"The constitution of the EU is fundamentally undemocratic," says Dublin Professor

Facts4EU presents the second part of a powerful piece on the nation state, by an Irish professor

Montage © Facts4EU.Org 2023

Part Two of an important three-part series, devastating for the EU

We are pleased to present the thoughts of a distinguished mind on ‘the nation, internationalism, supranationalism and basic democratic principles’.

Nation, Nationalism, Internationalism, Supranationalism – Basic Democratic Principles

Part One : Internationalism and supranationalism are opposing values
Part Two : The constitution of the EU is fundamentally undemocratic (This article)
Part Three : Dominance by the power elites is an affront to democracy

Anthony Coughlan is an economist and retired Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Social Policy, Trinity College Dublin. He has been a longstanding opponent of EU integration on democratic and internationalist grounds and has written and spoken widely on EU-related matters. He shared platforms with former Labour Ministers Peter Shore and Tony Benn and Conservative Minister Sir Richard Body in the UK referendum on EEC membership in 1975.

He was an active campaigner in Republic of Ireland referendums on its 1972 EEC Accession Treaty and on the 1987 Single European Act Treaty, the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, the 1998 Amsterdam Treaty, the 2001 and 2002 referendums on the Nice Treaty, the 2008 and 2009 referendums on the Lisbon Treaty and the 2012 Stability Mechanism Treaty.

Below we present the second in a three-part series, written by Professor Coughlan. Yes, this is a long read but we hope that many readers will enjoy it.

In Defence of the Nation State: Part Two

Nation, Nationalism, Internationalism, Supranationalism – Basic Democratic Principles

By Anthony Coughlan

Nations and nation states make up the international community. Globalisation and the development of supranational institutions such as the European Union affect the environment of Europe’s nation states but do not make them out of date.

Nationhood, shared membership of a national community, is the normal basis of democratic states in the modern world. This is shown by the advent of many new European nation states to the international community since 1989, and the likely advent of many more, in Europe and across the globe, as the 21st and 22nd centuries unfold. The following democratic principles are proposed as rational ways of approaching questions of nationhood, state sovereignty, internationalism and supranationalism. They are presented as expressing the classical approach of democrats to these issues.


Insistence on the sovereignty of one’s own state is a natural right as well as a social duty. It is in no way an expression of misguided national egotism. Sovereignty has nothing to do with autarchy or economic self-sufficiency. The national sovereignty of a democratic state is analogous to the freedom and autonomy of the individual. It means that one’s domestic laws and foreign relations are decided solely by one’s own parliament and government, which are elected by and responsible to one’s own people.

State sovereignty is a result of advancing political culture and is an achievement of modern democracy. It is not an end in itself but is an instrument of juridical independence, determining the possibility of a people that inhabits a particular territory deciding its own destiny and way of life in accordance with its own needs, interests, genius and traditions, and determining freely its relations with other peoples. It is the opposite of every kind of subordination to foreign rule. Without sovereignty a nation’s politics become provincial, concerned with marginal and unimportant issues. Maintaining state sovereignty can alone guarantee the political independence of a nation and create conditions for its members to maintain their right to self-determination and their ability to determine their national common good.

The sovereignty of a democratic state means at the same time the sovereignty of its people. The end of the sovereignty of a state is at the same time the end of the sovereignty of its people. The sovereignty of a state and of its people is democratically inalienable. No government, no parliamentary or referendum majority, has the right to alienate it, for they have no right to deprive future generations of the possibility of choosing their own way of life and deciding the common good of that society. The only mode of international cooperation that is acceptable to democrats therefore is one which will not demand of a state the sacrifice of its sovereignty, a sacrifice which the European Union requires of its member states. Respect for national sovereignty makes possible the free cooperation of free peoples united in independent states based on juridical equality, which is fundamental to a stable international order.

These principles have implications for politicians, at least for those of them who care for more than personal advancement or careerism. The prime duty of the politician-statesman is to defend the independence of the state they are in charge of, to maintain its internal unity and to foster the material well-being and cultural level of its people.


