EU institutions, Put Simply

The vast bureaucracy of the European Union often comes under fire as being “undemocratic” and a total “waste of money”. But what are the institutions that make up the EU, and what exactly are they for? Let’s take a look at five of the major institutions…

The Council of the European Union A.K.A. The Council of Ministers

President: Malta

This, along with the European Parliament, is the key decision-making body of the EU. It is made up of government ministers from the 28 member states. It has no fixed membership, as it changes depending on what issues are being discussed. So, when the council meets to discuss foreign relations, the Council takes the form of the GAC (General Affairs and external relations Council), and it will be consisted mainly of member states’ foreign ministers. There are nine configurations including the GAC and another one you may have heard of, ECOFIN (Economic and Financial Affairs). The Council is chaired by a rotational presidency, which is held by a member state for six months.

The European Commission

President: Jean-Claude Juncker

This is the executive arm of the EU. It is made up of 28 Commissioners, one for each member state, all of whom have sworn an oath to protect the interests of the Union. It is the body that holds the power to initiate proposals, which then have to be passed by the Council of the EU (see above) and the Parliament (see below). It is also responsible for making sure that policies passed by the EU are implemented correctly by Member States. If policies are not being implemented, the Commission can issue written warnings, publicly announce in an attempt to shame, and as a last resort, take member states to court. The president is nominated by the European Council (see below), and then confirmed by the Parliament. The Council of the EU then nominates the 27 other Commissioners and the Parliament votes on them as one body, rather than as individuals.

*Side note: The EC has around 23,000 staff and only takes up around 2% of the EU’s total budget.

The European Parliament

President: Antonio Tajani

The Parliament is the other decision-making body of the EU. It is the only directly elected, international legislature (law-making body) in the world. It is made up of 751 members, spread across all 28 member states, and is elected by universal suffrage (almost all adults) for five-year terms. It is chaired by a president, who is a member of the chamber, elected by their peers for a 2-and-a-half-year term.

The European Council

President: Donald Tusk

Not to be mistaken for the Council of the EU or the Council of Europe (it’s confusing, we know!), the European Council acts as a sort of steering committee for the EU. It’s best described as a ‘collective presidency’, in that as a body, it is like the head of state for the EU. It meets at least twice every six months and provides a broad, strategic direction for the EU. Its membership consists of the heads of state or government for all 28 member states, along with the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission (the last two are non-voting members).  The European Council holds significant power to make appointments, including its own president, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the President of the European Central Bank. It also proposes to the Parliament, its candidate for the President of the European Commission.

*Side note: The European Council is widely considered to be the supreme political authority of the EU, and when it makes a recommendation, whilst the institutions below are not bound to follow, they almost always do.

The European Court of Justice

President: Koen Lenaerts

This is the highest legal authority of the EU and is made up of 28 judges (you guessed it, one for each member state). The judges are nominated by their member state, and their appointment is ratified by all others. Judges sit for a six-year, renewable term. The President is elected from and by the sitting judges, for a renewable term of three years. The court usually sits in panels of three, five or fifteen. Its main role is interpreting EU law and ensuring the equal application within member states. However, it is ultimately up to national courts to decide on whether national law is in line with EU law.

*Side note: The ECJ has been constantly growing. In 2008, the ECJ received over 1,300 cases and in 2014, the staff budget hit a record high of €350M.

Are these institutions undemocratic?

This is possibly one of the major arguments for leaving the EU – a democratic deficit (a lack of democracy). However, when you take a closer look at these institutions, you will see that, whilst most are not directly elected – they are, arguably, just as democratic as any national government.

The Presidency of the EU Commission, for example, is nominated by the members’ heads of state (who are there by the democratic will of the people), and then confirmed by the Parliament (which is directly elected by the population of the EU). This constitutes a double-democratic check on the Commission. If you take a look at the Court of Justice, all the judges are nominated by their respective elected governments’.

However, criticism is often levelled at the EU for such bureaucratic procedures such as the once-a-month move of the Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg, which costs roughly £93m a year.

Is the EU a bureaucratic mess, or an effective international union? Let us know what you think in the comments.


