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The UK and the European Union

2. Understanding the European Union

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In this module, we tackle the complex question of how the EU works. We begin by introducing two models for making sense of international political organisations such as the EU: ‘intergovernmentalism’ and ‘supranationalism’. In the first model, intergovernmentalism, decisions are negotiated by representatives who defend their national interests. Under supranationalism, by contrast, a higher body which looks to the interests of the organisation as a whole is given authority over decisions. Having developed definitions of these two models, we then move on to suggest that the EU has always been the product of the interplay of both. After this, we consider a related debate about the EU’s organisation and function: that between technocratic and democratic governance. We think about how the EU has evolved from a predominantly technocratic organisation to one driven increasingly by accountability to its member states, particularly after the Maastricht Treaty of 1993. Finally, we think about how all of this relates to identity and emphasise the continued predominance of national over EU identities.


In this lecture, Dr Simon Usherwood (University of Surrey) thinks about the European Union and its relationship with the United Kingdom, focusing in particular on Brexit. We begin in the first module by thinking about how the EU came into being, paying close regard to the window of opportunity for European integration that arose after the Second World War. In the second module, we think about the complex question of how best to understand the EU, introducing the ideas of ‘intergovernmentalism’ and ‘supranationalism’ to help us make sense of its structure and operation. We then move on in the third module to consider the impact of EU membership on UK political life, using this as a lens to cast light on EU-member state interactions more broadly. Finally, in the fourth module, we address the thorny question of Brexit, thinking in particular about the reasons why the 2016 Referendum was called, the sheer complexity of the UK’s entanglement with Europe, and what this means for the future.


Dr Simon Usherwood is Reader in Politics at the University of Surrey. He has been researching euroscepticism since the late 1990s. His work considers broad theoretical and practical questions about this phenomenon, as well as more specific work on the UK, on UK-EU relations, on the role of pressure groups and on the media profile of eurosceptics.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Usherwood, S. (2019, September 26). The UK and the European Union - Understanding the European Union [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Usherwood, S. "The UK and the European Union – Understanding the European Union." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 26 Sep 2019,

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