European Union Politics

Second edition

by John McCormick Understanding the European Union, 6th edition Why Europe Matters Environmental Policy in the European Union Contemporary Britain, 3rd edition


This glossary contains an explication of key technical terms, having meanings which are specific to International Relations theory. In case a concept is characterized by multiple, contested meanings, the variety of meanings is introduced.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Accession agreement: A membership agreement signed between a new member state and the Community or the EU.

Advocates general: Officers of the Court of Justice who review cases as they arrive and deliver preliminary opinions to the Court about which laws apply and what action to take.

Africa Caribbean Pacific: A programme under which former colonies of EU member states have been targeted for preferential trade agreements.

Agenda setting: The process by which the list of problems and issues that require a public response is developed and agreed.

Agricultural policy: Policy dealing with the production and distribution of food, with a focus on supply, prices, quality, land use, trade and employment.

Asylum: An effort by an individual to win residence in a state in order to achieve protection from threats of death, torture or persecution in their home state.

Atlantic Alliance: The military and political alliance between the United States and western Europe, resting mainly on their Cold War opposition to the Soviet bloc.

Atlanticists and Europeanists: The division of opinion between those who continue to support close security ties with the United States and those favouring greater European policy independence.



Barcelona Process: A programme launched in 1995 and aimed at strengthening ties between the EU and most of its North African and Middle Eastern neighbours.

Benchmarks: Measurable targets set by the Commission in order to provide a focus for applicant states as they work to meet the terms of entry into the EU.

Bipolar system: An arrangement in international relations in which power is divided, shared and controlled by two dominant actors.

Bologna Process: An agreement among European states (not limited to the EU) under which requirements for higher education qualifications have been standardized, increasing their transferability.



Cabinet: The small group of assistants and advisers that works for each of the commissioners. Headed by a chef de cabinet, members provide advice, information and other services to the commissioners.

Candidate country: A non-member state of the EU whose application to join has been accepted and with which negotiations on the terms of entry are either planned, under way, or have been agreed.

Charter of Fundamental Rights: A document adopted in 2000 that collected together statements on human rights outlined in other EU agreements.

Christian Democracy: A political philosophy associated mainly with continental western Europe that applies Christian principles to public policy; moderately conservative on social and moral issues, and progressive on economic issues.

Citizen initiative: An option introduced by Lisbon that allows a petition (signed by at least a million people) to be submitted to the Commission.

Coalition government: A government made up of representatives from more than one political party, demanding compromises among the participating parties.

Cohesion policy: Policy aimed at redistributing wealth and creating new opportunities in poorer parts of the EU with the goal of closing the income gap.

College of Commissioners: The group of 27 commissioners who head the European Commission. They are appointed for five-year renewable terms, one comes from each of the member states, and each is given responsibility over a particular area of policy.

Common Agricultural Policy: One of the oldest and most controversial of EU policies, based at first on a system of price supports for farmers, but later reformed.

Common Commercial Policy: The common trade policy of the EU, included in the Treaty of Rome and under which the EU has effectively used its power to deal and negotiate with third parties on trade issues.

Common Fisheries Policy: A joint EU policy aimed at managing fish stocks and regulating the EU fishing industry.

Common Foreign and Security Policy: An attempt made under the Maastricht treaty to develop common foreign policy principles and positions among EU states.

Communitarianism: The view that individual rights should be balanced with those of the community, and that community interests can sometimes outweigh those of individuals.
Community method: The process by which policy powers are transferred from the member states to the EU institutions.

Comparative method: One of the core methods for all research (the others being the experimental, the statistical, and the case study methods), based on drawing conclusions from the study of a small number of samples.

Comparative politics: The study of different political systems, usually based on cases, and aimed at drawing up general rules about how those systems function.

Competition policy: Policy aimed at limiting the marketplace distortions created by monopolies, cartels, price-fixing, abuse of dominant position, and market-sharing.

Conference of Presidents: The major administrative body of the EP, consisting of the president and the heads of the party groups, and responsible for managing plenary sessions and the EP committee system.