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Globalisation, Put Simply

Economics terms are thrown about by those in-the-know all too regularly. Frankly, its baffling for those of us without expert knowledge in the subject, and “put simply” explanations are infrequent to say the least. #LetsTalkPolitics and challenge this. Globalisation is a widely used word in that is often misunderstood or unclear to a large proportion of us. The definition lies in the intersection between Geography and Economics. Globalisation can essentially be seen as the increasing interconnectedness and integration of national economies and the increasing flows of goods, services, labour, ideas and capital between them.

We are in a very globalised world, a world where Transnational and Multinational companies dominate global interactions and borders are flattened to accommodate the exponential growth of nations in tandem with companies. So, what are the underlying causes of Globalisation?

  1. Growth of Free Trade (Read Previous article on free trade)
  2. Growth of Multinational (MNC) companies such as Coca Cola
  3. Development in Technology (communication, transport etc.)
  4. Development in trading blocs, trans-national relations (Ease in trade)

Globalisation is obviously a large topic to cover with varying different meanings, but what are the impacts both spatially and temporally?

  1. Increased interconnectedness between nations can mean that countries that previously may not have been affected by global trade cycles may now be (China may affect Taiwan’s trade growth e.g.)
  2. There is increased global competition; global markets become more competitive as there are more incumbent (existing in market) firms. (This can lead to lower prices to consumers as well as an array of other forms such as greater technological innovation)
  3. Greater labour mobility, rise in movement and fluidity of labour
  4. Greater economies of scale (As the firm increases in size it can gain different benefits, e.g. bulk buying economies of scale – a firm of a larger size can purchase more raw materials at a cheaper price)

What are some of the costs?

  1. Domestic firms can become uncompetitive, local firms can be pushed out or receive little to no business as large trans-national corporations move in
  2. Certain countries may have a ‘comparative advantage’ over other economies in the production of goods and services – this can create an unbalanced global economy
  3. There are obvious environmental costs, with the growth of consumerism and production pollution is inevitable

As you can see there are various costs and benefits provided by globalisation. All in all, it is an inevitable process and for sustainability to be achieved, sound management from extra-governmental bodies such as the World Trade Organisation must take place over time.


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French Election, Put Simply

This year, 5 candidates are vying for the chance to lead the French nation. The first round of the presidential election will take place on 23rd April 2017. Unless one candidate wins an overwhelming majority vote, which is highly unlikely, the two leading candidates after this first round will face off on May 7th in a second contest.

Who are the candidates?

Marine Le Pen

Marine Le Pen has certainly made a name for herself in global politics. Daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose nationalistic leadership of the Front National earned him fame but ultimately an eviction from the party, new leader Marine Le Pen moves forward with the aim to soften the racist rhetoric of her father’s politics. However, she has dubbed herself “Madame Frexit” due to her desire to follow Britain out of the EU. Le Pen finished 3rd behind Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 elections, and is leading the pack with 25% of the vote in this year’s first round polls.

Emmanuel Macron

Former investment banker Emmanuel Macron served as economy minister under the unpopular presidency of Francois Hollande. Now leading his own, “En Marche!” (On the Move!) campaign, Macron represents a pro-NATO, pro-EU, pro-refugee political ideology in an increasingly nationalistic leaning France. Although Macron trails Le Pen in the polls, it is thought he will triumph over the Front National candidate when the vote really matters.

Benôit Hamon

Hamon leads the French Socialist Party in the upcoming election. He served as Francois Hollande’s education minister in 2014 but later resigned over his conflicting socialist ideals with the then president. He goes into the 2017 election as an underdog and is currently placed 4th in the polls. This poor form could be down to his unusual policies: the robot tax intending to tax employers using automotive workers and the reduction in hours of the French working week.

Jean-Luc Melenchon

This far-left candidate, who quit the socialist party in 2013, has policies most resembling Le Pen’s. His anti-globalisation and anti-austerity stance define his campaign and bring him close in thinking to the leader of the FN. Melenchon currently is polling around 10%, so his chances of progressing to the second round seem slim. There has been talk of a Hamon-Melenchon partnership, which would make this combined candidate a serious contender. However, it is thought political ambition and antagonism over the years would deem such a coalition impossible.

