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What Is a Supranational?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2014
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A supranational is an organization that includes members that are outside the boundaries of any one nation. Trade organizations that include several countries as members are the most common type of organized union or group. The usual reasons associated with the formation of a supranational is to benefit each member nation by establishing standards that relate to trade, with the end goal of maintaining economic stability throughout all the nations involved in the organization.

At times, the structure of a supranational organization will allow for political as well as economic standards to be agreed upon by the member nations. For example, a supranational may determine that each of the countries involved in the union will allow for popular elections within their borders, or will seek to pass legislation that supports the organization’s ideology regarding trade tariffs or the balance between imports and exports among the member nations. Over time, the nature of a supranational may change, allowing the organization to adapt in the face of shifting world conditions, both political and economic.

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The basic idea behind a supranational is to make it possible to cooperate in ways that are usually above and beyond the terms of some sort of international trade agreement. It is not unusual for a supranational organization to aid in the creation of those treaties between member nations, as well as to create policies and procedures that help to support those treaties. At the same time, an organization of this type can often provide the framework for minimizing or possibly preventing the collapse of the economy in any of the member nations, often with the aid of a central bank. Since in a global economy, the failure of one national economy can mean serious consequences for the economies of other countries, the ability of a supranational to at least partially offset that initial collapse is considered very important.

One of the most commonly accepted examples of a supranational is the European Union. Composed of a number of the nations in Europe, including the United Kingdom, this particular union functions by delegating some degree of authority to those who represent each nation within the organization. This makes it possible to conduct the business of the organization with relative ease, while still holding each representative accountable for how they balance protecting the interests of their individual nations with the good of the union as a whole. Small groups of nations that forge a short-term alliance for one reason or another often look toward the structure of the European Union as a template for creating the processes that govern their own structure.

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