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 the 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.
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.
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.
EU – Lithuania Relationship
A Brief History
Official relationship and co-operation between Lithuania and the European Community started on 27 August 1991 when the European Communities (as the predecessor of the EU, which was founded only through the Maastricht Treaty in 1992) decided to recognise the independence of Lithuania. The following year, an Agreement on Trade and Commercial and Economic Co-operation was signed between the EC and the Republic of Lithuania.
In 1993 at the European Summit Meeting in Copenhagen the EU for the first time clearly formulated its position on the membership of the Central and East European countries in the EU (referred to as the Copenhagen Criteria): countries that wanted to become a member of the EU had to comply to the political and economic basic principles of the Union and to be able to adopt the body of EU-laws (Acquis Communautaire)
In 1994, a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Lithuania was signed, followed in 1995 by a Europe Agreement (also known as Association Agreement), which completed and extended the scope of the Free Trade Agreement.
On 8 December 1995 the Government of the Republic of Lithuania submitted an official membership application. In July 1997 the European Commission published an official opinion recommending to immediately start membership negotiations immediately with five associate Central and East European countries: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, whereas five other countries, including Lithuania and Latvia, were deemed not to be ready for accession negotiations.
It was in 1999 when Lithuania was finally invited for accession negotiations, together with the other countries belonging to the so-called second group (Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria). On 15 February 2000, Lithuania started negotiations for the EU membership. 31 Chapters, ranging from Agriculture to Telecommunications, had to be dealt with individually. Membership negotiations were officially closed on the Copenhagen Summit in December 2002, and the Accession Treaty was signed by Prime Minister Brazauskas and Foreign Minister Valionis in Athens on 16 April 2003. At the referendum on 11 May 2003, the people of Lithuania voted with 91.07% in favor of joining the EU. Finally, on 1 May 2004, Lithuania became a full member of the European Union together with 9 other countries (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia).
What the future holds:
Although being a full member of the EU, integration is not yet complete in all sectors: there are a number of transitional periods as, for example, in the field of free movement of citizens, the restriction to buy land for foreigners or the right to maintain lower excise rates for cigarettes (a full list of all transition periods can be found at www.euro.lt).Also, by becoming a member of the EU, Lithuania did not automatically become a member of the Euro zone or the Schengen space. In order to joint these two zones, Lithuania has to qualify separately by fulfilling a certain number of conditions (respecting the convergence criteria for the Euro and to prove its ability to protect the common external borders for Schengen). It is expected that Lithuania will introduce the Euro and become a member of the Schengen zone in 2007.
Europe is changing its currencies
As from January 1, 2002, 12 European countries gave up their national currency forever, and adopted a common currency: the euro.
The new euro banknotes and coins circulated alongside the respective national currencies during a changeover period, which varied slightly from country to country. On 1 March 2002, however, it became sole legal tender throughout the euro zone.
The following information is designed to give a basic understanding of the euro and the practical implications of the
introduction of the notes and coins. Should you require further information please also see the website of the European Commission at www.europa.eu.int/euro or the European Central Bank at www.euro.ecb.int
Which countries are adopting the euro?
12 of the 15 European Union’s member countries are participating in the common currency. They are:
• The Netherlands
(Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom are members of the European Union but are not currently participating in the single currency).
(Denmark is a member of the Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM II) which means that the Danish krone is linked to the euro, although the exchange rate is not fixed.).
Over a period of just a few days,more than 14 billion euro banknotes and 50 billion euro coins will replace almost as many national currency banknotes and coins. Over 300 million people will be affected by this change. Never before had such an operation been undertaken on this scale.
What is the symbol for the euro?
The euro symbol – – , developed by the European Commission, was inspired by the Greek letter epsilon and also denotes the first letter of the word „Europe“. The two parallel lines refer to the stability inside the euro area.
The official international abbreviation for the euro is EUR.
What are the advantages of the euro?
When traveling in the euro area
You only have to change money once; one currency is all you need now. For instance, when you visit a museum in Italy, you can pay the entrance fee using euro coins left over from your stay in Greece; you can buy a meal in France with euro banknotes you got from a cash dispenser in Spain; etc. All this will save both time and money.
When shopping in the euro area
Prices are displayed in the same currency; they are easier to compare and help you make the right choice.
When doing business with the euro area
There is no longer any risk of fluctuation between currencies. Interest and inflation rates are much lower. You buy, sell and borrow within a larger and more competitive market. Managing your business is easier and less expensive.
