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Separation of Powers Theory in the European Union Essay


Political theory is one of the most profound expressions of the human desire to be truly rational that is guided in its activities by reason rather than emotions or instincts (What is Political Theory.pptx.). According to McKinnon (2015), “political theory is a normative subject: political theorists tell us how to interact, the sorts of laws we ought to pass, etc.” (p. 4). Political theorists differ from other citizens not only by the fact that they have certain political views. They are distinguished by the quality of these views. They strive to make the vision of a holistic policy well-founded relying on modern knowledge about the person and the world around him. This paper examines the notion of political thought and represents three political theories resulting in a concise analysis of the best theory.

In spite of the fact that plenty of countries apply separation of powers theory developed by Montesquieu, there is evidence of the necessity to reconsider it resulting in a more relevant and balanced system. The problem of separation of powers faces humanity at all stages of its development. The division of labor as well as the separation of agriculture from pastoralism – all this testifies the search for the optimal organization of society. This search for the optimal organization of society leads to the emergence of the theory of separation of powers, which has set a goal to protect human rights and freedoms. The principle of separation of powers primarily lies in the fact that they belong to different state bodies.

Comparing three theories of rationalism, social contract theory, and separation of powers theory, this study investigates the separation of powers principle in relation to the EU.

Political Theorists

René Descartes is one of the outstanding philosophers of the Enlightenment. In France, at a time when the philosophical thought of Descartes established, there was a strengthening of the central government. Descartes studied at the Jesuit College of La Flèche (Bracken, 2010). In a number of biographies of Descartes, it is stated that the conservative and pedantic training did not satisfy him. He manifested the negative attitude to the scholastic understanding of science and philosophy after visiting plenty of parts of Europe as a military. The most outstanding of his philosophical works are works devoted to methodological issues of scientific knowledge.

John Locke is an English philosopher, sometimes called the “intellectual leader of the 18th century.” His theory of knowledge and social philosophy had an intense impact on the history of culture and society, in particular, on the development of the American Constitution. Locke was engaged in developing a political line, in theory, arguing the philosophy of liberalism and expressing interests of nascent capitalism. He was against any type of tyranny when the government neglects the rights of its citizens and publishes laws according to its own needs rather than the interests of the people.

Charles Louis de Montesquieu was the greatest theorist of the French Enlightenment. As a result of years of research of the legislative history, Montesquieu created the first detailed political ideology doctrine of the Enlightenment (Waddicor, 2012). In his studies, he sought to expand the evidence base of social and political theory, to describe causes of changes in laws and customs, and, by generalizing the accumulated material, to reveal the laws of history. Montesquieu was convinced that history is not determined by the divine will and not a coincidence, but the action of corresponding laws.

Political Theories

The rationalism theory of Descartes claims the presence of content and properties not derivable from the external experience. To create his rationalist method of objective knowledge, it was necessary to find and identify the so-called “reason” of thought, through which the consciousness rationally segments, articulates, and controls it (Political Theorists (4).pptx, slide4). Stressing that issues in relation to the intellect should be treated differently than in relation to their real existence, Descartes shows that people understand the world objectively and rationally to the extent that they understand the organization and structure of their cognitive ability of intelligence. Therefore, the philosophy of Descartes forms a new, solid, and rationally grounded image of the world not only according to the actual state of the natural sciences but also completely determining the direction of its development.

The social contract theory by Locke leans toward the interpretation of the state of nature as the equality and freedom of individuals. Locke provides a complete and systematic concept of the social contract understood as a transitional stage from the natural to civil society (Political Theorists (4).pptx, slide 16). He substantiates the thesis of consensus as to the main subject of the agreement pointing property relations, political independence, and human rights as principal foundations of civil society.

The separation of powers theory developed by Montesquieu ensures the rule of law and freedom. Developing the teaching of Locke, Montesquieu determines types of authorities, their organization, and relationships in detail. He distinguishes the legislative, executive, and judicial powers (Waddicor, 2012). The theorist states that the concentration of all power in the hands of one person, institution, or class inevitably leads to abuse and arbitrariness. In addition to the distribution of powers, the principle of separation of powers requires the provision of each of the three authorities special powers so that they might limit and restrain one another.