Francois Fillon

Francois Fillon’s centre-right campaign for Les Republicains was going well, that was until news broke that he had kept his wife on the public payroll for work she had not done. Up until about 2 weeks ago, Fillon was the favourite in the presidential race. It was thought his policies, resembling the FN candidate’s in their pro-Russia alliance tendencies whilst maintaining a pro-EU stance, would grant him universal French popularity. However, this latest knock to his reputation sees him dwindling in the polls.


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NATO, Put Simply

What is it? NATO stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It is a military alliance of 28 different countries in North America and Europe.

When was it formed? 1949.

Why? It was formed to give collective defence and security to North American and Western European states against an expanding Soviet Union and the threat of communism.

But the USSR is long gone - what does it do now? NATO has expanded in recent years. Just like the EU it has moved eastwards, encompassing nations that were formerly part of - or allied to - the USSR. It currently has an ongoing presence to promote peace and stability around the world in the likes of Kosovo, the African Union and Afghanistan.

What's Article 5? I've heard of that. Article 5 is a fundamental component of the organisation. It states that if one of the NATO countries is attacked then such an attack will be viewed as an attack on all participating countries. For example, if France was attacked then the other countries in the organisation would see the attack on France as an attack on them all. Which countries are members?

In total there are 28 members spanning two continents. North America: Canada, USA. Europe: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom.

The majority of the European countries in NATO also belong to the EU, however, there are notable exceptions.

What was the Warsaw Pact? The Warsaw Pact - now defunct - was a similar alliance for collective defence made up of the USSR and a number of other communist nations in Eastern Europe. How do people feel about NATO?

The organisation is popular in the UK with a recent YouGov poll suggesting that 68% of voters think that NATO still has a role in the world compared to 21% who disagree. However, according to the same poll the organisation is apparently less popular in the USA with just 46% of US voters thinking it still has a role to play in contrast to the 16% who have the opposing view.


No USSR, but NATO still has a place on the world stage! The USSR may be no longer exist and the Cold War may be officially over, but many argue that there is still a threat from Russia, making the alliance more relevant than ever. Russia's 2014 advances in the east with the annexation of Crimea show that the organisation still has some merit as the threat of Russian advancement is real. Furthermore, NATO is relevant in other areas due to its operations in the likes of Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Cross-continental cooperation is key One argument in defence of NATO is that it is vital that countries from both sides of the Atlantic cooperate on defence due to shared values and interests. It has been argued that the EU and the US should go their separate ways when it comes to defence, however, a Transatlantic military alliance goes deeper than geographical defence and reflects shared ideals and values that countries from both sides of the Atlantic wish to protect and promote.

Nuclear protection Another advantage of NATO is that although just three of the NATO nations (the US, UK and France) have nuclear weapons, the other countries in the alliance benefit from their deterrents as they are shielded by collective responsibility. For example, the likes of Germany and Turkey, who do not have their own nuclear weapons benefit from the deterrents of the nuclear nations due to being part of the military alliance. The USSR may be long gone but there are new nuclear powers such as North Korea which remain a threat. Disadvantages

NATO is outdated You may have heard Donald Trump argue that the organisation is "obsolete". The president has since back-tracked, having reaffirmed his commitment to the organisation alongside UK PM Theresa May when she visited Washington DC. The president's former views however are not completely unheard of, with many people calling the alliance unfit for purpose in the 21st century. Without the threat from the USSR, many argue that NATO is now irrelevant and should be put in the history books.

Most NATO countries fail to pay their fair share A strong argument in opposition to NATO's continued existence is that many countries fail to pay what they should. NATO countries are recommended to commit 2% of their GDP to their defence budgets. However, the majority of NATO nations do not meet this target, prompting criticism from Donald Trump during his election campaign. The UK and the US are some of the few countries that meet this annual target, but the majority fail to contribute, adding to the idea that the US is shouldering the biggest burden, even when proportionality is taken into account.

