not unique in this aspect. The EU has numerous political bodies however, which make separation of power very unclear and undistinguished. For example, the executive power is shared between The European Commission and The Council of the European Union, and at the same time, Legislative power is divided between the EC, EP and the Council. The three branches of government in the EU are unique in the fact that they remain separate, but also have interaction to some extent through governing bodies such as the European Commission having influence over all powers. This is a very unique aspect of the EU because in a way it mimics aspects from both the US and UK.
As previously discusses the EU has similar separation of powers as the United States does. But, at the same time, these branches have some interaction as is most definitely the case in the United Kingdom where fusion of power is prominent, even though Montesquieu based his separation of power model on Britain (Montesquieu 1748).
The EU is represented as a democratic system but in fact, the real case tends to show this is not strictly true on all levels. A definition of democracy, as spoken by Lincoln, ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ (Lincoln 1863) has withstood time and is still sought to be true. Looking at the three different levels of the EU Weiler describes how each of these fits into a fairly broad definition of democracy (Weiler 1995). Breaking down the EU however, into its three main political bodies helps clarification. The European Parliament is made up of several hundred MEPS’, all of whom are elected every 5 years and as a result has a precise source of power and democratic legitimacy. However it is here that the EU is uniquely classified as a democracy; only the EP has directly elected representatives. While it is not uncommon to have bodies which are not elected, in a democratic system, for example the House of Lords, it is unique, for that body to have significant power over legislation as the European Commission does.
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As mentioned previously the MEP’s in the European parliament are elected and as a result is classified to be democratic, but in certain ways the other two levels of the EU, The European Commission and The Council, can still be categorised in roughly the same way. The European Council is made up of heads of all the member states and as a result they are indirectly elected and are subject to re-election.
- Almond, G. A. (1956) ‘Comparing Political Systems’, Journal of Politics: 391-402
- Hix, S. (2005) ‘The Political System of the European Union’, p2-3
- Lincoln, A (1863) ‘The Gettysburg Address’ Speech
- Montesquieu, Baron De (1748) ‘The Spirit of Laws’: Translated by Nugent, T (1914)
- Warleigh, A. (2004) ‘The Basics: European Union
- Weber, M (1919) ‘Politics as a vocation’, p40
- Weiler, J 1995 ‘Western European Politics’ Volume 18, no.3 : ‘The Crisis of Representation in Europe’.
- Decision making process in the EU:
- Stone, S, A ‘Governing With Judges: Constitutional Politics in Europe’ 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-829730-7
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