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The term supranational union strictly only applies to the European Community governance system. The term supranationalism as a democractic system of governance refers legally only to democratic systems introducing the concept of supranationalism in their treaty systems. It was brought into first realization by the European Coal and Steel Community. This is enshrined in the Europe Declaration made on 18 April 1951, the same day as the European Founding Fathers signed the Treaty of Paris. This declared that they were hereby creating the first supranational institution in history and that the supranational principle would shape the true foundation of an organized Europe. This Europe was open to all nations who were free to decide -- a reference, or rather an invitation and encouragement of liberty to the Iron Curtain countries. The term supranationalism occurs twice in the Treaty of Paris. It defines the relationship between the High Authority or European Commissionmarker and the other four institutions. The term supranational does not occur in succeeding treatings such as the Treaties of Rome, the Maastricht Treaty, the Treaty of Nice or the Constitutional Treaty or the very similar Lisbon Treaty.

The European Union is a mixed system of suprantionalism and intergovernmentalism. The concept of supranational union is sometimes used to describe the European Union, as a new type of political entity. In reality it is a mixture in which the supranational element is being diluted by governments or political parties acting through the instruments of government.

A full supranational union allows a much broader and deeper activity for non-political citizens and technical and regional associations to be actively involved. Because they are individually agreed to by democratic consent, each supranational union or Community relates to specific sectors such as the European Coal and Steel Community, Customs Union or the European Economic Community a nuclear non-poliferation Community, Euratom or other Communities which did not see or have not yet seen the light of day such as a European Transport Community, a European Defence Community or a supranational European Energy Community. A broader supranational union would be provided for in a European Political Community.

Distinguishing features of a supranational union

A supranational union lies somewhere between a confederation that is an association of States and a federation. The European Community was described by its founder Robert Schuman as midway between confederalism which recognizes the complete independence of States in an association and federalism which seeks to fuse them in a super-state. The EU has supranational competences, but it possesses these competences only to the extent that they are conferred on it by its member states. {Komptenz-Komptenz} Within the scope of these competences, the union exercises its powers in a sovereign manner, having its own legislative, executive, and judicial authorities. The supranational Community also has a chamber for organized civil society including economic and social associations and regional bodies.

A supranational union, because it is an agreement between sovereign States, is based on international treaties. Thus in legal terms both the Constitutional Treaty or the nearly identical Lisbon Treaty are treaties, not constitutions. The European treaties in general are different from classical treaties as they are constitutionalizing treaties, that is they provide the basis for a European level of democracy and European rule of law. They have something in the nature of a constitution and like the British constitution, not necessarily a single document. They are based on treaties between its member governments but have normally to undergo a closer democratic scrutiny than other treaties because they are more far-ranging, affecting many areas of citizens' lives and livelihoods. This is why citizens often demand referendums.

Decision-making is partly intergovernmental and partly supranational within the Community areas. The latter provides a higher degree of institutional scrutiny both via the Parliament and through the Consultative Committees. Intergovernmentalism provides for less democratic oversight, especially where the institution such as the Council of Ministers or the European Council takes place behind closed doors, rather than in a parliamentary chamber.

The union has legal supremacy over its member states (only) to the extent that its member state governments have conferred competences on the union. It is up to the individual governments to assure that they have full democratic backing in each of the member states. The citizens of the member states, though retaining their nationality and national citizenship, additionally become citizens of the union.

The European Union, the only clear example of a supranational union, has a parliament with legislative oversight, elected by its citizens. It is not yet elected according to the principles in the founding supranational Treaty of Paris or those of the Treaty of Rome.

To this extent, a supranational union like the European Union has characteristics that are not entirely dissimilar to the characteristics of a federal state like the United States of Americamarker. However, the differences in scale become apparent if one compares the United States federal budget with the budget of the European Union (which amounts only to about one percent of combined GDP) or the size of the federal civil service of the United States with the Civil Service of the European Union.

Comparisons EU and USA

In the upcoming Lisbon Treaty the distribution of competences in various policy areas between Member States and the European union is redistributed in 3 categories. In 19th century USA, it had exclusive competences only(changed somewhat since then, but the basic design remain to this day). Competences not explicitly listed belong to lower levels of governance.

EU exclusive competence
The Union has exclusive competence to make directives and conclude international agreements when provided for in a Union legislative act.
  • the customs union
  • the establishing of the competition rules necessary for the functioning of the internal market
  • monetary policy for the Member States whose currency is the euro
  • the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy
  • common commercial (trade) policy
EU shared competence
Member States cannot exercise competence in areas where the Union has done so.
  • the internal market
  • social policy, for the aspects defined in this Treaty
  • economic, social and territorial cohesion
  • agriculture and fisheries, excluding the conservation of marine biological resources
  • environment
  • consumer protection
  • transport
  • trans-European networks
  • energy
  • the area of freedom, security and justice
  • common safety concerns in public health matters, for the aspects defined in this Treaty
  • Common Foreign and Security Policy
EU supporting competence
The Union can carry out actions to support, coordinate or supplement Member States' actions.
  • the protection and improvement of human health
  • industry
  • culture
  • tourism
  • education, youth, sport and vocational training
  • civil protection (disaster prevention)
  • administrative cooperation
USA exclusive competence
USA federal government in the 19 century.

"Democratic deficit"

In a supranational union, the problem of how to reconcile the principle of equality among nation states, which applies to international organizations, and the principle of equality among citizens, which applies within nation states is resolved by taking a sectoal approach. This allows an innovatory, democratic broadening the number of actors to be included. These are present not only in the classical Parliament which has slightly different functions but also in the Consultative Committees such as the Economic and Social Committeemarker and the Committee of the Regions which the treaties give powers equivalent to parliaments in their own areas but which are at present still developing their potential. In the European Union, the proposed Lisbon Treaty or the constitutional treaty of the European Union mixes two principles (classical parliamentary government with a politically elected government) and a supranational Community with a totally independent European Commissionmarker. Governments are also trying to treat the Lisbon Treaty as a simple classical treaty, or even an amendment to one, which does not require a full measure of citizens' support and formal approval. The proposed Lisbon Treaty and the earlier Constitutional draft still retain in the European Union elements of a supranational union, as distinct from a federal state on the lines of the United States of America. But this is at the expense of the democratic potentialities of a full supranational union as conceived in the first Community.


A global map showing all the supranational unions.

The only union generally recognized as having achieved the status of a supranational union is the European Union.

There are a number of other regional organisations that, while not supranational unions, have adopted or intend to adopt policies that may lead to a similar sort of integration in some respects.

Other organisations that have also discussed greater integration include:


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