Concepts of “shared sovereignty”, “pooled sovereignty” and “joint national sovereignties” are deceptive terms for having one’s laws and policies decided by EU bodies which one’s own people do not elect, which are not responsible to them and which can have significantly different interests from one’s fellow national citizens. EU membership means that countries can no longer decide their own laws over a wide range of public policy matters. Countries and peoples that surrender their sovereignty to the EU become in practice ever more subject to laws and policies that serve the interests of others, in particular the bigger EU states.

The claim that if a nation or state surrenders its sovereignty to the EU, it merely exchanges the sovereignty of a small state for participation in decision-making in a larger supranational union, is simply untrue. The reality is different. The EU continually reduces the influence of smaller states in decision-making by abolishing or limiting national veto powers. Even if bigger states divest themselves similarly of veto power, their political and economic weight ensures that they can get their way in matters that are decisive for them. Treaty changes also increase the relative voting weight of the larger EU states. The provision of the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon/EU Constitution which puts EU law-making in the Council of Ministers on a population basis, increasing the weight of the bigger states and diminishing that of the smaller, underlines this fact.

Equally false is the contention that the advent of new states to the European Union and their surrender of sovereignty to the EU would increase their practical autonomy and influence. The nation that gives up its sovereignty or is deprived of it, ceases to be an independent subject of international politics. It becomes more like a provincial state than a national one. It is no longer able to decide even its own domestic affairs. It literally puts its existence at the mercy of those who are not its citizens, who have taken its sovereignty into their hands and who decide the policies of the larger body. In the European Union the big states, in particular Germany and France, decide fundamental policy. Juridically EU integration is an attempt to liquidate for its member states the democratic heritage of the French Revolution, the right of nations and peoples to self-determination, which they need to maintain if they are to advance their political and economic welfare. That is why the more the EU moves towards closer integration and accrues to itself ever more features of a state, the more it loses legitimacy and authority in the minds of people across Europe.


The principle of the separation of powers as between legislature, executive and judiciary has been recognised as the basis of democratic states and as fundamental to the liberty of citizens since the days of Locke and Montesquieu. The institutions of the European Union flagrantly violate this principle.

The Brussels Commission is the EU’s executive, but it has the monopoly of proposing all EU laws as if it were a parliament. Its members are nominated by governments, not individually elected. It has judicial powers and can adjudicate on competition cases and impose fines on EU members. Even though there may be an appeal to the Court of Justice, the Commission acts as if it were a lower court. It draws up and administers its own budget, with minimal democratic control. Under its aegis are some 3000 semi-secret working groups whose members are not publicly known, where most Commission decisions are actually made and where corporate lobbyists wield great influence. Only some 2% of Commission decisions come up at meetings of the full Commission. The rest are decided lower down in the bureaucracy.

The Council of Ministers is called a Council, but it makes laws just like a parliament on the basis of the Commission’s proposals. It makes those laws in secret, often on the basis of package-deals between its members, and it takes some executive decisions. Some 85% of EU directives and regulations are agreed privately in some 300 committees of civil servants from the EU member states which service the Council and they are approved without debate at Council level. Only 15% of EU laws are actually discussed or negotiated at that level. The Council of Ministers is responsible to nobody as a group and is irremovable as a body. It is a committee of legislators, which is the classical definition of an oligarchy.

The EU Parliament is more a council than a parliament. It cannot initiate any European law, although it can amend laws that come from the Commission and Council as long as the Commission agrees and members of the Council do not unanimously overrule it.

The Court of Justice is not just a court but sometimes legislates like a parliament or lays down new fundamental principles like a Constitution-maker. It continually interprets the EU treaties in such a way as to extend the legal powers of the EU to the maximum. It is “a court with a mission”, as one of its judges once characterized it – that mission being to advance ever closer union in Europe. A court with a mission is a dangerous thing.

Legislative, executive and judicial functions are thus not separated in the EU institutions but are inextricably intertwined.

The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon gave the EU the constitution of a classical federal state, in which state sovereignty is divided between the supranational federal level and the national member state level and in which everyone has two citizenships, one of each level. One can only be a citizen of a state and all states consist of their citizens. The EU’s is the first state constitution in history to be drawn up entirely in the interests of big business, without the slightest popular or democratic input into its making. It mandates economic neo-liberalism. Its foundational “four freedoms” – free movement of goods, services, capital and labour – enshrine the axioms of classical laissez-faire as constitutional principles that no government or elected parliament may legally change or violate, regardless of the wishes of their voters.