Consent procedure: A legislative procedure under which the EP has veto rights in selected areas, including the admission of new member states to the EU, and the conclusion by the EU of new international agreements.

Constitution: A document, usually codified, that spells out the principles and powers of government, limits on the powers of government, and the rights of citizens.

Constitutional court: A court created to deal with matters of constitutional law, and to decide whether or not laws or the actions of elected officials respect the terms of a constitution.

Consultation procedure: The original legislative procedure used in the EP, by which it could comment on proposals from the Commission but had little more than the power of delay.

Convergence criteria: Standards that EU member states must achieve before being allowed to adopt the European single currency, including low national budget deficits and inflation, and controls on public debt and interest rates.

Cooperation procedure: A legislative procedure introduced by the Single European Act, giving the EP the right to a second reading on selected proposals. All but eliminated by the Treaty of Amsterdam.

Copenhagen conditions: The requirements for membership of the EU, including democracy, capitalism, and a willingness and ability to adopt all existing EU laws.

Coreper: The Committee of Permanent Representatives, in which delegates from each of the member states meet to discuss proposals for new laws before they are sent to the Council of Ministers for a final decision.

Corporate merger: An arrangement by which two or more independent companies fuse their assets and liabilities so as to create a single new company. This should be distinguished from a takeover, where the companies involved continue to exist as separate legal entities.

Cosmopolitanism: The view that all humans belong to a single community based on a shared morality, and that they should rise above more narrow identities based on race, religion, nationality, or state.

Council of Europe: An organization founded in 1949 at the suggestion of Winston Churchill, and which has gone on to promote European unity with a focus on issues relating to democracy and human rights.



Democratic deficit: The gap between the powers transferred to the EU institutions and the ability of European citizens to influence the decisions they take.

Derogation: A partial repeal or abrogation of a law, allowing an EU member state to apply a law differently, or giving it longer to meet a deadline.

Direct action: A case in which there is a complainant (usually an individual, corporation, member state, or EU institution) and a defendant (usually an EU institution or a member state).

Direct effect: The principle that EU law is directly and uniformly applicable in all EU member states, and that challenges can be made to the compatibility of national law with EU law.

Directorate-general: A department within the Commission, headed by a director-general and given responsibility for generating and overseeing the implementation of laws and policies in particular areas.

Dual mandate: An arrangement under which members of the Common Assembly, and then of the European Parliament, could serve in both the EP and in their national legislatures.



Economic and monetary union: A programme agreed by the EEC in 1969 to coordinate economic policy in preparation for the switch to a single currency.

Economic policy: Policy dealing with the management of goods and services, including productivity, consumption, money supply, and competition.

Education policy: Policy focused on encouraging cross-border mobility of students and staff, and educational cooperation among the member states.

Elitism: The view that decision-making is focused in the hands of elites, meaning – in the case of the EU – elected officials, bureaucrats, and interest groups.

Emissions Trading Scheme: A free-market mechanism for reducing greenhouse gases, using emission caps and tradable emission allowances.

Empty chair crisis: A dispute in 1965 over the relative powers of EEC : institutions and the governments of EEC member states, which encouraged France to boycott meetings of the Council of Ministers.

Environmental policy: Policy dealing with the management of renewable natural resources (such as air, water, land and forests) and with limiting the harmful impact of human activity.

Erasmus generation: Students who have participated in the EU’s Erasmus educational exchange programme since 1987, and who are seen as leaders in the effort to build a sense of European identity.

ERM II: A reformed Exchange Rate Mechanism designed to help improve the stability relative to the euro of currencies in EU states outside the eurozone.

EU Civil Service Tribunal: A subsidiary court created in 2004 to take over from the Court of Justice cases involving complaints by employees of the EU.

Eurobarometer: The EU’s public opinion polling service, which carries out two major surveys every year, along with ‘flash’ surveys on more discrete issues.

Eurocorps: A multinational military force set up among several EU states, outside EU structures, that some see as the seed of a common European military.

