The European Commission

The 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, an agreement between the Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand III, the other German princes, France, and Sweden in many ways laid the grounds for the modern sovereign state. 1 To this day, nation states remain the most powerful entities in world politics. It is their goals, interests and capabilities that shape international politics. However, the influence of states in world politics, whilst remaining the overriding power has in recent years been diminished.

For example increased European integration beginning in the 1950’s, continuing with the Maastricht treaty in 1992 and the idea of a single European Constitution reflect slow but steady dispersion of power away from national governments. World politics are increasingly influenced by trans-national organisations (TNOs). There are 2, main, broad categories; Intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). IGOs have states as members, whereas NGOs have members that are private individuals.

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In 1909, there were 37 IGOs, and 176 NGOs. That compares with 251 IGOs and 27 077 NGOs in 2000. 2 However, those figures may understate the truth as to be classed as an IGO, a organisation must not only have states as members but must also meet regularly, have a headquarters, a specified decision making process, and a permanent secretary. Of the worlds TNOs, 87% are NGOs and the remaining 13% are IGOs. There are four subdivisions of IGOs, global multi-role, global single-role, regional multi-role, and global single-role.

Examples of the above may be the UN, World Health Organisation, EU, and NATO respectfully. The UN has 191 member states. 3 Planning for the UN began at the start of the Second World War by the US, UK and Russia. The idea was to create an organisation that would prevent a further World War. It experienced large early problems, with the USSR using its veto power 77 times during the ten years between 1945 and 1955. The US, whilst not formally using its veto, was able to use its financial power to force a majority of council members to vote against certain motions.

In the modern post Cold War context, the UN appears to have become a more cohesive effective unit and this was particularly striking when, in 1990, the US and Russia joined forces to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Whether this was a temporary period remains to be seen, as the US and her allies went to war with Iraq in 2003 with no UN support. The UN is alone in having what it is almost a completely exhaustive list of states as members. The only 2 obvious omissions from its membership are the Vatican and Taiwan. One may argue East Timor is an omission, as it recently voted for independence from Indonesia.

Regardless, the over 98% of world states are members, a figure unmatched by any other IGO. 4 The modern day European Union (EU) grow out of European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the European Economics Community (EEC), all signed between 1951 and 1957. It later became the European Community (EC) before becoming the EU in February 1992. There are currently 15 members, but a further 10 are on the way that will increase the EU’s population by 50%. 5 Like most large organisations, the EU has a complex system of organisation.

There are five main institutions of governance, the Council of Ministers, the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Court of Justice. The Council of Ministers is drawn from the governments of member states. The European Parliament consists of people elected by the people of the EU, and can overturn decisions made by the European Commission. The European Commission consists of 20 commissioners, 2 from each of the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain and 1 from the remaining 10 EU states. The main role of this commission is to propose new EU laws.

The Court of Justice ensures member states comply with EU laws. Interestingly, and unlike the UN or most other IGOs, decisions made by the Court of Justice are binding. A third IGO is the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which has, as of April 2003, 143 member states. 6 It exists to work to remove or at least reduce barriers to free trade that are often imposed by rich countries at the expense of poor countries. The help to mediate between states when disagreements do occur, and try to pass a judgement of whether the barriers are acceptable.

One recent case was when the US imposed tariffs on foreign steel imports into the US in order to support the woefully inefficient steel producers in the US. The WTO ruled this to be illegal, and granted the EU permission to impose retaliatory tariffs on certain sensitive US products. The US, on the 4th of December of this year, backed down and the threat of retaliatory action has now gone. This has been seen as a large coup for the WTO, as it shows the IGO being able to change the policy of the world’s one remaining superpower. But IGOs represent only a small proportion of TNOs.

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