This is an overview of the structure and main institutions of the EU, and part of its purpose is to show that far from being powerless in the EU, Independent Scotland will be able to make its presence felt as 1 member state out of 28. All information is from the official EU website – http://europa.eu – with specific links for you to check.
The European flag symbolises both the European Union and the identity and unity of Europe. It features a circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background. They stand for the ideals of unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe. The number of stars has nothing to do with the number of member countries.
According to Article 13 of the Treaty on European Union, the institutional framework comprises 7 institutions:
- the European Council;
- the Council of the European Union (simply called ‘the Council’);
- the European Parliament;
- the European Commission;
- the Court of Justice of the European Union;
- the European Central Bank;
- the Court of Auditors.
The European Council defines the EU’s overall political direction and priorities. It is not one of the EU’s legislating institutions, so does not negotiate or adopt EU laws. Instead it sets the EU’s policy agenda, traditionally by adopting ‘conclusions’ during European Council meetings which identify issues of concern and actions to take.
The members of the European Council are the heads of state or government of the 28 EU member states, the European Council President and the President of the European Commission. The European Council meets at least twice every 6 months.
The European Council mostly takes its decisions by consensus. However, in certain specific cases it decides by unanimity or by qualified majority (see The Council). If a vote is taken, neither the European Council President nor the Commission President take part.
When a vote in the Council (Council of the European Union) is required, some is done by unanimous voting in which any member state can veto it, but 80% of EU legislation is voted on by a qualified majority. This uses the double majority rule which requires both a majority of at least 55% of member states (16 out of 28), and a population majority of 65% or more. So 13 member states voting against can block legislation – no matter how small they are. For non legislative votes, a simple majority of 15 out of 28 member states is enough. The Council can vote only if a majority of its members is present.
Abstention: Unanimity requires everyone to agree or abstain from voting. An abstention under qualified majority voting counts as a vote against. Abstention is not the same as not participating in the vote. Any member can abstain at any time.
Populations as at Jan 2019 – ascending order of size
13 state total 42,858,100
United Kingdom 66,647,100
EU-28 total 513,481,700
For example Malta, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Croatia, Ireland, Slovakia, Finland, Denmark and Bulgaria with a total population of 42,858,100 can stop EU legislation for a population of 513,481,700 – just 8.35% of the total.
Opinion: So far from being weak and insignificant and powerless in the EU, in the Council which is represented by the appropriate minister, Scotland would be just as powerful as any other member state – including Germany – even though we would be the 10th smallest member state. Of course it’s not all about blocking legislation, but it means Scotland and other small states can get changes to legislation to suit, or even trade something unimportant, with something that matters. Even the veto is very rarely used, as member states often barter with each other in a round robin way so they can all reach agreement to a total package.
Scotland with a population of 5,404,700 is 8.2% of the the UK population; Westminster controls reserved matters, Scotland’s MPs can be outvoted by just over 50% of the MPs – as they usually are. That’s powerless. So much for the equal Union.
A directly-elected EU body with legislative, supervisory, and budgetary responsibilities.
The European Parliament normally takes decisions by an absolute majority of votes cast in a plenary session. A quorum exists when one third of MEPs are present (the minimum number of MEPs for a vote to be valid).
Details of what the Parliament does can be found here:
Number of MEPs for each member state for the 2014-2019 parliamentary term
Czech Republic 21
United Kingdom 73
The first subparagraph of Article 14(2) of the Treaty on European Union lays down the criteria for the composition of the European Parliament, namely that representatives of the Union’s citizens are not to exceed 750 in number, plus the President, that representation is to be degressively proportional, with a minimum of 6 members per Member State, and that no Member State is to be allocated more than 96 seats.
The European Parliament, by the way, also uses the Committee system.
The full list of Seats by political group
EPP – Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) 182
S&D – Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the EP 154
Renew – Renew Europe Group 108
ID – Identity and Democracy Group 73
Greens/EFA – Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance 73
ECR – European Conservatives and Reformists Group 62
GUE/NGL – Confederal Group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left 41
NI – non-attached Members 54
The 3 SNP MEPs are members of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance.
Opinion: Scotland would get 13 representatives (MEPs). Since the UK would be leaving and vacating 73, this would make a total of 691 representatives, including Scotland.
