National Sovereignty and EU Law

In Britain, for example, there is a widely-held perception that the country has surrendered some of its sovereignty, and this was one of the factors that resulted in the UK vote in June 2016 to leave the EU – but the arguments used in the referendum campaign were unsound, as described below (

As described at the start of this book, there is no such thing as absolute sovereignty (2.8.3).  Any country that has signed any form of agreement has surrendered some autonomy.  EU membership is no different: members agree to comply with its rules in order to reap the benefits: financial ( and political (  They evaluate the benefits before deciding to join.  If they subsequently believe that the constraints are not worth accepting, when set against the benefits of membership, they can withdraw – as Britain voted to do, for a variety of political reasons that are examined later (

EU members have pooled their sovereignty, but they haven’t lost it:

  • Members participate on equal terms with the other members in making changes to EU law.
  • Treaty changes require the consent of all member countries.
  • Every country has a veto over major changes which are not subject to votes. There are agreed criteria by which a matter is judged to be suitable for majority voting.

A country’s autonomy is only diminished to the extent that it does not have sole jurisdiction over regulations that are negotiated with the other members and which are subject to majority votes.

It must be remembered that members are binding each other in the EU.  They are giving up their entitlement to breach the human rights of their own inhabitants (which hopefully they wouldn’t want to do anyway) but they gain the commitment of all the other members to follow the same rules – which are conducive to inclusive government and stability across the region.  And they sacrifice their ability to set their own product standards, but this gives them unfettered access to customers in other countries.



This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3a book, © PatternsofPower.org, 2020.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/5353.htm