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The accretion of power by Brussels is the result of decisions at national level by the Member States and the politicians that run them. Every time successive EU treaties abolish further national vetoes and shift law-making over particular policy areas from the national level to the supranational, where laws are made by qualified majority voting in the EU Council of Ministers, national parliaments and citizens lose power correspondingly, for they no longer have the final say in the areas concerned. Simultaneously, individual Government Ministers, who are members of the executive arm of government at national level and who must have a national parliamentary majority behind them for their policies, are turned into legislators for over 450 million Europeans as members of the 27-person Council of Ministers. National politicians thereby obtain an intoxicating accretion of personal power at the expense of their national parliaments and peoples, even though they are open to being outvoted by a qualified majority on the Council. They can also blame Brussels for laws and policies that prove unpopular at national level, thus escaping adverse electoral consequences at home. These are the reasons Government Ministers tend to be so europhile and to cooperate so willingly in denuding their own parliaments and peoples of their power.

The more policy areas shift from the national level to Brussels, the more power shifts simultaneously from national legislatures to national executives, and the more the power of individual Ministers and bureaucrats increases. Keeping on good terms with their fellow members of the exclusive Council of Ministers “club” of EU legislators becomes more personally important for Ministers at EU level than being awkward in defence of their own peoples’ interests. They come increasingly to see their function vis-a-vis one another as delivering their national electorates in support of further EU integration.

A member state on its own cannot decide a single European law. Its people, parliament and government may be opposed to an EU law, its government representative on the Council of Ministers may vote against it, but they are bound to obey it nonetheless once it is adopted by qualified majority Council vote. This devalues the vote of every individual citizen. Each policy area that is transferred from the national level to the supranational EU level devalues it further.

This reduces the political ability of citizens to decide what is their national common good and deprives them of the most fundamental right of membership of a democracy, the right to make their own laws, to elect their representatives to make them, and to change those representatives if they dislike the laws they make. European integration is therefore not just a process of depriving Europe’s nation states and peoples of their national democracy and independence; within each member state it represents a gradual coup by government executives against legislatures and by politicians against the citizens who elect them.

The European Union hollows out Europe’s nation states, leaving their traditional institutions formally in place, but with their most important functions transferred to the supranational level. It turns each Member State itself into an enemy of its own people, while clamping a form of financial feudalism on Europe.


Societies need direction to secure the welfare of their members. They need a structure of laws and institutions to give people security, to protect them against internal and external enemies, to advance public health, to raise peoples’ educational and cultural level, to ensure fairness of income and wealth distribution, to allocate space for housing and other purposes, to develop democracy by fostering participation in public life. These are the essential functions of the democratic State. They can be properly exercised only if the authority and geographical boundaries of that State, whether it is nationally based or multinational, are accepted as legitimate by its citizens.

- By Anthony Coughlan, Emeritus Professor, Dublin

The National Platform EU Research and Information Centre is based in Ireland at 24 Crawford Avenue, Dublin 9.


We are grateful to Anthony Coughlan for permission to present his work. Our Chairman sums him up in this way: “Tony is an erudite and thoroughly amiable man who has championed the principle of the nation state throughout his life.”

Anthony Coughlan was invited to make a submission to the Irish Senate Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the European Union in June 2017; and his submission to the UK House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in October of that year makes points that are broadly similar to those above.

The group of which he is spokesman seeks to produce legally accurate documentation on EU matters for the use of organisations and individuals on the centre, left and right of Irish politics who are concerned at the development of the EU in an undemocratic and highly centralised direction. Its members stand for a Europe of independent, democratic and cooperating Nation States.

We hope readers enjoyed reading his take on all of this. We intend to publish the final part in the coming days.

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[ Sources: Anthony Coughlan ] Politicians and journalists can contact us for details, as ever.

Brexit Facts4EU.Org, Tues 13 June 2023

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