The European Commission (EC) is the executive of the EU and represents the general interest of the EU, rather than that of individual national governments or political parties. Its core responsibilities include proposing EU laws and policies and monitoring their implementation. The EC’s work is steered by a team of 28 Commissioners – one Commissioner from each EU country. This team – officially known as the College – is led by the EC President. The EC is held democratically accountable by the European Parliament, which has the right to approve and dismiss the entire political leadership of the EC.
The EC is responsible for proposing new European legislation. The European Parliament, representing citizens, and the Council, representing national governments, decide whether to adopt the EC’s proposals. The EC proposal must aim to defend the interests of the EU and its citizens.
Like the other EU institutions, the EC acts only when it can do so more effectively than local, regional or national authorities. Its actions are limited to what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the EU Treaties.
The EC decides by consensus. But a vote, potentially secret, will take place if the President or a member so requests. For that a majority of the number of members must vote in favour of the proposal or decision for it to be adopted.
More details about the EC’s work and duties can be found from these links:
So basically, while the Commissioners make decisions on the EC’s strategies and policies, and propose laws, funding programmes and the annual budget, it is only the Parliament and the Council that can decide whether or not to accept and implement them.
Opinion: unlike the popular conception foisted on us by the anti-EU media, the EC is not all powerful and undemocratic, everything it does is under the control of the Parliament and Council. See above for how they vote!
Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)
Ensuring EU law is interpreted and applied the same in every EU country; ensuring countries and EU institutions abide by EU law
The Court is located in Luxembourg and divided into 2 bodies (was 3):
- Court of Justice (ECJ) – deals with requests for preliminary rulings from national courts, certain actions for annulment and appeals.
- General Court (EGC) – rules on actions for annulment brought by individuals, companies and, in some cases, EU governments. In practice, this means that this court deals mainly with competition law, State aid, trade, agriculture, trade marks. The EGC now incorpates the Civil Service Tribunal, which was for rules on disputes between the EU and its staff, but was dissolved on 1 September 2016.
After reform was adopted by the Council on 3 December 2015, the EGC should now have an extra 12 judges, plus the 7 judges from the dissolved Civil Service Tribunal, to which 9 further judges will be attributed in September 2019 for a total of 21 extra judges to meet the increased workload.
European Central Bank
The European Central Bank (ECB) is the central bank of the 19 European Union countries which have adopted the euro. Its main task is to maintain price stability in the euro area and so preserve the purchasing power of the single currency.
The 19 euro area (eurozone) countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. The micro-states of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City also use the euro, on the basis of a formal arrangement with the European Community. Montenegro and Kosovo likewise use the euro, but without a formal arrangement.
Joining the eurozone (convergence criteria)
To join the euro area, a country’s currency must have had a stable exchange rate and be within ERM II for 2 years.There are other strict conditions as regards:
- interest rates
- budget deficits (3% of GDP)
- level of government debt (60% of GDP)
- inflation rates
Note that the requirements for joining the eurozone – deficit 3%, debt to GDP 60% – are often confused with the requirement to join the EU itself. They are NOT the same.
Court of Auditors
As the EU’s independent external auditor, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) looks after the interests of EU taxpayers. It does not have legal powers, but works to improve the European Commission’s management of the EU budget and reports on EU finances.
European Committee of the Regions (CoR)
This is not one of the main institutions of the EU and is probably one most people have never even heard of. And yet it does have a role in the forming of legislation for the EU.
It holds Plenary sessions 6 times a year where opinions and reports can be adopted, but also resolutions, to be passed to the other EU institutions.
It has 350 members from the 28 EU states.
with (from the list) the UK having 18  members plus 19 alternates, of which 4 come from Scotland: 2 members – currently Councillor East Renfrewshire Council and Councillor for Stirling, and 2 alternates – East Renfrewshire Council and Leader Shetland Islands Council. An alternate can attend and vote instead of the member.
 The UK actually has 24 members in its national delegation, perhaps 6 of the alternates are acting as members, who knows!
