The European Union (EU) is a family of democratic European countries, committed to working together for peace and prosperity. It is not a State intended to replace existing states, but it is more than any other international organisation. The EU is, in fact, unique. Its Member States have set up common institutions to which they delegate some of their sovereignty so that decisions on specific matters of joint interest can be made democratically at European level.
The historical roots of thhe European Union lie in the Second World War. The idea of European integration was conceived to prevent such killing and destruction from ever happening again. It was first proposed by the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman in a speech on 9 May 1950. This date, the “birthday” of what is now the EU, is celebrated annually as Europe Day.
There are five EU institutions, each playing a specific role:
• European Parliament (elected by the peoples of the Member States);
• Council of thhe European Union (representing the governments of the Member States);
• European Commission (driving force and executive body);
• Court of Justice (ensuring compliance with the law);
• Court of Auditors (controlling sound and lawful management of the EU budget).
These are flanked by fi
• European Economic and Social Committee (expresses the opinions of organized civil society on economic and social issues);
• Committee of the Regions (expresses the opinions of regional and local authorities);
• European Central Bank (responsible for monetary policy and managing the euro);
• European Ombudsman (deals with citizens’ complaints about maladministration by any EU institution or body);
• European Investment Bank (helps achieve EU objectives by financing investment projects);
A number of agencies and other bodies complete the system.
The rule of law is fundamental to the European Union. All EU decisions and procedures are based on the Treaties, which are agreed by all the EU countries.
Initially, the EU consisted of just six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and thhe Netherlands. Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined in 1973, Greece in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986, Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995. In 2004 the biggest ever enlargement takes place with 10 new countries joining.
In the early years, much of the co-operation between EU countries was about trade and the economy, but now the EU also deals with many other subjects of direct importance for our everyday life, such as citizens’ rights; ensuring freedom, security and justice; job creation; regional development; environmental protection; ma
The European Union has delivered half a century of stability, peace and prosperity. It has helped to raise living standards, built a single Europe-wide market, launched the single European currency, the euro, and strengthened Europe’s voice in the world.
Unity in diversity: Europe is a continent with many different traditions and languages, but also with shared values. The EU defends these values. It fosters co-operation among the peoples of Europe, promoting unity while preserving diversity and ensuring that decisions are taken as close as possible to the citizens.
In the increasingly interdependent world of the 21st century, it will be even more necessary for every European citizen to co-operate with people from other countries in a spirit of curiosity, tolerance and solidarity.
The European Parliament :
Voice of the people
The European Central Bank :
Stable money for Europe
The Council of the European Union :
Voice of the Member States
European Investment Bank :
Investing in the long-term future
The European Commission :
The driving force for union
The Economic and Social Committee :
Involving social partners
Court of Justice :
Upholding the law
The Committee of the Regions :
The local perspective
European Court of Auditors :
Value for your money
The European Parliament: Voice of the people
The European Parliament (EP) is the democratic vo
Parliament’s principal roles are as follows.
• To examine and adopt European legislation. Under the co-decision procedure, Parliament shares this power equally with the Council of Ministers.
• To approve the EU budget.
• To exercise democratic control over the other EU institutions, possibly by setting up committees of inquiry.
• To assent to important international agreements such as the accession of new EU Member States and trade or association agreements between the EU and other countries.
The EP has created the Sakharov Prize which is awarded annually to an individual or group that has defended the cause of human rights anywhere in the world.
As with national parliaments, the EP has parliamentary committees to deal with particular issues (foreign affairs, budget, environment and so on).
Via one of these, the Committee on Petitions, European citizens can also submit petitions directly to th
Pat Cox is the President of the European Parliament.
The Council of the European Union: Voice of the Member States
The Council of the European Union – formerly known as the Council of Ministers -is the main legislative and decision-making body in the EU. It brings together the representatives of the all the Member State governments, which you elect at national level. It is the forum in which the representatives of your governments can assert their interests and reach compromises. They meet regularly at the level of working groups, ambassadors, ministers or – when they decide the major policy guidelines – at the level of presidents and prime ministers, i.e. as the European Council.
The Council – together with the European Parliament – sets the rules for all the activities of the European Community (EC), which forms the first “pillar” of the EU. It covers the single market and most of the EU’s common policies, and guarantees freedom of movement for goods, persons, services and capital.
In addition, the Council is the main responsible for the second and third “pillars”, i.e. intergovernmental cooperation on common foreign and security policy and on justice and home affairs.
That means, for example, that your governments are working together within the EU to combat terrorism and drug trafficking. They are joining their forces to speak with one voice in external affairs, assisted by the High Representative for common foreign and security policy.
Javier Solana gives EU diplomacy a face as High Representative
for common foreign and security policy.
The European Commission: The driving force for union
The European Commission does a lot of the day-to-day work in the European Union.
It drafts proposals for new European laws, which it presents to the European Parliament and the Council. The Commission makes sure that EU decisions are properly implemented and supervises the way EU funds are spent. It also keeps an eye out to see that everyone abides by the European treaties and European law.
