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Principles of Operation in the European Union
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The European Union (EU) is an international organisation of 27 European countries governing policies of economic, social, legal and political interests of its member nations. The European Union operates on the basis of the principles of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism.

Supranationalism is a political notion or practice to form institutions by the coming together of separate national governments to create policies that have a command or jurisdiction over its member nations. Such established institutions are elevated above nation states wherein the nation states lose some control and the right to veto and are bound by the majority decisions of the member states. A policy by the European Union stands above the particular preferences or policies of a particular state and the state has to go along with the policy even if there is a contradiction between the two. In conclusion, Supranationalism takes inter-state relations into cooperation but takes away some national sovereignty.

On the other hand, Intergovernmentalism refers to a system of arrangement wherein nation states, in some situations and circumstances they can manage, cooperate with one another on affairs of common interests of the states. There is no loss of sovereignty as well as the nation states have the right to veto, where they are free to either accept or reject any proposal presented by other member states and even cooperate at their will.

While the EU does not have a magnificent supranational or intergovernmental structure, different institutions may vary their structures at different points in time[1]. The European Parliament, European Commission, and the European Council are the political institutions of the EU while the Courts in Europe are the legal institutions of the EU. Member states work collectively through various institution within EU to set and promote policies and decision matters of common interests.


  1. The citizens of the EU are represented by the European Parliament. The Parliament has an equal share in the legislative process for almost all legislations with the Council of Ministers; a power of veto over the designation of the Commission along with a solid ability to manage the Commission; and power of veto concerning certain constitutional and quasi-constitutional decisions. Moreover, the internal operating structure augments the supranational character of the Parliament. The European Parliament is federal in nature and supranational in vision and operations[2].
  2. The European Commission serves the EU’s execution part, upholds the common interests of its member nations and handles negotiations with outside countries. It also holds the sole right of legislative initiative predominantly in several policy areas. The major operational work of the Commission has always been to achieve economic integration. The European Commission is intrinsically supranational in both structure and operation because it exercises its powers and independently fulfills the tasks throughout the entire Union of the member states.
  3. The European Council (generally considered as a supranational entity) drives the way and is the finalising authority for European decisions and policies. It is also regarded as the most powerful body of the EU and the most politically authoritative institution of the EU. It institutionalises a de facto intergovernmental[3] control over the EU with the possibility of delegating more power to a small group of its member states. The Council follows the lead of member states and sometimes takes the lead ahead of national capitals. The European Council is intrinsically intergovernmental in structure and partly supranational in operation.


  1. The European Union Court consists of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the General Court. The EU Court has a supranational legal system which has a powerful autonomy that allows it to even rule against the preferences or policies of its member states. The ECJ holds a powerful authority for the application and interpretation of national laws, national courts, policies, and treaties; and is provided with the power to rule without considering or over the particular policies of its member state government.

In the Mangold case judgment of November 2005, the European Court of Justice found that there exists an overall guideline of European Union law forestalling segregation on the grounds old enough. This judgment has been censured similar to the consequence of a dissident statute of the Court. The applicants for the situation before the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany contended that the European Court of Justice had overlooked the set-up norms of philosophy identifying with the understanding of laws. The previous leader of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany and President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Roman Herzog, along with different researchers added to the discussion on Mangold and different decisions of the European Court of Justice saying 'Stop the ECJ' and supporting control by the public courts, such as the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany.

The European Commission and the European Parliament can be analysed as being intrinsically supranational in vision, operations and structure. On the other hand, contrastingly, the European Council is intergovernmental in structure while it has a mixture of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism in its operations. The European Court of Justice or the European Union Court is undoubtedly supranational in its functioning and operations. Therefore, it can be concluded that the macro view says that the institutions of the EU have moved down from the principles of intergovernmentalism to some extent the principles of supranationalism operation and structure[4].


The concept of Supranationalism and Intergovernmentalism are fundamental and essential to the understanding of the working of the European Union. However, both are at opposite ends of a spectrum. It can be said that the EU works through an arrangement of supranational autonomous institutions and intergovernmental arranged choices by the member nations. Thus, the European Union including its political and legal institutions operates on the basis of the principles of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism.

Aditya Gupta is a 2nd year B.A. LL.B. (Honours) student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

[1] Roger J. Goebel, Supranational? Federal? Intergovernmental? The Governmental Structure of the European Union After the Treaty of Lisbon, 20 Colum. J. Eur. L. 77 (2013), https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/faculty_scholarship/577

[2] Leal Arcas Rafael, Theories of Supranationalism in the EU, RESEARCH GATE (June 2007), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228322860_Theories_of_Supranationalism_in_the_EU

[3] OXFORD REFERNCE, https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110810105138102 (last visited Oct 11, 2021)

[4] Tsebelis, G., & Garrett, G. (2001). The Institutional Foundations of Intergovernmentalism and Supranationalism in the European Union. International Organization, 55(2), 357–390. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3078635

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