Although the UK Delegation is formally nominated by the UK Government, it receives proposals from the following bodies: the Local Government Association of England & Wales (in consultation with English regional bodies); the Scottish Executive  (in consultation with the Scottish Parliament and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities); the Welsh Assembly (in consultation with the Welsh Local Government Association); and the Northern Ireland Assembly (in consultation with the Northern Ireland Local Government Association).
 “the Scottish Executive” – should be the Scottish Government!
Opinion: UK Voters “misinformed” about EU
REMAIN ran a poor campaign in the UK, trying to make people afraid of leaving the EU, rather than describing its benefits. But more than that it failed to inform people about the EU, what its main parts do, how they work, how they relate, how voting works and its democracy. Perhaps this is because the UK Government were looking for reforms.
The anti-EU media including the BBC gave the idea the EU is undemocratic and over-bureaucratic. Well, the second is partly true though it is reforming. But it has made itself more democratic, and favours SMALLER states in a lot of ways, part of its ethos.
The EU Treaties
The Treaties main page – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/collection/eu-law/treaties.html
The full Consolidated Treaty, Protocols, Annexes, fundamental rights in HTML or PDF:
Treaty on European union (Consolidated version 2016)
The EU Budget
Current EU budget is agreed for 2014-2020.
Opinion: Scotland’s EU Nett annual contribution within the UK
Roughly speaking (2015) the UK’s rebate was about £5 billion on gross (pre-rebate) contributions of £17.8 billion, for an actual contribution of £12.8 billion. Not all the funding the UK receives goes through Whitehall, such as European funding for research in UK Universities, the total for 2014 was estimated at £5.6 billion. This mis-matches years, but means the nett contribution for 2015 was around £7.2 billion. The IFS calculates £5.7 billion for 2014, so £7.2 billion seems a sensible high estimate.
Within the UK: Scotland’s 1/12th per capita portion of the nett contribution is therefore £600 million, but Scotland receives more than 1/12th of the UK’s funding from the EU, so our actual contribution is less. This is a draft estimate.
Opinion: Independent Scotland’s EU Nett annual contribution
For the starting point for Independent Scotland, you would take the UK’s gross unrebated £17.8 billion, for which 1/12th is £1,483 million. From that subtract 1/12th of the UK’s funding of £5.6 billion – £467 million for £1,016 million.But with Brexit the UK’s nett contribution of £7.2 billion minus Scotland’s share of £600 million = £6.6 billion would be shared by the EU27 plus Scotland, with our share being roughly 1/100th by population, a little more by GNI (Gross National Income). So add another £66 million, for a total of £1,082 million. However, Scotland receives more than 1/12th of the UK’s EU funding already, and this is worth at least an extra £100 million, but on the side of caution make it less for a nice round £1,000 million.
But in exchange for giving up that UK rebate, Scotland’s CAP Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 convergence funding with negotiation would rise in total by about £320 million per year.
Independent Scotland: this initial high end estimate of Scotland’s nett contribution is around £680 million per year, it would likely be lower. This is a draft estimate. Some other estimates have it as low as £300 million..
Some EU Links
Euromyths – https://blogs.ec.europa.eu/ECintheUK/
There’s a whole load of information about the EU and the relative populations, GDP, many other statistics here. Sometime we may pick out some goodies.
Eurostats – http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat
EU 2014-20 financial (budget) framework:
There’ll be more links. This is a static page, doesn’t mean it can’t be added to.
The EU has trade agreements, which the UK would have to try to duplicate, check out some of the countries on the EU website trade page:
The UK will have to create trade agreements with all these countries, and renegotiate its terms of membership with WTO itself, and its 163 plus members.
Opinion: some – many – countries might not want to upset the EU with whatever trade agreement it put in place with the UK. For a discussion about this from the UK point of view, but also that would have significance for iScotland outside the EU, there’s this non-official source:
And lastly …
You want that population chart with Scotland in and the UK out? Thought you might.
Populations as at Jan 2019 – ascending order of size
13 state total 41,296,400
EU-28 total 452,272,900
So in the new EU, Malta, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Croatia, Ireland, Scotland, Slovakia, Finland and Denmark with a total population of 41,296,400 can stop or force changes to EU legislation for a population of 452,272,900 – 9.13% of the total.
Guy Verhofstadt on Scotland in the EU as on the BBC:
Page last updated 2 January 2020