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.
There are five EU institutions, each playing a specific role:
• European Parliament (elected by the peoples of the Member States);
• Council of the 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 five other important bodies:
• 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 the 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; making globalization work for everyone.
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 voice of the peoples of Europe. Directly elected every five years, the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) sit not in national blocs but in seven political groups. Each group reflects the political ideology of the national parties to which its members belong. Some MEPs are not attached to any political group. In the European election of June 1999, nearly 30 % of the MEPs elected were women.
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 the European
Parliament. The Parliament elects the European Ombudsman, who investigates complaints from citizens about maladministration in the EU.
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.