Europe should go it alone! One argument against NATO is that the EU should go its own way on defence and cooperate with far less reliance on the USA. There have even been recent proposals for even closer defence links within the EU, suggesting that NATO is less relevant than before and that the EU should focus on its own defence. Under NATO, the US pays the most for defence spending, but free from NATO, EU countries could place more emphasis on defence cooperation.

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10 Brexit Myths, Busted

Brexit is a divisive topic and both sides bent the truth, to say the least. Ahead of Article 50 being triggered by Parliament, we've busted ten myths you might have heard during the referendum campaigns so you know what to expect when we do leave the EU. So without further ado...

5 Remain Myths, Busted

When Britain leaves the EU, the cost of imports (from the EU) will increase by £11 billion:

This myth was and has been widely propelled by pro-EU campaigners, both before and after the Brexit vote. However, key figures on both sides have refuted this claim. Lord Rose, who headed the pro-EU campaign stated that exit would not result in an end to free trade, and Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (Britain’s former ambassador to Brussels) firmly stated that “There is no doubt that the UK could secure a free trade agreement with the EU.”

Leaving the EU would cause 3 million job losses:

Whilst it is true that Britain will lose 3 million jobs in the year after Brexit, this is because Britain loses 3 million jobs every year. However, the belief that this will be affected by Britain’s departure from the European Union, is a misconception. Many base this belief on fears over free trade, however, as addressed in number 1, this is not a concern that will be realised.

Britain’s rejection of the EU was based on isolationism:

Although many believe that Britain will become more isolationist in the wake of Brexit, and indeed many believe that isolationism contributed largely to Brexit’s success. However, Britain will remain a nation more involved in the international community than many other developed nations. The UK remains totally committed to NATO and is already actively seeking to become more involved in the wider Commonwealth, Europe, and indeed, the world.

Brexit is bad for business:

Many business leaders have feared that Brexit will cause their business some (or a lot) of distress. However, many of these concerns are not entirely justified, especially for some industries. For example, the weaker pound makes Britain an even more attractive destination for international holiday goers, benefiting hospitality, and travel-based businesses; such as hotels, restaurants, airlines etc. Conversely, however, the prospect, and eventuality, of a weaker pound caused concern for finance leaders. However, they soon found that what many had forecast (a major recession, and economic doomsday) did not occur, and instead there was a stock market gain after the initial shock of Brexit.

Britain will be “at the back of the queue” for trade deals:

Despite the derogatory comments made by the former leader of the United States, Barack Obama, Britain has not found itself at the back of the queue with regard to trade deals, in fact, many nations; such as, Australia, Canada, and America have made their intention to strike a favourable trade deal with the UK very clear. Many other nations are also likely to join the flurry of interest in bilateral trade arrangements, as a Britain free of the EU, is not hindered by the same level of red tape, and the extensive bureaucracy present in the European Union.

5 Leave Myths, Busted

EU membership costs the UK over £350 million every week, nearly £20 billion a year:

This is one of the most well-known Leave campaign claims, in fact, it was so prominent that it was even painted across the side of the Leave campaign bus. However, it is not correct. Britain does receive some, although infinitesimal when compared to membership dues, rebates. These rebates reduce the total net cost of EU membership to Britain. The true cost in £250 million a week, roughly £13 billion pounds a year.

Britain is consistently outvoted in the EU:

Whilst it is certainly true that the UK has been outvoted many times on the EU stage (57 times), Britain has been in the majority for 2,474 acts, and abstained on 70 occasions.

Britain was at risk of losing its veto in EU treaties:

Before an EU treaty comes into force, it must be agreed to by ALL member states. Therefore, Britain was never at risk of losing its veto.

Leaving EU would save the NHS:

This one is slightly more open to interpretation, however, I will try to clarify it as best I can. Without doubt, it is true that leaving the EU could save our NHS, however, that is not a guarantee. It comes down to how the EU savings are spent, and what government policy states. If the government legislates the privatisation of the NHS; Brexit will not stop that, and if the government chooses to spend saving elsewhere, Brexit will not stop that either. However, if a portion of the money saved from leaving the EU is spent wisely, on and around, the NHS, then it could certainly be the difference between a public NHS and private NHS.

