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  • Konrad Rynski

EU Politics, Explained

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

You will have heard a lot of discussion around the European Union in the last few years, but would you be able to explain how it's actually structured?

If the answer is no, here is your whistle stop guide to EU politics, covering: membership, representation and policy.

cover image of EU politics, explained


With 27 member states across the continent, the European Union is quite diverse in terms of politics, history, and tradition. The membership policy of the EU therefore tries to unify them all into one body.

To join the Europe fan club, a state must meet the ‘Copenhagen Criteria’, a sort of checklist for EU compatibility.

graphic illustrating the criteria of EU compatibility

These criteria are:

  • A stable democracy that has a strong rule of law and protection of human rights

  • A market economy, which is an economy driven by supply and demand

  • Accepting the terms and conditions of being a member of the EU, such as accepting its law

Anyone could do it, right?

As we are talking about Europe, nothing is plain cut, which means that there exist some countries such as Norway or Switzerland, which only partly commit to the workings and rules of the EU in various, mostly economic ways.

New candidates must go through a long process of negotiating the finer details and must be approved by all member states. At the moment, the current candidates are Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

There is also the option to leave the EU through using Article 50, with the UK ending their membership on the 31st January 2020.



Political representation does make an appearance within the EU.

The European Parliament is made up of representatives elected by each member state, with each state having representatives proportional to their population. This means it directly represents the people of Europe.

There is also the European Council which is made up of all the heads of states of each member state.



EU policy has the fortune of being enjoyed by two institutions, being broadly guided by the previously mentioned European Council and closely worked upon by the European Commission.

The Commission then proposes law based on a specific policy area. After moderating, amending, and debating a proposal, it is then voted on in the European Parliament where it must get the majority of the votes to pass.

It is also voted on in the Council of the European Union, which is a collection of government ministers from member states. Once it passes this stage it becomes an EU directive. The Court of Justice of the European Union then makes sure that any passed law is followed and treated well by member states.

Why so many processes and institutions? Well, mostly just to ensure that any law passed is effective, important, and agreed upon and ‘liked’ by the majority of member states to prevent major conflict later down the line.

And anyways, there isn’t an EU in simplicity.


This was a very short and surface-level run down of EU politics and a brief glimpse into its inner workings. Is it perfect? No. Does it work? Seemingly so, but definitely not without its critics.

For more on EU politics and international relations, take a look at our Brexit or Climate Crisis section.

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