Eurojust: A judicial cooperation unit that works to improve the effectiveness of investigations and prosecutions across EU member states.

Europarties: Pan-European party organizations or confederations that coordinate policy and build links among national political parties in Europe.

Europe 2020 Strategy: A long-term economic strategy aimed at job creation, improved educational attainment, and sustainable growth.

European arrest warrant: A warrant by which member states can request the transfer of suspects or criminals from another member state.

European Atomic Energy Community: An international organization created in 1957 to coordinate research in its member states on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

European Central Bank: The central bank of the eurozone, responsible for managing the euro by setting interest rates, encouraging price stability, and managing foreign reserves.

European citizenship: A concept developed by the EU in order to provide its citizens with more of a transnational sense of belonging, but falling short of conventional ideas of citizenship.

European Coal and Steel Community: The first organization set up to encourage regional integration in Europe, with qualities that were both supranational and intergovernmental.

European Convention on Human Rights: An agreement drawn up by the Council of Europe in 1950 that provides the right of petition for citizens, and that has taken on a new life and legal significance since the late 1990s.

European Convention: A series of meetings held during 2002–03 to draft a constitution for the EU.

European Council: The forum in which the heads of government of the member states meet regularly to make strategic decisions on the progress of integration.

European Court of Human Rights: A Strasbourg-based court that hears cases and issues judgments related to the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

European Defence Community: A stillborn plan to create a common European military as a means of binding a rearmed West Germany into western Europe.

European Economic Area: An agreement under which EFTA member states were given access to the single European market without full EU membership.

European Economic Community: An international organization created in 1957 with the core goal of establishing a single (or common) market among its member states.

European Free Trade Association (EFTA): A free trade grouping championed by Britain and founded in 1960, with more modest goals and looser organization than the EEC.

European Investment Bank: The investment bank of the EU, which supports economic development projects both inside and outside Europe.

European Judicial Network: A network of contact points created in 1998 in order to help improve cross-border cooperation within the EU on civil and commercial matters.

European Monetary System: An arrangement introduced in 1979 by which EEC member states linked their currencies to one another through an Exchange Rate Mechanism designed to keep exchange rates stable.

European Movement: An organization created in 1948 to champion the cause of European integration. It was behind the setting up of the Council of Europe and continues today to lobby for a federal Europe.

European Neighbourhood Policy: A policy aimed at encouraging democracy and capitalism in 16 eastern European and North African neighbours of the EU.

European Ombudsman: An official appointed and monitored by the European Parliament and charged with investigating complaints of maladministration by any of the EU institutions except the Court of Justice.

European Political Community: An attempt to create a political community to oversee the ECSC and the European Defence Community, but which collapsed with the demise of the latter.

European Security and Defence Policy: A critical step in the development of a European security policy outside NATO, based on the Petersberg tasks and the maintenance of ‘battle groups’ capable of short-notice military action.

European Security Strategy: The first comprehensive outline of the EU’s security priorities, identifying threats and outlining key objectives.

European Social Model: The notion of a common European approach to social issues, based on an interventionist state, welfare, workers’ rights, and efforts to address inequality.

Europol: The criminal intelligence agency of the EU which works to share information in order to address the most serious forms of international crime.

Eurosclerosis: A term coined in 1985 to describe the inflexibility of the western European labour market, and its failure to create new jobs quickly enough to meet demand.

Eurosystem: The monetary authority of the eurozone, made up of the ECB and national central banks, and charged with encouraging financial stability in the eurozone.

Executive agencies: Temporary bodies set up by the Commission to help carry out narrow and specific executive tasks.



Federalism: Promotion of, or support for, the idea of federation. For European federalists this means a belief in the merits of replacing the European state system with a new European federation, or a United States of Europe.

First-order and second-order elections: Elections with different stakes, the former for government institutions (such as national executives and legislatures) with significant powers, and the latter for institutions (such as local government and the European Parliament) with fewer powers.

Fiscal policy: Policy dealing with budgets: how and where government revenues are raised and how and where public funds are spent.