Journal Article

“Recovering a Separation of Powers in the European Union” article by Conway represents the description of the separation of powers theory in the European Union (EU) and proves its appropriateness as well the necessity.

The EU is a developing body. According to Act. 7 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, “The implementation of the tasks entrusted to the Community provided by European Parliament; Council; Commission; Court of Justice of the European Communities; Accounts Chamber. Each institution shall act within the powers conferred upon it by this Treaty” (Grenville & Wasserstein, 2013, p. 571). Despite the EU is organized according to Montesquieu’s theory, there are some deviations from the classic principle of the separation of powers need to be considered.

  1. The intervention of the legislative power in the sphere of activity of executive authority. In particular, the Commission gives the Council the competence of the executive regulations developed by the latter. The Council might set certain requirements for the exercise of these powers. At the same time, the Commission reserves the right to carry out its decisions. Thus, the legislative body might implement executive authority.
  2. “The exclusive right of initiative of the Commission to propose new legislation” (Conway, 2011). Nevertheless, the European Parliament and the Council might request the Commission to submit any appropriate proposal on matters which he believes Community act is required. The provision cited above leads to the conclusion that the Commission has the exclusive right of legislative initiative. However, Parliament and the Council might indicate the Commission’s gaps in the legislation, but it does not limit the exclusive right of the Commission.
  3. In some cases, the solution of individual character in respect of an individual member of the EU prepared by the Commission is the subject of approval by the Council. For example, when there is a case of the “emergency budget deficit”.


It seems that such an organization of the EU was introduced to protect the interests of its members by means of the Council and the Commission control. Legislative powers are distributed so that both executive and legislative branches take part in the decision-making process. I consider that the existence of the exclusive legislative initiative of the Commission is a positive aspect as the Commission might see some gaps in the legislation and with the help of its power could eliminate them.

At the same time, such a position leads to a breach of the principle of separation of powers, the essence of which is to provide independent functioning of the various branches. The existence of the executive right in legislative authority could lead to the paralysis of the legislative branch. Therefore, I reckon that it is necessary to expand the range of subjects of legislative initiative. However, it should be noted that the balance of powers of institutions shows that the normal functioning of institutions with the partial exception of the classic triad is possible.

In conclusion, it should be emphasized that this paper examines three theorists and their theories: Descartes, Locke, and Montesquieu and rationalism, the social contract theory, and separation of powers theory respectively. In addition, it studies the article concerning the principle of separation of powers in the EU and its appropriateness in conditions of modern life. It was stated that the EU applies the mentioned theory. I believe that Montesquieu’s theory is worth applying nowadays. The example of the EU clearly demonstrates its successful functioning with some deviations. In my opinion, these deviations were implemented due to the desire to achieve the efficient operation of the power mechanism.


Bracken, H. M. (2010). Descartes: A beginner’s guide. Oxford, England: Oneworld.

Conway, G. (2011). Recovering a Separation of Powers in the European Union. European Law Journal, 17(3), 304-322.

Grenville, J. A., & Wasserstein, B. (2013). The major international treaties of the twentieth century: A history and guide with texts. New York, NY: Routledge.

McKinnon, C. (2015). Issues in political theory (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Political Theorists (4).pptx.

Waddicor, M. H. (2012). Montesquieu and the philosophy of natural law. New York, NY: Springer.

What is Political Theory.pptx.

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"Separation of Powers Theory in the European Union." IvyPanda, 29 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/separation-of-powers-theory-in-the-european-union/.

1. IvyPanda. "Separation of Powers Theory in the European Union." September 29, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/separation-of-powers-theory-in-the-european-union/.


IvyPanda. "Separation of Powers Theory in the European Union." September 29, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/separation-of-powers-theory-in-the-european-union/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Separation of Powers Theory in the European Union." September 29, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/separation-of-powers-theory-in-the-european-union/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Separation of Powers Theory in the European Union'. 29 September.

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