National Sovereignty and EU Law

There is some tension between national sovereignty and EU law, which is an unavoidable consequence of collaborating with other countries.

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.

In Britain, for example, there is a widely-held perception that the country had 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 legal arguments used in the referendum campaign were unsound, as explained below (

There is an agreed compromise between national sovereignty and EU law.  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 Qualified Majority Voting, which is carefully defined.

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 page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/5353.htm.