Foreign policy: Policy governing the relations between a state and other states, dealing with issues such as security, trade, immigration, and economic relations.

Functionalism: The idea that if states cooperate and create new functionally specific interstate institutions and agencies, regional integration will develop its own internal dynamic, and peace can be achieved through the creation of a web of interstate ties without the need for grand intergovernmental agreements.



General Court: A subsidiary court created in 1989 (as the Court of First Instance) to review less complicated cases coming before the Court of Justice.

Governance: An arrangement by which decisions, laws and policies are made without the existence of formal institutions of government.

Government: The institutions and officials that make up the formal structure by which states or other administrative units (counties, regions, provinces, cities, towns, and even universities) are managed and directed.

Great Recession: The international financial crisis that broke in 2007, bringing recession to most advanced economies in 2008–10, and challenging the ability of EU leaders to work together on broad economic problems.

Green papers and white papers: Documents published by the EU that test the waters by making suggestions for new policies, the latter being more detailed and specific than the former.

Green politics: A political philosophy based on ecological wisdom, sustainability, social justice, grassroots democracy, and non-violence.



Idealism: A view of international relations that emphasizes the possibilities of peace through international cooperation and the role of international law.

Incrementalism: A method of developing policy through small and often unplanned changes rather than through more radical or wholesale change.

Integrative potential: A measure of the extent to which states will be able to integrate successfully, based on a combination of economic and political factors.

Interest group: An organization that represents and promotes the political, economic or social interests of its members, which may be individuals, cultural or social groups, professions, or industries.

Intergovernmental conferences: Conferences convened among representatives of the governments of the EU member states to discuss and agree amendments to the treaties.

Intergovernmentalism: A political dynamic in which key decisions are made as a result of negotiations among representatives of the member states of an IGO.

International organization: A body that functions in two or more states, or that is set up to promote cooperation among states, based on the principles of voluntary cooperation, communal management, and shared interests.

International Relations: The study of relations among states, focusing on alliances, diplomacy, and the dynamics of decisions reached by states working together or in competition with each other.



Judge-Rapporteur: A judge on the Court of Justice who is appointed to oversee the different stages through which a case is reviewed. Equivalent to rapporteurs in the European Parliament.

Justice and home affairs: Policy dealing with issues such as international crime and terrorism, asylum, immigration, and police and judicial cooperation.



Knowledge deficit: The gap between how the EU works and what ordinary Europeans know about that process.



Liberal intergovernmentalism: A theory combining elements of neofunctionalism and intergovernmentalism, arguing that intergovernmental bargains are driven by pressures coming from the domestic level.

Lisbon Strategy: An attempt made in 2000 to set economic modernization targets for the EU, with the goal of making it the world’s most dynamic marketplace within ten years.

Lobbying: Efforts made to influence the decisions made by elected officials or bureaucrats on behalf of individuals, groups, or organizations.

Luxembourg Compromise: A 1966 agreement ending the empty chair crisis, and making consensus the informal norm in Council of Ministers decisions. The effect was to slow down the process of European integration.



Marshall Plan: A programme under which the United States offered financial assistance to encourage postwar recovery in Europe. Often credited with providing the investments needed to pave the way to regional integration.

Member of the European Parliament: A representative elected from any of the 27 EU member states to serve in the European Parliament. Elected for fixed, renewable five-year terms.

Mixed system: An arrangement in which state policies and common multi-state policies co-exist, as was long the case with the example of EU foreign policy.

Monetary policy: Policy aimed at encouraging economic growth and stability by controlling the supply of money and its cost through the setting of interest rates.

Multiculturalism: The recognition and promotion of multiple different cultures, without promoting the interests or values of a dominant culture. Contrasts with attempts at assimilation and cultural integration, or the ‘melting pot’ philosophy.

Multilateralism: A belief that problems should be addressed by states working together, perhaps through international organizations, rather than in isolation.

Multilevel governance: An administrative system in which power is distributed and shared horizontally and vertically among many different levels of government, from the supranational to the local, with considerable interaction among the parts.

