Thesis topic proposal
Attila Pánovics
The European Union as a Model for Regional Integration


Institute: University of Pécs
Doctoral School of Law

Thesis supervisor: Attila Pánovics
Location of studies (in Hungarian): PTE ÁJK Nemzetközi- és Európajogi Tanszék
Abbreviation of location of studies: NE

Description of the research topic:

The European Union is a unique economic and political partnership comprised of 27 Member States. It was created after the Second World War to foster economic cooperation, the idea being that countries that trade with one another become economically interdependent and thus more likely to avoid conflict. Compared to other regions all citizens of the EU feel safe and can move freely among the member countries. For the hundreds of millions who travel across the EU for family, tourism or business reasons every year, borders are a thing of the past.
Since the early 1950s, the EU has been a pioneer in regional integration. In the past over sixty years, the EU has grown from the European Coal and Steel Community of the “Inner Six” to the European Union of 27 member countries who share sovereignty and operate through strong common institutions. The aspirations convinced many countries to join the six founding members; several rounds of enlargement have led to today’s European Union. More than 20 other countries have since joined the EU, including a historic expansion in 2004.
The European Union is a supranational entity with a neo-functionalist tradition based on the “community method”. Robert Schuman’s visionary idea made war, in his words, “not only unthinkable but materially impossible”, and significant progress has been made since the 1950s. The EU has never stopped on the way of deepening integration, but deeper integration required political courage and commitment. While moving in the same direction, the European Union (the EU institutions) and the Member States has always worked together in a spirit of trust and loyal cooperation.
The European Union is sui generis in nature; it is partly an intergovernmental organisation and partly a supranational organisation. The Lisbon Treaty has collapsed the pillar structure of the EU. The European Community (formerly the first pillar) has been abolished, but its powers and institutions remain supranational. These have been transferred to the post-Lisbon EU entity, along with the elements of the former third pillar, which have also become supranational, calling it “the area of freedom, security and justice”. At the same time, the Treaty keeps the elements of the former second pillar intergovernmental.
More recently, the EU has adopted a more flexible approach resulting in a “multi-speed Europe”. Enhanced cooperation is designed to overcome paralysis, where a proposal is blocked by an individual country or a small group of countries who do not wish to be part of the initiative.
The European Union is based on the rule of law. This means that every action taken by the EU is founded on the EU Treaties that have been approved voluntarily and democratically by all EU member countries. Moreover, judgements from the Court of Justice of the EU are respected and implemented by the Member States.
The institutional set-up of the EU illustrates how power is based on the supranational model. One of the supranational institutions of the EU is the European Commission. The Commission is partly the executive of the EU and promotes its general interest. It proposes laws and policies on its own initiative, but the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) is an unique and innovative way for citizens to shape the EU by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. National parliaments can also express their reservations if they feel that it would be better to deal with an issue at national level (this is called the ‘subsidiarity control mechanism’).
The European Council and the Council of the EU are the institutions of the EU representing the Member States’ governments. The European Council, which consists of the heads of state or government of the member countries, brings together national and EU-level leaders, and defines the general political direction and priorities of the EU. The Council of the EU (national ministers from each EU country) adopts the EU budget together with the European Parliament, and provides the mandate to the Commission to negotiate on behalf of the EU agreements between the EU and non-EU countries and international organisations. The Council's standard voting method is qualified majority that requires a double majority to pass legislation. All major amendments of the EU Treaties have shifted some policy areas from unanimity to qualified majority voting.
The European Parliament is a unique multinational parliamentary assembly, and the only directly elected EU body. The 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) represent the interests of the EU citizens. The Parliament acts as a co-legislator, sharing with the Council of the EU the power to adopt and amend legislative proposals and to decide on the EU budget. It also supervises the work of the European Commission and other EU bodies and cooperates with national parliaments of the Member States.
The EU uses a variety of legislative procedures to adopt laws. The standard decision-making procedure of the EU is known as the Ordinary Legislative Procedure (ex “codecision procedure”), in which the directly elected European Parliament has to approve EU legislation together with the Council of the EU. The Parliament and the Council review proposals by the Commission and propose amendments.
The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) is also responsible for advancing the supranational nature of the EU. As the highest court in matters of EU law, the Court has a key role in ensuring the effectiveness of EU law. Since the establishment of the Court in 1952, it constitutes the judicial authority of the EU and, in cooperation with the courts and tribunals of the EU Member States; it ensures the uniform application and interpretation of EU law. The Court ensures that the EU Member States comply with their obligations under the EU Treaties, reviews the legality of the acts of the EU institutions, and interprets European Union law at the request of the national courts and tribunals.
The challenge of applying EU legislation is shared at EU and Member State level. Under the EU Treaties, EU institutions can adopt legislation, which the Member States then apply. The Member States of the EU have the primary responsibility for implementing and enforcing EU law correctly. They also have to provide sufficient remedies to ensure effective legal protection in the fields covered by EU law. National courts are ‘the common courts’ for upholding EU law and contribute effectively to enforcing it in individual cases. They have the competence to uphold the actions of individuals seeking protection against national measures that are incompatible with EU law or financial compensation for the damage caused by such measures.
The European Commission is responsible for making sure that all EU countries properly apply EU law. As the effective application of the law is essential in order to guarantee citizens and businesses the enjoyment of the benefits granted by EU law, the Commission (the ‘guardian of the Treaties’) may launch a formal “infringement procedure” against an EU Member State that fails to fulfil its obligations. The Commission may refer the issue to the Court of Justice of the EU, which in certain cases can impose financial sanctions (lump sums and/or penalty payments).
In the past few decades, the EU has become a positive global force and a more sovereign actor in international relations. The EU responds to global challenges and contributes to peace and security in the world. It is committed to a rules-based multilateral system, and its capacity has increased to play a role in shaping global affairs. EU diplomacy helps keep the world safer and more sustainable, as shown by the historic deal with Iran on its nuclear programme or the leading role the EU played in the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. In recent years, a more united approach to dealing with migration is emerging, respecting international norms.
In recent decades, the security environment in and around Europe has become more complex and contested. The external challenges facing the European continent are multiplying, and the world is more volatile than ever. Threats now include a persistent terrorist threat, continuing vulnerabilities in the Sahel-Sahara region, enduring destabilisation in the Middle East, major migration crises, open warfare in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood and direct aggression through hybrid threats and cyberattacks. EU Member States must be able to tackle these issues in order to protect their citizens. This requires improved coordination of efforts and the fostering of capacities to better prepare, plan and act together when necessary.
The European Union can be considered as a modern type of international legal order that can serve as a model for regional integration efforts outside of Europe. Of course, there has often been a gap between what people expect and what the Union is able to deliver. There is still work to be done to respond better to the changing reality and to transform challenges into opportunities, but there is already much that can be learned from the European Union.
Nowadays the EU is at a crossroads and needs to decide how it wants to tackle the challenges of today. Historically, it has rebounded from previous crises and moved to the next stage of the integration process. It is not really clear what scenario the European Union decides to follow in the future, but its unique legal order will always be fundamental and be able to ensure the effectiveness of union law.

Number of students who can be accepted: 6

Deadline for application: 2020-06-19