Elected every five years by direct universal suffrage, the European Parliament is the expression of the democratic will of the Union’s 374 million citizens. Brought together within pan-European political groups, the major political parties operating in the Member States are represented.
Parliament has three essential functions:
It shares with the Council the power to legislate, i.e. to adopt European laws (directives, regulations, decisions). Its involvement in the legislative process helps to guarantee the democratic legitimacy of the texts adopted;
It shares budgetary authority with the Council, and can therefore influence EU spending. At the end of the procedure, it adopts the budget in its entirety;
It exercises democratic supervision over the Commission. It approves the nomination of Commissioners and has the right to censure the Commission. It also exercises political supervision over all the institutions.
Seat, composition, role and organization of work
The European Parliament can trace its origins back to the 1950s, but it was not elected by universal suffrage by the citizens of the Member States until 1979. It is therefore the direct democratic reflection of the will of the European Union’s citizens, and their main representative vis-à-vis the Community institutions.
Its history is punctuated by the reforms adopted in 1970 (budgetary provisions), 1975 (financial provisions), 1986 (Single European Act), 1992 (Maastricht Treaty) and 1997 (Amsterdam Treaty), which not only turned it into a real legislative body but also strengthened its role as the democratic overseer of the European Union.
Seat and composition
The European Parliament works in France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Plenary sessions, which all MEPs attend, are held in Strasbourg, the Parliament’s seat. Parliamentary committee meetings and any additional plenary sessions are held in Brussels, whilst the General Secretariat is in Luxembourg. Elected every five years, Parliament has 626 MEPs affiliated to transnational political groups which represent the main political tendencies in the Member States of the Union.
The European Parliament has three main roles:
• it exercises democratic control over all the Community institutions, in particular the Commission;
• it shares legislative power with the Council;
• it plays a decisive role in the adoption of the budget.
Parliament exercises democratic supervision over the Commission, with the appointment of the President and Members of the Commission subject to its approval. The Commission is thus politically answerable to the Parliament, which can pass a „motion of censure“ calling for its resignation. More generally, Parliament exercises control by regularly examining reports submitted to it by the Commission (general report, reports on the implementation of the budget, the application of Community law, etc.). Moreover, MEPs regularly ask the Commission written and oral questions. The Members of the Commission attend plenary sessions of Parliament and meetings of the parliamentary committees, thus maintaining a continual dialogue between the two
Parliament also monitors the work of the Council: MEPs regularly ask the Council written and oral questions, and the President of the Council attends the plenary sessions and takes part in important debates.
Parliament exercises democratic supervision over the Commission, with the appointment of the President and Members of the Commission subject to its approval. The Commission is thus politically answerable to the Parliament, which can pass a „motion of censure“ calling for its resignation. More generally, Parliament exercises control by regularly examining reports submitted to it by the Commission (general report, reports on the implementation of the budget, the application of Community law, etc.). Moreover, MEPs regularly ask the Commission written and oral questions. The Members of the Commission attend plenary sessions of Parliament and meetings of the parliamentary committees, thus maintaining a continual dialogue between the two institutions. Parliament also monitors the work of the Council: MEPs regularly ask the Council written and oral questions, and the President of the Council attends the plenary sessions and takes part in important debates.
Other means of democratic control at its disposal include the examination of petitions from citizens and temporary committees of inquiry.
The power to legislate
Together with the Council, Parliament formulates and adopts legislation proposed by the Commission. The most common legislative procedure is codecision. This places the European Parliament and the Council on an equal footing and leads to the adoption of joint Council and Parliament acts. If the two institutions disagree, a conciliation committee is convened to find a compromise.
The codecision procedure applies, in particular, to the free movement of workers, creation of the internal market, technological research and development, the environment, consumer protection, education, culture and health.
Furthermore, Parliament’s approval is required for certain important questions of a political or institutional nature, such as the accession of new Member States, association agreements with third countries, the conclusion of international agreements, the electoral procedure for the European Parliament, the right of residence of EU citizens and the tasks and powers of the European Central Bank.
Whilst the Commission is still the main source of legislative initiative, Parliament also provides substantial political momentum, especially by examining the Commission’s annual work programme or by asking the Commission to submit an appropriate proposal.
The power of the purse
Parliament and the Council are the key players in the adoption of the annual Community budget. Each year, the Commission prepares a preliminary draft budget subject to the Council’s approval. Two successive readings give Parliament the opportunity to negotiate with the Council to amend certain items of expenditure and ensure that budgetary resources are allocated appropriately. The budget is resubmitted to Parliament for final adoption and does not come into force until it has been signed by the President of Parliament.
Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control monitors the implementation of the budget, and each year Parliament grants a discharge to the Commission with regard to the implementation of the budget for the previous financial year.
Organization of work
Parliament’s work is divided into two main stages:
• preparing for the plenary session by the MEPs in the parliamentary committees specializing in the European Union’s various areas of activity;
• the plenary session itself, attended by all MEPs, for the concerted examination of proposals. The plenary sessions are normally held in Strasbourg (one week per month) and sometimes in Brussels (two days).
At the plenary sessions, the reporters present their dossiers, and the MEPs nominated by their political groups speak on the issues on the agenda.
These are usually proposals for legislation, Council or Commission communications or topical questions relating to what is going on in the European Union or the wider world. The assembly votes on amendments to legislative proposals before coming to a decision on the text as a whole.
Council of the European Union
(The Council of the European Union should not be confused with Council of Europe. The two organizations are quite distinct. The Council of Europe is an intergovernmental organization which covers all major issues facing European society other than defense. Its work programmer includes the following fields of activity: human rights, media, legal co-operation, social cohesion, health, education, culture, heritage, sport, youth, local democracy and transfrontier co-operation, the environment and regional planning. The present 15 European Union states, however, are all members of the Council of Europe.).
The Council of the European Union is the EU’s main decision-making body. It is the embodiment of the Member States, whose representatives it brings together regularly at ministerial level.
According to the matters on the agenda, the Council meets in different compositions: foreign affairs, finance, education, telecommunications, etc.
The Council has a number of key responsibilities:
It is the Union’s legislative body; for a wide range of EU issues, it exercises that legislative power in co-decision with the European Parliament;
It coordinates the
economic policies of the Member States;
It concludes, on behalf of the EU, international agreements with one or more States or international organisations;
It shares budgetary authority with Parliament;
It takes the decisions necessary for framing and implementing the common foreign and security policy, on the basis of general guidelines established by the European Council;
It coordinates the activities of Member States and adopts measures in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
Seat, composition, role and organization of work
The Council represents the Member States at European Union level and constitutes the main decision-making body. The government representatives in the Council are politically responsible to their national parliament and to the citizens they represent.
The Council’s field of action relates to the three „pillars“ of the European Union (the European Communities, common foreign and security policy, and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters), but with different voting procedures in different cases.
Since the Treaty came into force with the merger of the executives in 1965, a single Council has existed for all three European Communities (ECSC, Euratom and EC). In 1993, the institution took the name „Council of the European Union“ to reflect the fact that it acts both in the Community domain and in the intergovernmental context of the second and third pillars created by the Treaty on European Union.
Seat and composition
The Council’s seat is in Brussels, where the ministerial meetings take place, except in April, June and October, when they are held in Luxembourg.
The Council comprises one ministerial level representative of each Member State, empowered to commit his or her government. Although there is just one Council, different groups meet as a function of the topics to be discussed, the most common being General Affairs, Agriculture, Economic and Financial Affairs, Environment, Transport and Telecommunications, Employment and Social Policy, Fisheries, Industry and Energy, Justice, Home Affairs and Civil Protection, Internal Market, Consumer Affairs and Tourism, Research, Budget, Culture, Development, Education and Youth, and Health. The Presidency of the Council is held for six months by each of the Member States in turn.
The Council of the European Union has three essential roles:
• coordinating the economic policies of the Member States;
• sharing the budgetary function with the European Parliament.
The Council’s decision-making power is used to ensure the realisation of the objectives laid down in the Treaties, under the conditions provided for there. As a rule, the Council only acts on a proposal from the Commission and, in most cases, with the participation of the European Parliament in the context of a codecision, consultation or assent procedure.
In general (e.g. for completion of the internal market, the environment or consumer protection), Community legislation is adopted jointly by the Council and Parliament under a codecision procedure. Since the Treaty of Amsterdam came into force in 1999, the field of application of this procedure has been extended to cover new areas, such as non-discrimination, free movement and residence, and combating social exclusion.
To the extent that they relate to essential components of national sovereignty, the Council plays a dominant role in common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (JHA), areas in which the respective roles of Parliament and the Commission are more limited.
When it comes to implementation, the general principle is that the power to enforce Community legislation is conferred on the Commission. However, in specific cases, the Council may reserve the right to perform executive functions itself.