Multipolar system: An arrangement in international relations in which power is divided, shared and controlled by more than two dominant actors.

Multispeed integration: Integration pursued by groups of member states with common or shared interests, as distinct from the idea that all member states should move together with the same goals.

Mutual recognition: The principle that a product or service provided legally in one member state cannot be barred from provision in another member state.



Nation: A community whose members identify with each other on the basis of a shared history, language and culture.

National contributions: The typical method for funding international organizations, based on financial contributions by their member states. In the case of the EU, these are calculated according to gross national income.

Nationalism: A belief in the primary interests of nations and in the promotion of nation-states founded on national self-determination.

Neofunctionalism: The theory that integration in one area of activity will lead to pressures and political support for integration in other related areas.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization: A defensive alliance created in 1949 between the United States, Canada, and most major western European states, and designed to send a security warning to the Soviet Union.



Open method of coordination: A procedure by which EU member states are encouraged to cooperate and agree on voluntary action in policy areas where the EU institutions have limited formal competence.

Ordinary legislative procedure: The most common legislative procedure now used in the EP, under which it has the right to as many as three readings on a legislative proposal, giving it equal powers with the Council of Ministers.

Organisation for European Economic Co-operation: An international body set up to coordinate and manage Marshall aid, and that some see as the first significant step in the process of postwar European integration.

Own resources: Independent sources of income for the EU, generated mainly out of policy areas controlled by the EU rather than the member states.



Petersberg tasks: The priorities set in 1992 by the Western European Union (humanitarian, rescue, peacekeeping, and other crisis management operations), and later adopted by the EU.

Policy evolution: The process by which the goals of public policy change according to new political and economic pressures, improved understanding, and new levels of public support and interest.

Political groups: Groups formed within the European Parliament that bring together MEPs from like-minded political parties from the different member states.

Polity: An organized and structured system for the government and administration of a political unit, such as a state or a city.

Preliminary ruling: A ruling by the Court of Justice on the interpretation or validity of an EU law that arises in a national court case.

Presidency of the Council of Ministers: The leadership of all meetings of the Council of Ministers except the Foreign Affairs Council. Held by the governments of EU member states in a rotation of six months each.

President of the Commission: The head of the Commission and the most visible of all the staff members of the EU institutions. Appointed by the European Council for renewable five-year terms, and charged with giving the Commission direction.

President of the EP: The leader of the European Parliament, elected by MEPs from among their number, the selection being pre-determined as a result of negotiations among the major party groups.

President of the European Council: The head of the European Council, a position created with the passage of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009. Appointed by the Council for renewable two-and-a-half-year terms, and charged with giving it direction.

Public sphere: A communicative space within which the members of a community (such as a state, or the European Union), can talk with one another about shared concerns.



Qualified majority vote: A system of voting used in the Council of Ministers, by which proposals must win substantially more than a simple majority.

Quasi-federation: An arrangement by which powers are divided between central and regional government, resulting in some of the features of federalism without the creation of a formal federal structure.



Realism: A theory of international relations which argues that we live in an anarchic global system (one without rules or an authority above the level of the state), and that states relate to-and compete with-each other according to their self-interest.

Referendum: A form of direct democracy (otherwise known as a plebiscite, a ballot question, or a proposition) in which the affected electorate is asked to vote on whether or not to accept a specific proposal.

Regime: The rules and norms that lie at the basis of a system of government. Can also be used to describe (sometimes with negative implications) the holders of office within a government.

Regional integration association: An organization within which independent states work to encourage cooperation and the pooling of authority and resources for the mutual benefit of its members.

Regulatory agencies: Standing bodies set up under EU law with technical, management and/or informational responsibilities.



Schengen Agreement: A fast-track agreement to set up a border-free Europe, signed in 1985 among five Community states, and which has since expanded to 28 states.

Secession: The act of withdrawing from membership of an association, usually taken to mean some kind of political organization or union.