The European Commission consists of 20 women and men (more in 2004), assisted by about 24 000 civil servants. The President is chosen by the governments of the EU Member States and must be approved by the European Parliament. The other members are nominated by the member governments in consultation with the incoming president and must also be accepted by Parliament. The Commission is appointed for a five-year term, but it can be dismissed by Parliament.
The Commission acts independently of the governments of the Member States. Many, but not all, of its staff work in Brussels, Belgium.
Romano Prodi heads the EU executive as President of the European Commission.
Court of Justice: Upholding the law
When common rules are decided in the EU, it is of course vital that they are also followed in practice – and that they are understood in the same way everywhere. This is what the Court of Justice of the European Communities ensures. It settles disputes over how the EU treaties and legislation are interpreted. If national courts are in doubt about how to apply EU rules they must ask the Court of Justice. Individual persons can also bring proceedings against EU institutions before the Court. It consists of one independent judge from each EU country and is located in Luxembourg.
European Court of Auditors: Value for your money
The funds available to the EU must be used legally, economically and for the intended purpose. The Court of Auditors, an independent EU institution located in Luxembourg, is the body that checks how EU money is spent. In effect, these auditors help European taxpayers to get better value for the money that has been channeled into the EU.
The European Central Bank: Stable money for Europe
The European Central Bank is in charge of the single currency, the euro. The Bank independently manages European monetary policy – deciding, for example, how high interest rates should be. The Bank’s main objective is to ensure price stability, so that the European economy will not be damaged by inflation. But the monetary policy also supports other political objectives decided in the EU. The European Central Bank is based in Frankfurt in Germany. It is managed by a president and an executive board in close cooperation with the national central banks of the EU countries.
European Investment Bank: Investing in the long-term future
The Bank lends money for investment projects of European interest, in particular projects that benefit less well-off regions. It finances, for example, rail links, motorways, airports, environmental schemes, and (via partner banks) investment by small businesses (SMEs) that helps create jobs and growth. Loans also support the Union’s enlargement process and its development aid policy. The Bank is based in Luxembourg and raises its funds on the capital markets. As a non-profit organization it is able to lend on favorable terms.
The Economic and Social Committee: Involving social partners
Ranging from employers to trade unions and from consumers to ecologists, the 222 members (more in 2004) of the Economic and Social Committee represent all of the most important interest groups in the EU. It is an advisory body and has to give its opinion on important aspects of new EU initiatives. This is part of the common European tradition of involving civil society in political life.
The Committee of the Regions: The local perspective
Many decisions taken in the EU have direct implications at the local and regional level. Through the Committee of the Regions, local and regional authorities are consulted before the EU takes decisions in fields such as education, health, employment or transport. The Committee’s 222 members (more in 2004) are often leaders of regions or mayors of cities.
Euro – a single currency for Europeans
The euro is the name of the single European currency that was put into circulation on 1 January 2002. The symbol of the euro is €.
The euro has replaced the old national currencies in 12 European Union countries: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.
Having a single currency makes it easier to travel and to compare prices, and it provides a stable environment for European business, stimulating growth and competitiveness.
Free to move
You can travel, study and work wherever you want in the 15 European Union countries, if you are an EU citizen. The EU is working constantly to give its citizens greater freedom of movement as a fundamental right and to get rid of all discrimination based on nationality.
In most of the EU you can travel without carrying a passport and without being stopped for checks at the borders. With very few exceptions, you may buy anything you want anywhere you want and take it all back home with you.
The EU does not decide what you learn in school, but it does work to ensure that your educational and professional qualifications are properly recognized in other EU countries. The EU is working to provide access to learning opportunities for everyone, at home and abroad, through partnerships and exchange schemes and by removing bureaucratic obstacles. Over a million young people have taken advantage of EU programmes, such as “ERASMUS”, to pursue their studies and personal development in another European country.
Keeping the peace
War between EU countries is now unthinkable, thanks to the unity that has been built up between them over the last 50 years. Given this success, the EU is now increasingly involved in preserving peace and creating stability in neighbouring countries.
The European Union wants to prevent conflicts. The EU is the biggest donor of financial assistance to troubled places in the world. It is active in peacekeeping and peacemaking actions, and it runs many projects that help to make human rights and democracy succeed in practical terms.
To enable its Member States to speak and act in unison on the world stage, the EU is developing its common foreign and security policy and there are plans for more co-operations on defense questions.
An area of freedom, security and justice
We all want safety and security in our lives. Some of the unrest that might threaten everyday life in our local neighborhood has international roots, and European countries are making a joint effort to tackle these problems. They include international terrorism, drug trafficking and abuse, trafficking in human beings and the illegal exploitation of foreign women for prostitution. The EU countries are determined to fight these evils by adopting common rules and through co-operation between their police, customs and law courts.
The EU also plays a role in asylum and migration policy. It guarantees respect for the right to seek asylum. At the same time, the EU countries are co-ordinating their policies for refugees and trying to tackle the problem at source by combating poverty and preventing conflicts in the countries from which people might want to flee.
Fewer frontiers: more jobs!
Safeguarding employment in Europe and creating new jobs is one of the European Union’s key tasks. European industry will not be able to provide more jobs unless the economic conditions are right. And the right conditions are exactly what the Union is working to achieve.
By creating a frontier-free single market and a single currency, the e
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