Britain will have to contribute to bailouts within the EU:

The notion that Britain would have to contribute to bailouts within the EU is not correct. Within the deal struck by David Cameron in February 2016, Britain’s special status as a non-Eurozone country guarantees that the UK will not have to contribute to any EU bailouts.

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UK & International Climate Change Policy, Put Simply

UK Climate Change Act 2008

  • Target for 2050: reduce six greenhouse gases by 80% relative to 1990 levels
  • Led to creation of an independent Committee on Climate Change which would advise government on policies needed for the transition to a low-carbon economy
  • Duty of meeting Act’s targets lies with Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (in 2008, this was ex-leader of the UK Labour Party, Ed Miliband MP)

Global climate change policy: Paris Agreement

  • 194 signatories; ratified by 117 parties; signed on the 22nd April 2016
  • Agreement to hold temperatures to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels (or less)
  • However, 1.5 °C is the aspirational target (2 °C = merely the worst case scenario)
  • Also agreed less developed countries would be given finance to help with their transition to a low-carbon economy, without diluting their economic development

Three arguments in favour of tackling climate change

  1. Policies cost money but the cost of not acting could be even greater due to the likely impacts of global warming (worth noting impact would be spatially uneven)
  2. “Green” can also be good for business e.g. installing energy saving light bulbs can reduce both carbon emissions and costs, thus also benefitting.
  3. sustainability: citizens have a moral responsibility to improve global living standards without  compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs and wants.

Three possible complications

  1. World poverty: 1.2 billion people worldwide are estimated to live less than $1.25 a day- challenge is tackling global warming whilst improving global living standards
  2. Tackling global warming requires transboundary cooperation: victory for Trump and Brexit vote arguably illustrates the rise of economic nationalism- realistically, do nation-states have the appetite to work together to tackle climate change?
  3. Vague nature of agreements: nation-states still pursuing GDP growth agendas

Further reading



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Single Market, Customs Union and Free Trade Agreements, Put Simply

By Editor in Chief Cameron Broome

Ever since the British people voted to leave the European Union on the 23rd June, debates have been dominated by the question of whether or not access to the single market can be retained whilst also curbing immigration. Commentators have talked about customs unions, the single market and free trade agreements. But terminology like this can all seem quite messy and complicated. What do these terms actually mean? What’s the difference between them? Here these terms will be Put Simply.

Single Market

  • Free movement of goods, services, capital and people between nation-states
  • Example is the European Union Single Market (Note: not = the “EU” itself)
  • Attempts to also remove “non-tariff barriers” e.g. health and safety regulation
  • Attempts to harmonize regulation of member states to create a level playing field (e.g. EU has environmental regulations which all member states must adhere to)
  • Biggest debate in Britain concerns whether or not access to single market can be maintained whilst also curbing the free movement of labour
  • Note: “access” to the single market is an ambiguous concept and hotly debated (see here for further reading:

Customs Union

  • Free Trade Area (see below) but with a common external tariff: this means that member states establish rules with regards to trading with non-member states
  • Once past customs, products can be exchanged freely within the union
  • Example = European Union
  • Note: the difference between being a member of a customs union (CU) and a single market is that CUs do not require free movement of capital/labour (i.e. you can be a member of EU customs union but not the Single Market)

Free Trade Agreements

  • Where member states agree to reduce trade barriers between one another
  • Negotiations can be complex and timely; each FTA has specific, unique details
  • However, the broad aim of FTAs is to eliminate taxes, tariffs and quotas on the flow of goods and services between countries that have signed the agreement
  • Note: FTAs can be stealthily underpinned what is termed the “Investor State Dispute Settlement”: this can give companies the power to sue nation-states if they implement policies which they believe have damaged their profitability
  • This was behind the opposition to the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP): a proposed FTA between the EU and the US (read more here:
  • Note: the difference between FTAs and a customs union is that with a FTA, no agreement is made with regards to trading with non-members of the FTA


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