Secularism: The belief that government should exist independently from religion, and that political or social organizations should not be based on religious beliefs.

Security policy: Policy dealing with national defence, with identifying and offsetting military and other threats to national interests.

Single European Act: The first major change to the treaties, signed in 1986 with the goal of reviving plans to complete the single European market.

Social Charter: A charter of the social rights of workers, adopted by 11 Community states in 1989 and merged into the treaties by Amsterdam in 1997.

Social policy: Efforts made by the EU to promote equal pay, equal working conditions, gender equality, worker training, and workers’ rights.

Sovereignty: The authority to rule, control, and/or make laws, usually associated with states and incorporating territorial integrity and political independence.

Stability and Growth Pact: An agreement reached in 1997 by which eurozone governments undertook to control their budget deficits in the interests of currency stability.

Structural funds: Funds managed by the EU and designed to invest in economic development and job creation in poorer parts of the EU.

Subsidiarity: The principle that the EU should limit itself in policy terms to undertaking tasks better dealt with jointly than at the level of the member state.

Suez crisis: An attempt made by Britain, France and Israel to reverse Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez Canal, leading to an international outcry, the humiliation of Britain and France, and a change in British attitudes towards European integration.

Superpower: An actor that has the ability to project power globally, and that enjoys a high level of autonomy and self-sufficiency in international relations (Fox, 1944, pp. 20–1).

Supranationalism: A political dynamic by which IGOs become the forum for the promotion of the joint interests of state members, which involves the transfer of authority to joint institutions functioning above the states.

Supremacy of EU law: The principle that in areas where the EU has competence (authority), EU law supersedes national law in cases of incompatibility.

Sustainable development: Development that recognizes natural limits and does not result in permanent and harmful environmental change or natural resource depletion.



Terrorism: Efforts to achieve political change by creating public fear and insecurity, mainly through attacks on civilian targets.

The state: A legal and political arrangement through which all large-scale political communities are organized, combining territory with sovereignty, independence and legitimacy.

Thin and thick constitutions: Constitutions that differ in both their intent and their character, the latter being more detailed, consistent and permanent than the former.

Think tank: An organization that conducts research into a given area of policy with the goal of fostering public debate and political change.

Three pillars: A compromise reached in the Maastricht treaty by which intergovernmental decision making for foreign and security policy and for justice and home affairs was preserved by making them legally separate from the European Community.

Trade policy: Policy dealing with the exchange of goods and services across borders, and including issues such as tariffs, quotas, and protectionism.

Trans-European networks: Construction projects aimed at building an integrated European transport, energy supply, and telecommunications system.

Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe: A treaty signed in 2004 that was intended to replace the process of developing new treaties with a constitution for the EU. It failed when rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

Treaty of Amsterdam: A set of relatively limited changes to the treaties, signed in 1997 and taking force in 1999.

Treaty of Lisbon: The most recent change to the EU treaties, signed in 2007 and entering into force in 2009. It makes most of the changes that had been intended by the stillborn constitutional treaty.

Treaty of Nice: Another set of relatively limited changes to the treaties, signed in 2001 and taking force – after unexpected delays – in 2003.

Treaty on European Union: A treaty signed in February 1992 and that came into force in November 1993, creating the European Union and outlining a commitment to a single European currency and a common foreign policy.

Treaty: An agreement under international law entered into between sovereign states and/or international organizations, committing all parties to shared obligations, with any failure to meet them being considered a breach of the agreement.

Troika system: The arrangement under which the member state holding the presidency works closely with its predecessor and successor in order to help encourage policy consistency.



Union for the Mediterranean: A project by which the Barcelona Process was relaunched in 2008, with a focus on security cooperation, immigration, the environment, transport and education.



Western European Union: A defensive alliance (created in 1948 as the Western Union) that was always to be overshadowed by NATO, and in spite of being given a potential new role in EU defence in the 1990s eventually became dormant.

Widening vs. deepening: The competing arguments about whether the EU should continue to expand its membership, or should focus on improving the efficiency of the existing club.