What is…? Understanding EU Jargon

Image: BBC News

Want to know what Article 50, the European Convention on Human Rights and the Maastricht Treaty all mean?

This page provides useful definitions and long-read explanations of key EU terms.

Article 50
Article 50 is part of the Lisbon Treaty, which came into effect in December 2009. The treaty was an attempt to make the EU more democratic, accountable and transparent. As part of the treaty, Article 50 was created as a method for a nation state to leave the European Union. Until the member state wanting to leave the block officially ‘triggers’ Article 50 (by writing to the President of the European Commission), no negotiations can take place between the leaving country and any other EU member state. Once the article has been triggered, the leaving country is banned from highest-level decision making. The only way to reverse the decision is unanimous support from the remaining 27 member states.

Lisbon Treaty (2009)
The Lisbon Treaty was a combination of two updated former treaties:


The two former treaties were themselves updated versions of:

  • TREATY OF ROME (1957)

Ultimately, the Lisbon Treaty gave the European Parliament substantial new powers and provided a route for existing member states to leave the block through ‘Article 50’. (see above for definition)

The Single Currency/ The Euro
The Euro is the official currency of the European Union, used by 19 of its 28 member states. Introduced in 2002, the currency is used by over 337 million Europeans daily and acts as the official currency of European Union institutions. The currency’s monetary policy (money supply and rates of inflation) are controlled by the ‘European Central Bank’ in Frankfurt, Germany.

The European Convention on Human Rights*
The ECHR was an international treaty, signed in 1950, which became effective three years later in 1953. It was an agreement founded by the ‘Council of Europe’ (an organisation distinct from the European Union) to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms for society and the individual. The council currently has 47 member-states, 19 more than the EU. The convention itself consists of 18 articles, each of which cover a topic such as life, torture, fair trial and privacy. All new members of the council are expected to ratify the ECHR at the earliest opportunity, guaranteeing the protection of their citizens. Currently, the ECHR protects over 

*Not to be confused with the European Court of Human Rights – which was founded alongside the European Convention. Similarly named institutions include the Council of the European Union and the European Council, both of which are key components of the EU.

Parliamentary Sovereignty
Parliamentary sovereignty is essentially the idea that parliament has the ultimate authority to create new laws and repeal old ones. No other insitution is superior to parliament and cannot therefore, block any efforts made by MPs and peers.
The issue was prominent during the EU referendum campaign when leaders of ‘Vote Leave’ argued that Britain’s sovereignty had erroded over the past few decades – leading to their slogan “take back control”.

European Single Market
The European Single Market is a market which attempts to guarantee four freedoms: the free movement of people, goods, capial, services and people. It is currently made up of 28 EU member states (including the UK) and four other non-EU states – Switzerland, Liechstenstein, Iceland and Norway.

European Free-Trade Association (EFTA)
The EFTA is an organisation of the four non-EU member states who are also members of the European Single Market. Therefore, the EFTA runs in parallel to the single market. The purposee of the EFTA is to guarantee the four fundamental freedoms. It was formed in 1960.
If a country is not a member of the European Union or EFTA, then the current rules find it impossible for that country to participate in the European Economic Area (EEA) (Single Market).

As the EFTA website explains:

Article 126 of the Agreement on the EEA makes it clear that the EEA Agreement only applies to the territories of the EU, in addition to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Under the present wording of the EEA Agreement, it is therefore impossible to be a party to the EEA Agreement without being a member of either the EU or EFTA.